The internet is awash with wild speculations as to what is really going on in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Beyond letting us know the outcome of the Han Solo-Leia romance, the J.J. Abrams-directed movie raised more questions than it actually answered.
The Force Awakens has rekindled old debates on the previous movies—which are now officially all prequels—and launched frenzied speculation as to the origins of its main character, Rey. By enabling fans to theorize to no end, the new movie faithfully follows in the footsteps of the preceding films.
This renewed and passionate exchange of ideas lives mainly on social media—on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, which weren't yet around when the second trilogy was released. This might be The Force Awakens’ secret sauce, what has enabled it to smash every box office record on the books.
So here’s a rundown of the three most outlandish theories that have cropped up online so far. Read it as a celebration of the fans’ creativity and imagination.
The first awesome theory, about Episodes I-III, comes to us by way of an appropriately anonymous Reddit poster who asks, "How could anyone like Jar Jar really convince the entire galaxy to abandon democracy? That's ridiculous." He concludes "that in fact Jar Jar is the most powerful person in the galaxy."
The argument goes something like this: the reviled Jar Jar Binks is the Dark Side's Yoda, a master puppeteer Sith Lord. There are many clues strewn around Episode I that Jar Jar is well versed in the ways of the Force. Remember how he jumps and seems to effortlessly avoid objects. His physical prowess evokes a drunken Shaolin master, betraying the kind of supreme command that can only be achieved through years of grueling training. Ergo, Jar Jar is not the unfortunate, digitally-enhanced minstrel fans make him out to be. In addition, Jar Jar seems to always be around at crucial moments to influence the outcome through Force mind tricks. For instance, he is the one single delegate who convinces the Galactic Senate to bestow Chancellor Palpatine full dictatorial powers. His apparent idiocy is nothing but Machiavellian dissimulation, as Evil Jar Jar is the Deus Ex Machina who brings about the Empire.
YES: In support of his argument, the author suggests that Jar Jar was meant to be more fully developed in the subsequent movies. In his (or her) view, Jar Jar was conceived as the Dark Side’s mirror image of Yoda. And Yoda first appeared to Luke in Empire Strikes Back as a cute and bumbling creature. However, per our intrepid Reddit poster, George Lucas "chickened out” in the face of quasi-universal loathing. As a result, he hastily wrote in new villains (Christopher Lee's Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones) to cover over the gaping plot holes left by the canning of Jar Jar.
NO: Jar Jar was not the negative image of Yoda. His purpose in the story was comic relief. He was supposed to be the audience’s companion, to act as the tragedy’s choir, just like C3PO and R2-D2 did in the first trilogy. This failed miserably because the character was a profound and irredeemable moron. We laughed at him rather than with him. Worse still, upon further viewing we grew aggravated in light of the screwed-up racial stereotypes CGI’d into the water-born Naboo interloper. Jar Jar was a very poor imitation of C3PO (himself a mildly homophobic parody of Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis female robot). As for the alleged plot holes Jar Jar’s erasure was supposed to have created—well, it's not like Jar Jar’s extended screen presence in The Phantom Menace helped the movie from crumbling under the weight of its own inconsistencies.
That line of reasoning seems to originate from the more conservative corners of the internets. To their credit, its proponents make cogent and well-argued points. See in particular @ComfortablySmug's article on Decider.com.
To summarize: the first trilogy is telling the story of the radicalization of young and aimless farm boy Luke Skywalker under the influence of fundamentalist Force clerics (Obi-wan Kenobi, Yoda). The death of his aunt and uncle at the hands of Empire forces is the equivalent of casualties in a drone strike today. The Rebellion is a radical, murderous sect that kills innocent Empire soldiers in the pursuit of its jihadi agenda. The corollary is that the Empire is entitled to use whatever means at its disposal (Death Star shock and awe, extrajudicial killings, torture…) to preserve itself. Lucas' glorification of Luke's jihad is to be expected from a hate-the-Empire Hollywood social justice warrior.
YES: Oftentimes, someone’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter. It all depends on who gets to write history (in this case, George Lucas, whose liberal sympathies are well-known). Examples abound of radical terrorists/freedom fighters who become respected world leaders. A particularly ironic instance is Menachem Begin, former Israeli prime minister, peacemaker and anti-British terrorist leader in his turbulent youth (among others, he is responsible for the bombing of a hotel in Jerusalem in 1946 that killed 91 people). In a sense the education of young Skywalker fits that mold. Luke is indeed indoctrinated by elders in the ways of the Force. He rises up through the Rebellion’s ranks and ends up destroying the Death Star, causing an untold number of casualties.
Furthermore, the annihilation of Alderaan by Grand Moff Tarkin and the Death Star should be considered in the context of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sometimes the good guys have to build and deploy weapons of terror in order to beat their most deadly enemies. Whether it is a crime or not is moot. War is a dirty business.
NO: Luke's cause—freedom and the restoration of democracy in the Galaxy—is very far from religious holy war and theocracy. The confusion might stem from the Old Republic's exotic political arrangement: it delegated the enforcement of peace and order to the Jedis, a mystical, religious congregation.
Regarding the villains: it is a big stretch to compare the Empire to the United States. To be fair, it is undeniable that the shadow of the Vietnam War hung over the first Star Wars in 1977. George Lucas had conceived of Star Wars while working on Apocalypse Now with John Milius. Artist John Powers convincingly argues on his blog, Star Wars Modern, that Star Wars was a counter-cultural critique of the US. There are whiffs of Henry Kissinger in Grand Moff Tarkin. But unlike the United States, the Empire is an autocratic, hierarchical and unaccountable government. While Kissinger quite inexplicably continues to dispense paid advice to this day, Nixon resigned in disgrace.
