[WARNING: If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens, but intend to, don’t read this. #spoilers]
Star Wars is the kind of pop culture item that is tailor-made for theories and you need no further proof than to look around the light and dark corners of the Internet to find theories on the inane and the insane leading up to the release of The Force Awakens. Now that we’ve all seen the film (which we’re assuming is the case given how much money it has made), it should be abundantly clear to all of us that 95 percent of those theories were flat-out wrong.
- Is Luke Skywalker evil in the new trilogy? Nope.
- Will Jar Jar Binks show up as the true evil mastermind? Not a chance.
- Is Rey Han Solo & Leia’s daughter? She almost certainly is not.
- Is Kylo Ren’s helmet actually Darth Revan’s? No.
- Is Snoke actually Darth Plagueis? Doesn’t seem like it.
- That must be dead Chewbacca that Rey is crying over in the trailer. It’s not.
- Luke Skywalker is actually dead. Actually, no.
- Is BB-8 female? It doesn’t come up and literally doesn’t matter either way.
The list goes on and on. Anyone who has been anticipating the new Star Wars film has certainly been down a rabbit hole or 10 in search of answers, especially with each interview, poster, teaser and trailer reveal. Fans were more than happy to dig deeply into the characters and stories to try and make sense of what they knew, even if it was all a bit of grasping at straws.
Is this helpful, though? Does delving into theories and speculation enhance the viewing experience, to come in pre-loaded with specific expectations of where the story is going to go? Or does it leave you disappointed on some level to realize that the screenwriter, director and producers didn’t go down that same rabbit hole, or even worse… seem to even consider it?
Expectations play such a strong role in the way we consume just about anything. In sports, expectations can influence the way we feel about two teams with the same record in very different ways. The .500 team with high expectations failed while the .500 team with low expectations performed well and should be commended. Whether or not those initial assumptions were relevant or true doesn’t actually matter.
Now that The Force Awakens is behind us and Episode VIII lies ahead (May 26, 2017, to be exact), all of that failed speculation hasn’t stopped the same folks (and plenty more) from churning out new ideas for the next film. But it gets tougher. Headed into The Force Awakens, theorists were playing without rules or context. With the first film in this new trilogy now official, there are walls within which new theories must exist. And this is where we usually get ourselves into trouble.
Anyone who considered themselves a die-hard fan of Lost remembers well the folly of digging too deeply. After the first season of the hit show, message boards and chat rooms were chocked full of theories, diagrams, breakdowns and explanations about the mysterious island and what brought all of the characters to it. Some theorized that the Smoke Monster was created by the Dharma Initiative to protect the island. Others thought the whole thing was taking place in the future, or in perdition. One fascinating theory assumed there was a being living within the island, controlling the destinies of everyone around them.
The reality ended up being something much simpler and straight-forward than most theories predicted. A lot of that had to do with the fact that the writers were creating this mythology on the fly, but it also had to do with the logistics of storytelling. The story can’t be everything to everyone. Also, while we think we want the craziest, most-shocking twists to happen, doing so would ultimately cheapen the proceedings.
What often gets lost (pun intended) when we focus on theorizing the big twists and shocking reveals ahead is that we lose focus on what’s important in a story: The characters. If you don’t have strong characters whom you care about, it doesn’t matter how far down the rabbit hole goes. You won’t follow them there. Why bother? Though a crazy twist might make for fun in the short-term, a multitude of them will muddy a character’s motivations and set aside their journey for the sake of plot.
That’s why so many people came away from The Force Awakens feeling disappointed that it was “the same old story” or a rehash of A New Hope. Audiences often get caught up in waiting for the “big reveal” without realizing that’s not actually what they want. They want characters to root for and an adventure worth taking. The Force Awakens may have paid some fan service along the way, but all signs point to the next film diverging from that pattern now that the proper groundwork has been laid.
Of course, none of that is stopping Star Wars fan theories from running wild. The most obvious discussion for the next year-and-a-half will revolve around who Rey’s parents are. The theorists are already doing everything in their power to convince themselves it’s not Luke Skywalker, even though it remains the most likely scenario. No one likes “likely” when it comes to theories. Better to try and twist it that Rey is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s or that she is somehow Snoke’s daughter.
The assumption is that this reveal is meant to be something shocking or else the filmmakers would have said it already. That assumption doesn’t seem to jive with what we know about the way Star Wars stories usually play out either. Just because it might not be shocking to learn Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter, it doesn’t make the eventual reveal any less meaningful when that happens for those two characters.
Other wild theories flying around include Kylo Ren being an undercover Jedi (sigh, no…), Han Solo is still alive (Guys, he fell into a ball of energy) or that there is actually a third Skywalker sibling and Rey is that person’s daughter (come on…). Discussing these possibilities isn’t harmful but it’s almost certainly not helpful, especially if you decide to dive deep into the “proof.”
Is the solution to swear off the Internet until May 26, 2017? Of course not. It’s natural to have thoughts and opinions on where you think the story goes from here. We may or may not get answers to all our burning questions in the next film (or ever). Rather than get so caught up in trying to figure out the intricate details that prove why A + B = C and then finding yourself disappointed when that same level of scrutiny doesn’t play out in the actual story, it’s best to keep these theories at arm’s length. Some of them may prove true. Most of them won’t. None of them really know for sure (unless Episode VIII director Rian Johnson is one of those YouTube theorists).
The Internet gives us access to all the information we could possibly want. When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, sometimes it actually serves your imagination more not to have all of it. It’s natural to want to know the answer to questions such as “Who are the rest of the Knights of Ren?” and “What’s the deal with Max Von Sydow’s character?” But as much as you might want all the answers, getting all of the answers is boring, or even worse, not as good as the ones in your imagination.
We’ll get answers to the pertinent questions in the next two Star Wars films (as well as the many offshoots). Any questions left over are for us and our imaginations to figure out once we know they’re up to us to figure out.