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What worked (and what didn’t) in ‘The Force Awakens’

Yesterday, I complained about the convenient coincidences that litter J.J. Abrams’ Force Awakens film. In hindsight, I probably should have first explained how much I enjoyed the movie, then moved on to pedantic quibbles.

Better late than never, right? Here are the things I liked—and a few more I didn’t—about the latest Star Wars film. Major spoilers below!

The good

  • The Force Awakens doesn’t over-explain every little detail. We’re told that the village elder who hands over the Skywalker map is an “old friend” —but we don’t know anything else about him. Similarly, Han Solo references new misadventures with Chewbecca, but these are left to audience’s imagination. We learn that Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Preparatory School crashed and burned, but we don’t know why or how. Suddenly, the Star Wars universe feels big again—as if the franchise has many stories left to tell.
  • When Stormtrooper FN–2187 (later “Finn”) attends to a fallen comrade on Jakku, his helmet gets smeared with a bloody handprint. That’s clever filmmaking; the mark makes it easy for us to the audience to distinguish him from his white-clad colleagues.
  • I love BB–8. That droid has more personality than most human characters from the prequels.
  • Rey is fantastic. She has an interesting backstory, she’s capable, she’s vulnerable, and she’s playful. I love how the film subverts the traditional “damsel in distress” trope; Rey doesn’t really need Finn to rescue her, and she resents his attempt to play her “knight in shining armor.” I can’t wait until my daughter’s old enough to watch Awakens; I’m glad to have mainstream entertainment that I don’t have to revise for her sake.
  • The movie covers a lot of ground, but it also takes the time to tell Rey’s story properly. We understand her, because we see her life in detail. We know she’s bold, because we see her confidently exploring a cavernous wreck. We know she’s lonely, thanks to her chalk-mark calendar. We know she’s afraid that she’ll never escape Jakku, because we see her watching the elderly scavenger. He know she’s desperate, because she wolfs down her insta-bread. We know she’s got a adventurous streak, because she gazes in wonder at a departing starship. With very little dialogue, we’ve learned exactly who this character is. By the time the sequence ends, we’re fascinated and eager to see what’s next for her.
  • Kylo Ren’s a fun baddie. He may look and sound like Vader, thanks to that bizarre mask. But this character isn’t a rehash. In fact, Ren’s temper tantrums and occasional missteps make him more intriguing than Vader ever was.
  • The bickering between the imperial commander and Kylo Ren felt real to me. Ren subverts the First Order’s clean chain of command in an unpredictable, interesting way.
  • There’s real camaraderie between Finn and Poe Dameron. Their excited banter in the TIE fighter made me grin.
  • Han Solo worked well as this movie’s “Obi-Wan.” After his lackluster recent career, Harrison Ford deserves credit. So do the film’s writers; they made us care about Han Solo again (after his boring Return of the Jedi sleep-walk).
  • Maz Kanata, this film’s Force guru, is the best CG character I’ve ever seen, besting both Davy Jones and Gollum. I was particularly impressed with the character’s facial expressiveness.
  • I loved that we hear Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice during Rey’s vision. Force ghosts are speaking to her, but she’s not quite attuned enough to hear them yet.
  • Han Solo’s murder helps cement Kylo Ren as a bad guy. I despise Ren more fervently than I ever did Darth Vader or the Emperor. Yes, I’m bummed that Solo’s gone, but I’m glad he was sacrificed for a good cause: to make the new trilogy’s villain compelling.
  • I loved the movie’s last scene: the swelling orchestration of the Force theme, the dramatic reveal of Skywalker’s face, and the proffered lightsaber (a wordless invitation back to the fight). That’s how you do a cliffhanger.

The bad

  • See yesterday’s post for nitpicky gripes about the plot line.
  • Does the Republic exist simply to be destroyed by the First Order? I understand the basic conflict between the Order and the Resistance. But then there’s the Republic, which we learn has its own fleet. Why weren’t they fighting the First Order? Why leave your defense to a ragtag insurgency with no big ships? And even if the Republic had underestimated the danger posed by the First Order, why doesn’t its fleet come charging in once Starkiller Base destroys the galactic capital?
  • Snoke didn’t quite work for me. I get that he’s this film’s Palpatine—a mysterious menace who won’t show up in the flesh until later films. But I don’t understand his motivation, and he looked hokey. He reminded me of the alien from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
  • There’s too much nostalgia and fan service. For example, the Han-Leia relationship doesn’t click. Better actors might’ve redeemed the stilted dialogue, but Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford can’t quite hack it. Another sentimental misstep? Han’s familiar line aboard the freighter (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”) felt forced.
  • The climactic lightsaber battle dragged on too long. Even the longest sword fight in Empire changed scenery once in a while—from the freezing chamber out to the dangling platform. Rey’s duel with Ren never leaves the woods.

Again, I enjoyed The Force Awakens. The film’s weaknesses don’t sink it. In fact, I’d probably rank it ahead of Episode IV—but well behind Empire Strikes Back. Like “A New Hope,” Episode VII sets the stage for later—hopefully better!—sequels.

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Convenient coincidences in ‘The Force Awakens’

J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot leaned too heavily on unlikely coincidences. Kirk just happens to get marooned on the same moon as elder Spock. Monsters just happen to chase him straight into Spock’s cave hideout. Scotty just happens to be stationed a few miles away.[4]

Abrams’ latest sci-fi epic, The Force Awakens, features several similar plot holes:

WARNING: spoilers below!

  • BB–8 somehow rolls its way to Rey. What are the chances that the droid who knows Luke Skywalker’s location runs into the Force-sensitive girl with apparent ties to the Skywalker clan?[1]
  • Finn stumbles onto Rey and BB–8. Improbably, the fugitive stormtrooper happens upon the fugitive droid and its new master. Jakku must be a very small planet.
  • The Millennium Falcon is rusting away on Jakku—of all the planets in the galaxy. I actually liked the Falcon’s reveal, but doesn’t it seem improbable that the same ship that ferried Luke from Tatooine has been waiting around to carry Rey away from Jakku?
  • Maz Kanata, this film’s Force-sensitive guru character, possesses Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber. That’s very convenient, since it triggers Rey’s Force awakening. Kanata brushes aside Han Solo’s question about how she acquired it. But… seriously, Maz, why’s this thing in your basement?
  • Finn knows too much about Starkiller Base—more than his low-level First Order position would explain. A stormtrooper peon knows the superweapon’s key weakness?[2]
  • R2-D2 reactivates at just the right time. Why did the trash-can droid pick that opportune moment to wake up? Talk about Deus ex Machina.[3]
  • In general, what are the chances that the events depicted in The Force Awakens would mirror the original trilogy so slavishly? A twenty-year-old orphan on a desert planet finds a droid sought by both the evil imperials and a noble resistance. The droid carries information that could sway the balance of power in the galaxy. Our hero teams up with a roguish outlaw and an older mentor aboard the Millenium Falcon. The mentor character tells stories about the Force and legendary Jedi. A short alien guru guides our hero toward the Light side of the Force. The insurgency destroys a gigantic space weapon just before it blasts them out of existence. Welcome to Deja Vu: the Movie.

    “It’s like poetry. It rhymes.”


Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed The Force Awakens. But these plot seams show where the filmmakers valued nostalgia over storytelling. The writers wanted Han Solo to find our young heroes, so they placed the Falcon (which Solo could track) on Jakku. They needed Luke Skywalker for the cliffhanger, so R2-D2 waits until the denouement to power up.

These twists may cater to aging fans’ sentimentality, but they make little sense in context.


