Motivation and Desire: A Critical Review of The Force Awakens


“Always two there are; no more, no less.  A master and an apprentice.”  Yoda perjures himself with an air of metaphysical mystery.  However, this lie conceals an important story telling secret known by all the greats:  The often triangular nature of desire.  It seems dyadic as Yoda says – The Master has power, the apprentice wants it – thus desire is born from the lack.  However, the object – in this case power, conceals the true motivational fountainhead of desire:  The relationship itself, qua model, of the master and the apprentice.  The apprentice wants power as an extension of his relationship with the master, not for its own sake as object of desire.  The inevitable result is rivalry – competition itself concealed by the cloak of the object of desire.  Always three there are:  A model, a subject and an object of desire.

In episode IV Luke was propelled down the path of the Jedi by Obi-Wan’s sacrifice.  Obi-Wan’s power grew because Luke could safely use him as a role model (thus the glowie mythology) without being in direct competition with him, which in the case of Anakin lead to rivalry, envy, the dark side.  Proximity and desire together inevitably lead to hatred.  This is the chivalric quest of Don Quixote – in imitation of the knight Amadis – who at a safe distance could hide at least partially from the character himself the illusion of autonomous desire (Girard, 1961).  Luke’s childish initial interactions with Obi-Wan later transferred to Yoda.  Luke replays the same pattern of getting into rivalry with Yoda, and again the conclusion obtains with his death:  Yoda becomes a safe model for Luke’s imitation when he is ferried safely away beyond the haze of rivalry.  Finally, in Jedi, the transformation of Vader takes place in the triangle between him, the Emperor and Luke.

This is all to say that character is a distraction – a defensive myth to ignore the trace of desire.  It only appears frozen in time for narrative effect.  Han solo is presented as an incorrigible scoundrel  in IV with no explanation of why he cares about his pirate life other than petty debts and rivalries.  However, this is only to tee him up all the more so for the transformation of his character into the world of the hero and the lover.  This transformation takes place on account of his immediate relationships with Luke, Leia and their interactions.  Han’s protestations and attempts to maintain the illusion of his autonomous character serve to conceal from him his complete dependence on others for his motivation.

Enter The Force Awakens.  The first and most egregiously written character is Finn – who, despite a lifetime of programming and indoctrination, spontaneously undergoes a character transformation before our eyes.  It is unconvincing because there is no explanation for this move.  Rather, it has been written under the romantic delusion of character.  What would have saved Finn’s conversion is an obvious reference to his own experience as a child of being dragged off by storm troopers.  He should have been shown participating in the slaughter at Jakku until he himself was asked to drag a child away from his family.  The obvious point is that it is the child which strikes in Finn a change of heart.  Instead, Finn is branded as a true character – Narcissus as a cardboard cutout of autonomous desire.  Oddly enough, his fast attachment to Rey is not authentic by any means.  It is sparked through the role of his model – Poe Dameron, and the obsessive interest by all parties on the droid.

The B88 droid for the first part of the movie stands as the object of desire around which all rivalries and relationships develop.  But B88 is nothing in itself, it is only a sign which points to Skywalker – Skywalker who serves to motivate and rally all these forces not by his charismatic presence, but by his absence and his role in the persistence of idealizing memory.  Skywalker’s return, if it happens, will mark the return to direct unmediated rivalry.  Identity, the illusion of character and a true self, is a defense against the primacy of envy and in Star Wars, the dark side.  The setting aside of the self and its attachments to rivalry is a precursor of the transition to mastery.  Coincidentally, the illusory value of the droid is dropped in substitution for Rey in the same way that Rey herself now becomes the sign that points, and soon the mirror which reflects, back to Skywalker.

In a similar vein Kylo Ren self-consciously imitates Darth Vader as a role model.  What he doesn’t realize is that he got this from his parents.  In other words, he was raised to be everything Vader was not, and out of rivalry and disillusionment differentiated himself from being an object of his parents rivalry by his imitation of Vader in a dark transcendence of family ties.  What renders him impotent is the psychic master/slave relationship which expresses a position of inferiority in having an imaginary idol instead of a real life flesh-and-blood rival or role model.  This reflects his ambivalence and hidden fear of actual conflict and approaching his idolatrous god.  He resolves this through the murder of his father.  What they should have done was make him more powerful after this happened.  Rey and crew should have escaped by the skin of their teeth to salvage any sense of threat from the enemies.  Ren is a disappointment to the audience because we wanted him to be stronger so that the passion of rivalry may grow between him and Rey, instead of making her a priss who swats a naughty boys hand.

That brings me to Rey, a decently developed character.  Rey is looking backward in melancholy, attached without knowing to model objects long past.  As such, she is impotent by virtue of being passionless.  She hungers for new objects of attachment – new models, first in Han as a father figure (note the dark side knows our objects will disappoint us, and it is the eternal struggle itself which constitutes motivation) and then to Luke.  It is the bar owner as model for meaning which gives Rey her first taste of the transcendence of the force – escape from the endless tyranny of object rivalry.  This frees Rey from her attachment to past objects and allows her to awaken her power in terms of her new role model, the Jedi way.  The light side of the force is characterized by a conscious commitment to a transcendental value system of the memory of distant intermediary mentors to channel desire and passion safely without slipping into ever present competition, rivalry, envy and destruction.  The true nature of the darkside is that it is this dark passion itself, not any victory, which is at the heart of the matter.  The nature of the light side is learning how to care without envy (or attachment if you will).