Furthermore, even though the destruction of Alderaan is highly reminiscent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what happens after the genocidal deed is what really matters. The US imposed parliamentary democracy in Japan and Germany (and noticeably more democratic Constitutions than the US Constitution itself). Conversely, after blowing Alderaan to smithereens the Empire moved to destroy Yavin where the Rebels were hiding. Had it not been stopped by Luke, it would have continued on its galactic rampage. The proof: the Empire rebuilt a bigger and deadlier Death Star to start all over again. This demonstrates a continuity and purpose in evil intentions that one can hardly see in the relatively benign US occupation of Japan and Germany after World War II.
Finally, The Force Awakens erases any hint of ambiguity that might have been left out by the previous two trilogies. The First Order's Starkiller base destroys the New Republic's fleet and home world. You'll notice that the story's setup has slightly shifted: the First Order is not the Empire. It does not govern the entire galaxy like its totalitarian predecessor. It is a self-contained political entity that splintered from the Republic at some point. This is a more straightforward good-versus-evil opposition between two competing States, where Leia's Resistance is a guerrilla group doing the Republic's bidding within the First Order's borders.
The biggest question about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the identity and lineage of the main character, Rey. Is she Luke Skywalker's daughter? Is she Leia and Han Solo's daughter? Some have even floated the idea that she might be the daughter or the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
New York-based journalist and erstwhile Star Wars fan David Grossman may have come up with the most intriguing answer so far. According to Grossman, Rey is a clone.
In his article on Medium, Grossman argues that Rey is Luke Skywalker's clone rather than his daughter, the preferred and more obvious fans' guess.
Grossman speculates that if Luke was responsible for Rey's cloning, then Rey's mind and memories would have been wiped out by a Jedi mind trick. Luke himself had hidden her on Jakku after the massacre of his Jedi apprentices by his nephew, Kylo Ren, and the sinister First Order. Clone Rey, her mind cleared of memories but her body still infused with the Force, is an insurance against the rise of the First Order.
NO: My major gripe with Grossman's theory has to do with Rey's DNA provenance. Clones are supposed to be of the same sex as their original (although, arguably, for a civilization that can build lightsabers, cloning and swapping chromosomes might not be such a difficult proposition). Maybe she is a clone of Leia, Luke's sister. Physical differences are to be expected, as clones are never carbon copies of their original. In addition, Leia may not have known about Rey. This would explain her friendly but not very motherly interactions with her in the The Force Awakens. This remains a mystery wrapped up in an enigma.
YES: Cloning resolves the central problem of Luke's putative fatherhood: Jedis are forbidden to have children or families. When they do, it leads to considerable problems (see: Vader, Darth). It is likely that Luke would have done his utmost not to succumb to the same weakness as his father, Anakin (falling in love). Consequently, the only way for him to perpetuate his line would have been through cloning, a readily available and widespread technology in the Galaxy, far, far away. Cloning would neatly explain Rey's innate abilities with the Force, without the cumbersome and rule-breaking introduction of a consort or love interest for Luke.
Grossman rightly points out that cloning is a very big deal in the Star Wars universe. It is the central plot point of the prequel trilogy's Episode II. It is even in the title of that movie (Attack of the Clones). Chancellor Palpatine, the future Emperor, secretly maneuvers the Republic into purchasing a whole army of clones that will eventually turn to the Dark Side. As many have noted, it is a rather convoluted machination but hey, it's Star Wars. In the same vein, stormtrooper clones are a main focus of the animated series The Clone Wars that takes place between the two live-action trilogies. In sum, the Empire's rise and its enormous power rest entirely on legions of clone stormtroopers. Besides the Force, the stormtroopers are the key recurring motif in all of the Star Wars canon.
Therefore, the distinct possibility that Rey is a clone proceeds from the outsized importance of cloning in Star Wars lore. The strongest reason to believe that cloning plays a major part in Rey's existence is in fact the very absence of other clones in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Finn, the First Order stormtrooper and traitor, is not a clone but a stolen child, brainwashed and trained to fight from an early age. The First Order's soldiers, from the grunts to the officers, are all "real" humans. Clones are no longer around as canon fodder. Something terrible must have happened to them. The strange and engrossing cloners of Attack of Clones have gone away, and with them the art was lost. Perhaps, after the defeat of the Empire (in Return of the Jedi), the successful Rebellion and the restored Republic would have gotten rid of the clone stormtroopers, and of the factories that churned them out like sausage.
The absence of clones in The Force Awakens represents a profound change and a major narrative departure from the rest of the Star Wars canon. It completely shifts the basis of the Dark Side's ability to wage war and to impose its power. It is an economic and political sea change. It means that the First Order must recruit its manpower and its workforce one trooper at a time, forcibly or not, instead of ordering it from the great clone shop in the sky. General Hux seems to believe that real, brainwashed troopers are superior to clones, whereas Kylo Renn is not impressed. After all, real humans are liable to be traitors (and Kylo Renn threatens Hux to bring back the clones).
I suspect there is more to that story. The absence of clones in the new movie has been noted in passing by reviewers and fans, but it has not gotten nearly enough attention. Grossman's idea has the merit to shine a light on that great disturbance in Star Wars' universe.
BONUS THEORY: Finally, for your reading pleasure and procrastination, head to economist Brad DeLong's blog where he cheekily sets the historical record straight on the Empire's and the First Order's doomed model of governance.
Manu Saadia, the author of Trekonomics, hails from Paris, France. He lives in Los Angeles where he helps tech startups get off the ground. His first and only passion is the future.