Awakening the Force and Rebellion: Dystopian Themes in Star Wars

Ok. Hopefully the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens has been out long enough that I can write about it without fear of ruining someone’s life by spoiling part of the plot.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not someone who can talk with much authority about Star Wars as a franchise. I lost the how many characters can you name game to a friend who loves Star Wars so much that she has an entire room in her house dedicated to it. (It’s an awesome collection BTW…) and my meager few characters were a source of humor to her :). But I have a strong concept of writing and storytelling and I would like to comment on the recent film from this perspective.

Specifically, what I really wanted to talk about, is how JJ Abrams has added some modern zeal to the franchise even while he was going back to a more classic look. Namely, I want to talk about how Star Wars: The Force Awakens adopts a Dystopian vibe to tell the story of Finn and Rey.

Before we dive in, here is my working definition of what a Dystopian story is: a story is Dystopian because it is a world that resembles our own and possesses a governing body to which we as the reader can relate. I view the apocalypse as being the end to government as we understand it. There are other elements to Dystopian literature of course and Star Wars already embodied them: namely the world characterized by poverty (think Rey, Luke and Anakin’s humble beginnings).

I doubt I’m the only one who caught this but it was exceedingly thrilling for me to see additional markers of this literary trope picked up by a big-time sci-fi franchise, especially one that existed long before the Dystopian genre hit its current wave of popularity. Of course, Star Wars always had a basic Dystopian vibe, as I mention above. Plus, you have rebels and the republic and various groups facing off for control of the universe. People in possession of the Force were more aware than those who did not. But I think the Dystopian feel of it was even stronger in the newest episode and very direct.

The Force Awakens gives off a Dystopian vibe specifically with the introduction of Finn. As a Stormtrooper who awakens from brainwashing, he epitomizes the concept of “everyone else is asleep and I am awake to the evils of our overlords,” concept that pervades a Dystopian story. This is a huge piece of the Dystopia puzzle (and goes way beyond just The Force awakening, folks) and is a very common concept in pretty much every Dystopian story you come across. That being said, Abrams does it in a way that brings new life to the franchise.

Because of Finn, the stormtroopers become multifaceted beings. They are victims unaware of the atrocities they commit, but ceaselessly following orders of those who see them as nothing more than a commodity. I love how Abrams takes the time to make the storm troopers multifaceted in this film. For so many years, they were just bodies to blast. As a kid watching the Star Wars movies, I thought that the storm troopers were robots. I didn’t realize they were supposed to be people. Although, perhaps this was never solidified back in the day. Either way, I was ecstatic when we got to see some of the back story about how they got to be where they are. I love back story…

The juxtaposition of the brainwashed human and the human-like droids that pervade the world of Star Wars is really interesting. Those droids appear to have more autonomy than the Stormtroopers. I’ll be curious to see where Abrams takes this next part of the story.

In spite of the realization that the Stormtroopers are victims doing the bidding of a villain because they are programmed to do so, Finn, who once was one of them, and everyone else, still blasts them without a second thought. I found this interesting, if not a little troubling. Granted, they are in grave danger and don’t have a lot of time for measuring the morality of such actions. But over the course of the film, I started to view the Stormtroopers as humans who needed saving.

Some Star Wars fans out there might disagree heartily with me. But I think it’s great to see the storytelling mechanism for Star Wars change a bit with the times. I’m all for preservation and respect to the genesis of a story. But at the same time, it’s important to stay relevant and to find a way to relate to some current trends. Star Wars could likely survive without making changes. But I still think it’s a good idea.

All in all, I had a fantastic experience watching the new Star Wars film. The story was intriguing, the characters were deeper and I got excited all over again about a big epic series. I can’t wait for the next one!

Featured Image photo credit: LucasFilm and Disney

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