When we compare two trailers, one of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and another of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we can find some striking similarities and differences that tell us something about the new era of Star Wars.
Let us take a look at how we are introduced to the key characters of the new and the most recent Star Wars films. From there I then want to look back at the Original and the Prequel Trilogy and see how these connect.
The Force Awakens
As I discussed in an earlier post about Rogue One, trailers in the new Star Wars era seem to have a certain poetry of dialogue. Let us look at the words spoken in the trailer of The Force Awakens first, they are
Who are you?
I’m no one
I was raised to do one thing
but I’ve got nothing to fight for
Nothing will stand in our way
I will finish … what you started.
Those stories about what happened
It’s true … all of it.
The Dark Side
The Force … it’s calling to you!
Just let it in …
We meet Rey as ‘the one without identity’, she is no one. Finn and Kylo however are both introduced by referring to an identity that gives them purpose, or lack of purpose. The narrative that is set up is that of one who needs to find their identity in order to discover what their mission is. Kylo Ren’s choice is defined by his heritage, Finn’s choice in life is determined by his origin as one who is trained from birth to be a First Order storm trooper. For Rey a fate, a destiny, beckons if only she could uncover what her identity is.
In The Force Awakens Rey has a complex force-vision, a ‘flashback’ and a ‘flash-forward’ at the same time. Her flashback is one of abandonment but she is abandoned by someone she does not know. Evidently she has no memory of whomever left her on Jakku. All she clings on to is that they may return one day. Her orphaned origin also determines her choice in life … she waits for the return. Only when Maz Kanata impresses on her, after she had her force-vision, that this return will never come does she begin to question her choice and her destiny.
Finn is in that same position from the very start of the film, he is abandoned by the First-Order through what they want him to do. In his refusal to engage in the mass-murder of the innocents in the Jakku village he loses that link to that identity which gave him a definite purpose. As a result he ‘has nothing to fight for’ and is identity-less even to the degree that he does not even have a name, until he meets Poe who gives him that name, and Rey for whom he develops a sense that, whatever she might mean to him, she is something worth fighting for. Finn finds his new ‘mission’ after assuming bits and pieces of a new identity. Rey only takes her first step on that path of reconstructing an identity after her confrontation with Kylo. For her it is in that fight that she realises her identity is inextricably linked to Luke Skywalker. This starts her on a quest about which we will hear more in Star Wars Episode VIII next year.
At the end of the film, Kylo’s identities are shattered. With the murder of his father he cuts himself violently from the ‘Solo’ side of those identities. But with Anakin’s lightsabre passing him by and landing in Rey’s hands the connection to the other is breached, if not all together broken. As a result Kylo becomes near to powerless against the untrained yet force-sensitive Rey. What can he still fight for after his identity has been put into question in such a harsh way? There to we only know the premise of an answer. We know he will be taken to Snoke, to complete his training.
Jyn, whatever I do
I do it to protect you.
Say you understand!
Go’n get out of here!
Our Rebellion is all that remains to push back the Empire,
we think you might be able to help us.
When was the last time you were in contact with your father?
-What is this?
You can find the complete text in my previous post on this, but here I just want to highlight the first few lines. This trailer introduces Jyn (and the other characters) in terms of their actions. First we hear Jyn’s father say what he will do, and why. Then he tells Jyn what to do, and she does exactly that. There is no ‘Jyn, I am your father!’ here! This is not about her identity, this is about a choice she must make.
When we here Mon Mothma speak about the Rebellion, it follows a deeply similar pattern. There is no ‘I am the Rebel leader’ but there is that expression of a choice made to ‘push back the Empire’. Also a choice to ask Jyn for help. The characters here introduce themselves through choices they make, through intents they disclose and through a sense of purpose they reveal. We learn about their identities through their choices and actions. Not the other way around.
Of course we do not know the story of the film yet, but it is clear from trailers, but also from interviews with the cast, that it is very much a story in which the characters find out what their identities are through the choices they make in the story. The very first trailer for Rogue One already picked up this theme when we heard Saw Gererra’s voice-over ask Jyn: ‘If you continue to fight, what will you become?’
