Does Star Wars: The Force Awakens make the Original Trilogy better? A lot of fans have been talking about whether even having a Sequel Trilogy makes the Rebellion’s victory in the original movies pointless.
When I re-watched the Original Trilogy after seeing The Force Awakens, I wondered whether it would make a difference to know where these characters would be in 30 years. I’m a Legends fan, so it didn’t really bother me that their victory wasn’t eternal. It never had been, for me, since the books showed wars that continued for more than 30 years—but it did make a difference, knowing as I did where, canonically, Luke, Han, and Leia would end up.
After my latest rewatch of the Original Trilogy, I made a list of things from those movies that I felt The Force Awakens made better. Most of the observations come from Return of the Jedi, because, naturally, it takes place closer to The Force Awakens. But I also discovered that the entire trilogy is well worth re-watching in the context of The Force Awakens.
Here’s the list:
The Imperials had motivation.
The Force Awakens made me more interested in the Empire than I ever had been before. In its equivalent, the First Order, Kylo Ren had perhaps the most emotionally complex role in the film, and Finn gave a face to the faceless stormtroopers. Maybe it’s because of these two that I found myself in a realm usually reserved for comedy or “what if” political speculating: I felt bad for the stormtroopers.
Those guys searching for the droids in the desert? Just doing their jobs on a long, hot day. One of the first things Darth Vader does in Return of the Jedi is chastise his troops for not working hard enough, and the officer who takes the brunt of it is terrified. That poor guy had a lot of floors to keep clean.
Anakin Skywalker’s fall was based on personal foils, but the rank-and-file of the Empire were people like Finn and Phasma, who really shouldn’t have joined a dictatorship, but probably had their own reasons for taking the job, just like Anakin did.
Are Kylo Ren and General Hux the new Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin?
There is clearly some dissent among the ranks in the First Order, with Ren and Hux snarking over what appear to be old arguments. Their dynamic is somewhat similar to that of Darth Vader and Tarkin, who argued over the methods and ideology of the Empire. It seems to me that this, like many other things about The Force Awakens, was meant as a direct parallel to A New Hope. It shows another aspect of the evil of the villains—they aren’t even friendly to one another.
Hux has the same amount of weight in the story that Tarkin does, since he’s the one to fire the superweapon. However, he also survives, bringing his grudges and rivalry with Ren along with him. Hux’s survival is essentially a fluke: he was simply never near enough to the heroes for someone to kill him, and he needed to escape Starkiller Base in order to find Ren. His arc might reflect Tarkin’s for now, but it’s going to span beyond the Grand Moff’s a little bit if only by virtue of longevity.
Han Solo, the Unlikely Mentor
One of the most memorable scenes from The Force Awakens was introduced in the first official trailer, and blew fans’ minds: Han Solo, the cynic, told Rey and Finn that he believed in the Force. He may not rely on it as a philosophical structure the way Lor San Tekka’s Church of the Force does, but he believes in it, in the same way that he believes his friends exist. “It’s all true,” concretes Han as the Obi-Wan of The Force Awakens, and seeing him again in the Original Trilogy shows how far he’s come from dismissing the idea of “hokey religions and ancient weapons.”
Rey, the Unlikely Hero
If Han is the new Obi-Wan, Rey is the new Luke, and their mentor-student relationship is shaded slightly differently because of it. (One could argue that Luke is the new Obi-Wan, but Han fulfills the old mentor role in The Force Awakens, up to and including his death.)
Luke’s enthusiasm for his own situation, from his awe at Jedi powers to his frenetic “what’s that flashing,” was always one of my favorite things about him. In Rey’s first encouter with the Millennium Falcon, there is no one there for her to ask for help. She figures out the ship on her own, showing the kind of Skywalker piloting skills that Anakin knew intuitively before her. Rey doesn’t yearn to leave her planet the way Luke does (keeping in mind that Luke thought that the way to be a hero was to join the Imperial Academy).
Rey’s reaction is one I see more often in fiction—the burdened, guilty hero—and I think Luke’s story stands out for having more joy by its end. But Rey also gets her moments, her smiles when she realizes that she’s going on an adventure to look for Luke Skywalker. Maybe she looked up to him, imagined what it would be like to be him even as she imagined the same thing about the X-Wing pilot whose helmet she discovered on Jakku. After all, both Rey and Luke were orphans.
This Weapon Is Your Life…
Re-watching the Original Trilogy, the lightsaber fights seem slow—but they also seem that way in comparison to the Prequel Trilogy. The Force Awakens highlights how deliberate Obi-Wan and Vader’s moves are in A New Hope, though, how graceful Luke can be even in his untrained state. The fights in The Force Awakens are more raw, because they are, like they were in the Original Trilogy, fights between inexperienced combatants.
Watching the fight on the Death Star between Obi-Wan and Vader makes me want to see more complex fighting, but watching the fight at the end of Return of the Jedi had more emotional overtones…and we’ll get to that later.
The galaxy has become more diverse.
Or at least, we see more of that diversity on screen. There are women and minorities in every faction in The Force Awakens, from the First Order to Maz Kanata’s palace. The notable exception: the gang members who come after Han Solo aren’t gender diverse. That said, The Force Awakens still shows a lot more diversity than the Original Trilogy.
