Part of a series comparing and contrasting the new movie (The Force Awakens) with the original trilogy:
One of the things that made the original Star Wars movie, “A New Hope,” so compelling was that it was transparently a fairy tale translated into a spacefaring settting. As such it combined the pleasures of classic, mythopoeic storytelling with a fresh, new perspective and visuals. On the other hand, however, this also meant that it adopted some less admirable fairy-tale traits. The human cast, at least in the first movie, was as lily-white as in any medieval European yarn, and the bad guys (outside of the main villain) were as facelessly and interchangeably evil as those in any average bad dream.
Even when the original premiered, there were critics and writers who had begun to take a more post-modern approach to traditional narratives, thus leading to what became known as “revisionist fairy tales.” One of the typical characteristics of the new approach was to humanize the traditional fairy tale villains, giving them more realistic personalities, or even recasting stories from their point of view. Other innovations included adding or strengthening persons excluded from the traditional fairy tales –female heroes, ethnic minorities, the poor, the disabled, and so forth (it’s worth noting that this, in many cases, was actually a restoration of figures and types that appeared in the original folk tales, but who had been scrubbed from the mainstream popular retellings –the “Disney version” fairy tales).
There were some hints of this kind of perspective even in the original trilogy. Princess Leia was far too feisty, sharp-tongued and self sufficient to be a traditional damsel in distress. Lando Calrissian became the series’ first African-American hero in the second and third movies, and the humanization of villain Darth Vader developed into a central theme as the trilogy progressed. Nevertheless the dominant mode of the series was more reconstructivist than revisionist.
One of the first and strongest hints of what the new movie wants to be, in opposition to the old ones, comes in the early scenes of the movie. Part of what was taken for granted in the original (and in countless movies before and after) is that the antagonists command a limitless supply of faceless, anonymous, and wholly interchangeable, evil cannon-fodder troops (a trope famously deconstructed in the movie Clerks). In this scene, however, one of the stormtroopers pauses in the middle of an otherwise routine razing of an innocent village to gaze in horror at the destruction around him. As he takes off his helmet to reveal the dark-skinned human face underneath, we understand that the filmmakers are giving us a Star Wars where the people formerly in the background will be taking center stage.
Advantage: The Force Awakens – As iconic as the original heroes are, the new cast reflects some of the most positive real world social changes that have taken place over the last 25 years