A Trilogy Awakens

Awesome new characters in Star Wars
“A Trilogy Awakens”
A Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG-13
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating, Four Reels            

            The Force Awakens may be the most anticipated film of the Millennial generation as proven by the insane number of internet plot theories that circled during the months prior. You can see my own predictions here (hint: only one turned out to be true). Despite much tension from the distant memory of the prequels, we had nothing to fear. Even on its own, it’s a thrilling popcorn treat but as part of the Star Wars saga, no one could have asked for much more.
I’ll try to keep hush about important secrets, but it would be impossible to explain the plot without spoiling something, so fair warning. Those who wish to remain blissfully ignorant, read no further. Although a new Republic has been established, the Empire remains in the form of the First Order, kept at bay by a group of fighters called the Resistance led by the now aging General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Both groups are searching the galaxy for Luke Skywalker, who mysteriously vanished after one of his students, the sinister Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), destroyed the new Jedi Academy. The rogue pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides the information on Luke whereabouts in a droid, the adorable BB-8, who is rescued by scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and ex-stormtropper Finn (John Boyega). They resolve to return the droid and help save the galaxy.
If it sounds familiar, this is also the plotline of A New Hope. So many elements were similar that my brother-in-law cynically labeled it a “reboot” of the original. My wife was even worse, calling it a “shameless rehash.” I prefer the term “homage.” After three prequels that hopefully will fade into a distant memory, director J.J. Abrams’ most important task was preserving what Star Wars stood for: funny lines, sympathetic heroes, dastardly villains, adorable robots, and the “golly-gee-this-is-cool” sensibility. Everything any fan could want is there.
This “rehash” also works on a spiritual level as Star Wars has always been a pantheistic universe that operates in a cyclical manner as the light and dark sides of force balance each other out. This is perhaps the series’ greatest weakness as it undercuts the thrust towards holiness. The religious worldview is not too problematic for children, however, because good is always shown to be clearly better than evil and always conquers in the end.
In a recent interview, science educator Bill Nye called Star Wars “Shakespearian,” an observation that struck especially true in this installment. The center is not visual effects but family dynamics. The Force Awakens introduces several new branches of the Skywalker family tree, including a new plucky protagonist and a twisted antagonist that are both endlessly fascinating. The decisions made by each family member effects all the rest, and decades later the consequences of selfish or selfless actions continue to ripple. It’s a potent reminder that every human born comes from a family and, even if their existence is brief, affects the Universe forever. In an age where the endless cycle of violence is becoming more and more apparent, this fact provides needed hope. No matter how lost someone may seem, the love of a father or a mother or a sibling can bring them back. It’s still a good idea though to have a lightsaber around just in case.
It goes without saying that The Force Awakens is a glorious feast for the eyes and the ears, but it has the heart to match. It remains to be seen whether the next two can bring it full circle, certainly a promising start. As Han would say, “Great shot, kid! Don’t get cocky.”

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on December 28th, 2015