  1. The movie doesn’t actually make Rey’s identify clear. It’s still theoretically possible that she’s just a random orphan, who’s not connected with the Skywalkers at all. But then why even mention the “family” she’s waiting for on Jakku? And why does Anakin’s old lightsaber trigger her Force vision?  ↩
  2. Or was Finn bluffing so that he could rescue Rey?  ↩
  3. One potential explanation: R2-D2 can use the Force. That’s an intriguing theory, but it’s never actually been confirmed by the movies.  ↩
  4. I’ve heard these happy accidents explained away as “fate”—i.e. the universe “course-corrects” and finds a way to bind these characters’ destinies together. Bullshit; that’s screenwriter-speak for “We couldn’t think of a good story reason.”
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Huh. That doesn’t feel like ‘Star Trek’.

On first watch, this trailer bummed me out. Star Trek Beyond feels like “Fast & Furious in Space.” Maybe fans should have expected this—director Justin Lin also helmed four Furious movies. But J.J. Abrams’ Trek reboot already felt too action-heavy for the staid franchise; this trailer doubles down on that approach.

The more I watch the teaser, however, the less its pace bothers me. Remember that the classic Trek films hail from a different filmmaking era—slower, smaller, quieter. Modern, mainstream audiences wouldn’t endure Trek’s glacially-paced naval battles or interminable static effects shots. Replicating that outdated feel could tank the franchise (again). If overemphasizing adventure helps keep Star Trek alive, that’s fine by me.

Plus, even if Trekkies wrinkle their noses at its tone, the trailer offers some encouraging signs. Beyond seems to take place during the Enterprise’s legendary five-year mission. The crew has ventured far from home and finds itself stranded amidst a hostile alien culture. That set-up harkens back to Trek’s episodic TV roots. If the plot is handled well—yes, that’s a big “if”—this movie could be fun.

I do have one beef, though. The trailer shows swarming robots (?) disintegrate the Enterprise; Captain Kirk then laments, “We have no ship!” That could be a red herring—maybe the Enterprise survives the attack. But if it doesn’t, that reveal feels like an unnecessary spoiler. In Star Trek, the ship itself is a character, and you don’t telegraph a character’s demise seven months before the film premieres. By all means, go ahead and wreck the Enterprise, but save that sad plot twist for the theaters.


EDIT: Here’s a Wrath of Khan trailer set to the Beyond trailer’s music (the Beastie Boys).

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How Disney kept its ‘Force Awakens’ secrets

Bill Whitaker, correspondent for 60 Minutes, tried to record a Force Awakens scoring session with his iPhone:

So, this is John Williams, and I’m here; let me record some of this. So I took out my cell phone. …. These two representatives of Disney came racing over and kind of demanded that I cease and desist.

When they first came over and asked me to delete it, I did. And then, as we were leaving, they asked, “So… did you delete the delete?” I said, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

It’s incredible how little anyone actually knows about The Force Awakens’ plot. The trailers reveal very little actual story. The actors promoting the movie have remained tight-lipped (citing brutal non-disclosure agreements). Even John Williams’ soundtrack won’t drop until premiere day (usually, film scores are released weeks before the movie itself hits theaters).

As another 60 Minutes producer explains, “Disney has a very tight grip on this film; they don’t want anything to get out. There are people whose full-time job it has been to make sure that nothing leaks to the Internet, or that nothing gets sent out to the world at large.” Judged by how little we know, those censors did good work.[1]

Contrast Disney’s secrecy to how The Phantom Menace was handled, back in 1999. Two months before Episode I premiered, Weird Al had written “The Saga Begins”, a parody song that accurately summarizes the film’s entire plot. His lyrics even mention never-before-seen characters like Jar-Jar Binks and Boss Nass, along with exotic locales like Naboo and Coruscant. It’s spot-on.

How’d he do it? Weird Al received no exclusive sneak peeks from Lucasfilm. No one snuck him a pre-release script. Instead, as Yankovic explains:

The song was entirely based on Internet rumors. I gathered all the leaked info I could about the movie from all the various Star Wars websites… and was able to piece together the basic plot.


