Spoiler warning: This piece contains major spoilers for The Force Awakens.
The trailers for Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens kicked off a frenzy of fan speculation, but the film answers virtually none of the big questions it raises. As satisfying a thrill-ride as the movie is — and it is satisfying, at least until it reaches the limits of nostalgia — it certainly isn’t interested in filling in the blanks between Return Of The Jedi and the new present-day, decades later. The ancillary material fills in some of those blanks, explaining, for instance, why Imperial vehicles litter the backwater planet of Jakku. But the film itself is deliberately packed with mysteries.
The original Star Wars similarly suggested a large, narratively unexplored universe, with a lot of gaps to fill in about the Clone Wars, Darth Vader, and what "made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs" could possibly mean. But George Lucas originally didn’t think he’d get to make a sequel and answer those questions. (The Alan Dean Foster novel Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye was written as a treatment for a very different, much cheaper, planetbound sequel, on the off chance that Star Wars made some money at the box office.) The Force Awakens is a different animal: Here, the mysteries are deliberate fan teases for an expanded universe into which Disney has already invested billions of dollars. It's likely most of these questions will eventually be answered in sequels, if not standalone films and spin-off series. But it's going to be a long wait. Here are some of the most mysterious elements of The Force Awakens, and our over/under on whether they're worth wondering about."
C-3PO has one red arm now
The Force Awakens doesn’t make a big deal out of C-3PO’s new look, but doesn’t let it pass without comment, either. When he turns up late in the film, he looks like a junker car with a mismatched side panel, and with his usual blind sense of self-regard, he suggests Han Solo might not recognize him now that part of his body is a different color. No explanation for the change is given — or requested, since everyone else has bigger things on their minds at that point, and within the Star Wars universe, no one’s ever really cared that much about C-3PO. Sorry, guy.
Is this intriguing? Not really. C-3PO is a known quantity at this point, and the color change doesn’t appear to have changed his personality or his functions, either as a protocol droid or a comic-relief character. Maybe it’s a gag to help longtime fans contend with the fact that unlike in most Star Wars films, no one actually gets a hand or arm cut off in The Force Awakens.
Will a later film address it? Probably not. The red arm was supposed to be addressed in a tie-in comic, Marvel’s Star Wars Special: C-3P0 #1, by the team behind Starman, writer James Robinson and artist Tony Harris. It was due out in December 2015, but has been delayed to February 2016. Like General Grievous’ asthmatic wheezing in Revenge Of The Sith—explained in the Clone Wars TV series, but never in the film, where it was apparently just intended as a basic character trait, the red arm is probably just a bit of side business that’s only important to completists, as fan candy.
Finn is apparently a kidnapped child soldier
Family connections and especially parentage are a big deal in the Star Wars movies, and they’re at the heart of a lot of Force Awakens’ biggest unresolved issues. All the new leads have hazy backgrounds, but none more so than ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), who gets approximately one sentence in about how the First Order stole him from his family in childhood and raised him as a soldier. So is his family still out there somewhere? Is he interested in finding them? Does this mean the bulk of the First Order’s stormtroopers are also brainwashed kids? Given Star Wars’ law of conservation of character, is it creepy to wonder whether Finn is the son or grandson of the franchise's only other prominent black characters, Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu?
Is this intriguing? Hell yes. Maybe not the specific parentage thing (though one Force Awakens tie-in toy did list Finn as Lando’s kid, setting off a frenzy of speculation), but Finn’s background overall is a huge part of his character and his identity, and it helps define the First Order as well. Did the Order’s conditioning not work on Finn because he’s a Force sensitive? Or will there be other stormtrooper defections? Will finding his family give him any sort of closure?
Will a later film address it? It’s hard to tell, given how little play it gets in The Force Awakens. It’s practically a throwaway line, especially compared to the movie’s repeated return to the question of Rey’s parents. Speaking of which…
Rey’s parents abandoned her on Jakku
Finn gets one line about his fam, but for his co-protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley), the champion scrounger, kick-ass heroine, and newbie Force-user, family is an obsession throughout the movie. Her longing for her family is her defining trait. But who are they, and why did they leave her behind?
