It’s been over a week since seeing Star Wars VII, so I think I’ve processed enough to write up some thoughts.
First, I like the movie. It felt like a mix of V and VI, in many ways. I think it is a good addition to the series. The casting was good, the performances were good, and the writing worked. I liked the fact that they minimized the use of CGI, even if it sometimes looked like a few alien heads (Mon Calamari & Sullustan) were disproportionately big.
The off screen history seemed logically consistent, from Luke’s new Jedi to the original trilogy characters’ reactions to loss/failure. On the latter: Luke follows the only models he has–Yoda & Kenobi, both fail and run off to self-imposed exile; Han goes back to his pre-Rebellion path, a sort of muscle memory; Leia does the same. Chewbacca obviously follows Han, that life debt; 3PO & R2 stick with Leia, where they were at New Hope’s start.
Over all, there was a good balance between homages to the original trilogy and new material. From the trench run to the desert planet and lost droid, the homages worked well to provide continuity with IV through VI. They also hint at the cyclic view of history & reality that is so central to the Star Wars universe. This has happened before and will happen again.
The cyclic element is something inherent to the Star Wars universe and comes out well in VII too. From Lucas’s reading and incorporation of Campbell’s heroic journey with the original trilogy to its expression in the later movies, this journey cycle is inextricable from the series. We see the Campbellian journey on three levels with the series. On the microcosmic level, every movie in the series includes the hero journey element, ex. Luke’s call to adventure, refusal of the call, acceptance, assistance from mentors, success, and return with enlightenment and gifts for society (the rejuvenation of the Jedi). Moreover, each trilogy to date has a more macrocosmic level version of the Campbellian journey whether Anakin’s evolution from slave boy to villain (Campbell does note that the hero who doesn’t die young often becomes the next generation’s villain) or Luke’s journey from backwater farm boy to galactic hero.
So, when people have said that we’ve seen VII’s story before, they’re absolutely correct. And that’s a core element of the Star Wars universe. It also fits Campbell’s theory that the hero’s journey is a never-ending cycle (the third level mentioned above); when one journey ends, another hero’s begins. In this case, rather than becoming the villain, Luke inadvertently creates the next generation’s villain, much as his own mentor did. Thus, he must mentor the next generation’s hero on her (Reye) own journey against the villain that he created. Meanwhile, there is the parallel Campbellian journey being played out by Finn as he follows the same arc, much like Han did parallel to Luke’s in the original trilogy.