  1. Yes, there are places online where you can find informed guesses at The Force Awakens’ storyline. Fans have sifted each trailer for clues and assembled a rough plot outline. I already know more than I wish I knew. My only solace? Maybe these superfans’ guesses are wrong.  ↩

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‘The hero of a generation’

Michael Giacchino composed the soundtracks for Up, Jurassic World, and Star Trek, among many others. Here, he writes about his admiration for John Williams, who has written the most recognizable movie music of the past forty years:

I was 10 years old in 1977 when I ran down the steps on Christmas morning to find the double album LP of Star Wars waiting for me. ….

On the verge of another Christmas, 38 years after that first Star Wars album debuted, I am privileged to still call John [Williams] a friend, and I couldn’t be happier to see my other friend, J.J. Abrams, get the opportunity to work with not just my hero — but the hero of a generation of filmmakers and composers.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that John Williams scored my youth. As a twelve-year-old, I nearly wore out the cassette albums for Jurassic Park and The Last Crusade. (Yes, I was a weird kid.) Even now, his scores comprise the core of my music library. Rarely does a day go by in which I don’t queue up a Williams track while I work.

On the list the Hollywood composers not named “Williams,” Michael Giacchino ranks high for me. He shares his mentor’s remarkable knack for inventing memorable melodies. But while I love his scores (LOST and Star Trek are particular favorites), I’m more impressed by the way he unabashedly adores his industry’s elder statesman. Giacchino seems to appreciate the extent to which Williams redefined an entire genre.

As the Star Wars composer approaches his eight-fourth birthday, I’m painfully conscious of the fact that he won’t be around forever. There’ll be a day after which we’ll never hear a new Williams theme.

For now, though, I’m grateful that John Williams continues his work unabated and undiminished. I’m nearly as excited to hear his Force Awakens score as I am to see the movie itself.


EDIT: Variety recently interviewed John Williams about his forthcoming ‘Force Awakens’ soundtrack.

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How the new ‘Star Trek’ recast Kirk

Fun DVD extra from the 2009 Star Trek reboot, exploring how J.J. Abrams’s team cast the Enterprise’s crew.

How do you recast Captain Kirk—a performance so inextricably linked to its originator, William Shatner? By 2009, Shat-as-Kirk had seeped into our cultural consciousness: the stilted, rambling delivery, the bemused smirk, the paunchy physique.

Fortunately, Abrams and Co. didn’t go down the imitation route. After four decades of Kirk parodies, asking a young actor to do his best Shatner impression wouldn’t have gone over well.

As the new Kirk, Chris Pine, explains,

I talked to J.J. [Abrams, the director] about it at the beginning of the process, and we kind of made a mutual decision that it would be a mistake to try to recreate what Mr. Shatner had done…. There are certain qualities of Kirk that you can’t ignore…, but to try to mimic Mr. Shatner would be a mistake.

Boiling Kirk down to his essential qualities could have proved dangerous, too. Make the Enterprise’s captain too cocky, and the audience might dislike him. Pine makes it work; he captures Kirk’s headstrong charm without turning us off—yet he somehow avoids merely imitating his predecessor.


But there is at least one moment in the film where Pine unapologetically channels William Shatner. In the 2009 film’s final scene, Pine’s delivery of Dr. McCoy’s nickname (“Bones!”) sounds unmistakably Shatneresque. Compare the clip above to some classic Kirk-McCoy banter from Star Trek: The Motion Picture:

It’s a fitting homage. At the end of 2009’s Star Trek, Kirk finally slides into the captain’s chair, so Pine slips into Shatner, too.

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Killing Kirk

J.J. Abrams’ sequel to the 2009 Star Trek reboot fell flat. Into Darkness’ story was ridiculous; never before has a film taken the phrase “Man the torpedoes” literally. The movie also wasted Trek’s best villain, inexplicably transmogrifying Khan from a sly, brown-skinned Indian to a mopey, pale-faced Brit. Finally, a jarring bra-and-panties scene felt like a cynical attempt to make the film’s trailer appeal to over-hormonal teenagers.

