20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection/WENN
The main question that we imagine is swirling through the heads of J.J. Abrams and the other folks in charge of Star Wars: Episode VII is just how closely their new film should hew to the original Star Wars trilogy. The prequels, for all their good intentions, felt nothing like the Star Wars of old and suffered for it, so how should Episode VII continue the franchise? A new rumor adds even more wrinkles to the issue facing Abrams and Co.: according to Latino Review, John Boyega’s character in Star Wars: Episode VII won’t be a Jedi or a Padwan, but “has echos of Luke’s arc in A New Hope.”
It makes sense that the filmmakers are trying to find parallels between the first trilogy and the new one. Star Wars has such a dense history, not only in its own universe, but in our universe as well. Nearly everyone living and breathing has some relationship with the property, so adding new canon must be done delicately. Part of the reason the prequels have become so reviled by most Star Wars fans is because George Lucas had forgotten what made the first trilogy so appealing in the first place, but the original films shouldn’t be held as gospel. Some of the things that worked in 1977 might not fly in this strange new world of 2015 – in particular, a character like Luke might not work in the present times.
All the way back in 1977, Star Wars wasn’t the cultural monolith it is now. As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time where a galaxy far, far away was completely new territory for fans. In that first movie, the character of Luke was our eyes and ears into Lucas’ strange new world, and as the young man traveled far away from the sand-strewn stretches of his home planet to different, eye-popping corners of the galaxy, the viewer was on that same adventure of discovery. We were being guided, hand in hand, through the rules of Star Wars, with Luke serving as our companion and guide, always within earshot of some handy exposition when things got confusing. Since Luke was just a vessel for the audience, he didn’t need to be an incredibly deep character, just one to bring us from point A to point B, from Tatooine to Yavin. But now, in 2015, we don’t need a wide-eyed, slack jawed outsider to soak up information for the audience anymore. We’ve already experienced over 40 years of Star Wars. It’s hard coded into our zeitgiest, and everyone living knows how that world operates. We don’t need a character like Luke giving us a fresh-faced view of the Star Wars universe; we’ve already lived there for 40 years.
But there are other reasons a character like Luke wouldn’t work today beyond just standing in for the audience. Honestly, Luke was always a little too bratty and earnest. He constantly complained about how his dreams were being squandered living on Tatooine, and found just the right time to yell at his aunt and uncle before they were obliterated by the empire. Luke is the kind of character that doesn’t really work in the modern age. Today is not an age of wide-eyed earnestness and idealism, but one filled with snarky comebacks and jaded leads. When Leia quips about Luke being too short to be a Storm Trooper, a Luke Skywalker from the Internet age would have quipped right back, not buried that insult with heroic posturing. We just don’t go for those sort of heroes in fiction anymore. Luke is very much a product of his time, and if Star Wars was made today, Han Solo would be the main character. Frankly, Han has always been the more interesting of the two anyway.
With all that said, Boyega’s character following a similar character arc to Luke’s isn’t the worst thing in the world. Luke’s path from dreamer to Jedi follows the hero’s journey to a T, and it’s still a useful device in fiction. What the character needs, above all else, is to be different. This new Abrams-directed trilogy should use the old characters and canon as a launching pad to explore vistas the Star Wars universe has never seen, so let’s be careful with comparing these new characters to Luke Skywalker.