A while ago I wrote a post that attempted to understand the contents of the original trilogy as a reflection of the real-world events in the late seventies and the early eighties of the last century. Similarly in a second post I tried to look back on the Prequel Trilogy as a reflection of the concurrent world events of the noughties of this century. Now that we are close to the brink of the start of the Sequel Trilogy it is risky but fun to ask ourselves what the current world events, and the way we might expect these events to unfold in the near future, could tell us about the Sequel Trilogy. The exciting thing of course is to try this before seeing Episode VII … so for whatever it is worth; let’s give it a shot. If this post turns out to contain any spoilers … then I am sorry but also terribly proud 🙂
The great turmoils of our time
The Prequel Trilogy Era in our world was dominated by separatism, terrorism and interventionism from Yugoslavia’s civil war and the first attacks of Al Qaida just prior to the Prequels (but during the pre-production and production stages) to the Iraq War, the collective migraine resulting from it and the London 07/07 bombings during those years. It is easy to see those turmoils reflected in the Prequel Trilogy along side echoes of the discussions about cloning, stem-cell research and many more aspects of public and political life in the Noughties.
The Original Trilogy Era in our world was, for many, an experience of the ‘worn out universe of the ’80’s recession’, of the oppressiveness of authoritarian regimes like the Soviet Union or the divisive and socially belligerent elected governments of a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Reagan. It was a place where recession-stricken youths with growing lack of employment and opportunities could feel themselves isolated in a spot that was ‘farthest from the bright center of the universe’, where ‘entertainment’ was hanging out at Toshe Station with your friends and dreaming into the Sunset, of something more worth living, for was never far away.
Our current Era, the decade in which the Sequel Trilogy will take shape, is evidently also not a period of content, peace and calm. Now I don’t believe that George Lucas or any of the other writers and directors on the Original Trilogy or the Prequels consciously decided to make movies reflecting the state of the world they were living in. But I also don’t believe that a director can completely avoid it even if they were trying to. JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy most probably are not aiming at making political films. But I would not be surprised if they too find themselves in a position like George Lucas in 2005, when Revenge of the Sith came out and press and media suddenly noticed how you could view the film as a commentary on current events, as for example CBS did or the Washington Post.
- IS & Ukraine: Fanatism, the radicalization of youngsters & the plight of refugees;
- Race, Obama & equal rights: Why nothing is black-and-white yet everything seems polarised;
- The EU and Euro-turmoil: the difficulties of building a union;
I know there might be many others that you could choose as alternatives and I would love to read a Sequels prediction based on those. But I am simply restricting myself to these three items.
The radicalization of youngsters & the plight of Refugees
Star Wars movies have a great potential for picking up trends and feelings that are common among the generation that ‘grows up’ with the trilogy but that nevertheless are hard to express or put in words for exactly that generation. The radicalization of youngsters to join murderous fanatical groups like IS, to become lone wolfs attacking their very own communities or kin or to drift into the abyss of ‘white-power’ groups and join the fray in Ukraine on either side is such a difficult to express process. Sure it is an extremely small minority of youngsters that engage in this, but the questions, the lure, the revulsion and the doubts that these things generate definitely occupies more minds that just the deluded radical few who visibly take particular action.
I expect ‘The First Order‘ to be not just a continuation of the Empire by different means. Given that we see a key basis on a seemingly deserted ice planet, it looks more like a well-organized and highly hierarchical yet scattered remnant that seeks to restore imperial times then a fully formed Empire by itself. I would not be surprised if the leader ‘Snoke‘ is a far more of a charismatic and visible leader than the late Emperor was, a leader who calls on beings across the Galaxy to join him in his cause. A leader who seduces others into subservience by the sleek grandeur of the vision of what he hopes to restore, but also by the ruthlessness of his Storm Troopers who are no longer the unmotivated conscripts from the later Imperial times, nor the highly trained and constrained Clones from the Republic’s days but who are zealous volunteers who willingly sacrifice their lives to further the cause. The most zealous and ruthless of all could well be Captain Phasma.
So who is Kylo Ren, if not a relatively young person who, in the words of Adam Driver at SDCC 2015, is convinced he is doing the right thing. Who is guided, or misguided, by an adoration of a ‘sad religion’ and past cult-figures to take active part in the conflicts in the world surrounding him. A fanatical young man, who sacrifices all sense of ethics and morality for what he believes to be a just cause, who probably ends up hurting his own community and … who knows, possibly his own kin. But Kylo is not driven by submission to the grand ideal of restoring an Empire, as Snoke and Phasma are. Kylo sees a special destiny in the world, a heritage handed down to him from ancestry.
So who is Finn, if not a young person who sets out to do what he sees at his duty. Also convinced to do the right thing until he meets the darkness of those who are really convinced of their own right to violate the rights of others to further the cause. Who else could he be but someone who is torn yet feels helpless to do anything else but run away from it until he senses that there is this other power that possibly would encourage him to take a stand. Finn needs to find a way, a path to courage, a guide.
And who is Rey, if not a young person who at an early age decided to turn her back onto this universe of conflict and strife, this young woman who scavenges the outskirts of the world to make a living not unhappy about her place in the grand scheme of things, but not satisfied either. She can be a force for change, which she knows, but she needs a trigger to change. She has a courage she fears and a calling she tries to ignore.
