A Review of Episode VII: The Force Awakens

December 30, 2015

I have an idea about who Rey is, and I think it’s somewhat original. I thought of it on my own, anyway.

Warning: there are definitely spoilers all over this post. If you haven’t seen the film and you still want he suspense of not knowing, then DO NOT READ THIS.

I went to go see The Force Awakens three times. First, I went with my wife to the opening show.

First Impressions

I was very excited to see this movie. I’m an avid Star Wars fan, and sci-fi enthusiast. Seeing this in a 3D IMAX theater was pretty neat, although it wasn’t much of a downer to see it on a regular 2D screen later on. The visuals and score were really very good. The fact that LucasFilm actually engineered a real BB-8 droid is just fantastic. The realism of that character in the movie makes a difference in making you feel like you’re in the story, not just an observer. I also appreciate the attention to detail. For example, ever wonder why you can see the weapons firing if they’re lasers? That’s because weapons used in the movies are not lasers - they are plasma weapons. Plasma is not light, and so it would propagate differently than lasers would, which are merely focused light. That was apparent in this movie, where the blaster bolts seemed a little bit like lit-up trails of goo. It’s particularly apparent in the scene where Kylo Ren actually freezes a blast mid-air. Now, whether plasma would actually propagate that way is beyond my ability to analyze, but the movie makes it clearly distinct from what we understand lasers to be.

I also thought Abrams (or the writers) did a pretty neat job of inserting humor into the dialogue without giving the viewer a campy feel. They get a few laughs from BB-8 like the writers of the original trilogy did with R2D2, but they also get a couple laughs from the main characters as well. I laughed. Most people in the theater with me did as well.

I thought some of the parallels with Episode IV: A New Hope were a bit overwraught:

  • The main protagonist is held by obligation or loyalty to family in a desolate planet (a desert planet, no less)
  • A fugitive droid carrying much-sought-after information involves the protagonist in the great movements of the galaxy
  • The quest to see the droid/information in the right hands leads the protagonist away from the desert planet with the help of Han Solo via a canteena with multi-species live music
  • The bad guys have built another death star (this time bigger and badder), but still with an exposed single point of failure
  • A protagonist has to be rescued from the death star (in this case, the main one)
  • Once the droid/information is returned to the good guys, they work to blow up the death star

I understand why they did that - they wanted to capture as much of the fan base from the other movies as possible, and for most people I think these parallels are pretty fun. I enjoyed them - but I also think there was something of an opportunity cost in that they could have done something more original (albeit at the risk of not capitalizing on the value of the brand as well, which was the whole point).

There were two things that really bothered me though, and those were: the fundamental absence of Luke from the story (more on that later); and Rey. Walking out of the theater the first time, I thought they had overplayed their desire to have a strong female lead. The scene in which Rey expresses irritation that Fin grabbed her hand felt very in-your-face, and worse, they had her exercising abilities out of nowhere that in every other part of the canonical Star Wars universe took years of training to manifest. Even Luke Skywalker was unable to exercise any degree of mastery over the force without training by a master - but Rey seems to just be able to do it.

This bothered me a lot. Why would Rey be able to withstand and even counter a force-assisted interrogation by a trained opponent? Why would she, completely untrained, be able to perform the “Jedi mind trick” on the stormtrooper guarding her cell on Starkiller Base? How could she possibly exercise a telekinesis stronger than Kylo Ren’s when they both reach out with the force for Luke’s lightsaber? How could she possibly successfully combat a trained, superior opponent with a lightsaber, which she has never held before? Were the writers really that desperate for a “I can do anything you can do but better” kind of feminism to come through on screen? If not that, did they simply not care about continuity? Don’t they know that if the viewers are unable to maintain their suspense of disbelief, then the story is dead (that’s he critical ingredient of any good sci-fi)?