What would really save Star Wars is this:

Leia, as figure head of the new Republic, has become convinced the Empire and First Order have created too many superweapons.  As a prophylactic measure  the new Republic becomes convinced that they themselves should create a superweapon, for purely defensive purposes.  Of course you would find that in the efforts of mopping up the remnants of the Empire that they have gone to ground on planets throughout the solar system.  After the devastation of the preceding war it only makes sense to spare casualties and use the new super weapon as part of the mopping up effort.  This process of course causes great unrest among some factions in the new republic and stricter measures have to be imposed.  Leia falls to the dark side, banishes Han and Luke, and proceeds to raise their son as a new dark apprentice.   This all happens behind the scenes until the child ultimately kills Leia who is weak in the force but full of hatred for the destruction of Alderan, and takes control for himself.  The search for a new apprentice leads to seizing children throughout the galaxy, with the new Jedi order founded by Luke-on-the-run set to battle against the new dark dyad and their former allies.

Or you should have just made the Thrawn series.

Star Wars has become pornography:  All of the action, none of the feeling.  The difference between a sexy movie and a sex movie is that in the former you are watching a story with characters you can identify with, the latter is that you are consuming a product which defines your character.

One reason people can’t write stories anymore is because the culture of individuality and authenticity has clouded their understanding of motivation and ruined many peoples ability to understand let alone tell a good story.  You want what you want based on the emotional impact of significant figures in your life, not because of who you really are.  Then again, that lie keeps you from turning to the dark side.

This is all to say that the proliferation of media combined with the closeness via social media to creators of content means that there are still authors and an audience, but no more characters.  The criticism of *Awakens* as trite fan fiction misses the *in situ* character of this phenomenon:  The movie is now about relationships to real life people, including the creators and the actors – not about relationships to the imaginary characters within the movie.

8 thoughts on “Motivation and Desire: A Critical Review of The Force Awakens”

  1. “Identity, the illusion of character and a true self, is a defense against the primacy of envy and in Star Wars, the dark side.”

    Is identity the dark side, or envy? Penultimate paragraph suggests the former, but the prevalence of ambiguity due to sentence structure in po-mo writing always amuses me because thinking it through with both meanings tends to make me wonder what the whole point was in the first place. I guess you could say it really doesn’t matter: that the embrace of identity (in Star Wars, as a defense against the dark side) makes envy and rivalry inevitable, pushing one towards the dark side in the next step. Identity as a screen shielding one’s envy from your own view until it consumes you.

    1. Haha – I hear you on po-mo but I think the sentence was suitably clear. Identity is not the dark side. Identity (the illusion of fixed character) is a defense against direct experience of desire (the primacy of envy). Desire – rivalrous envy, control, and power – is the dark side.

      Anakin’s “true love” was an expression of rivalry. If he loved Padme he’d let her go. The belief in true love was a defense against his desire and his obstinate rivalry against the order. Luke almost fell prey to the same crisis through his loyalty with his friends, but he realized in Jedi that his fight was related, but different. In this sense he was able to escape the dark side.

      Thanks for the comment!

      1. Interesting. So I guess the Star Wars universe was also corrupted by the Eat Pray Love phenomenon, and Anakin believed that one is compelled to follow “true love”, which is really just what he wants to do. That suggests to me that the Jedi order was at fault in not making Anakin choose between Padme and the order. Allowing a situation where Anakin thinks he is serving two good masters, though in reality he is the slave of his passions, destabilizes his identity as a Jedi which could have led him to transcend the self. (I’m a little fuzzy on the details of the order’s response to the relationship, but I believe he was married and remained a Jedi.)

        So identity is a fiction necessary to get one to a point where it can safely be let go, once the whole and one’s relation to it is better understood. This has probably always been true, but it isn’t working as well now because the dominance of individualism destroys context for identity, making it much more fragile and directionless. When an identity is embedded in a community, there are supports and constraints, but when an individual identity is isolated it has much less substance to resist mindless will-to-power.

        Not to say that life was all rosy before the rise of atomizing liberalism, but there are always trade offs.

  2. Loved this. The film went significantly down hill when Ren removed his mask and went from a scary antagonist to a angst filled teen.

    1. I agree – the removal of Vader’s mask took three movies six years to get to. The point of showing human frailty beneath the mask was to enhance the impact of Vader’s turning away from the dark side – to show he still had some humanity left in him after all. Now, with Awakens, we skipped forward to the money shot and found it wanting. The only way to salvage this would be to set him up as a contrast to Vader. This could be explained in that Ren is actually imitating Vader more so than his Dark Master. In the next episode he should be murdered, not by Rey, but by a new dark disciple. That would frame his poorly developed character differently and salvage the tension of the plot line. He would then be revealed to have been a sacrificial lamb to test and initiate the true dark disciple.

      1. I’m just worried we’ve got another Anakin on our hands and the next 2 films are going to be full of whining.

        I will say that while vii was better than I feared it wasn’t as good as I had hoped.

        BTW I’m a huge fan of this blog, hope you keep going!

        1. I share your fears! All analysis aside I found Ren the only character who was truly offputting or unwatchable – the rest just had some gaps and deficiencies without inspiring any eye rolling on my part.

          And thank you for your encouragement.

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