The Force Awakens’ blend of modern and nostalgic filmmaking has provided no shortage of insight into the six previous films in the Star Wars franchise. Most notably, director J.J. Abrams’ installment drives home the point that while Star Wars is about the Skywalker lineage specifically, in broader terms it has always been a story about how generations interact with one another.
Under George Lucas Star Wars showcased how older generations warped by bureaucracy and power stifled the younger denizens of the status quo their shortcomings yielded under iron fist of the Empire, the political gridlock of the Republic or even the dogma of the Jedi Order.
Star Wars also depicted the equal and opposite reaction of the youth to the folly of their elders. Revolt. The identification of their predecessors’ faults and the righteous quest to correct them.
For six films the elders of the galaxy have been antagonists, either through straight up totalitarianism or a more nuanced failure to perceive the changes taking place in the world around them. And for six movies the youth have risen as best they can to the failures of their elders, falling short of overcoming the machinations they were born into in the prequel trilogy and succeeding in the original trilogy.
With The Force Awakens, and the beginning of a third generation of Star Wars films, it would appear that even in success the heroism of youth is still ultimately destined to fall short, because the young and rebellious ultimately become the old and powerful. The disenfranchised of Return of the Jedi have become the imperfect decision makers of The Force Awakens.
One could argue it’s a pretty pessimistic turn of events, one that asserts a worldview in which the ambition and imagination of the youth are preordained to become the shortcomings of the old. But The Force Awakens doesn’t wallow in the second generation to have failed to bring peace and harmony to the galaxy.
The Force Awakens is about the third generation to try to bring peace and harmony to the galaxy, despite no evidence for permanent success.
It’s inevitable that a status quo will have shortcomings, be it a republic, an empire or a new republic, but the Force Awakens doesn’t focus on the fact that no generation will ever make a perfect world. It hones in on the other half of that generational cycle that seems so set in stone, the part where a new generation will always strive to pick up pieces their parents lost sight of or broke.
At its core Star Wars has always been about people trying to make a better world then the one they inhabit. The Force Awakens proudly carries on that heritage.