"Luke Skywalker has vanished"

Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams did not get enough credit for their work on constructing the story of The Force Awakens:

  1. As I've said before, the ending of Return of the Jedi left no story wriggle room. That ending was sewn up tighter than an Alderaan senator's hair bun - and left not a single stray thread to pull on. There was only the politics of forming a New Galactic Republic. And I'm certain that "politics" was a banned word in J.J.'s writers room.
  2. New characters; making Star Wars fun again - making it *Star Wars* again - was the only critical objective of the new movie. Thirty years of inherited story baggage is not inherently fun. The Force Awakens desperately needed a new core group of characters.
  3. Old characters. And here's the catch 22: Leia, Han, Chewie & Luke's return was non-negotiable.

That's an awful lot of story furniture for a lighthearted adventure blockbuster to deal with, before you even get to the plot itself.

That's why I'm sort of in love with that first line. The very first thing we see on screen, after the title, is that sentence:

"Luke Skywalker has vanished."

It is brilliant economy. In four words Abrams/Kasdan addressed points 1 and 3, thereby giving themselves thirty minutes of breathing room to introduce all four of our new heroes: Rey, Finn, Poe, BB8, as well as Kylo Ren.

So, what do you do if there is no leftover story to utilise? Make something new - Luke's disappearance. Yes it's a fudge, but it's a fudge that honours a beloved character. It puts Luke at the centre of everything, without him even needing to appear.

Much like Orson Wells' Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), the film revolves around the character's absence. He is spoken of constantly by others, his whereabouts and purpose are speculated upon at length, and by the time he is at last revealed he has been built up to almost mythological status.

The Force Awakens is far from perfect, but the story craft is masterful.