The Renaissance gets with the times…but to what extent?
Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed the titular character in the Harry Potter films, gave an interview some time ago that was turned into the following meme:
Interviewer: So, you’re a big fan of Star Wars?
Radcliffe: Well, you know what…I’ve only watched the first three, the original movies, within the last six months.
Interviewer: What?! What’ve you been doing all your life?
Radcliffe: Making another franchise…
Likewise, many of this generation aren’t hard-core Star Wars fans for the simple reason that they were born too late, and subsequently had their lives occupied by another franchise. But the new Star Wars movie, the beginning of a new trilogy that will serve as a sequel for the original three movies, is gaining ground culturally, and spawning a new generation of Star Wars fans in its wake. To accomplish this task, the film takes great care to maintain the balance between “renew” and “retain.” The story remains engaging, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy Star Wars: The Force Awakens(henceforth referred to as TFA), thus appeasing generations of Star Wars fanatics while keeping the new generation from being culturally sequestered. The film takes place many years after the original trilogy and focuses mostly on new villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and new heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), as well as supporting characters Finn (John Boyega) and BB-8, the adorable, spherical new droid. Some original characters such as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and his original droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO put in appearances as well.
The new Star Wars movie is an artful amalgam of recurring plot points and archetypes from the first movie (Episode 4). First is the omnipresent struggle between good and evil, a bilateral conflict that defines our characters and serves as a huge impetus for the storyline. This has been an underlying theme in Star Wars since the release of the first movie; characters often have lines such as “the good side of the Force.” On the good-evil spectrum, heroine Rey is definitely rooted in “good.” Her humble yet mysterious beginnings suggest a Luke Skywalker-type character, and her demonstration of Jedi mind-tricks (bending people to her will) and wielding of the iconic lightsaber suggest that she is a real hero in the making.
Rey’s part has been met with favorable reviews, particularly on the feminist front. Lack of equal female representation is at the forefront of the movie industry, with acclaimed actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, and Anne Hathaway speaking out about the injustice they have witnessed during their working lives. Although ostensibly equal to their male counterparts, women are still underrepresented in most parts of the film industry. Aside from the numbers (there are more male directors than there are female ones), actresses suffer from lookism and stereotypes; actresses lose roles to younger actresses, are paid less, and are often passed over when it comes to casting hero roles. TFA has definitely made a statement by deviating from this old norm. The masses are now open to dominant female characters, such as Rey.
But public opinion remains unfavorable towards embroiling Star Wars in more disputed issues such as homosexuality. J.J. Abrams, who directed TFA, came under fire when he said it would be “narrow-minded” for homosexuality to be excluded from the Star Wars universe. Statistically, Abrams is right—Star Wars is a space opera about people, and it makes sense for gay characters to exist. However, it remains to be seen whether existence warrants representation. Some Star Wars fans, united in their esprit de corps, argue that treating representation of the gay community as a necessity would mean that all minorities would have to be represented, which is hardly feasible in film. Diversity is a good thing, but it has not been pivotal to the development Star Wars franchise and it seems almost sacrilegious to treat Star Wars as a means for a political statement than a purpose in itself.
Also, although gay characters have been successfully represented as supporting characters in TV shows, books, films, etc., there remains the indisputable fact that LGTBTA literature remains a subgenre. Being homosexual in a predominantly heterosexual world is a storyline in itself, and fans are concerned about gay characters drawing attention away from the “real” story. Deliberate engineering of a film so fantastically revered as Star Wars may prove to be harmful. J.J. Abrams is not directing the next installment of the Star Wars franchise, although he will be providing creative input as executive producer. He will also be involved in the making of other films in the Star Wars universe, so homosexual characters are still very much a possibility.
Mark Hamill, who portrays Luke Skywalker, recently went so far as to say he wouldn’t exclude the possibility of his character being gay. He left the iconic character’s sexual orientation open to interpretation, saying “…fans are writing and ask all these questions, ‘I’m bullied in school… I’m afraid to come out’. They say to me, ‘Could Luke be gay?’ I’d say it is meant to be interpreted by the viewer… If you think Luke is gay, of course he is. You should not be ashamed of it. Judge Luke by his character, not by who he loves.” Open interpretation is a blessing for fans who want to see their diversity reflected in the characters they idolize, but the whole matter is still submerged in heated debate.
Another benchmark of the progressive nature of TFA was revealed in Finn, portrayed by John Boyega, who is of African descent. He is the franchise’s first black lead, another cultural breakthrough. Finn defects from the dark side, where he served as a Stormtrooper, really just to save his own skin. As the film progresses, he becomes increasingly unsure of his motives. Is he working for the greater good, as Rey is doing, or just to save himself from the repercussions of defecting from the dark side? Based on the aforementioned remarks by Abrams, some fans have already speculated that Finn and another character, Poe (pilot for the Resistance, also known as the good side) are in a relationship. Boyega has stated in an interview he remains open to the possibility.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has definitely succeeded in enacting their Renaissance. Fans are already brimming with anticipation for the sequel, which started filming early this year and will be in theaters December 2017. TFA has made some good decisions to get with the times. What will come next? Perhaps Rey’s mysterious parentage will be revealed; we are all hoping for a Darth Vader-esque exposé on her unknown parents. *Maybe Kylo Ren, the conflicted villain, will defect from the dark side. Maybe the original character Luke Skywalker will get more screen time. And perhaps there will be a gay couple, or a Wookiee friend for the bereaved Chewbacca. Anything can happen—it’s Star Wars, after all.
BY JungMin Bae ’19
*Even people who have not watched Star Wars seem to know about the plot twist that revealed that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father, Anakin. Something like that could happen to Rey. She was left on a desert planet to fend for herself, and her parentage remains unknown.