Like any self-respecting nerd (and ardent Star Wars fan), I took precautions to make sure I got to see the first possible showing of The Force Awakens available to me (7pm IMAX showing in a mall about an hours drive away). It was a glorious, wonderful, action packed, popcorn movie. I enjoyed it immensely, and several points had me practically jumping from my seat (or screaming). However as the credits rolled, and I began thinking about the plot I realized one thing: The Force Awakens had no idea what to do with not only Luke Skywalker, but his legacy. Just as a courtesy, this post will contain spoilers from The Force Awakens (TFA).
Legacy is a Tricky Thing
Part of the problem revolves around the nature of sequels, and the tools you need to tell a good story. You need conflict (in Star Wars it’s always Good vs. Evil) to generate not only character arcs around, but also to generate the action, and this movie more than any in the past was an action movie. The ending of Return of the Jedi (especially the revised editions), paint a pretty final picture about the state of the galaxy. The Empire died with the Emperor. Whether that death was a slow and steady decline or a sudden death knell, the Empire’s days were numbered. This left the galaxy post ROTJ without the central conflict of the first six movies, the battle between democracy and tyranny, the Jedi and the Sith. Therefore there was only two choices, either create a new conflict and enemy (like how Timothy Zahn did with the Thrawn Trilogy, or with the Yuuzhan Vong in the “New Jedi Order” series, or the New Galactic Empire in the Star Wars: Legacy comics), or recycle the Empire.
The other key issue is the timing. The new series is taking place too far after ROTJ for Luke to return as the main hero, therefore new heroes were needed, and it needed to be their story. Screenwriter Michael Arndt said in an interview, “It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over … Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.” The problem is that by making Luke the MacGuffin of the movie they immediately began to undermine his importance to the series, as well as the resolution of ROTJ itself. They made the pursuit of Luke the endgame of the movie, but by the time we get to him it doesn’t matter anymore, not only does the galaxy no longer need him (because they have Rey), but apparently nothing he did in his movies ever really mattered.
The Problem with the Republic
So Luke’s legacy, and his story as it is seen in the original trilogy is twofold: 1) The Destruction of the Empire, and 2) the RETURN OF THE JEDI. I will get to the Jedi in a moment. So the Rebellion (and eventually Luke’s) whole goal in 4, 5, and 6 is to destroy the Empire and bring back the Republic. In TFA, we hear about the New Republic twice, once in the opening scroll, and second during General Hux’s speech. I have a lot of problems with Gen. Hux’s speech (not least of which is that he’s an unreliable narrator given the fact he’s basically making a propaganda speech), but if we take it at face value then we saw the complete ruin of the New Republic in TFA, as Hux says that they will “remember this as the last days of the Republic.” The implication is that they are either destroying their fleet, the senate, or both. It’s honestly quite hard to say because the movie does nothing to explain what the galaxy’s political situation is like outside of our character’s perspective, but seeing as there is no Republic fleet (or single ship for that matter) that shows up at the end to help of the Resistance, it’s safe to assume that the Republic is either destroyed, or in such disarray as to be unhelpful.
This touches on another issue with the movie. I know that Resistance = Good, and First Order = Bad, but outside of that I know next to nothing. I can infer certain things (like how we only see one First Order Star Destroyer, therefore they are weaker than the Empire), and that the Resistance is funded by the Republic, but we have no idea why the Resistance even exists. Is there some sort of non-aggression Pact between the Republic and the First Order that forces them to confront the First Order covertly? If there is, isn’t it in shambles after the destruction of five of their planets? Why is the Resistance weaker than the Rebel Alliance (you’re telling me they don’t have a few Blockade Runners or a reclaimed Star Destroyer laying around)? The answers to so many of these would imply that the chief aim of the Rebellion was either wiped out in TFA, or is so ineffectual in it’s role that I would question the sanity of anyone who would fight for it.
Apparently Luke is a Terrible Jedi
This is the thing that really pissed me off watching this movie. Maybe I’m inferring too much from TFA, but one thing is certain; just as Luke’s father destroyed the Jedi Order, Luke’s nephew has now done the same thing … for reasons. Seriously, we have no idea why. From what I can tell it’s because he had daddy issues (go figure). We get this from Han and Leia’s conversation where they say “He had too much Vader in him” (whatever THAT means), and “When we sent him away, we lost him.” I am assuming that they’re referring to when they sent him to be trained by Luke. Now if it was just one person who turned and slaughtered the new Jedi Order, well, it would still be a terrible story, but it would be less of an indictment of Luke. Instead we see that Kylo Ren lead several of these new Jedi to the dark side. By having more than one of them it implies that it was Luke’s teaching that lead them to their fall (and before anyone says “Well, that happened in the books” I say it was a bad story then and just as dangerous to Luke’s legacy). By having the new order die under Luke’s leadership it shows that he is a terrible Jedi, and a terrible master. That is not the Luke that we see defeat the Emperor (a man that wiped out the previous order, killed three Jedi masters by himself, corrupted his father, and took control of the galaxy). This is not the hero of the original series.
This does create some very fertile ground to break new stories with Luke, but at the cost of his legacy. The only conceivable way for him to reclaim it is to train Rey to be the Jedi he could not be … which is exactly what Obi-Wan and Yoda did in the originals.
It Doesn’t Just Undermine Luke, but the Trilogy Itself
By having both things that Luke fought for destroyed in TFA, it completely undermines not only Luke’s arc but the point of the entire trilogy. Why watch our heroes defeat both Death Stars when a bigger and better one will be built in thirty years that will destroy the Republic? Why bother with rooting for the Sith to be defeated when, ultimately, they’ll win again in the form of Kylo Ren, and crush the New Jedi Order underfoot. At the end of TFA, we are at the same point as we were at the end of Star Wars; no Republic but a rebellion, no Death Star but an Empire; the light side on the verge of extinction and the Dark side on the rise. In a way it’s fitting, because why write new stories when you can recycle your favorite movies and put a new coat on it. At least this movie felt like it was Star Wars, and hopefully, these issues will be addressed when we actually have screen time with Luke in Episode VIII. Until then, we’ll always have Endor…