All that considered, there’s no easy fix for Star Trek: Into Darkness’s many flaws. But I would argue that a single, key change would have proven that the filmmakers at least took Trek seriously: Kirk should have stayed dead.

In the film’s climax, Captain Kirk climbs into a lethally radioactive chamber, fixes some key machinery, and saves the U.S.S. Enterprise from certain doom. The scene echoes a similar moment in Star Trek II, in which Spock sacrifices himself on the crew’s behalf. This time, it’s Kirk who succumbs to radiation poisoning. He dies with Spock by his side—the ultimate end to their space bromance.

Or… not. Just in time, Dr. McCoy discovers that Khan’s blood can (magically!) raise the dead. A quick blood transfusion, and Kirk is resurrected!

Faux-killing Kirk leverages fans’ Wrath of Khan nostalgia without actually risking the franchise’s future. And, as with Spock’s death, it was a mistake.

Imagine an Into Darkness that definitively kills Kirk—the franchise’s iconic character. The reboot could then veer into uncharted territory; as the Enterprise visited its “strange new worlds,” the audience could also enjoy a new Trek universe, free of Shatner/Nimoy baggage. What happens to Spock after Kirk’s death? Does grief overwhelm his Vulcan commitment to cold logic? Or does he banish emotion altogether to avoid the pain? Even re-hashed plot lines from the original series could prove interesting; what happens without Kirk in the captain’s chair.

Alas, as with Spock’s return in Star Trek III, Kirk’s resurrection siphons dramatic tension from the rebooted franchise. The creators apparently lack the guts (or the authority) to take big risks or make big bets.

Even worse, they’ve invented Khan’s Magic Blood—a silly plot device that can rejuvenate any key character who inconveniently croaks.

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Picard’s final mission

Actor Michael Dorn, who played Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, is currently spearheading a movement to bring his character back to television.

With all respect to Dorn, Star Trek’s eventual return to TV shouldn’t be a vehicle for Worf; that character has already appeared in more episodes than any other in Trek’s history.

And the new show shouldn’t further J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, either. That shiny, whiz-bang world is best-suited to the big screen.

No, the next Star Trek TV series should follow the final days of Jean-Luc Picard in Starfleet. Give us just a few hours’ worth of story, explaining how the beloved Next Gen captain finishes his career.

Here’s why a Picard-centric miniseries is the way to go:
1. Patrick Stewart is pushing 75. While other key TNG actors could reprise their characters in another decade or two, the window is closing on Stewart’s ability to swashbuckle. Let Geordi or Riker (or Worf) have their moments in the sun when they turn 75.
2. The last Next Gen movie, Nemesis, failed to bring closure to the TNG narrative. Its weak-sauce villain and clumsy plot left the audience with a bad taste in its mouth. Picard—and Patrick Stewart—deserve better.
3. Plus, a miniseries is a perfect format for dipping our toes back into *Trek* on TV. It would demand only a short-term commitment for Stewart, whose busy acting schedule might make a multi-season run unappealing.
4. Focusing on Picard would allow the show to up the dramatic stakes. Stewart is likely the best actor to ever play a major Star Trek role. Leveraging his talent, Trekcould find its place in TV’s “New Golden Age” of recent years—think Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and *House of Cards*. I’m not saying Picard should become a murderous misanthrope, but Trek needs a new, darker tone in today’s television era.

What story would the series tell? I’d like to see something more character-focused, at a very small scale. No galaxy-wide war. No Deux-ex-machina meddling from Q. No fan-service appearances from other TNG characters. Just Picard. Maybe he spends his final years commanding an archaeological vessel, and his well-intentioned exploration draws him into some unexpected conflict?

Honestly, the actual plot device isn’t that important. Just give us clever writing, quality production values—and a fitting send-off for a favorite captain.