Why nothing is Black-and-White and yet everything seems polarised
In the Original Trilogy it takes almost three movies before we realize that Darth Vader is not purely evil. In the Prequel Trilogy the darkness inside of Anakin is clearly present from the very first moment onwards although at that time still overwhelmed by the boys naive goodness. Han Solo can sway between sympathetic rogue to cold-calculating egotist, Luke can vary from self-sacrificing knight to whiny yet slightly lazy farm boy. Padme Amidala can be the courageous and resourceful fighter of the Geonosian Arena but also the helpless lover overcome by emotion dying of a broken heart. In the Star Wars Saga nothing is black-and-white and yet everything is polarised. The Sequel Trilogy is not likely to break with that tradition.
So expect Rey, Finn, Poe but also Kylo to have the surprising sides that do not fit the picture you might already have constructed of them through your expectations. A haunting past may steer Kylo on a trajectory of fanatism, but who knows he possibly wins over a traditional ‘good guy’ who sees the reason behind Kylo’s flirst with the dark side. Rey may be more directly connected to him that we know at the start, or even after the end of The Force Awakens and Episodes VIII and IX may very well revolve around entangling the exact relationships and their impact on the moral choices of the characters. It is a new story here and the Force is in balance; as far as we know this could take us anywhere. Finn might be just a one episode hero, a Lando of the Sequel Trilogy, or a Django Fett, someone to play a crucial role but not a lengthy one. Maybe he is carrying something of great value to the Resistance and Poe’s mission is to bring him to Leia.
Of course The Force Awakens will contains a ‘handing over the torch’ segment. Although the Original Trilogy was shot before the Prequel Trilogy there are those moments as well. When Luke decides to use the Force when aiming for the Death Star’s exhaust port, there is a ‘handing over’ from Obi Wan to Luke. And Obi Wan giving Luke Anakin’s last lightsaber is evidently a ‘passing the torch moment’. Neither of these moments is extremely pivotal in the story however and I will not be surprised if those similar moments will not be as pivotal in The Force Awakens either. I hypothesize that instead of spending valuable and costly minutes of film showing hand-overs JJ will go for the story of the new generation. In the Sequel Trilogy the Original Trilogy characters will meet their destinies, just as key Prequel Trilogy characters meet their final destinies in the Original Trilogy.
Three characters from the PT find a final resolution of their life’s story in the OT; Anakin, Obi Wan and Yoda. The fallen Hero, the mentor and the sage. I could imagine that, like his father before him, Luke‘s arc will not reach its final conclusion until Episode IX, I would not be surprised to see Han Solo in the mentor role with respect to Rey finding his end in The Force Awakens and to see Leia return in a much more sage-like role training Rey with an emphasis in Episode VIII. Just speculating I would say Rey has turned herself away from a world like we see around us, full of strife, hatred, dissent en warring factions each seemingly trying to out-compete the other. And where Anakin’s legacy draws Kylo into the dark, it is Finn’s struggle that re-awakens Rey’s connection with the Galaxy. A connection that, once rekindled, is trained and shaped under the guidance of Leia after Han Solo has brought Rey to her.
I think in the Sequel Trilogy we will be following Rey’s journey, and her hero’s journey may very well be less the Jedi hero that we saw in Anakin and Luke’s paths but more journey that follows in the footsteps of Padme Amidala and Leia Organa. The path of a female Aragorn who is destined to take that royal role that her name seems to suggest. But not the princess that would represent so much the superficiality of the times that we live in today, not the celebrity eager to be discovered desperately seeking exposure to the talent scouts of the Galaxy. Rather the withdrawn ‘ranger’ or scavenger, who is tired of the machinations of the world of politics and of war but who is thrusted into her trajectory by the events that not only affect her but that are deeply connected to who she is and where she is coming from. A Star Wars celebration of the reluctant Queen.
The difficulty of building a Union
The Rebel Alliance is no longer, it has evolved into ‘The Resistance‘. The Rebel Alliance in the Original Trilogy held political power and the Prequel Trilogy clearly revealed how important elements of the Rebel Alliance grew from the political establishment on Coruscant during the years of the Fall of the Republic. The Empire emerged not from the ‘ashes of the Repuclic’ but from what by then had become the very backbone of the late Republic. The military-industrial complex built up during the Clone Wars was ready to take over all essential functions of power.
When The Force Awakens opens up we will be dealing with a First Order that no longer has the structures of a Republic to fall back on. We will also see a Resistance that is a remnant of a Rebel Alliance that has probably fallen apart at the demise of its unifying enemies. Both organization will be facing the task of somehow building a union of sorts, whether it is unity based on fear or fanaticism, or unity based on solidarity. It could very well be that in the Sequel Trilogy it will not be about defeating or killing the enemy but that the emphasis will have shifted toward uniting and unifying. Of course this is still Star Wars, so don’t worry there will be plenty of fights! But I would be happy to hypothesize that Rey’s task will not be the assassination of a brother, like Jaina in the EU, will not be the redeeming removal of an arch-enemy, like Anakin in Return of the Jedi, but that she is to complete Luke’s Journey of redemption and the restoration of trust. However not under the leadership of Jedi, not under the guidance of men, but in the continuation of creating alliances and building unity, of standing up for what is right yet trying to find a peaceful way out.