'Star Wars: The Force Awakens': Decoding the trail of hidden clues left by J.J. Abrams
Is Han Solo in exile? Was the Rebellion defeated? How does BB-8 get to the planet Jakku?
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
“Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions.” – Yoda
Sorry, Jedi Master. One week after getting the most in-depth look yet at Star Wars: The Force Awakens, nobody’s heeding that little, green guy’s advice. If anything, the tantalizing prospect of new details only added fuel to the hyperdrive-powered speculation:
Does Darth Vader somehow remain a threat? Why are there still stormtroopers if the Empire was defeated? Who is Kylo Ren, the masked villain with the crossguard lightsaber?
Those are deeper questions only the movie will answer. But director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy did scatter clues about the setup for the new movie throughout last week’s Celebration fan convention in Anaheim, Calif. A few days later, and nearly seven months before the movie hits theaters on Dec. 18, here’s a look at some conclusions reached after following a very deliberate trail of galactic breadcrumbs.
Consider this an attempt at a Grand Unifying Theory of The Force Awakens …
Let’s start with the definites: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac are the new lead characters. Ridley’s Rey is a scavenger on the sandswept planet of Jakku, Boyega’s Finn is a stormtrooper on the run, and Isaac is a badass X-Wing pilot sent on a mission by Princess Leia. The fourth member of this group is BB-8, the spherical droid trying to roll as fast as it can through sand (not an easy task) to avoid the bombs being dropped by pursuing TIE Fighters.
We know their fates intersect, but how? And why?
A JEDI ARTIFACT
In the trailer, a lightsaber is handed over to an unseen woman by what appears to be a much smaller, possibly alien hand. The woman has a large, ornate ring on her own right hand and this shot is presented at the exact moment we hear Luke Skywalker’s old dialogue from Return of the Jedi referencing “my sister.” Are we seeing Leia here? I think so. The ring doesn’t look like the kind of thing junkyard-dwelling Rey would wear (and in other shots Rey’s hands are bare.)
Similarly, does the mechanical hand caressing R2-D2 in the trailer belong to Luke, since the voiceover references himself in that moment? (Another piece of trivia: although the audio is repurposed from Jedi, Mark Hamill re-recorded the lines and his older, present-day voice can be heard as a faint echo to the trailer narration, if you listen closely.)
And just whose lightsaber is that? That answer was scattered all through the convention’s many replica sales booths: It’s the one that formerly belonged to both Anakin and Luke Skywalker.
Compare the structure (every lightsaber is slightly different) and it’s clear that this is the weapon Obi-Wan Kenobi gives to young Skywalker in 1977’s original Star Wars: A New Hope, telling him it once belonged to his father. We last saw it in The Empire Strikes Back, spiraling down an air shaft in Cloud City after Vader severs Luke’s right hand and reveals: “I am your father!”
Away from the trailer, in a small room on the second floor of the Celebration convention center, that same saber made an appearance in another place that raised suspicions …
TOOLS OF WAR
After he pries himself out of that white stormtrooper armor, Boyega’s Finn sports some simple street clothes on Jakku: black trousers, a dark a shirt, and a leather-looking jacket over top. Those clothes were on display on the second floor of the Anaheim convention center in a gallery of wardrobe, models, and props from The Force Awakens. But the most interesting accessory of Finn’s was included only in the concept drawing beside the mannequin.
See what’s attached to the straps in the front of that jacket? It’s the same lightsaber from the trailer. That leads to another question: How did a stormtrooper get it? (But we’ll get to that in a moment.)
Just across the aisle in that exhibition room, another familiar weapon makes an appearance. In the concept drawing beside the Invisible Man-like desert wrap of Ridley’s Rey, she is pictured clutching a blaster by her side. Now, guns are not as idiosyncratic as lightsabers in the Star Wars realm, but that sure looks a lot like the blaster wielded once-upon-a-time by Mr. Han Solo.
If the saber is a connection between Luke and his father, could the gun be some kind of link between … father and daughter?
Here’s what I know for sure: This gallery was put there for a reason. And J.J. Abrams loves puzzles. This was meant to reveal new insights for those willing to do a little homework.
After walking through their onstage presentation for The Force Awakens on Wednesday night, Abrams and Kennedy made a detour before dinner to that gallery showcase upstairs. It was their last chance to approve (or nix) anything that appeared there – so I know for sure that nothing about that display was accidental.
My guess: Han Solo has a connection to Jakku that is deeper than we realize.
NEXT: Why Solo (and BB-8) may end up stranded on the desert planet …
ABOVE US, ONLY SKY
We know the Millennium Falcon is present on Jakku because we see it, in the both the November teaser and last week’s trailer, swerving through the skies of the desert planet, evading TIE Fighters, and swooping through the hollowed out engine of a crashed Star Destroyer.
We also know from this still image, revealed in the panel live-stream for only a split second, that Rey and Finn run toward something that looks very much like the landing gear of the Millennium Falcon.
