The Force Awakens Gives Us a Strong, Capable & Competent Female Character in Rey
A Legacy Awakens*.
I have always been the wrong age for Star Wars. The most likely question on the lips of most Star Wars fans after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably “But what happens next?” (That or, “How quickly can I see it again?”) While the movie doesn’t end on a cliffhanger exactly, it does end with a lot of threads that can be followed up in future installments — and a lot of questions that need answered. When the first trilogy began back in the late 70s, I was old enough to be wedded to the darker, moodier sci-fi of Solaris, Silent Running and Soylent Green, and young enough to believe that gave me the right to dismiss this latterday Buck Rogers nonsense out of hand.
Here’s what we learned going to a galaxy far, far away once again: After years of anticipation, most of us went into Force Awakens with a mix of nerves and excitement about whether J.J. So, Rey (Daisy Ridley) ends the movie having found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), but judging from his reaction to seeing the outstretched lightsaber, he didn’t seem entirely eager to rejoin the ongoing war. Now, as Episode VII rolls around, ushering in a new generation of sequels, I find myself at an age so out of whack with the film’s target demographic that what I think about it matters not a jot. In the movie, Ridley plays Rey, a scavenger and pilot who has no trouble surviving alone on the desert planet of Jakku, thanks to her smarts, nerve and success beating people down with a large wooden staff. With a film whose existence is rooted in fan culture, describing the movie is perilous; even revealing the cast list runs the risk of providing potential plot spoilers.
Or will he end up accompanying Rey back to rejoin his sister in battle? (Another question left unanswered by Force Awakens: why is Luke is the last Jedi? As always with this director, the film feels very physical, scenes of dog-fighting TIE fighters and a relaunched Millennium Falcon crashing through trees possessing the kind of heft so sorely lacking from George Lucas’s over-digitised prequels. After all, the first time we see her, she’s climbing a wall looking like a mummified acrobat. (Fingers crossed this get-up replaces Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” as the go-to costume for little girls during Halloween 2016.) But back to Ridley. (And beware, there are going to be a few spoilers ahead.) She’s flawless in “The Force Awakens.” During one of her many self-effacing interviews, she claims that Abrams told her, on the first day of filming, that her acting was wooden. “I honestly wanted to die,” she told Glamour UK. “I thought I was gonna cry, I couldn’t breathe.
The implication is that she’s a Skywalker kid (Luke’s, most likely; she didn’t seem to recognize Leia or Han, after all, and his exile would also answer why it was clear that her family wasn’t coming back. And there was so many crew there, because obviously all the creatures (had stand-ins), and there were loads of extra crew making sure everyone was safe ‘cause it was so hot.
About a third of the way through the film, we learn that he is Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) son and grew up idolizing his grandfather, Darth Vader — but you’ll also pick up hints about his past early on. Having co-written the series’s previous high-water mark, The Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan here shares credits with Abrams and Michael Arndt on a screenplay that is steeped in the dark lineages of the originals (and does not sidestep moments of genuine tragedy), but which subtly realigns its gender dynamics with Rey’s proudly punchy, post-Hunger Games heroine.
We’re still not too sure who Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow) was or why he was significant, but he essentially tells Kylo in the first scene that there’s still some goodness in him because of his family. The spectre of Vader may live on in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, but it’s Rey in whom the film’s true force resides, likable newcomer Daisy Ridley channelling Carrie Fisher’s Leia and carrying the heavily-mantled weight of the new series with aplomb. Not only does she have great chemistry with co-star John Boyega, who plays Finn, but she conveys a whole spectrum of emotions, especially during the scene in which she first realizes she can use the Force.
General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) also says Kylo’s personal interests are getting in the way of tracking down BB-8 and getting the map to Luke, signaling that the petulant dark warrior still has a lightsaber to pick with his parents. He looked like Gollum on steroids, using the Emperor’s FaceTime hologram account. (I did love that the hologram was so large; however, I like to imagine that he’s overcompensating and that the real Snoke will be tiny, like Maz Kanata. Abrams has always been a fan first, and there’s a palpable affection in his staging of scenes that recall the varied alien wildlife of Tatooine’s Mos Eisley Cantina. All signs point to Luke, given their near-identical origins, how strong the Force is with her, and Maz Kanata’s (Lupita Nyong’o) assertion that, “Whoever you were waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back.
Star Wars does like its good/evil pairings after all, so why shouldn’t there be another seeming immortal out there, causing as much trouble as Maz seemed to be trying to keep under control?) That said, there was a lot to him that needs future unpacking: Why is he trying to resurrect the Dark Side of the Force? Just as he proved himself a worthy successor to Spielberg with Super 8, so Abrams here breathes new life into Lucas’s epochal creations in a manner that deftly looks back to the future.
Watching the film in a packed auditorium with an audience almost incandescent with expectation, I found myself listening to a chorus of spontaneous gasps, cheers, laughs, whoops and even occasional cries of anguish. In fact, the reason she ended up at an arts-focused prep school – the same one that turned out Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay – was that she was a trouble-maker. “I was just a little (expletive),” Ridley told The New York Times. “A bit distracting to other people. What if that movie is about the darkness growing inside the galaxy when no one is expecting it, because they think the First Order has been eradicated? She seems to be taking it in stride for the most part, though, cracking jokes during endless junkets and always coming off as the least pretentious of the British prep school kids currently taking over Hollywood.
For example, when she found out she got the job of Rey, she reacted like any normal person – with paralyzing fear – and she’s not afraid to admit it. “J.J. rang me. So much of Star Wars mythology is based around the Force, but so many of the movies point to it being something that, just maybe shouldn’t be used by Jedi or Sith alike, because it always leads to (Darth Vader/Kylo Ren-esque) trouble. Will Rey’s emergence as a Force adept change that in some way — could she, and perhaps Ren (who is, after all, tempted by the Light Side in the same way that Anakin was lured to the Dark), finally bring the Balance to the Force that the movies have talked about for six installments already without it arriving?
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