One of the key lines in the new Star Wars movie comes courtesy of conflicted villain Kylo Ren. Early in the film, he says, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.”
Kylo Ren is the villain.
There’s just one problem: that’s Disney’s entire strategy in the new Star Wars film.
First, they killed off one of the great screen icons of all time in Han Solo, for no conceivable purpose other than to invest The Force Awakens with some gravitas; Han dies as a loser single dad stabbed to death for no actual purpose. Then, they killed off Luke, who fades into nothingness in order to astrally project himself into the middle of a firefight with the First Order. And, of course, we know that Carrie Fisher passed away this year, which means that Leia is dead, too.
Disney did all of this for one reason: they wanted to reset the series, but wanted to cannibalize loyalty to iconic characters to do so. They could have started a new Star Wars narrative decades after Return of the Jedi, and left the original characters in the realm of legend. They could have made a bunch of spinoff properties like Rogue One (which is the best of the new crop). Instead, they chose to cynically grab Baby Boomer bucks by bringing back crowd favorites, and then brutally kill those characters in order to make way for new characters who aren’t remotely as interesting.
They are Kylo Ren.
But not full Kylo Ren. What makes Kylo Ren interesting is the prospect, briefly, of something entirely new. After killing uber-villain Supreme Leader Snoke and uniting with Rey to do so, Ren turns to Rey and asks her to join him in ruling the galaxy. But he also refuses to stop the First Order from destroying the transport vessels carrying the last remnants of the Rebel Alliance. His rationale: “It’s time to let old things die. Snoke, Skywalker, the Sith, the Jedi, the Rebels, let it all die. Rey, I want you to join me. We can rule together and bring a new order to the galaxy.”
That could have been an amazing moment — a move completely beyond the old mythology. But Disney didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do that. So instead, they grabbed the Star Wars mythology, killed the old favorites, and substituted new characters whom they refuse to sacrifice for any purpose at all (see, e.g., Finn). In the original Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi dies — the most prominent actor in the film buys it nearly immediately. In the new Star Wars, we kill characters we grew up with for decades, but we maintain characters nobody cares about.
The problem now is that if Star Wars is nostalgia property, the nostalgia is just about gone. And it didn’t fade away. It was killed, all for short-term profit.