Movie Review | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I don’t go to the movies at an actual theater all that often, so I’m probably awed by the big screen and surround sound more than most. On the other hand, I’m not that awed by action for action’s sake. Film greatness brings together story line, acting, music, and visual beauty. For all these reasons, I was wowed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and loved it, both the movie and the process of wowing itself. The part of the movie that some critics disliked—its similarity to the first Star Wars trilogy—didn’t bother me, because it’s been so long since I’ve seen it. And a couple of the points of similarity seem to me to be worthy of further comment.

Like the original Star Wars, the film focuses on a chosen one, which of course is a dominant theme of Scripture. As in the saga of Joseph, which I’m currently exploring in a book-in-process, the identity of the chosen one is a bit ambiguous, because there is, or might be, more than one. The most likely Star Wars candidate is Rey (played by British actress Daisy Ridley), an orphan abandoned on the desert planet Jakku, whose backstory is apparently being reserved for the next episode. She’s a scrappy female who doesn’t make a big deal out of that fact. She also knows her salvage business, as well as various skills required to pull it off in the Wild West of Jakku, and yet she’s definitely learning as she goes. She soon pairs up with Finn (John Boyega), another abandoned soul, and perhaps a lesser chosen one, who was kidnapped by the bad guys of the First Order and forced into service as one of their stormtroopers. He deserts with the help of the third big new character, Poe (Oscar Isaac), an ace pilot with the Resistance, the force that opposes the domination of the First Order.

I liked the resonance with biblical portrayals of the chosen one as the least and most unlikely.

Han Solo, played as in the original by Harrison Ford with his usual aplomb, provides a counter to even that sort of chosen one. Han is among the good guys, but hard to designate as a hero. Even when he’s in the middle of the action, he’s Joseph doing time in Potiphar’s jail, Moses in Midian, David out somewhere with the sheep. As a fellow sixty-something, I especially liked him in this film, defying the decades that tend to make him an even more unlikely hero. Rey, who sort of replaces Han, is on the other hand close to Joseph’s age at the beginning of his story. But unlike Joseph, who is clearly designated as the chosen one from the outset, she must incrementally discover and embrace her chosen qualities.

Joseph, of course, grows into his assigned greatness as he serves his father and his father’s God, and Rey’s story lacks that element. But the story isn’t exactly atheistic, as some have claimed. The Force is not the God of Jacob, but it’s also not just impersonal force. “The Force be with you” is said only once in the film, and that with just the right nuance by Princess, now-General, Leia (Carrie Fisher). But the slogan expresses a hope that the Force will somehow opt to be with you, not just that you will figure out how to access the Force. So, even though the Force moves through all living things and even though the chief evildoer, Darth Vader’s protégé Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) employs it to great effect, the Force also seems to have a will of its own. It “awakens” as in the subtitle just in time to help the good-guy Resistance overcome the evil First Order. I’m not sure the scriptwriter intended it this way. The metaphysical tone seems intent on being Eastern and non-theistic, but the story doesn’t really work with a completely impersonal energy. So, when the Force awakens, it takes sides, and it’s the side of the good guys. To advance that side, the Force seems to select Rey, who only gradually realizes she’s been chosen, but somehow resembles a biblical chosen one.

A final parallel with Scripture: Film critic Peter Travers says, “As any Star Wars fan knows, bloodlines are crucial to the plot” (Rolling Stone). As in the original episodes, the pull of bloodline transcends even the polarity of good and evil. The chosen one is sometimes chosen despite lineage (or in the Bible despite birth order), yet lineage still shapes destiny. Star Wars highlights the truth that one can choose to either live up to pedigree or defy it, and that choice can determine the outcome of the whole story.

 

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