The Star Wars Hexalogy
It is interesting to see this difference between The Force Awakens and Rogue One as follows,
- The Force Awakens: Identity shapes choice of action;
- Rogue One: Choice of action shapes identity;
and to ask ourselves how this fits into the larger picture of the previous 6 films. The Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy both approach these themes as well and from different angles. In Episode I we hear of Anakin’s virgin birth and Qui Gon’s recognition of ‘the Chosen One’ in him. What does this mean?
Anakin is assigned an identity by the outside world, ‘Chosen One’ in the case of the Jedi and ‘Slave’ for the rest of the galaxy. When his mother Shmi describes Anakin to Qui Gon she at no point mentions his identity and his virgin birth is framed as an act of ‘spontaneous creation’ by The Force. His mother’s name ‘Shmi Skywalker’ is really just Hebrew for ‘My name is Skywalker’. Anakin Skywalker approaches us in Episode I as a blank page and only his mother gives a clue about his identity when she tells of him ‘he gives without thought of reward!‘. Anakin Skywalker is defined through the choices he makes and the actions he takes. The whole Prequel Trilogy breathes that message: your actions define who you are … whether it talks about Anakin, Jar Jar, Obi Wan Padme or about the Republic. The Republic becomes the Empire when it chooses to follow Palpatine the demagogue and engages in genocide against the Jedi. Padme dies when she chooses not to follow her love and her heart. Obi Wan becomes an exile when chooses to abandon his dying ‘brother’ and his mission. Yoda becomes an exile when he abandons his mission and loses his ‘mantle’ as a Jedi. Finally Anakin becomes Darth Vader when he abandons his defining characteristic as a child, giving without thought of reward, and murders the Jedi children.
How differently do things operate in the Original Trilogy! One of the very first things we hear about who Luke Skywalker is said by Aunt Beru who describes how much Luke is like his father. Notice how before that the conversation between Leia and Darth Vader is all about who they are! The first thing we hear Han Solo say in Episode IV is … his name and rank, and the name of his ship! In the Original Trilogy the core characters have, for us as viewers, an identity and their actions follow from who they are. Luke starts out as a farm boy and he wants to do farm-boy things: meet up with the lads at Toshi station. Only when Imperial Troops have murdered his aunt and uncle, has severed him from his farm-boy identity does he become Luke the Jedi-Padawan and Rebel by placing himself in the service of Leia (via R2D2) and being taught by Obi Wan. These characters have, or take on, identities which then define their actions. Even all the way at the end of Episode VI, when the end of the Empire and the Emperor is near the key statement that opens this final act is Luke saying to Palpatine: ‘You have failed your highness, I am a Jedi, like my father before me!’
Luke’s certainty about who he is tells him how to choose and how to act. The closing dialogue for Han and Leia reflects that as well. Han, seeing Leia’s emotional attachment to Luke is unsure who he is for her and what to do. But she affirms Luke’s identity as her brother and Han’s identity as her lover. And Anakin?
In the world of the Galaxy of Star Wars there is no return for Anakin. His actions and his choices have forever made him Darth Vader. But in The Force there is a return, as we see when Luke sees Anakin’s Force-ghost appearance at the celebration ending the movie. Anakin does not return to the ‘clean slate’ state of Episode I, those times are definitively over. But in The Force he returns as the early Episode III Anakin, the Anakin who would not abandon his friend Obi Wan despite Palpatine’s temptations to do so. But also the Anakin that sometimes is not strong enough … a balanced Anakin.
If we view things in this light then The Force Awakens indeed appears to be a Sequel to the Original trilogy with their identity driven choices by characters. Rogue One however seems a Sequel to the Prequels, with their choice-driven construction of identity. Evidently things are not really as black-and-white as presented here and these two facets can be found throughout all the Star Wars output, including the animation series Star Wars: Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But with the second ‘Star Wars Story’ film also set in the time-period before the Original Trilogy there might actually be a path for these ‘spin-off’ films to be to the Prequel Trilogy, what the Sequel Trilogy is going to be for the Original Trilogy. So yes … bring on that third spin-off film as an Obi Wan movie or a pre-Episode IV Boba Fett film.