Love, war and the disintegration of family in 'The Force Awakens'

Posted Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:44 PM Central
Last updated Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 4:58 PM Central

by Tim Avers

Editors Note:

John here. As you might have ascertained from the byline above, this story was written by a new face around here. Tim is an old acquaintance of mine that I met through a friend and co-worker. Through our love of movies, we've stayed in contact through Facebook and when he posted his thoughts below over there, I knew that I wanted you all to see them.

While others are busy trying to tear apart every little nuance in The Force Awakens, Tim reminds us that it's OK that we don't have every little answer. The answers will come, or they won't. That's part of the excitement, not knowing what will come next and trying to figure it out. This mystique was sorely lacking from the prequels and I am so glad that it is back in this film.

That and I'm bitter that he pointed out the analogy between Rick and Ilsa and Han and Leia. Dang it, that's brilliant and I wish I would have thought of it.

Spoiler warning. If you haven't seen The Force Awakens yet (really there are still some of you out there?), then you might want to wait and read this after you have seen it. I don't believe he actually spoils anything from the movie, but it's not too hard to read between the lines.

By now Episode VII is on its way to having the biggest box office in motion picture history. We already know that four additional films are assured (including a Han Solo origin pic and a Death Star heist). Whether The Force Awakens is a great picture is a toss-up with serious critics, most knowing it's a meticulously well manicured movie with just enough feels to latch on to.

But what I really want to focus on here is a new triangle at the center of The Force Awakens, and it's not a romance but rather a broken family.

I've seen The Force Awakens three times now and I've combed the dialog like they combed the desert in Space Balls. I've weighed every character's facial expression, tried to decide to what extent Harrison Ford dialed it in, and considered whether Daisy Ridley's sense of wonder is a lack of apprehension over what's about to happen to her career.

But I keep coming back to Kylo Ren's timeline - well, not really his timeline but the timeline of his former life.

The Bermuda Alderaan Triangle

The relationship between Kylo's mom and dad has been explored ad nauseum by an interactive online society that didn't exist the last time a faithful Star Wars was made. I think this is a big part of the reason the Prequels were such a dramatic departure from the original Trilogy. Lucas had to make something commercial but was trying to string together the mumbo-jumbo mythology of an Expanded Universe (all the comic books, video games, and novels Lucasfilms had authorized in 25 years) while exploring the psyche of one of cinema's classic villains. Whether he is a good storyteller is up for discussion but he was certainly not the director to give us those same "feels" about a young Anakin Skywalker.

The Force Awakens has similar baggage. Like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, it has to struggle with source material that at times isn't suited for film. The Force Awakens has to step out on its own and so it rejects the challenged yet happy ending that the Expanded Universe gave our intrepid core group of Rebels. And it did that by making everything in the Expanded Universe apocrypha, yet borrowing from it those essential elements that neither can deny.

One fundamental story is what happens to love forged in war. Casablanca taught us the basics of this 75 years ago - it's complicated, likely to rip your heart out, and never a sure thing. Some people are caught up in each other, some people are caught up in a cause, and sometimes it's either/or.

So Kylo Ren comes from deeply dissimilar parentage. On the one hand, he has his father - a man who most often finds himself on the wrong side of the law, dealing with criminals and bounty hunters and sometimes at the wrong end of a blaster. He's a man who has had to face a force he can hardly believe but can no longer deny - a force that has impacted him in such a profound way it's easy to understand the look of staggered realization on his face 30 years later.

Then there's his mother. A workaholic. A crusader. Someone who was never able to avenge herself or her home on the men principally responsible for ending her childhood, destroying the family she knew and forcing her petulantly into adulthood. And then when all seems settled - she will be a defiant captain for her people - enter stage left a clown who most often cons or laughs his way out of trouble. Who has no home but the ship beneath him and has no allegiance except to his closest friend. It's forever playing cowboys and Indians in space until some unlucky day when the bar tab is delivered.

And what an awful bar tab it is.

A Broken Family

It's uncertain how much of a childhood Kylo Ren had. Obviously, he found it a disappointment. A mother busy at work. A father off on another adventure. An assortment of other odd relations and friends perhaps able to recognize him but never able to treat him as a boy. And that's what children need - the comfort of a fantasy of childhood protecting them from the harsh realities of the world.

So Kylo Ren is broken. Not broken like a boy with no father. Not broken like a boy who believes his father murdered. But broken as a boy who believes his father didn't care enough to be a father; cynical but not introspective enough to develop empathy for a father wholly out of his element at a fundamental level.

Likewise, Kylo has not much more nurturing from his mother. She's a big, important woman in the galaxy. She's dealing with her own sense of loss that can't be healed. Her best relationships are with men and women and droids likely to be dead or deactivated in the next scene. Kylo is supposed to defy his father to establish his identity. But his mother is supposed to be the one who tells him he's handsome, see the stares of girls and subtly nudge her son into social interactions where he will learn about himself, painful as it may be, without judgment and always with support and a woman to protect. But his mother needs no protecting. She's the one who sends pilots and Bothan spies to their deaths. She may be willing to sacrifice her life for the cause but sacrifice the cause for her child? It's all she knows and ultimately her son is just a small part of that story.

So, Kylo Ren suffers in a way that is really a bit too familiar and maybe that why he is the most complex, uncomfortable, and confrontational villain of the Star Wars films to date. He's not fighting for a cause he believes in. He's waging a very personal struggle to carve out his own identity from misconceptions formed from a youth without the emotional refuge of a family. He's every teenager without temperament hell-bent to wreck the family car and feel not the slightest twinge of remorse about it. Oh, that and emotional instability verging on psychosis clearly runs in the family. You can't count that out.

Play it, Chewie

As a dad, I understand Kylo Ren. He's every parent's nightmare - that who you bring into the world will be harmed by it and harm to it in return. Kylo's parents failed, epically. Unlike the fairy tales and Young Audience Expanded Universe parents idealized in approved fiction, Kylo's mom and dad take up the Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund school of parenting which is to say they behave like they have no child and continue on for duty or an extended teenage fantasy of adulthood in which being grown means being free. They are every child's nightmare parents. And Kylo has grown to know his parents without the slightest understanding of the complexity and stunted nature of their own psychological development.

So that's the new triangle into which we find ourselves in this fiction - no longer children wishing to escape to adventure in the stars, but adult children realizing the flaws and vulnerability of being human in a cold and unforgiving universe. A warning to parents, especially, about the dangers of failing to grow beyond our comfort zones for the sake of those we bring into the world.

People say The Force Awakens is a vehicle for commerce but at its heart it carries the same themes as the old epics and ancient narrative poems. New stories of transformative journeys and the promise of redemption. The hope that things and especially people we have broken can be made whole again.

Let's hope for all our sakes that they can.

Tim Avers can be reached on his Facebook page FKA Comic Boy.