Then I started trying to think about who Rey could possibly be that she would be this character that I just saw. I read one explanation for her swordsmanship: she had learned to defend herself on Jakku with a staff, and a staff and sword can lend themselves to similar techniques. That sounds somewhat plausible, but I was unconvinced. There are also theories about her being Luke’s daughter, but her force-sensitivity is the only evidence for that, and there are plenty of contradictions: Han and Leia would have responded to her differently if she were their niece; and why would Luke have dumped her on Jakku? Similarly with speculation that she is Han and Leia’s daughter. Besides - the Skywalkers aren’t the only family in the galaxy with force sensitivity.

Then it struck me. The key is the scene in Maz Kenata’s place. Remember how Maz said that she had learned to read people through their eyes (the line was something like “when you’ve lived as long as I have, you learn to see the same eyes in different people”)? When Fin goes to try to find passage with those traders and Rey walks off after him, Maz shifts her attention back to Han and asks, “so, who’s the girl?” Then the camera immediately moves back to Rey so that you don’t hear any of what Han tells her. I think Maz knows that Han already knows who she is. That was the first key insight.

Another Look: Who is Rey?

I saw the film another time, and this time I wanted to test out the idea that Han already knew who she was. It seemed to hold water. Remember how she fixed the issue with the compressor on the hyperdrive line (or something…can’t quite remember the terms there), looking back at Han saying, “I bypassed the compressor”? He looked at her and just said “huh”. Then, they landed on the planet where Maz Kenata’s was, and he offered her a job on the Millenium Falcon. Didn’t he just meet this girl? Isn’t that kinda odd? But what if he already knew her proficiencies and wanted to keep her close because he already knows that she has an association with Luke?

Now fast-forward back to the cantina scene: a little later, she wanders down to the basement corridor because of the voices she’s hearing, trying to find their source. She finds herself opening a small wooden crate, and looking at Luke’s lightsaber. She touches it and has a vision: scenes in a corridor, and then falling out of that corridor escaping what appears to be a collapsing building or something, into the rain. She then sees Kylo Ren standing over what appears to be a battlefield with a small cohort behind him.

Kylo Ren in a past memory

Then she sees a robed figure with a robotic hand reaching up to R2D2 (and given the ending of the movie in which Luke has the uncovered robotic hand), it seems pretty clear that this is Luke.

Luke Skywalker in a past memory, reaching up to R2-D2

Then she envisions the fight with Ren in a snowy forest:

Foreseeing the fight with Ren to come

I think the “vision” is actually memories triggered by Luke’s lightsaber, followed by a force-induced vision of the future. Whether or not the lightsaber is imbued with some sort of “force aura” of the owner, or if it simply was an an artifact of some import isn’t important. The snowy fight scene obviously occurs later in the film, but we get no further explanation of the other parts of the vision.

Then when Maz intercepts her in the cellar, she wants her to embrace the force, and take Luke’s lightsaber, and also indicates that the family she is waiting to come back for her on Jakku isn’t coming back. From the earlier conversation between herself and Han, Maz knows that Rey is a force user. Rey doesn’t accept what she’s saying and runs out, but displays an increasing aptitude in the aforementioned skills with the force.

This is when I decided who I think Rey is: she is one of Luke’s students. She’s one of the New Jedi.

What we’re witnessing here is a sort of Star Wars-y Bourne Identity. I think she actually has already been trained in the use of the force. I think when Ben Solo turned on Luke and became Kylo Ren, Luke used the force to block the memories of whatever of the New Jedi were remaining and then hid them around the galaxy in backwaters like Jakku in order to keep them safe - so I also think there are more Rey-type characters out there. I think he also instructed R2D2 to go into hibernation for some specified period of time, and then went into hiding himself until such time that the First Order would be vulnerable (maybe the destruction of the Starkiller Base triggered R2D2 - or maybe Luke felt the base destroyed and sent a signal to R2).

This helps me with what bothered me about Luke’s absence: what if he had actually masterminded a lot of this to begin with? He is a Jedi Master at this point, right (probably)?

After these conclusions, it all makes so much more sense to me, and I love this film. I think Rey is a really fantastic character, and I absolutely love the idea of a defecting storm trooper (like, why didn’t this happen before!?).