Even the institutionalized homogeneity of the Empire has been changed: where in the Legends universe, it was unusual for women to rise in the ranks in the Empire, books like Battlefront: Twilight Company and the Servants of the Empire series show that there isn’t any gender discrimination there at all. For Captain Phasma, being a female stormtrooper isn’t unusual.
Han and Leia’s relationship is painful because it isn’t full of foreshadowing.
I expected Han and Leia’s relationship to reflect the most on the fate of their son, thirty years later: would there be anything here to predict the unfocused anger of Kylo Ren? What in their parenting could possibly have lead to this, if anything at all? However, the Han and Leia scenes are so immediate, so full of personality on their own, that there isn’t any of it.
Maybe we can see how Han, as a parent, would continue to run away from conflict or would push people too far. Maybe we can see how Leia as a parent could be cold. Those are stretches, though, speculation for a story we don’t know everything about—and Han and Leia’s happiness itself is the only truly ironic thing about their story in The Force Awakens.
…Except for that part about the Falcon.
The one thing Han did foresee? The fact that he loses the Millennium Falcon. His ominous expression to Lando, when he thinks that he’ll never see his ship again, doesn’t come true until the Falcon is stolen by Gannis Ducain, a gunrunner. There’s some irony.
TFA is the first time we see Han really acting as a smuggler.
Han was technically working for hire in A New Hope when he ferried Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids to the Death Star, but we never really got to see what his life was like as a smuggler before the films. We do see that in The Force Awakens, when Rey and Finn find Han and Chewbacca on a freighter-slash-rathtar zoo.
At this point in his life, Han might be running from his torn-up family. At the very least, he’s estranged from Leia because of Ben, and probably choosing not to go back to her. Maybe he has buried himself in his work, and it makes him similar to the hard-edged person he was before A New Hope. Both he and Chewie are pretty callous about the fact that they had crewmembers who were killed by the rathtars. He’s probably hiding whatever feelings he had about them—and returning to smuggler form.
Han and Luke’s relationship gets the foreshadowing.
Han and Luke’s quips about Luke’s death was a painful scene in the re-watch because I knew what was coming: Han says, “you’re going to die here” (on Tatooine), but now we know that he won’t ever see Luke’s death.
Luke and Leia’s perspectives have reversed.
One of the most interesting scenes in light of The Force Awakens was Luke and Leia’s revelatory conversation in the Ewok village, when Luke tells Leia that Darth Vader is his father and that she is his sister. Their conversation shows that their philosophies and plans at that time were completely different from what they are in The Force Awakens. After he reveals the truth to her on Endor, Leia actually recommends that he run away instead of facing and attempting to “save” Vader. In The Force Awakens, she’s the one insisting on a hopeful redemption for Kylo Ren.
Luke’s motivation here might explain some of why he went into exile before the time of The Force Awakens: he fights Vader because he’s scared not to. Mark Hamill shows that Luke is heroic in that scene, but he also shows fear. Luke is brave, but he also feels like he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He has to face Vader in order to fulfill his destiny. Does this make it better that he walks away from Kylo Ren? A little bit. Maybe, then, he felt like he had a choice.
Palpatine’s doctrine matches Kylo Ren’s.
This may seem obvious, since Ren is part of the same dark side lineage as Darth Vader and Palpatine, but looking at the final fight in Return of the Jedi with The Force Awakens in mind makes Luke’s story even more remarkable. In the fight on board the second Death Star, Palpatine offers Luke exactly what Kylo Ren wanted for himself over the course of The Force Awakens: power, an escape from suffering, and the death of his own father.
Although Ren is tempted by the light side, making him something of an inverse of Luke, he is primarily driven by his own fears and his desire for the power that Darth Vader had.
The Emperor would be able to corrupt Kylo Ren so easily, but Luke is Kylo Ren’s opposite in every way, and Return of the Jedi shows that.
The sequel doesn’t take anything away from Return of the Jedi.
So, what does The Force Awakens say about the Original Trilogy? Again, this is coming from a fan of the Legends universe: even if those old books and comics are no longer canon in the same way as the films, I feel that they very naturally followed the movies—and they followed them with more wars, more familial strife, with a Solo child who briefly fell to the dark side, and a Solo child who died. In the canon, as far as we know, the New Republic didn’t have any major conflicts until the rise of the First Order.
So having a military victory doesn’t mean that the Star Wars galaxy will never face military conflict again, just as it doesn’t mean that in the real world. But what about Luke’s personal victory, the victory of the light over the dark? I’m confident that we’ll see another victory in Episode IX, because Star Wars is about the triumph of light over darkness. It wouldn’t be Star Wars if there wasn’t some hope, and I think the lesson of the Sequel Trilogy will be that even if there are more wars, even if there are less clear-cut wars, there is still hope.
The celebration on Coruscant at the end of Return of the Jedi makes me think of Aftermath, a novel which also shows some of the struggles of the very early New Republic—including the violence on the planet’s surface the night the Emperor fell, as the Imperial police assaulted those who celebrated in the streets. The conflict never truly ended. Star Wars is such a big universe that I think it downplays its ability to tell a story if one says that no other major events—or wars—would have happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
And for moviegoers, the three trilogies can continue to build on one another in order to make that universe much richer.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.