Is this intriguing? Certainly. As with Finn, her parentage is potentially a big part of her identity. Fans have speculated that she’s either Luke’s daughter or Kylo Ren’s sister, which would make her Han and Leia’s daughter, which seems incredibly unlikely given that she and Han didn’t recognize each other. (But then, we don’t know that Kylo Ren is their biological son.) It’d be more interesting if the story didn’t keep circling around to the same small handful of people — it’s a big galaxy far, far away, and there are a lot of potential parents out there — but regardless, it’s a gaping setup awaiting resolution.
Will a later film address it? Undoubtedly. The Force Awakens spends far too much time establishing this mystery to let it go now.
Kylo Ren is apparently Anakin Skywalker all over again
It’s said in passing that Luke Skywalker disappeared because he was training a new Jedi Order, but one of his apprentices betrayed him. Inevitably, this bare description brings up images of Luke’s father Anakin going grimdark by slaughtering all the "youngling" Jedi. But did Kylo Ren actually kill Luke’s other apprentices, or just lead them to the Dark Side? Who are the Knights Of Ren? If they’re still out there, what are they up to during The Force Awakens? And how does all this work into Kylo Ren’s estrangement from Han and Leia? They certainly don’t act as though he killed off the Jedi Order; there’s no apparent anger on their side in their mutual estrangement. They just want him back, which suggests a philosophical difference rather than Darth Vader-level acts of atrocity.
Is this intriguing? Sure, but it’s also one of the many aspects of Force Awakens that for the moment seems way, way too familiar. History operates in cycles, those who don’t learn from it are condemned to repeat it, etc., but the current information suggests history repeated itself exactly. It’ll all be more intriguing if the new story isn’t a repeat of the old one.
Will a later film address it? Absolutely.
Kylo Ren’s master is made entirely out of question marks
In Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is seen taking orders from a shadowy holographic figure, just as his idol Darth Vader did in the original Star Wars movies. His master is a CGI dude named Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis, king of mo-cap performances. But nothing about Snoke is clear. What happened to his caved-in, partially missing face? Is he really a giant, as he appears to be in relation to Kylo Ren? Is he Sith, or something else entirely? How did he seduce Kylo Ren to the Dark Side? And what the hell does he want?
Is this intriguing? Not really. Star Wars villains tend to be pretty cut-and-dried, and it’s hard for any of them to live up to the spooky standards set by Vader himself. The complete blackout of information around Snoke actually makes him less intriguing, because he’s just another hissing cowl in the dark, with no clear motives but eeeeeevil. He actually looks weirdly like The Fallen from Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen: just another oversized, leering CGI antagonist.
Will a later film address it? Undoubtably. The question is whether we’ll learn anything about Snoke that makes him more interesting.
The First Order is the new evil in town, but it looks exactly like the Empire
Supposedly the Empire fought its last stand on Jakku, but the First Order looks an awful lot like Empire 2.0, given its spaceship design sensibilities, iconic stormtrooper suits, severe military uniforms, and habit of letting black-cloaked Force-users stalk around running things. What does the First Order really want? Is it more than Empire: The Leftovers? How did Snoke wind up in charge?
Is this intriguing? It’ll become intriguing instantly if it seems like the First Order is anything but the Empire under a new banner. A power vacuum always draws new strivers in to take the helm, but will this one be any more nuanced than the last one, or have any philosophy more complicated than Rule Everything With An Iron Fist?
Will a later film address it? Unquestionably, but the First Order shares the Snoke problem: Surely there’s something fresh and new there worth talking about, right?
The entire film revolves around a McGuffin map
Okay, Luke Skywalker is on walkabout, but there’s a map to his whereabouts. Who the hell generated that map? How did it get split into pieces? How was the missing part erased from the First Order’s records? Why’d they have some of it in the first place? How did Lor San Tekka, Max von Sydow’s character from the beginning of the film, end up with a chunk of it? And who was he to the Resistance, anyway? Why was the rest of the map in R2-D2’s memory banks, and why did he need to go into "low power mode" for years on end to dig it back up at the exact right moment? How many Bothans died to make this map happen?