UPDATE: In August of 2015, Patrick Stewart was asked whether we might see Picard again. He seemed pessimistic:

It’s possible. I think it’s unlikely. But it’s possible. The series wrapped over 25 years ago and we’ve got a rather elderly Captain Picard now. So I don’t know. It would be… it could be entertaining.

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Vicarious wonder

Late last week, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in joy. Why? Disney unveiled a beautifully-edited, emotional, spoiler-light trailer for the upcoming Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens. Unlike the first promo (which starred only unknown newcomers), this latest promo features several fan favorites, including Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. The trailer also boasts arresting visuals: a decayed, shipwrecked Star Destroyer. Darth Vader’s iconic mask, warped and scarred by his cremation. And, of course, a fleeting glimpse of Han Solo and Chewbacca (pictured above).

The franchise’s diehard fans lost their collective shit when the trailer hit the web. After all, they have a lot riding on The Force Awakens. The disastrous prequels broke nerds’ hearts; they’re relying on Episode VII to set things right. “Help us, J.J. Abrams,” geek fandom pleads. “You’re our only hope.” The trailer gives them reason to believe that Star Wars might be good again.

To understand the fans’ fervor, watch a few of the many live reactions published to YouTube since the trailer’s release. In each video, someone watches the teaser for the first time. Geeks’ eyes widen with wonder when Luke’s voiceover begins. Enthralled forty-year-olds pump their fists as the Millenium Falcon soars by. Enraptured fans weep when Han appears.

Fan Reactions
Fan reactions to Han Solo’s return, via ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer 2 Reaction Mashup’ on YouTube.

I love these reaction videos. Each offers an opportunity to relive the experience of watching the trailer for the very first time. The only way to recover that “trailer virgin” wonder is vicariously—through someone else’s eyes. Each viewer’s enthusiasm affirms and justifies my own, and the fanbase’s deep feelings remind me just how seminal this franchise is for geek culture.

These videos also make me excited to share my pop culture addictions with my daughter. She’s six weeks old right now, so it’ll be a while. But someday she’ll watch Star Wars for the very first time. When she does, I’ll be watching her. Will she gasp in horror when she learns Darth Vader’s true identity—like these adorable kids?[1] Will she cry when Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise? Will reading The Hobbit inspire sketches of Bag End and Rivendell? I can’t wait to find out. I’ll never visit Middle-Earth or Hogwarts or Tatooine again for the first time. But she will, and I get to escort her.

We love watching others—family, friends, or strangers—learn to love what we love.[2]


Finally, here’s a parody of these fan reaction videos, featuring cut-in footage of Matthew McConaughey from Interstellar:


  1. For more kids’ reaction to the climactic Empire reveal, see this compilation.  ↩
  2. Maybe, just maybe, this will keep home theaters from killing the multiplex. The shared experience is what makes the cinema magical—not screen size or comfy chairs or artery-clogging butter. We relish being surrounded by others encountering the same intoxicating story. Hearing them gasp and laugh and cry enhances and augments our own wonder.  ↩
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“It is your destiny.”

Geekdom is abuzz; Star Wars will be reborn. Out of nowhere, Disney snatched up the rights from Lucasfilm, simultaneously announcing sequels to Return of the Jedi. After the disastrous prequel trilogy, a new director and proven screenwriter will attempt to jump-start the stalled franchise.

Fans are already speculating wildly about the new trilogy’s likely story. What conflict will drive the films? How long after Return of the Jedi will the movies take place? Will we re-join familiar characters—Luke, Leia, and Han—or will a new cadre of adventurers steal the spotlight?

To me, one question looms largest of all. How do you tell a good story when the main character is dead? According to Lucas, Star Wars (Episodes I-VI) centered around Anakin Skywalker: his mysterious origins, his fall from grace, his ruthless rule, his ultimate redemption, and his tragic death.[1] With Vader gone, what’s left to tell?

