The Force Awakens and the Happy Ending Override
This post has spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Please scroll past this lovely picture of Jar Jar Binks in order to proceed further.
All Bettie's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop.
She's realized the real problem with stories -- if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death.
- Sandman: 24 Hours by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III
The Big Bad to end all Big Bads has been brought to a crushing end at the hands of The Hero, his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits and his trademark BFS. The Negative Space Wedgie that was threatening all of creation has been un-wedgied, the Sealed Evil in a Can has been safely disposed of, all the plot threads that were left hanging have been wrapped up nice and neat and everybody lives Happily Ever After.
And then the sequel happens.
- tvtropes.org, Happy Ending Override
One of the criticisms I've heard raised against Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it seems to undo all the heroes had fought for in the classic Star Wars trilogy. To go into spoiler territory, Han Solo and Leia Organa give us Kylo Ren. Luke Skywalker was his teacher before he went over to the Dark Side. Kylo Ren wiped out the new generation of Jedi Knights Luke was creating. Wouldn't things have been better off had our heroes, to paraphrase Owen Lars, stayed at home and not gotten involved?
There's two answers to this. The first of these is the dramatic answer. It is extremely difficult to have a happily ever after and then have a sequel. You can introduce an entirely new threat but that risks the feeling of "why didn't we ever hear of this?" For example, I was rather dissatisfied with the emergence of the Yuuzhan Vong in the Star Wars novels - an invasion from outside the galaxy. More commonly, we learn that something about our heroes' victory was incomplete. Tolkien gave us, for example, a partial victory over Sauron, with Isildur failing to destroy the One Ring. And even before that, Sauron himself was a lieutenant of Morgoth. Babylon 5 was victorious against the Vorlons and Shadows, only to have to deal with the servants they left behind.
In the real world, history doesn't end. The Allied victory in World War II led directly to the Cold War. A decade after its victory in the Cold War, the United States saw the World Trade Center towers collapse and the Pentagon in flames. Go back further in time and you'll see countless examples of victory "negated", often by unnoticed forces from the original victory. The United Kingdom became the dominant power in North America after the Seven Years War, only to lose the colonies under two decades later. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Empire managed to retake much of the territory of the west only to lose it all again as it suffered a great plague. History doesn't end.
Were Luke, Han, and Leia's victories and sacrifices in vain? I don't think so. If Luke had stayed home no one would have destroyed the Death Star. No one would have redeemed Anakin Skywalker, leading to the death of the Emperor. The Empire of the original trilogy would likely have endured. So yes, a new threat has emerged, restoring the Jedi Order has not been so easy. The only way to have a happy ending is to not revisit the story.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring