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Why There Are No Humans In Pixar’s ‘Cars’

We all know that CarsCars 2, and Cars 3 are confusing enough when thinking about how their world works or makes sense compared to ours. But for Pixar Theory fans, we have a lot of great arguments to hang our tin-foil hats on. The following is a transcription of the video you can watch above explaining all of this.

Despite what you may think of them, people love the Cars movies. No, they’re not in love with the stories, characters, or visuals, though some are. They’re just in love with talking about the conceptual implications of an animated movie that raises a ton of questions about its in-universe logic.

The random truth is that dissecting these colorful, magical kids’ movies is actually pretty fun, even for me, someone who was never in love with the Cars movies themselves or all that interested in the question: “did the Cars take over mankind and if they did, how?” I think it’s fairly obvious that the filmmakers at Pixar didn’t have a meta-commentary in mind about A.I. taking over the world through the cars we love or any other idea in that vein…well, maybe they did.

Go on…Why There Are No Humans In Pixar’s ‘Cars’

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Theory: Why EGO Killed [Spoilers]

This theory about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 contains spoilers (obviously). But it will still be here when you’re done watching the movie, hopefully. This theory is available as a video (above) or as a transcription (below). 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was, in my opinion, a fantastic follow-up to one of Marvel’s best movies and much better than the usual MCU sequel. But there is one aspect of the movie that has been driving me and plenty of other fans crazy with confusion, and that has to do with Ego the Living Planet, portrayed in his human form by Kurt Russell.

As you may recall, we find out in the movie that Ego is Peter Quill’s biological father, and the two share genetics that allow them to channel a powerful godlike energy. At first, Peter is thrilled about the truth of his parentage, being promised to help Ego carve out a new world of their making. But he’s instantly broken from Ego’s spell when told the full, sinister story.

Go on…Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Theory: Why EGO Killed [Spoilers]

The LIGHTSABER Theory: Rey Is Not A Skywalker, Solo, Or Kenobi

The lightsaber is the key.

Ever since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015, fans have speculated endlessly on the back story of Rey, debating multiple theories that point to who her parents are and why she’s so strong in the Force.

You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all had something to say on this matter because we all know that the second movie in this trilogy, The Last Jedi, will contain “the twist” that defines the new generation of Star Wars, in the same way The Empire Strikes Back did for fans in 1980.

That said, J.J. Abrams has given us a lot to go on when it comes to explaining Rey’s back story. But even if you don’t believe his comments that Rey’s parents don’t appear in The Force Awakens, there’s ample evidence within the movie itself to support that her parents are not Skywalkers, Solos, or Kenobis. And they’re certainly not anything related to Palpatine because that would be far too complicated for these movies to explain.

But Force Awakens does leave plenty of clues for us to put together that will make more sense in The Last Jedi, coming this December. And it all ladders up to what I call The LIGHTSABER Theory. This is the comprehensive theory that outlines how Star Wars: The Force Awakens reveals the most important details about Rey’s origins all by itself.

lightsaber theory

The LIGHTSABER Theory is simple: everything we need to know about Rey and her parents can be surmised by understanding the role of Luke’s first lightsaber, a macguffin that was at one point the main plot device in Force Awakens. Years ago, before the release of Episode VII, Lucasfilm hinted that the story of the movie would hinge on Rey and her friends trying to keep Luke’s lightsaber out of Kylo Ren’s hands. All we knew of Kylo at the time was that he sought Sith relics, especially related to Vader, but they cut most of this out of the final film, perhaps to make the big twist less obvious.

In fact, you can see a blatant hint of this in one of the first teasers for Force Awakens when it’s shown that a lightsaber is being handed to Leia. Eventually, the lightsaber hot potato was diminished a great deal by Abrams (or the producers) and later replaced with our heroes trying to find Luke Skywalker through use of BB-8’s map, but there are still hints of the lightsaber’s ownership struggle, like when Kylo Ren demands Rey give him Luke’s lightsaber on Starkiller Base. “That lightsaber doesn’t belong to you.”

When you watch Force Awakens, you’ll probably notice that it’s unclear what Han, Leia, and Maz know about Rey’s origins. All of their conversations about Rey are cut short for the audience, hinting that they know exactly who she is, but we don’t get to know yet. Many fans claim this as evidence that Rey is related to another character in the franchise, but that’s almost certainly not the case.

Before we dive deep into the crux of The LIGHTSABER Theory, let’s cover a few important details that you might have missed on your first viewing of the movie.

1. Lor San Tekka (played by Max Von Sydow) seems connected to Rey somehow.

lightsaber theory

The fact that Lor San Tekka’s village, which is part of the “Church of the Force,” is so close to Rey’s salvage town is too coincidental to ignore. In fact, it strongly suggests that Lor San Tekka was an Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque character in Force Awakens, watching Rey from afar. His strong connection to Luke Skywalker, as revealed in the canon novels, is a crucial piece of evidence for believing Rey’s identity is known and understood by Luke’s inner circle.

It’s also a bit suspicious that the Millennium Falcon is also within close proximity to Rey, but that’s a theory for another day. For now, we can try to believe it was really stolen, though I think there’s ample evidence to suggest that whoever dropped Rey off on Jakku has a serious connection to the Millennium Falcon.

2. Han, Leia, and Maz know who Rey is, but not at first.

lightsaber theory

When Han Solo first runs into Rey, he clearly doesn’t recognize her. In fact, he assures her and Finn that they can “be on their way” once they’ve dealt with the smugglers on the freighter. But after spending some time with Rey, it’s easy to notice that he’s slowly realizing who she is.

This is supported by how conversations between Han and Maz and Leia that are about Rey are all offscreen. Maz asks Han “Who’s the girl?” as soon as they’re alone, so clearly Maz can discern that Rey is somehow special, and we know Han has told Maz something crucial about Rey’s identity because the next we see of Maz, she’s trying to convince Rey to take Luke’s lightsaber and learn about the Force.

In fact, that entire scene of Rey stumbling across the lightsaber feels like an orchestration. Like Maz purposefully put the lightsaber in a place where Rey could feel the Force guiding her. When Rey goes to find the lightsaber, the door even opens for her. There’s no way Maz would just leave such a valuable relic unguarded, beneath a cantina filled with outlaws, no less. She wanted Rey to get the lightsaber because of something Han told her. Which is why she’s there as soon as Rey finishes her Force flashback, or “Forceback” as Abrams calls it.

This flashback essentially completes the puzzle, or at least the most important parts we can know. After watching it, you can figure out who Rey is, why she was left on Jakku, and who it was that left her. This is the crux of The LIGHTSABER Theory. When Rey has her flashback, she’s taken through several moments in time that appear random, but they’re actually not.

3. The “Forceback”

lightsaber theory

The first scene is a shot of Cloud City, where Luke fought Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. This was confirmed by Abrams, who has said that they actually wanted to show some of the fight itself but then chose to make it more eery by illuminating an empty hallway. Fair enough.

Then there’s a crash, and Rey finds herself in front of Luke and R2-D2 by a fire, and we hear Luke scream “Nooooo” from when he learned Darth Vader was his father. Then the scene changes to the Knights of Ren and Kylo himself (if that is Kylo) standing around a group of bodies, presumably the next generation of Jedi trained by Luke. Someone goes to attack Rey, or whoever was there instead of Rey, but he’s killed by Kylo.

Then we see a young Rey getting left behind on Jakku with Unkar as an unknown ship flies away, a ship by the way that looks a lot like the one we see as concept art for Rey’s family’s ship, but let’s just assume that’s a coincidence. Finally, we get a glimpse of the future, when Rey confronts Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base. And we hear Obi-Wan Kenobi calling out to Rey. These are her first steps.

What do all of these scenes have in common? It’s pretty obvious, actually.The lightsaber. It ties them all together, and we’re seeing a sequence of events in chronological order. In each of these scenes, the lightsaber is present and something significant happens to it.

lightsaber theory

First, Luke loses it during his fight with Vader. Then, Luke presumably finds it again with R2D2, supported by how he and Lor San Tekka sought out Jedi relics together. I believe finding the lightsaber again is one of the triggers for Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side, and we’re seeing the aftermath of the Jedi Massacre as hinted in The Last Jedi teaser. We know Luke had to seek out the lightsaber himself because Rey finds the lightsaber in the same chest Obi-Wan had. Only Luke would know about that relic.

And then there’s the rain scene. The blue lightsaber must have changed ownership to Ben Solo at this point, but when he became Kylo Ren, sometime after the worst of the Jedi Massacre. In each of these scenes, the lightsaber is the key. That’s how we know who dropped Rey off on Jakku.

It was Luke Skywalker. The lightsaber had to be present when we see her being left on Jakku. And Rey even says this when Maz pressures her moments later, telling her that who she’s waiting for isn’t coming back. Maz then says someone else could come back, and Rey says, “Luke.” Rey actually realizes that Luke left her on Jakku at this point, but she didn’t know it was him. She thought Luke was a myth and that her family would come back to get her, which is what Luke must have told her. The red herring is that we think she wants the person who left her to come back, but really, she just wants answers. She wants to know what happened to her parents.

lightsaber theory

I strongly believe based on the movie that one or both of Rey’s parents were Luke’s Jedi apprentices and that they’re among the bodies we see in front of the Knights of Ren. An alternate way to interpret this is that Luke ends up giving the lightsaber to Rey’s father or mother, believing them to be the rightful heir to the Jedi and angering Ben Solo because Luke doesn’t trust him to carry on the legacy. This would be huge for a villain who’s been set up to revere his grandfather. Luke might even suspect Ben is slowly being seduced to the Dark Side by Snoke as he picks his successor.

The Knights of Ren scene shows us how Luke gets the lightsaber back during the massacre. I believe Luke has been defeated at this point in the scene, as evidenced by what appears to be Kylo Ren holding Luke’s green lightsaber. Then we see Kylo killing one of his own men who is about to attack Luke, but Kylo kills him, perhaps because he doesn’t want Luke to die just yet, or at all.

After surviving this encounter, Luke leaves Rey on Jakku to protect her from the First Order and Kylo Ren, who might suspect another Force sensitive is around. Han, Leia, and Maz would know about Rey because of her parents, but they’re not as familiar with her as Luke is. This would explain why Kylo seems to find Rey so familiar, yet he clearly doesn’t know who she is when he talks to Supreme Leader Snoke.

lightsaber theory

And this even explains why Kylo gets so angry, especially about Rey using that particular lightsaber, which he recognizes the first time he sees it. He wants to be like Vader, and Anakin’s lightsaber is his key to getting there. This would serve as the real source of conflict between Kylo and Rey. Kylo believes himself to be the rightful heir to Darth Vader by blood, but Rey is his natural enemy because she is heir to Luke Skywalker by the sacrifice of her parents, Luke’s true successor(s).

Why do we hear Obi-Wan in the flashback, then? It’s not because Rey’s parents are somehow connected to him. They don’t have to be. Remember, Obi-Wan gave Luke that lightsaber in the first place. And he has the ability to appear as a Force Ghost, calling out to Rey as a way to pass the proverbial torch on to her.

This adds a whole new layer of significance to some of the ending scenes, and overall, it makes The Force Awakens a better movie. Han told Leia about Rey, as we see in her conversation with Finn. So when Rey comes back after Han Solo’s death, she and Leia hug, even though the audience doesn’t realize they know each other. But they do. At this point, Rey knows that Luke dropped her off on Jakku and that Leia has lost Han. When they see each other, they grieve together as if they know one another.

lightsaber theory

And this also adds new meaning to the final shot of Rey offering the lightsaber back to Luke. It’s a full circle moment for her to remind Luke who he is, who she is, and how the Force has brought them together again. We see Luke’s slow realization of this, as he puts the pieces together himself, and we’ll likely start The Last Jedi with Rey convincing Luke to train her. The big twist will be Rey realizing that her parents were killed and that they were Jedi (or one of them was), and Luke’s decision to leave her on Jakku was rooted in his desire to end the Jedi.

It’s also possible that one parent died by Kylo’s hands while another died on Jakku, where Rey might have been raised alongside the Church of the Force. Perhaps one of her parents is someone who used to live there. Luke could have found Rey with a dead parent, wondering where the other might be, then choosing to leave Rey with Unkar by trading the Millennium Falcon (theory for another day), rather than let her explore the Force among its worshipers. But she’s still close enough for Lor San Tekka to keep an eye on her.

At that point, Luke might have given the lightsaber to Maz, or someone else who would eventually get it to her. We can tell from Maz’s bond with Han Solo and Chewbacca that she’s someone the original heroes trust, and she’d be a less obvious suspect for Kylo Ren to go after when searching for the lightsaber.

lightsaber theory

When we finally see The Last Jedi, I believe we’ll learn about Luke’s dissatisfaction with the Jedi order. Perhaps he sought out the temple in order to find out where he went wrong with Ben, only to realize that the Jedi order has always had its flaws, and maybe it’s best just to let the order die, disregarding Lor San Tekka’s wish that the Jedi come back to bring balance to the Force.

Until Rey comes along and starts to question Luke’s shift into being neutral. She could be the literal ray of hope for the light side, even redefining it for a new generation, in part because she learns about the legacy of her parents and decides that she wants to follow in their footsteps and take their place as Luke’s successor. A new Skywalker who isn’t one by blood, but rather, merit. She’s not strong in the Force because she was trained at a young age and had her memories wiped or something, it’s because she’s the result of a new legacy and step forward for the Star Wars saga.

And that’s The LIGHTSABER Theory.

There are still a lot of pressing questions to be answered, like where the Knights of Ren rain scene takes place and who was killed there, for example. And I highly doubt I’ve guessed everything exactly right. Part of me does still buy into the idea that Rey had her memory erased via Jedi Mind Trick, but touching the lightsaber “awakened” her, explaining how she was able to use the Force so well all of a sudden—the idea is that she was trained as a Jedi and had her mind wiped, which is why she doesn’t know much about herself and her name “Rey” may actually be fake.

All that said, I sincerely believe that this theory points fans in the right direction. It uses evidence from within the text of the movie, so it’s simple enough for younger viewers to get it in a pinch.

The Force Awakens preps us for knowing that the lightsaber is important and that a lot of Jedi died. There doesn’t have to be a complicated explanation, but rather a rethinking of what we were shown and why were shown it. Rey doesn’t have to come from nothing. In fact, that’s already being set up in how Finn might become a Jedi from nothing.

Rey has a unique legacy that is both new for the Star Wars universe and still connected to the original characters in a simple, believable way that will make perfect sense when revealed in Episode VIII.


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How ‘Moana’ Finally Settled The Disney Princess Debate

disney princess

Disney’s Moana was a fantastic animated musical, and one of the main reasons why has to do with its handling of the female protagonist, Moana herself.

The animation studio was essentially founded on the cornerstone of the “princess” being a driving force of fairy tale movies, which eventually evolved into increasingly more diverse types of stories. Specifically, Snow White laid the groundwork as one of the best films of all time (animated or otherwise), as well Disney’s first feature film. And they later built upon this with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty as smart ways to repeat Snow White‘s massive success.

This ended up being a saving grace for Disney after multiple near-catastrophes with bad box office, animator strikes, and so on, though Walt still believed in experimenting with non-princess movies like Peter PanPinocchioDumbo, and of course, Mary Poppins.

Long after his death in 1966, the Disney Princess transformed from an idea to an actual media franchise worth an insane amount of money and indicative of Disney’s influence over generations of children. In the early 2000s, it became an official thing, combining the classic Disney princesses of the old days with recent heroines of the 90s renaissance. And the criteria, at the time, was confusing to say the least.

disney princess

Obviously, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora were “inducted” into the official Disney Princess brand. Joining them was Ariel from The Little Mermaid, another obvious choice though different in the sense that she’s royalty of an underwater culture. Then Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who doesn’t technically become a princess until the very end of the movie.

Jasmine from Aladdin was another obvious choice, though striking because she was the first Disney princess to be nonwhite, and she’s more of a supporting character than a lead protagonist. Jasmine was followed up by two consecutive nonwhite Disney princesses, though: Pocahontas and Mulan. Though Tinker Bell from Peter Pan was technically a Disney Princess for a short time before getting replaced by Tiana and becoming a home video sensation.

They didn’t include Nala or Kiara from Lion King, which seems to be because animals simply don’t qualify. Same goes for Esmerelda from Hunchback of Notre Dame because she’s technically a gypsy, Megara from Hercules, and Jane from Tarzan. The first “modern” princess was Tiana from Princess and the Frog, then Rapunzel from Tangled was added as the first CG character. And the last Disney Princess in the official sense is Merida from Brave, a Pixar movie rather than a Walt Disney Animation one.

disney princess

These are the “official” Disney princesses, but that hasn’t stopped many other fans from considering the wider breadth of characters to fit the bill. Simply because the criteria isn’t always consistent (like with Tinker Bell and Mulan not being royalty). Eventually, Anna from Frozen will be added along with Moana, but no one really believes their status as princesses is held back until Disney slaps their own label on it and has their clique running around Disney World.

A lot of this might sound a bit silly and inconsequential, but there are actually heated debates held by…some…who argue over which Disney female characters are “allowed” to be called Disney princesses. And this is a big deal, in part, because countless kids look to the mainstream Disney princesses as a representation of themselves in these movies. Parents want their kids to have positive role models, and the Disney princesses, like it or not, are a major cultural force in that regard.

The more recent Disney princess from CG animated films definitely fit the more literal interpretation of what’s become such a pervasive line of business for these animated films. But Moana subtly settles this debate, I believe, once and for all. It points out that the semantics don’t matter, really, as Disney seems intent on including future princesses as it sees fit.

moana

The pivotal line between Maui and Moana is what specifically points this out. Maui tells Moana she is a “princess,” but she denies this because she’s actually the daughter of a Chief (the literal view). But Maui banters back with self-awareness on the writers’ part:

“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, then you’re a princess.” 

What he really seems to be saying here is that it doesn’t really matter. What makes these characters “princesses” has very little to do with royal bloodlines and more with the tropes that Disney infuses in its protagonists and supporting characters. A dress and an animal sidekick are incredibly broad. so Disney can in effect say from here on out that there’s no reason to overthink this merchandising franchise they’re so clearly benefiting from.

And that’s fine because it allows Disney to incorporate as many different cultures, hair colors, and clothing styles as they can with their princess characters, but not at the expense of the story making sense. Or worse, always falling back on traditional princess tales instead of doing something as “culturealistic” as Moana and Mulan.

moana

Moving forward, I like to think that this line by Maui was allowed in the movie because they’re acknowledging how limiting it is to hold back the Disney Princess inclusivity for the sake of being so literal. It’s not relevant how these characters look on a family tree, but rather that they’re interesting characters who follow a consistent aesthetic and type of storytelling that’s proven incredibly successful for Disney since the 30s. Maybe one day, it won’t even be questioned whether or not a Disney princess is one because she wears a dress, especially if you consider the fact that they included Merida, a princess who is usually shown with her bow and arrow rather than a bucket of glitter.

But one thing’s for certain. The best Disney princess is obviously Lilo.


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How ‘Big Hero 6: The Series’ Could Bring Back Tadashi

Big Hero 6 is being made into an animated series on Disney XD, set for sometime in 2017. For those of us still hoping for a Tadashi comeback, this is a good thing.

You can read a full transcription of the video above here

Hey friends, hope you enjoy the video this week. My new channel, Jon in Theory, is growing pretty well so far, and the feedback has been awesome since last week’s Doctor Strange video.

Be sure to send me your content suggestions, even if it involves topics I’ve already covered on this site. I’m even planning an updated Pixar Theory episode, which would be quite the undertaking. Again, send me any ideas you think are worth exploring.

One last thing: I want to plug my weekly live show yet again, The Pixar Detectives, which you can check out on Super News. Every Wednesday at 7pm (Pacific), Kayla Savage and I nerd out about Pixar and Disney movies, and we’ve been doing weekly giveaways, like Pixar T-Shirts, paperback copies of The Pixar Theory, and plenty more.

The audience on that show has become huge in recent weeks, and while that’s great, I’m definitely hoping more of you lovely readers check in as well to see what all the noise is about. Last week, for example, we did a live tutorial on how you can draw Doctor Strange as a Pixar character. Next week, we’ll be exploring Moana during an on-location pre-screening, so be sure to check that out, too.

Alright, that’s all from me. Let me know your Big Hero 6 theories in the comments below!


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For Now, Rey From ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Is Not A Great Character

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No one can deny that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a huge win for Lucasfilm and Disney. It delivered on years of cautious hype with a solid movie that made an egregious amount of money for the studio.

Fans loved it. The critics loved it. Even the harshest criticisms lobbed at the movie (like a plot eerily similar to previous Star Wars films) are typically considered nitpicks, not deal breakers.

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A lot of this has to do with how TFA pleased both fans of the old movies and fans of what could happen next. Han Solo had a substantial role, along with Chewbacca and Princess Leia. And future movies promise to expand Luke’s story even further. But TFA also unveiled the next generation of Star Wars, and rightly so. Topped off with one character in particular who seems to be on everyone’s mind when talking about their favorite character in the movie: Rey.

Well, who is Rey?

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A lot of the discussion around TFA, which I’ve taken part in quite a bit myself, centers around who Rey really is within the context of the Star Wars mythology. Most people are convinced she just has to be connected to someone we know, whether it be the Skywalkers, Solos, or even Jyn Erso from the upcoming anthology movie, Rogue One. For a lot of fans, it isn’t enough to speculate that she could be wholly new, and that’s mostly because TFA suggests many times through dialogue and specific story moments that this might not be the case. Specifically, Rey touches Luke’s lightsaber and immediately envisions the past and future places connected to the Skywalker relic, even hearing Obi-Wan address her by name.

These secrets are likely to be uncovered in next year’s sequel and beyond, so I want to get away from all the theories (aside from how obvious it seems to me that Supreme Leader Snoke is Ezra from Star Wars Rebels) and settle on just one question about Rey: is she really a great character?

She’s likable, obviously, and we can list off plenty of traits that make her fun and entertaining to watch. But is she a well-written character…or a boring one?

I suspect most people reading this believe the former. And that’s probably because it’s wrong to say Rey is boring. The film’s most thrilling moments certainly revolve around her and how she reacts to various problems around her. She starts off as an incredibly resourceful person and becomes increasingly competent over the course of the film, which is pretty common for a lot of exciting characters we like in all types of stories.

So before we go any further…

What makes a character “great” in the first place?

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Evaluating a character’s quality is definitely subjective, but we can choose acceptable criteria to make a case for why any given character is good or bad. The key is to weigh that criteria against the context of the movie. 007, for example, is supposed to be a character who undergoes very little character change (at least, before the Craig movies), even though we expect most of our protagonists to go on some sort of dramatic, life-changing journey, where the climax involves that character making a personal choice or discovery that wins the day.

For that reason, some people consider 007 to be a weak character who’s still pretty fun to watch, because the movie surrounding him focuses more on how thrilling it is to observe someone competent solving tough problems in an interesting way. Other prominent protagonists, like Bruce Wayne, are considered great characters because they do undergo great character change that connects with their backstory, the antagonist, and how it all comes together in the climax. It’s this cohesion in storytelling that makes for a compelling character, rather than a somewhat average one.

So it is for Rey, from TFA. She undergoes a character change, to be certain, but what holds her back from being a great character is the fact that her motivations, backstory, relationships, and climactic choice are scattered, poorly-defined, and often contradictory, as we’ll get into. Most of these problems are because of the storytelling, of course, not Ridley’s performance or, as it bears repeating:

Not being “boring” doesn’t make a character great.

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From the moment she’s introduced, it’s clear that Rey can take care of herself quite easily, and she’s naturally talented at a lot of relevant things that become natural obstacles as the movie goes on. It’s not boring because we enjoy watching a well-rounded character solve problems that reference their backstory, which TFA pulls off pretty early on. For example, she figures out how to fly the Millennium Falcon rather quickly and even fixes things Han Solo can’t, not just because the plot demands it, but because she’s spent her life scavenging old ships on Jakku and presumably knows how they work.

The same applies to a lot of skills Rey picks up over the movie. She becomes adept at using complicated Force moves without any training, and that includes the mind trick, resisting Kylo’s influence, and summoning the lightsaber out of the snow. In fact, there’s little reason to believe she’s actually observed anyone doing the things she learns how to do on her own. She’s just good at it because…she’s good at it.

And that’s not a bad thing. Not all by itself.

We can reason why she’s good at fighting, certainly, and how she manages to just barely defeat an injured Kylo Ren (even though she was losing for most of the fight). And like other movies with equally tough characters like Furiosa from Mad Max, the movie doesn’t spend time trying to explain why Rey is capable. You accept it because the main character of a movie should be unrealistically talented. It would be a bore, otherwise.

Why Rey is Rey.

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It’s probably safe to say that Rey is the way she is because Lawrence Kasdan wanted her to differ greatly from Luke Skywalker, a noticeably more whiny and doe-eyed character by comparison. In the original trilogy, Luke struggled a lot on his path to becoming a Jedi. In the first film, he only has one meaningful encounter with the Force, and it’s the climax of the movie. He famously turns off the targeting computer and finally trusts in the Force to destroy the Death Star. It’s a great moment because it’s the end result of a character journey that started with a simple fascination in something mysterious.

Kasdan went another route with Rey in order to shake things up, but I’m not sure if it’s quite as well thought out, as much as I appreciate the intent. Rey is an awesome role model for kids because she’s strong, bold, and unrestrained by outdated gender stereotypes (which the movie goes out of its way to address, perhaps for the sake of the audience).

She makes for a good audience surrogate, same as Luke, because she’s spent so much of her life away from the current events of the Star Wars universe, though the movie doesn’t treat her as a fish-out-of-water type who spends most of the movie discovering new things and asking questions.

Unfortunately, though, Rey is mostly a character of don’tsAs if the writers crafted her in a reactionary way, not a thoughtful one, obsessed with ensuring she wasn’t just another Luke, just another cliche, or just another helpless “chosen one” who relies on others until the very last moment. This isn’t a criticism, necessarily, but it can explain why some people walk away from her character feeling somewhat cold, even though they like the idea of Rey and what she truly represents for the future of Star Wars (someone different and full of potential).

But there’s another major problem.

Rey is too incomplete, and she shouldn’t be.

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It’s hard for me to admit this, but there’s not much substance to Rey’s journey as a scavenger turned would-be Padawan. Her character change amounts to the secrets of her past that prevent her from wanting to fully commit to adventure with newfound family. This would make for a great story if these secrets were at least somewhat teased to let us understand why Rey was abandoned, or why she’s so eager to reconnect with the people of her past, rather than feel the appropriate resentment for them.

Instead of these types of revelations, TFA relies on references from previous movies and hints of what’s to come in order to fill in the blanks, and Rey’s story gets somewhat lost in the shuffle of supporting characters and cameos, which is dangerous for your lead character. At no point do we understand why she has affection for her family because she never really talks about them, and the movie doesn’t either. It’s a hollow motivation, as a result, especially since Rey is supposed to be our eyes and ears throughout the movie, at least when Finn isn’t.

And all of this is hurt by the fact that we already have to make guesses for why Rey is a good person, too, because her circumstances suggest she shouldn’t be quite so righteous. The obvious answer seems to be that she does remember life before being dropped on Jakku, which is a life that might have been full of love and warmth that shaped her. We need that context to understand the character now, but it was set aside for franchise purposes, and we instead had to focus on the growing excellence of Rey in the present.

Again, it’s just fine for a lead character of any movie to be unrealistically exceptional. Harry Potter is a good example of this, but mostly because that story centers around Potter’s unwillingness to be noted as extraordinary, due to the pain of that fame being associated with the loss of his parents. Rey puts on a tough front, in comparison, and we never get that moment of vulnerability aside from flashbacks that briefly display a snapshot of how she was abandoned, with nothing close to an explanation or exploration of these ideas.

Back to Harry Potter, it was good for those books to not tell us everything all at once, but at least in that story, we understood the basics: Harry Potter is the boy who lived, famous for ending Voldemort’s rise to power. There’s nothing comparable to that in TFA, aside from the overt: the Force has awakened through Rey for unknown reasons.

Come on, not even short stories are that thin.

With Rey, we only know that she was abandoned as a child and is somehow a “Force” of nature. Characters briefly suggest that they know who she is or question who she is, but nothing is made of her place in the universe, which I think is a misguided plan. The filmmakers want us to endlessly speculate and come up with theories, but the end result is that none of these theories feel right. Because we have very little information to go on.

Rey will probably be a “great” character later. Maybe.

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This is probably enough for some fans, but not for me. I like Rey because of Daisy Ridley’s performance, her iconic look, and how different she seems. But I can’t say she’s a well-written character because there’s just too much lacking for the sake of teasing future movies. If it takes a sequel to change my mind on this, then that’s a tragedy of storytelling.

We didn’t need three movies to relate with Luke Skywalker or understand his motivations. Yes, he evolved over the trilogy, but in one movie, we were able to wrap our heads around his values and the stakes of this universe. There was already an ultimate antagonist tied to his journey, as well—a seemingly insurmountable danger that he needed to face one day. TFA holds back a lot of these details, like what the First Order really is and the relationship between Rey, the Resistance, the Republic, and so on.

The sad thing is that it only takes a basic shuffling of information to get Rey’s arc on the right track. Unlike Luke, Rey appears to have had a more isolated and less loving childhood, which is why she doesn’t trust easily in the first act, at least for a time. This entire character trait is eventually dropped as the movie brings her together with Finn, Han Solo, and Chewie, whom she forms quick bonds with (more on that, later).

Going even further, it’s strange that Kylo trying to probe her mind doesn’t seem to evoke true bitterness from her, even though it’s a clear violation of her independent personality. The movie instead sets up dramatic weight by killing off Han Solo right in front of her, which is undercut by her initial reaction to run away again (a smart move, nonetheless).

Rey is flawed, but the movie forgets that.

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I’m convinced that a movie can be great when the main character starts off capable and only gets better. But they need relevant character flaws to make the journey interesting and believable. Rey’s flaws are purely superficial and reactionary, saved only by a fluid performance from Ridley. She shows genuine fear during dangerous situations, and there’s clear self-doubt on her face as she gets to know the galaxy and eventually runs away from her destiny (the Force).

In short, she’s definitely reckless, and the odd thing is that movie rewards this flaw more often than it brings upon real consequences (like when she tries to help Han and accidentally frees the Rathtars, which ends up working better than her initial plan). When Rey acts before thinking, it almost always works out for her, save for when Kylo initially knocks her out in the ending forest scene, before she acts recklessly again and starts to fight him. And she uses this flaw to ultimately beat him, going after him without any meditation or introspection, just her own willingness to exude the Force.

The problem is that flaws like these only work when they run counter to a character’s key strengths. Otherwise, it feels like the character is unrealistically protected by the writers, when they should instead come off as vulnerable with room to grow. In the case of Rey’s recklessness, they’re one in the same because she benefits a lot from acting without thinking throughout the movie, so the climax doesn’t present any sort of personal challenge for her to grapple with. Fortunately, this isn’t the only major flaw we see with Rey. The other more prominent one is her loneliness.

Rey grew up alone and had to fight for everything she has, living day-to-day in a merciless existence. We like her because she’s still very human after all this, showing she has an innate righteousness, down to when she decides to help BB-8, rather than sell him off for food. But this pivotal moment (Rey choosing to help people) isn’t rounded out well by her flaw of feeling lonely and wanting to reconnect with her true family. It’s really only the beginning of an interesting character arc that the movie forgets about, or at the very least decides to put off until the sequel.

Specifically, she contradicts her flaw of loneliness constantly throughout the movie, because she’s quick to help others in lieu of remaining on Jakku to wait for her family. There’s a conflict, certainly, between the attachment she has for her new friends and the unseen family she sometimes references. There’s no “turning off the targeting computer” moment for Rey because she never really makes this choice in earnest. She’s captured and eventually tries to run away again, only to get hunted by Kylo before ultimately defeating him. There’s no personal challenge she has to overcome, aside from embracing the Force, which she had already done well before the battle with Kylo.

The main point, though, is that despite the fact that Rey has interesting, even intriguing character flaws, the movie fails to serve up a story that actually puts them to the test against the things she’s good at. There’s a kernel of a rounded out character here, where her independence should clash with her decision to rely on others, including the Force, but we see too much of the opposite occurring as well.

The fact is, Rey’s character doesn’t make much sense.

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It’s these exact contradictions that makes Rey seem less compelling than she should. Ditching the base instead of getting revenge for Han’s death lines up nicely with the Rey we met in the first act, who looks out for herself first and foremost. But the entire middle of the movie sets her up as someone who wants to help and make sacrifices, especially against her own interests, until an encounter with the lightsaber convinces her to run off yet again, because all of a sudden she wants no part of what’s happening…even though right before that, she pleads with Finn to help the Resistance, rather than flee.

If the movie was following an intelligent trajectory, then this would mean Rey’s final test would be to stand up to Kylo instead of running way, which the movie almost does, but actually too late. She and Finn flee into the forest, until Kylo finds them. Then Rey stands up to him, calling him a murderer for killing his own father. She tries to fight with a blaster, but Kylo stops her easily. Then she stands up to him again to save Finn, only this time using the Force.

This is the problem. The movie wants Rey to have the same “turn off the trajectory computer” moment that Luke Skywalker has in A New Hope, even though this character development doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. The only moment she hesitates to use the Force is when she touches Luke’s lightsaber, but it’s not established why she’d be averse to using the Force at all (only speculation). Then it “awakens” in her, and she uses it with full confidence and without hesitation. So her grabbing the lightsaber in the forest falls completely flat as a dramatic moment (just a “cool” one), and it’s a result of intertextual plotting instead of meaningful character writing.

Her victory over Kylo should have been a battle of willpower, because that is how their characters were set up over the course of the film, with Kylo having the training, but none of the mental discipline, while Rey has the exact opposite. She should have won by outsmarting him, because that would have been surprising and developed from previous learning. There’s even an entire scene that shows just how much more competent she is than him mentally, but the movie tries to posit that she wins simply because of a stronger connection the Force, which is an unnecessary and yes, boring, path to victory.

And all of this can be so easily fixed that it’s painful to point any of it out. For example, when Rey performs the mind trick on the stormtrooper, it would be far more dramatic and compelling if she sensed it might be wrong for her to do this, as someone who detests being controlled and manipulated might hate the idea of using the Force. That would certainly set up why she would hesitate to use it as a weapon at all, until finally accepting who she is in order to save Finn and eventually seek out Luke.

Instead, Rey jumps at the chance to use the Force to get inside someone’s head so she can escape, and it makes for weak character development and a missed opportunity based on what’s already present in the script. In fact, it’s really just confusing because there’s no mention of this ability throughout the movie to create context for how Rey knows what the mind trick even is. The movie simply has her fail two times and then get it exactly right (a running theme in the movie), though to the film’s credit, they masked this well by subverting the scene into something humorous.

Wrapping Up

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I don’t hate this movie, and I certainly don’t hate any these characters (some of them being far worse than Rey for similar reasons). But Rey is too cool a character concept for such a lopsided script.

Abrams has always been great at concepting characters that people like and want to get behind, but he’s often struggled at setting up believable paths for them to go on (see Lost). I have to believe that the fascination we have for Rey—especially concerning those final moments between her and Luke—have more to do with empty cliffhanger teasing and less to do with a natural evolution of a truly great character.

Is she a good character? I certainly think there’s room to suggest that based on the various positives noted above. And it’s off-base to call her a bad character simply for not being close to perfect. But the incomplete nature of her arc leads me to believe she’s inconsistent and incomplete at the moment, which is a travesty. I believe she should be more than great. She should and hopefully will be revolutionary.


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The Ultimate Pixar Halloween Costume

 

This was a blast and a half. On our latest episode of Pixar Live, you guys helped Kayla Savage and me come up with the ultimate Pixar halloween costume. And we’re totally going to do next week’s show dressed as these characters (the winner got an awesome Incredibles shirt, of course).

We broadcast this show on Facebook Live via Super News every Wednesday at 7pm Pacific. And if you tune in and leave an awesome comment, you might win something cool related to Pixar!

The contest is over, but what do you think the ultimate Pixar costume is? We got some great ideas for both Disney and Pixar (a lot of people suggested Nightmare before Christmas). The best suggestions were pretty creative and off the beaten path, so if you have something awesome to contribute, we want to hear it.

Also, Kayla and I are open to your ideas and questions for future episodes. It’s a live show, so audience engagement is always the goal. What do you want to hear us talk about, and are there any Pixar universe secrets you’re dying to hear from us? This is your chance to let us know.

That said, enjoy this week’s show!

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