Of course, you could simply shift the focus from Vader to the characters who survived Return of the Jedi. What are our old friends up to? Luke likely spends his time scouting wunderkinds for a Jedi Academy. Leia wades through Galactic Senate bureaucracy. Han Solo gives up smuggling and starts his own shipping company.

Hardly spellbinding stuff. In fact, a Vaderless Star Wars sounds insufferably boring. Who wants to eavesdrop on Leia’s interminable Galactic Senate hearings? Or watch Han Solo chair Kessel Transport board meetings? Or look over Professor Skywalker’s shoulder as he revises the syllabus for Jedi Mindtricks 101? “Happily ever after” reads well on paper, but in practice proves sadly dull.

Even introducing some replacement villain seems fraught with downsides. How do you top Vader’s menace? All due respect to Darth Whoever or Admiral Thrawn, but Ol’ Helmet Head automatically trumps any newcomer. The Dark Lord of the Sith is a tough act to follow.

So what can you do? ROTJ painted the franchise into a corner. Lucas killed off the lead, burned him on a pyre, and turned him into a ghost. Everything revolved around Vader—the prophecy, the conflict, the heartbreak, and the biggest stakes. How do you move on from that?

Simple. You don’t move on. You stay with Anakin Skywalker; you make his legacy the central conflict. Focus your films on the one character who can’t shake Vader’s shadow.

In short, Luke Skywalker must turn to the Dark Side.

In fact, we’ve already seen Luke start down that path. Watch his Return of the Jedi entrance again. Skywalker strides menacingly into Jabba’s palace, cloaked in black and brooding. He chokes Jabba’s guards (to death?), then threatens to destroy Jabba himself should the Hutt fail to acknowledge Luke’s power. The transformation takes us by surprise; these aren’t behaviors we expect from the blasé Jedi.

We begin to wonder if the Emperor might have been right about Luke. “I have foreseen it,” Palpatine crows, predicting Luke’s downfall. “It is your destiny,” he insists later. And Luke does eventually give in. When Vader threatens to corrupt Leia, Luke lets love crowd out the detached, Zen-Jedi mindset. Hatred flares up, and Luke rages against his father, the machine. For a while, at least, Luke indulges the Dark Side of the Force, before that same compassionate streak prevents him from finishing off Vader.

That brings us to the end of Jedi. In the wake of Vader’s death (and his own flirtation with the Dark Side), Luke must face serious questions about the Force. “How can the Light Side be truly good,” he must wonder, “when it demands that I ignore my deepest feelings, my love for family and friends?” Kenobi and Yoda endorsed a sterile, calculated approach to the Force. Meanwhile, the Sith embraced the full breadth of human experience: desire, yes, but also compassion and love.

As the decades pass, Luke attempts to forge a middle way—to “bring balance to the Force,” as his father did. To check cold logic with compassion. Skywalker’s syncretism slowly corrupts the Jedi way. Eventually, some impossible scenario pits his heart and head against one another. Maybe Leia is put in harm’s way, and Luke vows to protect her—by any means necessary.

Whatever the particular details, Luke falls. The filmmakers would probably save the big reveal for Film Two—echoing the original trilogy’s major revelation in Empire Strikes Back. Just imagine the gasps when the audience sees Luke Skywalker, that archetypal movie hero, finally turn. How heartbreaking would it be to watch a bewildered, elderly Han Solo die at Luke’s hands? And think of the conflict in Film Three, as Leia must plot to end her brother’s life.

The story would be deliciously controversial. Fans would debate, berate, and celebrate the plot twist, just as they did when Vader declared himself Luke’s father. Hopefully, J.J. Abrams and Co. have the guts to take such a risk—to sully the reputation of Star Wars’ golden boy. Handled well, it would do more than just pay homage to the early films’ central character. It would rescue Star Wars from years of neglect.


  1. Perhaps Lucas was not being entirely truthful. A New Hope doesn’t seem to focus squarely on Vader. Grand Moff Tarkin share the top villain billing. Did Lucas really always intend to elevate Vader in the later films?  ↩