Thursday, January 14, 2016

Walking Luke Skywalker Home

Much has been made of the newest installment in the Star Wars movie franchise in which we renew our acquaintance with Luke, Han Solo, and Leia, now General, Organa.  For what it's worth, I think Episode VII is rollicking good fun, and I've enjoyed it both times I've seen it in the theater.

Here's what makes it worth writing about, though. According to some internet reports I've read, George Lucas is unhappy with the decision to go back and essentially re-tell the original "A New Hope" story.  He has said that it was his intention to keep creating new dramas, to introduce new characters, new planets, new situations to the galactic stage.  One can certainly understand that impulse -- for the sake of keeping the story fresh, or to attract new viewers, it might seem necessary or desirable to be endlessly creative.  But that was never the point of Star Wars, at least back in 1977, when I first saw it.  The joy of the first Star Wars film was its ability to tell a timeless story, the essential story, the story of the lost-and-found hero who discovers that he has the power to change -- indeed, to save -- the world.

The next two episodes in the series expanded on that theme, showing how the main characters confronted their truths, known and unknown, and created adult lives in the galaxy they were given to live with.  But the series lost its way, in my opinion, with the series of "prequels."  The story became convoluted, the characters (and in some cases the actors) were less compelling and believable.  Lucas had relinquished the focus on the hero tale, and instead was filling in backstory.  The narrative of the Fall of Anakin was, perhaps, a necessary component of the larger epic of redemption.  Sadly, it was crowded with political machinations and large armies of unidentifiable metal-and-plastic foot soldiers.

To their credit, J. J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and company have returned to the essential story, updating the special effects and including a black man and a female in leading roles.  They have brought their heroes "home" to their essential task of discovering their identities, connecting with a larger truth, and marshaling their energies for good.  Whatever anyone thinks the Force, or the Rebellion, or the First Order stand for in the present age, they are fundamentally about the conflict between good and evil, the craving for and abuse of power, and the spiritual awakening that begins the process of personal and societal growth.

George Lucas may have had some other story in mind that he wanted to tell, but Abrams, et al, have chosen the better path -- to return to The Story, and to bring the earlier hero, Luke, home to the ones who most love him and need him when the days turn dark.  I look forward to the next installments.