The Force Awakens: what the Star Wars Episode VII title tells us

Star Wars

The actors have departed, sets are being dismantled, the movie is in the can and JJ Abrams has probably already departed Pinewood Studios for the LA production cubby hole he’d rather have been working from all along.

Moreover, we finally have a title: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The first thing it tells us is that Abrams may just have sneakily mounted a gargantuan canonical switcheroo, the equivalent of revealing that Jaws is still swimming around somewhere off the coast of Amity Island, or that the overreaching Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark survived having their faces melted off. If the Force needs to awaken, we have to assume that the new Jedi order that Luke Skywalker looked set to deliver after the events of Return of the Jedi did not, after all, come about. It therefore follows that the evil Empire was not destroyed with the death of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine in 1983, and that celebrations seen on Endor and across the galaxy must have turned out to be rather premature. This, presumably, is very bad news indeed if you are an Ewok.

The six Star Wars films so far have see-sawed between showing the Jedi/rebel alliance in the ascendancy (The Phantom Menace, Star Wars) and the Sith/Empire moving into positions of power (Revenge of the Sith, The Empire Strikes Back). The Force Awakens ought to have seen the Sith beginning to stir once again after a period of peace, but that now seems unlikely.

It’s possible, of course, that the specific Force rubbing its eyes and urging itself to glug down a glass of orange juice is the Sith side of said metaphysical phenomenon. But if so, why not give the movie a better title such as Rise/Return of the Dark Side? The idea of a new Jedi awakening also segues more comfortably with rumours about the new film’s storyline, such as the involvement of the Sith-like Inquisitors (a sort of Jedi-hunting Spanish Inquisition) who have just been introduced in the Star Wars: Rebels animated TV series.

The shift makes absolute sense. George Lucas discovered with the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones that beginning your saga at a time of peace makes for spectacularly tedious cinema. Star Wars and its successors were set in a civilisation riven by war: the perfect, economically deprived, chaotic environment for iconic hustlers such as Han Solo, Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett to thrive.

But let’s face it: The Force Awakens is an incredibly bland title, up there with The Phantom Menace and the retrospectively added misnomer for 1977’s Star Wars, A New Hope. It is symptomatic of a kind of Google optimisation-inspired laziness in 21st-century Hollywood. Studios are increasingly determined to get the most search-friendly terms on to billboards: hence Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Dark Knight Rises. We can only assume that Abrams decided against the more obviously inspiring Star Wars: The Force Unleashed because it has already been used for a video game tie-in.

The idea of the force awakening suggests a gentle lead-in to the new trilogy. It hints that while the seventh Star Wars film will no doubt be monumental, its story is just the beginning of a new cycle. This is hardly stuff designed to foster record-breaking box-office success of the kind the series is famous for, but we can assume the LucasFilm bigwigs wouldn’t allow Abrams to just call it Star Wars. And everyone involved knows the film would still smash it with the title Star Wars: Here’s Lukey (or any of the other alternatives so far suggested by Twitter).

At least Disney has jettisoned the episodic numbering retrospectively added by George Lucas to all Star Wars films after being introduced in the abominable prequel trilogy. These movies have long enough titles as it is, and anything which distances Abrams’s movie from the horrors of Jar Jar Binks has to be a good thing. Fans will refer to the new film as simply The Force Awakens, anyway, and the best that can be said is that it just about does the job.

Powered by article was written by Ben Child, for on Friday 7th November 2014 12.38 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010