Is this intriguing? Maybe it would be if there was any reason to think it’ll be addressed. The map is the direct equivalent of The Force Awakens’ Death Star plans in A New Hope, both in the way it’s passed around (from a courier to a droid to the Resistance, with the help of a young up-and-comer from an obscure planet, who then proves critical in carrying out the subsequent mission) and in the way it drives the plot. Previous movies were never particularly interested in how those plans were acquired, though naturally the non-canon Expanded Universe stories have a few explanations. And the acquisition of the plans for the Death Star is the plot of next year’s standalone film, Star Wars: Rogue One.
Will a later film address it? Never say never, but probably not. Many Bothans also died to disguise the fact that this kind of take-it-on-faith plot contrivance is hard to explain.
Luke apparently went into exile on purpose, but no one respects that
It’s hinted that Luke went into hiding out of grief, anger, or resignation over the destruction of his new Jedi Order. Those Jedi, so prone to exiling themselves to distant corners of the galaxy when things go wrong. At any rate, one of the bothersome things about The Force Awakens is the way everyone’s determined to track Luke down as though he was some sort of magic problem-fixing McGuffin. He’s a Jedi Master; he has to be aware through the Force that the First Order is wiping out entire planetary systems, that "an awakening" has occurred (as Snoke puts it), and that Kylo Ren is struggling, caught between the Dark and Light Sides. Even before he finished his training, he was capable of sensing Darth Vader torturing Han, Leia, and Chewbacca halfway across the galaxy; he has to have sensed Han Solo’s death. But somehow no one thinks any of this will bring him back to fix everything, unless they use a map to run him down?
Is this intriguing? The question of what drove him out certainly is, and it’s tied into a lot of other crucial backstory. But it’d be worthwhile to explore why the Jedi keep walking off the job, and why he’d come back when someone shows up looking for him, and not when billions of lives are wiped out, including one of his oldest friends.
Will a later film address it? Some of it. Let’s hope later films address the specifics better than Yoda’s speech at the end of the prequels, briefly explaining that he’s going to go disappear instead of continuing a critical fight he’s only just started.
Rey apparently has Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber
Which means she has Darth Vader’s original lightsaber. Which may explain some of the intense flashbacks she has when she first touches it, but not others, like the image that seems to be a group of people with Kylo Ren on an icy field. Why does the lightsaber have these memories imbued in it? How did it survive the fall down the shaft in Bespin? How did it end up in the hands of Maz Kanata?
Is this intriguing? A little. Given the symbolic weight of this particular shard of the past, Maz’s apathetic shrug when asked how she got it is certainly frustrating.
Will a later film address it? Maz says it’s a story for another time. Let’s hope that time comes in the next few years. In the meantime, hoo boy, does that lightsaber have a long and colorful history in the Expanded Universe. Apparently complex machinery that falls down an endless shaft doesn’t just disappear into the ether in the Star Wars universe. Everything has to have a story.
Maz Kanata is out of a job
She’s run her waystation for a thousand years, Han Solo says. Then within 15 minutes of The Force Awakens touching down in her backyard, her home is rubble. What’s she going to do now? Hopefully not disappear from the picture. As the apparent love child of Yoda and The Incredibles’ Edna Mode, she’s too interesting a character.
Is this intriguing? Everything about Maz is simultaneously underdeveloped and intriguing.
Will a later film address it? Seems likely, since the Star Wars franchise rarely wastes a good character the way it tends to waste evil characters. But even if she never shows up in the films again, she’ll unquestionably have a long and happy life somewhere in the Expanded Universe. A thousand-year-old four-foot-high wheeler-dealer with her own cantina band and a crush on Chewbacca is just too much fun for writers not to want to play with her.
The Force Awakens Round-table discussion
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