At the end, when we see Chewbacca and Han Solo for the first time, and Harrison Ford delivers the line, “Chewie … We’re home,” those two are clearly aboard the Falcon. But what are they looking at? Maybe the real question is really: Where is the Falcon at that point?
Maybe – Jakku is home.
In the shot above, racing right along behind Rey and Finn is everybody’s favorite new droid. But how does he come to roll (so to speak) with this crew?
In that same display, there was a model of an X-Wing fighter and if you looked very closely you’d see a familiar half-domed head inside the great big socket in the back of the starship, where R2 units usually plug in to serve as robotic co-pilots. There is BB-8 – no question.
Let’s take a leap and say Poe Dameron’s destiny links up with Rey and Finn’s when he is sent to this remote world by Princess Leia. BB-8 is his sidekick – and maybe more. It wouldn’t be the first time Leia dispatched a droid to a desert world on a secret mission.
If Dameron lands – or crashes – on Jakku, that’s very likely how BB-8 comes to this inhospitable game of beach volleyball. He and Finn could each have ended up in some wreckage as their respective forces clashed overhead, and a few downed spacecraft would naturally draw the attention of a scavenger like Rey.
If Leia gave the lightsaber to Dameron, that could be how it ends up in Finn’s hands. (Where Dameron is at this point, and why he would relinquish such an important object, we don’t know.)
Note the image below with Dameron striding away in his pilot suit from an unusual-looking X-Wing — a dark one, black instead of the usual light gray. There’s a reason for that, although Abrams hasn’t revealed it just yet. Are we looking at another galaxy’s version of a stealth fighter, something that can slip in and out of hostile territory undetected (at least in theory)?
We’re connecting some pretty far-flung dots here, but they seem to make a convincing constellation.
WAR TORN LANDSCAPE
During the panel, I asked Abrams to tell us a little more about the planet Jakku, and why it was so important to the story. He declined with a polite but firm: “No.” But there were other hints around Celebration that painted a picture of this world’s history.
In the trailer, we see it is a graveyard of fallen ships, but it’s not clear how it got that way. We’ve never heard of this planet before in any previous Star Wars stories.
The answer came from the EA-DICE presentation on Star Wars: Battlefront, the latest version of a video game series from a decade ago that allowed players to fight as soldiers and pilots in some of the most famous skirmishes in galactic lore. The game comes out Nov. 17, and in early December a free download will become available allowing players to fight “The Battle of Jakku.”
This was described as a major conflict in the civil war between the Empire and the Rebellion, one that takes place after the destruction of the second Death Star above the forest moon of Endor.
Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that Han Solo would be involved in that Jakku firefight, perhaps after replacing the satellite dish Lando Calrissian knocked off the Falcon on his way through the Death Star? Remember, Solo was a general in the Rebellion by this point. It’s hard to imagine a major conflict playing out without his involvement.
What we don’t know about Jakku yet is who won. But — I have a bad feeling about this.
NEXT: Could the Rebellion have … failed?
AN UNEXPECTED DEFEAT?
After that Ewok dance party in Jedi, fans could reasonably assume that with Darth Vader dead, the Emperor vanquished, and the unfinished Death Star blown to smithereens that the Imperial army was defeated. But what if it’s not quite that simple?
Again – just a theory – what if the Rebellion actually lost the Battle of Jakku? And what if the Empire, known for “striking back” after taking a beating, managed to regroup and rally?
Perhaps Solo and Chewie stayed behind on Jakku – lying low the same way old Ben Kenobi once did on a different desert planet. Maybe they remain fugitives, still have bounties on their heads — a situation they probably have gotten used to. Again, maybe, maybe, maybe … Rey holding that blaster is no accident and she does have a family connection to the galactic smuggler. Maybe she is the “home” to which he refers? I could definitely picture him running a junkyard.
A defeat of the Rebellion would also explain another curiosity planted in that wardrobe and model exhibit: the replacement of the words “Empire” and “Rebellion” with something else.
FIRST ORDER vs. THE RESISTANCE
Among the costumes on display were a snowtrooper uniform, a flametrooper (toting a formidable flamethrower weapon), and a pair of regular stormtroopers – all in redesigned armor. But instead of identifying them as the Empire, they were listed in the placards beside the outfits as part of a group called “The First Order.”
Meanwhile, remember that model of an X-Wing fighter? It was listed as a “Resistance” starship. If the Rebels won, they wouldn’t be resisting, right? In fact, the term Rebellion suggests a great deal more power than Resistance. Rebellion is open, brazen, and undeniable. Resistance is something that happens underground, quietly, often under occupation.
Everything we’ve seen of the planet so far suggests it is a desperate place, a land of what appear to be refugees. It’s probably not a place where the Resistance is strong.
But if Solo (and family) are hiding out there, perhaps that’s the mission Poe Dameron is sent on by Princess Leia. Maybe she needs him to deliver this lost relic, Annakin and Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, to her old friend, the scruffy-looking nerfherder.
As for that love (“I know”) they once shared …? Maybe the lightsaber stands for something more than this movie’s MacGuffin. Maybe it represents the idea that nothing is ever lost that can’t be found again.
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens