John and I saw The Force Awakens for the second time last night, and I am ready to talk details with other raging fans. If you haven’t yet seen it…
THIS POST WILL CONTAIN MASSIVE, GIANT, IMPORTANT SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS. IT WILL ALSO CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR ALL PREVIOUSLY RELEASED STAR WARS EPISODES. TRUST ME: THIS IS NOT A POST SUITABLE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN ALL THE STAR WARS AND WHO WOULD LIKE TO EXPERIENCE ALL ASPECTs UNBIASED BY OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS. IF YOU EVEN THINK YOU MIGHT FALL INTO THAT CATEGORY, YOU SHOULD FLEE. CLICK OFF THIS TAB NOW. SERIOUSLY, GO AWAY. YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ THIS BEFORE YOU SEE THE MOVIES.
Okay, I think that did it. If I ruin anything in Star Wars for you now, you have only yourself to blame. Also fair warning: I have a LOT to gush and theorize about and this post will not be easy to keep up with if you’re not already a moderate fan of the franchise.
Two thumbs up is not enough. I am giving The Force Awakens the Jazz Hands of Approval +1.
I’ve heard people complaining that it’s too much like A New Hope, but it’s not. It’s like the first episode of a new Star Wars trilogy: Force-strong mechanically apt pilot with obvious Skywalker bloodlines leaves desert planet to engage in galactic politics as a prospective Chosen One…this is the kind of stuff we’re here for, folks. If you don’t like it, I seriously question your decision to show up at a Star Wars film. But beyond being a new 1 of 3, VII echoes the entire original trilogy. It would take an entire series of posts to call out all of the subtle and brilliant details where Abrams calls out the original series. (Hello, sexy opening shot inverting the opening shot of IV, and here’s a solid LOL for that moment where Abrams was all, “Gee, Georgie, I think your borrowings from the work of Leni Riefenstahl were just too darn subtle, but don’t worry, I’ll fix it.”) That being said, here are a few key points to highlight that VII was not calling out only IV, but rather the entire original trilogy, a point which is critical to my later speculations…
- Poor desert dweller with a knack for flying and talking to droids is forced to flee the bad guys after taken up company with the missing droids of the good guys who carry vital information
- Escape from desert planet is (just barely) facilitated by the lovingly mocked hunk of junk we call the Millenium Falcon
- The mystical big bad and the military big bad don’t play nicely together, and they both answer to a bigger bad who likes to govern via hologram.
- The bad guys demonstrate the power of a new nasty super weapon against a stronghold of legitimate government. (Fare thee well, Coruscant. Say hi to Alderaan for us.)
- Not long after stopping at a watering hole about which disclaimers are given, the main character ends up in the clutches of the bad guys and imprisoned on their nasty super weapon
- The good guys get hold of info about the nasty super weapon (and also the info on the droid, which turns out to not be of immediate use) and analyze it
- Rescue/escape and destruction of the nasty super weapon occur and are facilitated by the presence of a sneaky Force-strong character
- Emotional character puts himself in danger he isn’t equipped to handle for the sake of saving a friend.
- Father and son confront each other in the middle of a dark and eerily lit space and a moral battle is fought for the son’s soul. Things do not go as Dad would like them to.
- A member of the Skywalker line loses a hand. (Probably. John and I couldn’t quite tell if Ren lost his hand or was just badly injured in the final battle, but I’m assuming loss of hand because: Star Wars. It’s all fun and games with lightsabers until somebody loses a hand, and somebody ALWAYS loses a hand, because those things are frickin’ dangerous.)
- One of the main characters ends the episode in a comatose state.
- The main character seeks out a hidden Jedi master for training.
- Han Solo requires some assistance from the plucky heroes to get out of serious trouble with some seedy smuggling associates.
- A ground strike team sneaks onto the enemy base in order to take out the shield that will allow the fleet to destroy the nasty super weapon.
- Complications arise that make taking out the shield slightly more difficult than expected.
- The confrontation between father and son ultimately results in the father dying, through what could be construed as willing sacrifice on the part of the father. (Waffling hand gesture on the second part of that statement…that’s a point for debate.)
- The nasty super weapon is ultimately taken out by the good guys’ craziest pilot, who flies straight into the weapon to shoot em’ up. (Note to the First Order’s engineers: critical system redundancy. Look it up.)
So: J.J. Abrams has given us an excellent first Star Wars movie while taking us through the cycle of the entire original trilogy, and he pulled it off with elegant filmography; combat that also serves to further both plot and character development instead of just showcasing fancy explosive toys; spot-on in-jokes that work fluidly such that they are not only nudgy winks to old fans, but also humorous to the characters in the immediate context (i.e.: potentially funny to new fans too); and a plot that is so perfectly paced as to be extremely re-watchable.
Okay, so: the burning questions we are left with at the end of VII are as follows:
- Who is Rey?
- What the heck is Kylo Ren’s problem?
Let’s start with the first one: Rey’s identity. We are obviously meant to assume that Rey is of the Skywalker bloodline. Let’s operate on the assumption that this is not a red herring, because if it were, it would be a pretty serious breach of the long-term plot of the series. If we draw out the family tree from the point that matters (i.e., Anakin: the Skywalker who was conceived by the midichlorians and was ostensibly the Chosen One), we have two possible branches Rey could have come from: Luke or Leia. The age difference between Rey and Kylo Ren is foggy, but he is clearly older than her, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that he’s older, and enough so to be her father. It’s the theory I like best, and to try to persuade you, I’m going to break out all three possibilities in order of my opinion on their likeliness.
Possibility 1: Rey is the daughter of Leia and Han
Rey latches onto Han and vice verse pretty quickly in a father-daughter sort of dynamic. It’s adorable. She’s crushed by his death. In some of the spin-off books, Han and Leia have twins, Jacen and Jaina, and Jacen goes bad. This is alternate universe stuff, not canonical, and in that universe, there’s a character named Ben who is Luke’s son. So…there’s some tradition that Abrams could be playing around with, making Kylo Ren and Rey twins and playing off the brother/sister reveal, but the movie doesn’t work towards that storyline at all. For one thing, it seems likely that Ren would know if he had a twin sister. For another, we know that Luke has been missing for an extensive period of time and that Ren’s betrayal, which seemed to happen while he was an adult, was the cause of his disappearance, and the hints of vision Rey has imply that her abandonment on Jakku was closely connected to Ren’s betrayal, which suggests a substantial age gap. Where do you hide a powerful potential Jedi from someone who wants to destroy Jedis? On a planet that is as devoid of life as possible. (Can I get a booyah for deserts as sensible Jedi hiding spots?)
So let’s call the age gap extremely probable and say that, at best, Rey could be Han and Leia’s younger daughter…maybe Ren was already off being seduced by Snokes and didn’t know they had a baby in their middle age, or maybe he only got vague rumors of her. We can’t discount it given the timeline, but don’t you think that Han and Leia would have given some tiny hint of the fact that they’re hiding the existence of a daughter? There are a number of scenarios under which this lack of hints and foreshadowing could be explained, but it’s a weaker familial bond than the Star Wars universe tends to focus on, and it lacks emotional oomph in my mind.
Possibility 2: Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker
Luke’s lightsaber is clearly calling out to Rey in a, “Hey kid, this is your heritage!” kind of way. Putting aside for a moment the very curious mystery of how Anakin’s original lightsaber which Luke loses on Bespin turns up in the basement of a mystically-minded bartender, there’s an appeal to assuming that the lightsaber is trying to travel from father to son to son’s daughter. John suggested that when Ren is digging around in Rey’s mind and finds her dreams of the island in the ocean that those might have been memories of her childhood pre-Jakku, instead of visions of where she will find Luke. He thinks it could be Luke’s super secret place, where he could have raised the child of a forbidden love, and that the reason the old dude who has the missing map piece is both on Jakku near Rey and has the map piece is because he was some confidante of Luke’s who helped put Rey into hiding.
I think this is a reasonably strong possibility. What I don’t love about it is that Jedi aren’t supposed to have families because having spouses and children leads them to attachments that entice them to misuse the power of the Force for the selfish means of protecting their own families at the expense of others. (This is the entire point of Vader’s origin story. Now you don’t have to rewatch II and III. You are so very welcome.) Luke more or less figures this lesson out at the end of V: attachment leads to loss of hand. And loss of Han. (ba-dum, ching!) At the end of VI, we leave him on the path to walking the balance between compassion and attachment, which is the whole trick of being a Jedi. Falling off it to have an affair and a kid isn’t impossible, and you could see how that secret could be wrapped up with his guilt and disappearance, but that doesn’t work nicely with the character arc trajectory we left him on and the role that he has stepped into (that of Obi-Wan, the Jedi instructor who lost the promising pupil to the Dark Side). And it doesn’t do what the final possibility does, which is to answer the second burning question: What is Ren’s problem?
Possibility 3: Rey is the daughter of Kylo Ren.
Let me tell you a story about a young Jedi named Ben Solo. He is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker and the nephew of Luke Skywalker. Son to a powerful political/military leader who was once royalty and a military leader/smuggler with an iffy noble streak. They’re heroes, parents who have built a mythical legend for a son to step into, but they’re also leaders who are wrestling with a world that is still broken by civil war. Ben is the scion who is expected to make something of his potential. He is expected to be great as those who have come before and to carry on their fight.
But here’s the thing: Ben is just a kid. If he were any other Jedi kid, he would be able to fit in with the other young trainees Luke rounds up and maybe find his feet among equals, but he is expected to be the best because of his parentage. This makes his peers wary of him and maybe even nasty to him, so he doesn’t have a lot of friends. And the worst part is that he’s not really all that much stronger than the rest of them. I mean, he does pretty well, but he’s no obvious child wonder like the legendary Anakin Skywalker, whose name comes up constantly as the person to beat. He knows Anakin is his grandfather, but he doesn’t know that Anakin became Vader, because Luke and Leia and Han see an angry, frustrated streak in him that scares them and they’re trying to protect him from the same fate through hiding information.
So: what we have here is an angry young Jedi who wants nothing more than to be part of something and who thinks that the secret to getting his parents and uncle to stop stonewalling him is to prove that he’s powerful enough to handle himself.
Ben catches some rumor of something going on in the underworld of Coruscant that makes him think that Luke isn’t the only one with knowledge about the Force. He finds himself in something like a Fight Club for Force-sensitive teenagers who Luke discarded as too old for training in his search for new students, young people who slipped in between the cracks in the time in between Anakin killing off almost all of the Jedi and Luke working to rebuild the order. (Important point that is much more obvious in both the prequels and the Clone Wars animated series: Jedi are indoctrinated in the training from a VERY young age because attachment and Force training can be a dangerous combo.) Ben understands their anger at what their mysterious organizer teaches them to think of as the Jedi’s elitist control over the Force and he finds himself welcome there in a way he isn’t at the Academy because he has classic Jedi training and is willing to share his knowledge. His training and his bloodline makes him the best of the lot and he quickly rises to leadership among their ranks. In the course of this second life that he keeps carefully hidden from his uncle and master, two things happen: (1) Ben falls in love with the hard, awkward, hormone-charged stupidity of a teenager, probably with a serving girl at the Academy who is nice to him because she’s not in direct competition with him. (2) The mysterious leader of the Force Fight Club takes Ben under his wing to teach him to use anger to improve his power.
Ben’s success in training exercises starts to improve, but Luke becomes concerned about the way he is achieving success. He starts keeping a closer eye on Ben and ends up catching him in the middle of a secret tryst with his lover. He pulls Ben aside for a lecture about the dangers of attachment and the lure of the Dark Side, which does not go well. Ben becomes angry and defensive. He uses Anakin as an example of why there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing and runs off in a rage. The exchange triggers Luke to call Leia and Han because he thinks they need to tell Ben the full truth about Anakin, to which they agree reluctantly. Luke patiently waits for Ben to come back, which is a critical error, because Ben runs straight to the his shadowy mentor, who gives him the full(ish) scoop on Anakin, making Anakin sound like a powerful hero who was persecuted by the manipulative, controlling Jedi.
Ben comes back from this meeting, confused and upset, and runs straight into his love, who is herself worried because she just found out she’s pregnant. Ben, who is worked up and angry and scared, reacts with a temper tantrum of epic proportions that leaves her afraid for her safety because she isn’t seeing the full picture behind the source of his rage. She goes to her mentor and good friend, Luke’s assistant, who looks oddly like Obi-Wan Kenobi, and asks for advice. He advises her to confide in Luke, who has just had a very horrible conversation with Ben in which he realizes that Ben has gotten the story about Anakin from someone who has made it very difficult for Luke to regain control of the message. He is terrified that Ben is lost, but thinks that if he can separate Ben from the girl and her baby, at least for the time being, and get Ben alone in a powerful place for meditation and training, he might be able to set Ben back on the right track. He sends the girl and his assistant away and begins combing the archives for clues to the location he thinks he can use to help Ben find his way back. Ben figures out that Luke is involved with the disappearance of his lover and their child and commits fully to his shadowy mentor, who finally brings him in to the full secret of his intent: to wipe out the Jedi and found a new, less controlling order: the Knights of Ren.
