Let me clarify: I don’t actually hate Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I watched the movie three times in four days, and will surely see at least twice more before it leaves theaters. But even though I love the movie, there is one major aspect of it that distresses me immensely. Major spoilers ahead...
Because The Force Awakens has destroyed Luke, Leia, and Han’s happy ending.
It’s gone. That sense of “and they lived happily ever after” from the close of Return of the Jedi has been annihilated as thoroughly as the Hosnian system. The original trilogy, which ended with the Rebels blowing up the Death Star, defeating the Empire, and saving the galaxy from tyranny, now concludes with is merely a brief celebration before the battle continues.
It was inevitable, of course. Once a sequel trilogy was announced, of course there needed to be bad guys for the good guys to fight. So Luke and the others couldn’t have completely saved the day. Perhaps renaming the Rebels and the Empire to the Resistance and the First Order was an attempt to salvage some sense of the original heroes’ accomplishments, but it’s difficult to feel that Luke and the others accomplished very much at all when there are still Stormtroopers marauding throughout the galaxy and entire planets are still being destroyed on the orders of British men in dark military uniforms.
As someone who grew up on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, retroactively qualifying the Rebels’ victory over the Empire and the accomplishments of the original trilogy is distressing enough. But what really upsets me about The Force Awakens is how it reveals (determines?) that despite all the conflict they faced, and all the victories they won, Luke, Leia and Han’s lives after the Original Trilogy were basically miserable.
And “miserable,” I think, is the correct word: Han and Leia not only had a kid who turned evil, but this was so traumatic that it tore their relationship apart, separating them for years. Luke tried and utterly failed to revive the Jedi order and not only got a bunch of people killed in the process, but failed to prevent his nephew from falling prey to the dark side. He’s spent years in self-imposed exile as a result. There’s no silver living here, no way to spin it—our heroes, the ones I grew up with, spent most of their adult lives alone, in anguish.
I hate this. I hate knowing that despite all the work they did, despite the conflicts they overcame, despite their many losses they suffered already, that their miseries were just beginning. I hate the idea that whenever I watch Leia and Han kiss in Empire Strikes Back from now on, I’ll know that in a few years their son will have murdered the students of Luke’s Jedi Academy, and their romance will end in pain. I hate the idea of when I see Luke save his father Anakin in Return of the Jedi, and finally bring balance to the Force, that I’ll always know that only failure and heartache await him.
I hate this decision, but I understand it. I don’t even think it was a bad choice— once Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were confirmed to be reprising their roles, there’s no way the three original heroes were all going to be found contentedly sipping the Star Wars equivalent of mai tais on some beach planet somewhere. That’s not interesting, and furthermore the new generation of characters needed conflicts to overcome, which in turn meant conflicts that Luke, Leia and Han couldn’t solve. That’s basic storytelling, and it’s exactly the sort of construction that always informed Star Wars, in that Luke and his compatriots had to solve the problems the previous generation had left behind.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to see Luke, Leia and Han turn from heroes into screw-ups—for them to have saved the galaxy and then, by their various failures, almost immediately bring it into a sorry state once again. I don’t want them to have messed up this badly. I don’t want them to be unhappy. Honestly, I don’t even want them to be old. When I think of Han Solo, I don’t want to remember an elderly smuggler who’s got nobody left to swindle, and whose main legacy is Kylo Ren—I want to think of the dashing scoundrel whose heroic nature got the better of him.
I understand that happy endings aren’t really real, that it’s naïve to think that once Return of the Jedi ended that Luke, Leia and Han suddenly had no more problems. That’s simply not how life works, presumably even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But for over 30 years, that was how it worked in the Star Wars universe—three young heroes defeated evil, brought peace to the galaxy, and lived happily ever after. It might not have been a particularly realistic ending, but then, I didn’t fall in love with Star Wars because of its gritty realism.
As great as The Force Awakens is, as many things it gets right, it didn’t come without a cost. I guess we won’t know if it was worth it until Episode IX comes out. But even if all the future Star Wars installments are as good as, or better than, TFA, I can’t help but feel every time I watch the Rebel Alliance’s celebration on Endor, I won’t be cheering for Luke, Leia, and Han; I’ll be mourning them, because this is the end of their happiest moment together, and it’s all downhill from there.
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