Ben Domenech gets right to the heart of what we see in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer:
[I]t rejects the core narrative assumption of the entire original trilogy and the prequels—that is, the assumption of the viewer that this is a story about the Skywalker family drama, within the context of the broader battle over the Galactic future and the dying old ways of cockamamie religious beliefs (Gretchen, stop trying to make midichlorians happen, it’s not going to happen)—as an entirely false frame of what really matters. . . .
Here is the thing you need to understand: No one cares about the Skywalkers. The vast people and species spread out across the universe did not see the story you saw. They do not know or care to know their story—not the Faustian bargain of the father, not the death of the mother, not the betrayal by the mentor, not the grudging acceptance of destiny and fate of the twins, and certainly not anything at all about the reluctance to “hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo.” . . .
This is the problem with thinking every story is about you. The universe has forgotten the Jedi, forgotten the Dark Side, forgotten the old stories—because they were not important. What do such minor family dramas matter in the grand scheme of things?
Only you think of yourself as the protagonist of reality. The galaxy does not care about you.
And once you start going down this road, it’s impossible to avoid the idea that (1) Star Wars is really about the Empire. (2) The Empire was a much more complicated than Lucas let on. And (3) Life after the fall of the Empire was probably worse than life under the Empire. Here’s Domenech again:
Imagine the troopers in the far-flung outposts of the Galactic Empire, an institution designed to bring order and law to a lawless galaxy—an entity built on the political and military assumption that those with the power to do so should not stand idly by as the universe descends toward chaos, but will instead intervene, at times brutally, to bring civilization to the uncivilized.
If you have no idea that Vader turned, that he carried out a final act of redemptive courage in the face of destructive evil, what do you think happened on the second Death Star? You basically think the Rebel Alliance, a group of anarchist terrorists led by believers in an inhuman cult, destroyed the lives of millions, murdered your supreme emperor, and to add insult to injury, defiled Darth Vader’s corpse. It’s like Pearl Harbor II, and this time they killed FDR too.
And that’s where we stand at the start of The Force Awakens.
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It’s interesting to note that over the last decade or so, all of the intellectual energy in Star Wars has been on the side of the Empire. There’s the explication of the Tarkin Doctrine, for instance:
He thinks that Palpatine should rule through fear of force rather than force itself. Tarkin understands deterrence. This is a man that recognizes that the Empire cannot kill its way to victory, but it can intimidate. This is counterinsurgency and stability through deterrence, based on a credible, overwhelming threat. That credible, overwhelming threat is the Death Star. Palpatine’s promotion of Moff Tarkin to Grand Moff, an entirely new rank, is evidence that 1) Palpatine recognized that Tarkin had a strategic vision and 2) the Empire heretofore lacked a military strategic vision. Palpatine rose to power through Machievellian politics and deception rather than military force. He didn’t defeat the Jedi clone army, he co-opted it. He defeated the Jedi through betrayal and deception, a skill set that may not work in the face of a galaxy-wide insurgency.
And then there’s the Tao of Sith. In his seminal Darth Vader blog, Chester Burton Brown explored the metaphysics of the “dark” side of the force, and his conclusions are convincing. Here’s his Vader ruminating on the difference between the Jedi and the Sith:
Not that long ago, if you’d spun a dystopian yarn about some future society where culture wars were so pervasive that nobody could enjoy reading a novel without first approving of the author’s politics, it would have been almost too fantastical to be believed. But within the insular world of science fiction, that future is becoming a reality.
Writing at age 35, on the cusp between youth and the rest of life, I wanted to know what to do about being a rock critic when I was no longer young. (Easy—quit.) Now, 20 years later, and on the verge of leaving middle age, I look to science fiction to help me master the imaginable sting of death: not knowing what is going to happen in the world once we are gone. Though not all science fiction is set in the future, it’s the only genre that can be used to extend the emotional resonance of memory to the future.