STAR WARS VII: reboot vs anamnesis

I have just seen Star Wars VII. It was a very competent action film, a fun story, and I enjoyed it. However, I agree with John David Ebert’s review that nostalgia dominated over sense of wonder.

Unlike the Marvel films which just reboot the stories with unaged heroes, Star Wars presents us with a sequel thirty years later. However this STAR WARS “sequel” is just as much a reboot, as the basic template has been conserved. The problem posed by STAR WARS is in defining just what that primary template is. Oedipus, Western Buddhism, the sense of wonder, or nostalgia?

I would argue for at least a double reading. The reboot reading is that the film is updating the stereotypes, presenting them to a new generation of spectators. The sequel reading is more complicated, involving the simple linear continuation of the story. But another strand is anamnesis: finding the sense inside the stereotypes.

There is far more estrangement in DUNE than in STAR WARS. Instead of wonder and estrangement in the new STAR WARS we have nostalgia and re-familiarisation. This has always been the case for the franchise. But underneath the Oedipal plot and the Eternal Return of the evil Empire (the “New” Order) and of the same stereotypical characters (the unconscious hero, the brave pilot, the cute robot, the loveable crook, the evil leader) there is the world-making (the world of Star Wars is pretty familiar now, but not to everyone) and the fabulation.

Despite the inevitable repetition, there are important differences. Change is possible in this Universe. Rey’s story is a reboot of Luke’s, not a remake. Even the Force seems to have changed, investing inanimate objects like Luke’s old light saber (giving it the power to “call” to Rey), waking Finn up to his true personality, allowing itself to be transmitted by a non-Jedi, Maz Kanata, to an untrained Rey, waking R2-D2 at the end. “There has been an awakening…” Snoke tells Kylo Ren “have you felt it?”. Finn’s awakening is the first we see, an awakening to the feeling of compassion and to the desire for freedom.

The anamnesis is more for the older viewers. Thirty years have gone by since the last instalment, what has happened to the protagonists? have they remained true to themselves, have they become fixated, have they evolved? This is only touched on in this first episode of a new trilogy, and we have yet to see what Luke has become, or if Leia has slid permanently into bureaucratic decline. Is R2D2 the symbol of the aging fan, sunk into a comatose state waiting for the eventual sequel? What have we become over the last thirty years?



DUNE: messiah as anti-hero

DUNE is above all a critique of the myth of the hero and of the hero’s journey, and a critique of the God-like saviour. The whole series of books turns around creating human beings that would be invisible to prescience, becoming  unpredictable, escaping omniscience, be it that of a God or of a Computer.

According to Norman Spinrad, in his text “The Emperor of Everything“, the tragedy of Paul Atreides in DUNE is that “he cannot transcend his own transcendence”. Paul is trapped in his own myth, and “cannot achieve the grace of the Bodhisattva.” This identification of Paul with his Messianic role, his fixation in transcendence is what Jodorowsky transforms in his re-imagined DUNE (see my review).

Another aspect of Paul Atreides’ tragedy is that the Empire triumphs once again over democracy: “he cannot place the scepter of enlightenment and power in the hands of Everyone”.

In the new STAR WARS VII, Kylo Ren is the one who most corresponds to Paul Atreides, as Paul finally succombed to the Dark Side. He became the new Emperor and unleashed a jihad of fanatical troops across the galaxy to expand and consolidate his Empire.