Criticizing the Criticizers: The Title of Star Wars Episode 7

by cameronbarrettstewart


While I’m sure that others have made or will the observations that I am about to make, I thought that I might as well get these ideas down in some way.

So this morning, Disney announced that the title of Star Wars Episode 7 would be The Force Awakens, while the general response that I have seen so far has been pretty positive, there are some who don’t enjoy it. Some have said that the title is dull and vague. They draw comparisons with the trend of the “Rise” title, (The Dark Knight Rises, 300:Rise of an Empire, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), which I’ll admit has gotten a bit stale in recent past. A quick look at IMDB shows me seven franchise movies in the past seven years that use some variation of “rise” in their titles. However, the use of the word “awaken” hasn’t shown the same prevalence.

So for what reason do I defend the title The Force Awakens? I think in the fad of certain people rushing to criticize any movie news they hear, they may have lost some sense of retrospection. First let’s look at the original trilogy of Star Wars films. I am aware of the fact that the first film, Star Wars, was rereleased as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. But many people will lump this change in with the many, sometimes terrible, changes that George Lucas made to the original series. What they might not know, due to young age or unawareness, is that this change was made for a rerelease in 1981, just 4 years after its original release, one year after Empire Strikes Back’s release, and 2 years before the release of Return of the Jedi. So it seems clear to me that this change wasn’t made for kicks and giggles, it was made so that there would be a clear distinction between the movies. Empire had just been released, and Lucas knew that he had plans to do at least 4 more films, so it does seem logical that he wouldn’t want the first film to be a source of confusion when the prequels would come.

Besides all that though, in examining the title A New Hope, it is not a stunningly deep title, and that is perfectly fine. I think of all the things one could criticize about a film; its title is hardly something to hold up as a main argument. And as we look at the two other films of the original trilogy, if we try and forget our feelings toward the films, their titles aren’t exactly full of rich meaning either. Recently, in my Birdman review, I pointed out that titles for blockbuster films are mostly a brief description of the content of the film itself. If we pretend like we are someone that hasn’t seen any Star Wars films, what do the titles tell us? A New Hope tells us that not only is there a hope, but it is new, meaning that before it there was some sense of despair. The Empire Strikes back tells us that an empire, a word often holding a negative connotation, is striking back at something, probably an opposition to its rule. Return of the Jedi tells us that some group or thing called “Jedi” is returning, and the use of the word “return” means that their/its return is of some significance.

I won’t delve deep into the titles of the prequels, but it is worth noting the distinction in Episode I’s title. The Phantom Menace is definitely a distinct title in comparison with all the other films. In my opinion the title is too unclear and any interpretation doesn’t really make it a better title. Who is the “Phantom Menace”: Palpatine, the dark side, Darth Maul, Anakin, Jar Jar? A literal interpretation could be “ghostly danger,” but that doesn’t really say anything, now does it? The other two films in the prequel trilogy (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) follow a similar style to the titles of the original trilogy, and almost have a sort of parallel with them.

Down to brass tax, though. The Force Awakens is not a vague title. Vague implies that this title doesn’t tell us enough to suggest the plot. The title is actually extremely not vague, if I do the same literal interpretation as I did before. It tells us that there is a force, a word that implies power or strength, and it is awakening, meaning that it has been dormant for some length of time. This actually says a lot about the plot. And let’s be frank, the lore of Star Wars, particularly what “The Force” means, is something that is now deeply ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist.

So besides my need to rant on things, I felt the need to write this for a reason. Before you (in the general sense) go out and criticize something, at least take some time to reflect upon it and examine how it relates to the past and the future. Everyone has a right to be critical, but being critical just so you can be an opposing force (no pun intended) is really not worth its reward.

For Reference: my Birdman review