Several years pass. Luke continues to scour the old Jedi archives for the pieces of the map he needs to the first temple. Ben desperately wants to look for his lover and child, but his new master insists that he must be patient, that the time is not yet right. His lover is raising their child in a secret location, protected by Luke’s assistant and kept secret even from Han and Leia because Luke is afraid they would want to raise the child, which would put her at higher risk of being found by Ben and his knights, who are becoming an increasing threat as they form an alliance with the remains of the Empire. Luke fails to realize just how much of a threat. His avuncular affection for Ben makes him think the boy would never fully betray the Academy, and so he is blindsided when Ben leads the Knights of Ren in a brutal attack against the Jedi at a time and place he knows they will be most vulnerable.
Luke realizes that Ben’s child is no longer safe where she is. He has finally found all he needs of the map to the place of power, which he no longer believes capable of saving Ben, but still important in finding again the heart of the order. He give R2-D2 most of the map with instructions to go mute until his heir is ready to find him, but sends the other piece with his assistant to improve the data’s security. He has an ally in the Republic help Ben’s family and Luke’s assistant relocate to a safer spot, but the First Order has gotten wind of the last piece of the map to the place of great power that Luke has found, which is being transported on the same ship as the child and her mother, both on their way to the Rebellion’s secret base. The First Order catches up with the Rebellion ship above Jakku and things go sideways.
The Rebellion manages to take down a Star Destroyer over the planet but in the fight, the child’s mother is killed (would it be a Disney movie otherwise?) and the child is separated from their protector, Luke’s assistant, ending up in the questionable care of a junk trader. By the time Luke’s assistant discovers what has become of her, everyone thinks she’s dead and the data destroyed in the crash, and the assistant, who was also transporting the important piece of the map for Luke, realizes that both the child and the map will be safer for the time being if everyone just goes on thinking they’ve been permanently lost. Ben feels his lover’s death and blames Luke, committing even further to the dark path he’s on.
The details, of course, will undoubtedly vary, but the broad strokes in this explanation of Rey’s identity make the most sense to me as a way of playing out the themes of attachment and the questionable goodness of the Jedi Order that show up in I-III and the Clone Wars. Unveiling this back story would allow VIII to mirror both V and I-III, which would fit nicely with what Abrams set us up for in the way he constructed VII as a mirror of both IV and IV-VI. And it fits a number of details that might be giving us hints:
- Han seems to have no idea of Rey is. Leia only seems to know who Rey is via Han and Finn’s reports.
- Rey’s visions show Luke’s robotic right hand giving something to R2. Granted, it could be someone else’s robotic right hand popping out of a Jedi cloak, but I think it’s safe to assume R2 got the map and some instructions from Luke.
- Rey’s visions clump together her memories of a Republic ship (pretty sure that ship is similar to the ambassadorial ships, but ship-shapes aren’t my strong suit) flying away with visions of Kylo Ren and his minions on a field of carnage that I’m assuming are mostly dead Jedi trainees, and while there is obvious past-future jumping happening in her visions as she sees Kylo Ren in the snowy forest where she will face him shortly, there is still a strong sense that her being abandoned is pretty directly connected (probably in time) to Ren’s betrayal and Luke’s disappearance, which we know to be contemporary to each other.
- Kylo Ren reacts to the announcement of a girl who helped the droid get off Jakku in a manner not dissimilar to the way Vader reacts to indirect news of Luke when he’s first realizing their connection. His attempts to persuade her to join him are not as direct as Vader’s to Luke, but the language and approach and the demand of his master that Rey be brought to him is similar to the Luke-Vader-Palpatine dynamic.
- R2-D2 doesn’t wake up until Rey gets off the Falcon at the Rebel base, implying that she’s the one he was meant to be waiting for.
Anyway. This post was already way too long and nerdy about 3k words ago, so I’m going to stop talking about it. I’ve got the Star Wars bug deep in my head, though, so I may end up wasting my vacation writing silly speculative Star Wars posts. Next up: “Why R2-D2 is actually the hero of A New Hope and how this fact should lead us to think more deeply about what’s going on with droids and the political reality of the Clone Wars. Or: Why the original Jedi Knights might actually have been racist slave-owners who weren’t as morally above it as they liked to think they were and how Anakin was, in fact, the essential catalyst to the Force eventually becoming balanced again.”