After a little more than a year of promotion and anticipation and agony we’re more or less where we started. Sure, we’ve now seen Star Wars Episode VII. And it was good. Like “affirming all your hopes and deading any doubts” good. Great, you could say. But it’s hard not to look forward and become prematurely parched for Episode VIII. We’ve got 17 months to go before the next chapter of the new saga, and the wait is already brutal—especially after that final scene (no spoilers yet)—which leaves us plenty of time to talk about what The Force Awakens means for the franchise going forward.
Many people who know how to temper their emotions better than me came into The Force Awakens cautiously optimistic or outright agnostic. They saw how the last trilogy went and, even though George Lucas had the franchise pried from his hands and replaced with $4 billion, weren’t willing to predict satisfying execution from J.J. Abrams based off of three cryptic trailers and 13 months of ascending promotion. His revival of Star Trek was fantastic at first, but the second film brought a pronounced drop in enthusiasm.
Now that the force has indeed awakened, we can put Abrams at 2/2 on the scoreboard for rebooting wildly popular, intergalactic franchises with rabidly, borderline unsatisfiable fan bases. The new film dabbled in nostalgia while creating a fresh and exciting energy. Our old favorites were back for varying degrees of screen time, but the focus was on the new generation: Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and (to a lesser extent) Poe Dameron. And let’s not forget that little guy/girl(?) BB-8. The Force Awakens captured the sense of adventure Episodes I through III never could and avoided gratuitous CGI. The scale was appropriately towering without veering into corny territory (sand, anyone?). The most striking change was the quick banter—a carry over from his time with Star Trek—that provided comic relief throughout the death and destruction. Finn and Poe in particular are hilarious, with the latter unwavering in his confidence and the former conspicuously feigning the same trait. Rey is more serious, but who has time to fuck around when you’re slowly realizing you’re the new hope?
The skeptics may point toward Abrams's second Star Trek as reason to remain cautiously optimistic or outright agnostic. A fair point… But, even if J.J. only loves the beginning of things like Don Draper, we don’t have to worry. Episode VIII will get a new director in Rian Johnson, who was excellent in the underappreciated Looper. There’s no opportunity for another sophomore slump.
(That’s about as far as I can get without spoilers, so let’s get to the plot. Don’t proceed if you’re one of the few strange [Editor's Note: You aren't strange.] people who still haven’t seen The Force Awakens.)
Numerous questions arose during the wait for The Force Awakens, and many of them are still unanswered. We now know Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Princess. We now know Luke Skywalker disappeared because Kylo Ren, then known as Ben, betrayed him during his training and killed the other apprentices. Skywalker was terrified and felt responsible for the massacre and creation of a new member of the dark side and peaced all the way out.
But who are Rey’s parents? Who are the Knights of Ren, the group Kylo joined and became the leader of? What has Luke been doing this whole time? Ditto for Kylo and his master, Supreme Leader Snoke? Who even is Snoke? Is he Sith or just generally evil? What did the showdown look like between Luke and his pupils and Ren and his Knights?
We may not get all the answers (my money’s on not getting a clear look at the very last one), but I predict Episode VIII will do much more explaining than VII. With Luke back in the cut after that silently powerful final scene, we should have all the necessary parties involved to give us the information we so very need.
We can also expect to see plenty of growth. Kylo Ren is THE bad guy, no doubt, but his volcanic emotions and defeat at the hands of the newly force aware Rey show he still has a long way to go before becoming as powerful as Darth Vader (if he even can). Vader’s mask was part of an alphet keeping him alive and hiding hideous scars. Kylo’s is imitation and, in my opinion, used to cover up his uncertainty and neophytism. With the mask on he’s terrifying, but without it he’s vulnerable. Adam Driver does a brilliant job of subtly displaying the facade.
Rey is clearly destined for greatness after said duel and casually stumbling upon force persuasion (the most unbelievable part of the film). But to get there she’ll need rigorous training from Luke and will probably need to convince him to do so in the first place ala Skywalker and Yoda. Finn, too, shows promise with a blaster but needs more experience to become a warrior. The only one who’s already a boss is Poe. That dude is a goddamn wizard in the pilot seat. And, as played by Oscar Isaac, he’s well aware of his talents.
These storylines will keep us going for two more films, along with a grip of others we couldn’t possibly predict. It was easy to forget amongst all the hype, but The Force Awakens is just a piece of a much larger story that’ll play out over the next several years. We’ll have to be patient, but at least we know being optimistic is no longer foolish. It’s ok now, Star Wars. You’re safe. George Lucas can no longer hurt you.