Two weeks ago it was announced that J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars: Episode 7 film would officially be titled Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It appears they’re ditching the episodic numbers that were introduced alongside the first prequel, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, and personally I’m totally okay with that. It made sense to start numbering the movies back when they did the prequels so that everyone would be clear on the order (after all, I’m pretty sure it was the first movie prequel trilogy ever) but I don’t think it’s really necessary anymore. What I’m not okay with, however, is the subtitle they’ve chosen. Initially I was indifferent, but the more I think about the title, the more I have a bad feeling about it.
First of all, allow me to express that I think it’s a pretty lazy and uninspired title. It is way too similar to the title of the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and yet it’s far less cool. This marks the first time a Star Wars movie has ever referred to the Force in its title, and still they couldn’t manage to think of a better name than the one from that lousy video game? I'd say that’s a little disappointing. Although that’s not the real problem here, so let’s just push that nitpicking aside and analyze the title a bit deeper.
The real issue with “The Force Awakens” as a title is that it seems to show a misunderstanding of the Force as we know it. The title appears to suggest that the force has become dormant after Return of the Jedi, and knowing what we do about the Force, that simply cannot be so. The Force is around us in all things. It exists whether we can harness its power or not. It doesn’t just go away. It's like the essence of life itself - the cellular energy that connects us to our world and to each other. To say that it awakens is to either alter the very meaning of what the Force is or is to misinterpret it altogether.
If we examine the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, it leaves us with Luke Skywalker as the only known remaining jedi. Is it possible then that by being the only jedi left, Luke could lose the power to wield the Force? That without a villain to bring balance to the Force, his connection to it could dissipate? That the Force would need to be awakened? I find that possibility highly unlikely and considering that we know from the extended universe that Luke’s son becomes a jedi like his father before him (and his father before him), that idea seems quite impractical.
Perhaps the title is saying that the Force itself isn't being reawakened, but that it's awakening in our young new jedi. I can somewhat go along with that, but even if that's the intent of the title, it's an awkward and poor choice of words. When Luke Skywalker was training with Yoda on Dagobah, would we have said that the Force awakened with him? No. It was always within him. Just in that moment, he learned how to control it. He learned to "use the Force". That same logic would apply to his children as well, would it not?
The problem with the title is that the possession is misplaced. We might refer to that pivotal moment with Yoda as "Luke's Awakening", though it is not the Force that's being awakened but rather Luke's interaction with it. If they were to call it "The Force Awakens Within" instead, it would make more sense and alleviate this issue. While I'm not suggesting that's the alternative title that should be used, it would remedy this problem since it makes it clear that the force is being awakened to someone, rather than the flawed idea that the entire Force is being reawakened itself.
I'm not typically one to make much of a fuss about such things, but this is Star Wars. It's a big deal. With the trailer coming out later today, it doesn't seem there's any chance of the title being corrected, but perhaps we'll get a better understanding of it. I think J.J. Abrams is a great director and I trust that he knows what he's doing, but I do think his choice of subtitle is a bit flawed.
Regardless, I'm truly excited to see the trailer when its released later today. Even as a huge Star Wars fan, I really never thought the day would come when we'd see a sequel to the original trilogy. I'm glad it's finally happening (with the return of the original stars, no less) and I'm confident that the series is in great hands with Disney. When this film comes out next December, it will have been 32 years since Return of the Jedi first came to theaters. That's a really long time ago. I sure can't wait to see what lies on the horizon in a galaxy far, far away.
J.J. Abrams, may the Force be with you...