On October 19, Lucasfilm finally unveiled the third and final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to much fanfare, setting the stage for record breaking ticket sales and an increase in the already fervent anticipation. With less than two months to go until the film’s release (at the time of this writing), many moviegoers are optimistic that J.J. Abrams’ film will be a triumphant return to form for the saga, giving viewers another rousing space adventure in the vein of the original trilogy.
As fans dissected every frame of the latest preview, there was one sticking point that some found odd. There’s a moment where Rey (Daisy Ridley) asks Han Solo (Harrison Ford) about stories she’s heard detailing what happened years ago (i.e. the events of the classic trilogy). Han answers with “It’s true. All of it. The dark side, the Jedi. They’re real.”
The Force Awakens picks up 30 years after Return of the Jedi, meaning that some time has passed since we’ve seen old friends like Han and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – but seemingly not enough time for their exploits to have become myths that people doubt ever happened. It reads as an oversight on Abrams’ part, but is there a reasonable explanation for how this happened? There just might be.
Let’s examine the big picture and find out why it all may actually make sense.
The Passage of Time
“Now the Jedi are all but extinct.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
In Star Wars chronology, A New Hope takes place roughly 19 years after Revenge of the Sith. In Episode IV, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) tells Luke that the Jedi have been wiped out by the Empire, Han Solo openly mocks the concept of the Force, and Jedi Knights are deemed afterthoughts by Imperial officials. This is all less than two decades following Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side. In that time, the Empire had killed most of the Jedi (and destroyed their archives at the Temple), and an entire generation of galactic inhabitants grew up knowing only Imperial regime.
Throughout the classic trilogy, there are only five Force users depicted, and two of them are former Jedi in hiding. Nobody is exactly broadcasting the fact that they’re Force sensitive. A handful of Imperials knew of Darth Vader’s “devotion to that ancient religion,” but many regular citizens probably saw him just as the Empire’s enforcer and not a Sith Lord. Luke gained a lot of attention for destroying the first Death Star, but only his trusted confidants knew of his abilities. Unlike the Clone Wars, where Jedi Knights actively served the Republic, they had a minor presence at best during the Galactic Civil War.
So by the time we get to The Force Awakens, it has been about 53 years since Jedi had a large presence in the galaxy. That is more than enough time for a youngster like Rey to be unsure of their existence. Particularly since Rey has been rumored to have spent her entire life on Jakku (which has the appearance of an Outer Rim planet), it’s likely that she’s only heard rumblings and rumors about one all-powerful Force controlling everything. Even Han, who was around 29 years old during A New Hope, said he never saw any evidence of it. The Star Wars galaxy is a vast place, and those who live on non-Republic planets don’t concern themselves with the “big city” happenings since it has no effect on their lifestyle.
The very subtitle of Episode VII suggests that the Force has been dormant for some time, and though there are still Force users out there, they’re not as prominent as they once were. Luke may or may not have started a new Jedi Order, but even if he did, the odds that scavengers on Jakku know about it are slim. As for Rey inquiring about the stories about what happened (meaning Episodes IV-VI)? Think of it as a young basketball fan asking an older basketball fan if the things he’s heard about Michael Jordan are true. Nobody’s doubting the Rebels beat the Empire, they just want to know how factual the fantastical tales they heard are.
Not New to Everyone
“I will finish what you started.” – Kylo Ren
It’s very important for viewers to keep in mind that it’s only Rey asking about the Force and the Galactic Civil War. Living as “no one” isolated in Jakku, it’s safe to assume she wasn’t sitting in many galactic history courses in school. The trailer also makes it very apparent that certain members of the new guard are very much aware about what’s happened before. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a dark side user who idolizes Darth Vader to the point where he is communicating with a melted helmet. At some time in his life, Kylo must have learned about the principal players of the OT movies and decided that Vader’s path was the way to go.
We can also safely assume that Finn (John Boyega) has some basic knowledge of the prior conflict. He essentially grew up in the First Order, and allegedly learned lightsaber techniques as part of his basic training. Someone in the First Order probably told young stormtroopers and recruits about what happened before. The same can be said for Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose parents were featured in the canon comic Shattered Empire. It seems as if he’s been a part of this faction his whole life (or, for at least a majority of it) and grew up around Han, Luke, and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), hearing stories of their adventures in his youth.
That’s what’s getting lost in the shuffle. Abrams is showing a single character asking Han about all the rumors she has heard. And given the backgrounds of the new characters, having Rey be the one unsure of it all makes the most sense. Much like Luke at the start of the original film, she’s not a player in a widespread war. How she gets drawn into it remains to be seen, but the footage clearly indicates she comes from humble beginnings. Abrams isn’t making it as if none of the fresh faces are aware about what happened three decades ago, just one. And both in-universe and for the movie itself, it’s an extremely logical decision that should benefit The Force Awakens as a whole.
Fish Out of Water
“I’m no one.” – Rey
From a strictly movie making perspective, there’s an exceptionally logical reason to have Rey unaware of the powers of the Force and the long history of the Galactic Civil War. Most films, especially genre works that rely heavily on sci-fi or fantasy elements, need to have a regular everyday person at its center to act as a vessel for the audience. Creating a protagonist that audiences can relate to is a necessary step in ensuring it connects with viewers. It helps to have a character in the film who learns things as viewers do as well.
As shocking as this may be to read: not everyone who will see The Force Awakens is overtly familiar with the Star Wars mythos. Whether they’re adults who never caught on, or children whose first real exposure to the franchise will be Episode VII, they’ll need someone in the movie to act as their guide and ask the questions they’re wondering about. Abrams would be unwise to just assume that everyone watching knows the story up to this point. This is very similar to how Luke was portrayed in the original film, as he – like everyone watching – had no idea what The Force was or how expansive the galactic war really was. He was that fish out of water character that was a conduit for the audience and allowed them to understand what was happening throughout the film.
Not to flog a dead horse, but this was an issue that many had with the prequels. When The Phantom Menace opened, several of the principal players were all people who had great knowledge of the conflict at hand. Obviously, they’re not going to explain situations to each other if they have a firm grasp of what’s going on. There wasn’t anybody there to receive exposition and stand in for the audience. For some, that made the events difficult to follow since there was not a protagonist in the traditional sense to help new viewers take their first step into a larger world. Abrams seems to have amended that problem by making The Force Awakens Rey’s story. She’ll be the one newcomers gravitate towards while longtime fans soak in the nostalgia of seeing Han and Chewbacca again.
Understandably, some viewers were confused when the new Force Awakens characters asked Han about the old Galactic Civil War and the existence of the Force. But in a way, that’s because these elements have become so ingrained in our popular culture that it’s almost inconceivable to come across someone who has never heard the term “Jedi Knight” or knows who Darth Vader is. In the Star Wars universe, knowledge of such things really isn’t all that commonplace. It’s easy to see how this could all be new, especially to someone living alone in the desert.
It’s the context of the who and what that underscores that moment in the trailer. Admittedly, 30 years is really not that much time, so people who are involved with the conflict on a regular basis know all about the Rebellion taking on the Empire, the Battle of Endor, and all the fallout from the new canon material. But Rey? A scavenger who’s far away on Jakku? She’s the one person in this film who truly needs a crash course covering what’s happened. And since she’s being set up as the protagonist of the sequel trilogy, the actual movie should be all the better for it.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.