J.J. Abrams, Fate, and the Force: Predicting Abrams’ Influence on Episode 8

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The bad news is: J. J. Abrams isn’t going to direct Star Wars Episode 8.

The good news is: he’s set the wheel in motion, and when Abrams shoves in one direction, subsequent writers and directors are bound to follow a similar course. Mostly. What’s more, we know that Abrams likes the postulated script for Episode 8 so much he regrets turning down the opportunity to direct it. So that says a lot. And call anathema if you must, but Abrams’ recent Star Trek reboots can also hint at the direction of the next film.

With The Force Awakens, Abrams has set the stage for all subsequent episodes – at least in this series. The characters, the budding relationships, the back stories . . .  Abrams has poured the foundation for continuing canon. True to Star Wars, a lot of that canon deals with prophecy and fate, and if ever a director was a sucker for recycling themes, it’s Abrams. We’ve seen this in his handling of Star Trek. Although Abrams effectively restarted the story, he uses Spock to all but say Kirk and Spock – in any time line – are meant to be shipmates. The same crew find themselves on the same ship. Their adventures differ, but they still wrap around the same twists of fate as their other selves. They fight Khan. Someone dies fixing the ship. People yell. Kirk gets friendly with green women. Suffice it to say, Abrams likes symmetry, and often the best fits for gaps in a fresh story are carefully altered inversions of old material.

We’ve already seen this in The Force Awakens. The mentor figure died – galvanizing the younger generation to finish the mission and save the rebels from a truly enormous weapon. There is a droid. There is a Force-sensitive youth on a dessert planet. Pilots have to shoot a small target. Suffice it to say, the Force woke with an echo. Considering the grander mythical framework of the Star Wars saga, however, none of this is entirely unexpected.

The wheel of fate has started from the same position as A New Hope. If Abrams’ passion for reinventing existing plots from his source material holds true, then we can guess a lot about what’s coming next. First – things will get worse. The Empire Strikes Back starts with the fall of the rebel base and follows the scattered heroes as they battle overwhelming odds and/or their own demons. The previous film ended on a terrific high note, but the destruction of one major weapon in a galaxy-wide Empire’s arsenal did not win the war. The First Order is, we assume, a little smaller than the Empire, but if it had the resources to build the Star Killer base it’s still plenty big enough to be a threat. Add the facts that Leia is still leading a band of rebels rather than a legal government and the First Order has been around long enough to literally raise their own troops, and you have an established nemesis ready to strike back, even when wounded.

Although Kylo Ren’s identity was revealed earlier than Star Wars tradition would lead viewers to expect, it is worth noting that Rey’s parentage has yet to be revealed. In the original trilogy, the hero’s history was presented early on, and Darth Vader’s grand declaration on Cloud City wrapped up the second installment. Abrams seems to have set this formula backwards. We know the villain. We don’t know the hero. Obvious hints indicate that Kylo Ren knows or suspects Rey’s true identity, and the Skywalker legacy is wrapped tight around the wheel of fate. Somehow, Rey is likely related. If this formula proves true, Rey’s grand reveal will likely take place in the next episode, followed by a third film centered around the conflict deepened by that revelation.

Characters, however, do have a talent for disrupting smooth plot lines. The thing about dynamic characters is that they don’t always stay where you left them, and they often fail to go where they are told. Although the trio of new heroes Abrams introduced mirror, in many ways, the original trio of heroes (Luke, Han, and Leia), they are not exact replacements. Although you still have the rebel, the hero, and the rogue, they do not share the same tensions the original three shared, and have instead built a truly unique friendship. They met out of order, and rather than the hero linking the opposites, it is the rogue who has built the bridge between the hero and the rebel, who would never have met without the rogue’s choices. It will be interesting to see if Poe – the rebel – receives as much screen time in the upcoming films as his counterparts. While he has a strong link to Finn – the rogue – he has only briefly met Rey – the hero. The writers may choose to pull the same trick that bridged the first and second films of the original trilogy by leaping ahead to an established future – possibly where Rey and Poe have a solid connection – but, regardless, the mirror is a little warped.

Kylo Ren is also no Darth Vader. He has a fragility born of doubt which must in some way influence his character for the remainder of the series. Although he has committed to the Dark Side, he knows he is still not as great as his grandfather, and his defeat at the hands of an untrained scavenger proves that fact. His doubt is the core element of his character, whereas Darth Vader was always the dark father – powerful, aloof, and vastly more experienced. It’s tempting to contrast Kylo Ren with Abrams’ version of Khan, but they simply do not correlate. Nero, the original villain Abrams dropped into an established story line (thereby rebooting it) would be a better comparison. Unfortunately, while Nero is an interesting villain, he has little screen time, and that is predominantly filled with explaining his past. Kylo Ren also has some explaining to do, but unlike Nero, he is not designed as a disposable element in the larger saga.

Future episodes will be a war between not only the Light and the Dark side, but between the wheel of fate and the characters riding it. Abrams’ influence will carry through later episodes of Star Wars the way his characterizations and new timeline continue to shape the growing Star Trek series. The board is set and the pieces are moving.

Too bad we have to wait until 2017 to see which of our prophecies come true.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


 

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