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Which is Better? Star Wars: The Force Awakens vs. Rogue One

Comparisons between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have always been an inevitable result of these two movies releasing just 12 months apart. And though they’re two very different films (one is a franchise opener and the other a prequel standalone), TFA and RO are both representative of the future that is Star Wars, one of the most beloved mythologies in modern history.

Walking out of TFA, I felt a strange urge to lay some cynicism on the engaging and thrilling spectacle I had just witnessed (and I did ultimately grade it positive). And my criticism of the new trilogy’s opening chapter has been admittedly inconsistent, where at one point I heavily lamented the incomplete character design of Rey, and more recently, I praised the interesting set ups for her legacy. Let it not be said that Rey is a “simple” hero.

By comparison, my problems with RO were far more pronounced and have not budged in the slightest. Despite some great production design and third act action scenes that are anthology peaks, we were given blank slated characters I’ve all but forgotten about in just a few short months, and I’m certainly not alone.

The video above by Lessons from the Screenplay expertly lays out how my issues with both Star Wars films resulted from poor decisions via the writing. Jyn Erso is a passive character whose narrative is beholden to contrived circumstances and loose relationships with superficially interesting characters given little to do. Put simply, it’s a mess of a screenplay. And Michael Tucker manages to make better sense out of why TFA did a superior job making its characters so instantly intriguing and why it’s the better film overall, nostalgic remixing aside.

That said, I’m well aware of the many Star Wars fans who prefer RO in all of its perplexity and dark subject matter. It takes bold risks that provide a useful precedent for Star Wars films that can expand the lore in meaningful ways, not just for the sake of box office. But what makes RO unique can also be perceived as a limiting drawback, moving on from the childish wonder of this mythology (for better or worse) so that it can properly make a movie for adults. In my opinion, it overcorrected in some ways and somehow regressed in others, probably through its late reshoots.

Yes, I believe TFA is better than RO, and I’d even propose that history will remember it as the better film, as well. But I don’t believe this is what truly matters for fans of Star Wars. The takeaway is that diverse Star Wars films are being developed for differing tastes. While RO was not a film I particularly enjoyed, it is one that satisfied a group of fans yearning for something different and unusual. I don’t believe they were given the best product possible in that regard, but to be perfectly honest, neither was I with TFA.

Which is Better? Story and Plot

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the clear winner. As supported by Michael Tucker’s visual analysis, TFA  has a better structure with far fewer throwaway scenes that don’t advance the plot. Rogue One deserves some credit for its effort to be standalone and for its audacious risks, but it falters far too much when it comes to the narrative of Jyn Erso.

Action

Rogue One wins by a slim margin, here, only because it goes all the way with its willingness to depict new and exciting set pieces (Darth Vader’s infamous hallway scene and the Star Destroyer crash, for example). The Force Awakens also has incredible action sequences, of course, and the final lightsaber fight might have cinched this category if not for the simultaneously forgettable Rogue Squadron battle on Starkiller Base. If Rogue One had missed a step with its space battles, then Poe Dameron would have won this just on his one-shot alone.

Characters

The Force Awakens takes this category by a landslide, despite some interesting ideas set forth through characters like K-2SO and Chirrut. Despite seeing Rogue One more recently, I had to search engine those names, which probably speaks volumes.

Villains

The Force Awakens also wins this one for a few significant reasons. Yes, Darth Vader gets one great 30 second scene, but it’s countered by a frankly awful scene between him and another character (complete with a Force dad joke), as well as some shoddy CGI for Tarkin and a wildly complacent Krennic who gets almost zero payoff. Kylo Ren is ultimately the fresher and more compelling villain, balanced well with Snoke and Hux for good measure.

Score

This one’s a tie. The Force Awakens is mostly ho-hum save for Rey’s Theme and the Jedi Steps, but it’s about the same for Rogue One. Neither soundtrack truly stands out with their own Imperial March or Duel of the Fates.

Design (Cinematography, Special Effects, Production Design)

Another tie. Both movies had huge tasks ahead of them. Rogue One had to recapture an established aesthetic with the same amount of detail, while also dabbling in its own inventive ideas. It succeeded on all counts. The Force Awakens, by comparison, contributed a fresher take that reasonably jumped forward in time while also setting the standard for practical effects in a new era of Star Wars films. Neither film quite cracked the uncanny valley (Maz, Tarkin, Rathtars, Leia, etc.), but they made comparable strides.

Conclusion

The only category where Rogue One truly shines is in its action, and even then, it’s by a slim margin. Everything else it accomplishes is either in step with The Force Awakens or a bit worse, especially when it comes to its writing. This is why I firmly believe the subject matter is what truly counts for fans who differ on which film is “better.” For fans of darker material, it’s no contest, while others who prefer the campy mythology and operatic lightsaber battles will undoubtedly point to TFA as the better film.


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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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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Isn’t Really A Remake Of A New Hope

force awakens

Every so often, a fan theory comes along to remind us how good fan theories can actually be when the work and time is put into them. Less than a year ago, EC Henry composed what I believe to be a masterful breakdown of The Force Awakens that (dare I say it) makes the movie just a little bit better.

Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a remake of the original Star Wars (A New Hope)? I’ve always considered the movie to borrow voraciously from that original film, while also lifting plenty from the other two parts of the trilogy. But many reviewers like myself have talked ourselves breathless about how TFA features yet another “droid on the run” story with Death Stars, cantinas, and a modest chosen one.

But in EC Henry’s video essay below, the case is made that TFA is really a “creative remix” of the original trilogy, and there’s a strikingly good reason for this that might shed light on the future of the entire franchise. I’ll unpack the theory below (with some of my own observations), but here’s the quick 3-minute breakdown.

As EC Henry points out, nearly all of the similarities between TFA and A New Hope occur in the first act of both movies. BB-8’s story is parallel to R2D2’s, and we’re on a barren planet that slowly reveals our hero, Rey, who is reminiscent of Luke in some ways.

The Millennium Falcon departing Jakku, followed by meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, is where the first act in TFA ends (roughly), which mirrors the end of the first act in A New Hope, when Luke meets Han and departs Tatooine aboard the same ship. Henry also implies that Greedo and Han’s antagonism is mirrored with Han’s confrontation with the mercenaries aboard the freighter.

At this point, TFA’s second act starts to mirror the second half of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a monster-in-space encounter (Rathtars in place of the asteroid worm) followed by Han deciding to visit an old friend (Maz Kanata as a fill-in for Lando Calrissian). We also see Kylo contacting Snoke in the same way Vader contacts Palpatine.

To save for time, TFA converges the Luke/Dagobah subplot with the Cloud City subplot. Rey goes to a mysterious planet and learns more about her origins and destiny with Maz pulling double duty as a fill-in for Yoda. And just like in Empire, the villains show up to wreck things. Rey is defeated by Kylo Ren (a la Luke and Vader’s first fight) and is captured, similar to how Han is taken away by Boba Fett.

force awakens

From here, TFA mirrors the third act of Return of the Jedi. The Rebels/Resistance meet to discuss their rescue plan and discover “another Deathstar.” The story breaks in two with ground forces on Starkiller Base trying to break down the shields and Rogue Squadron attacking from space, just as the Battle of Endor had two fronts. There’s an epic lightsaber battle happening as the space assault reaches its climax, with the Jedi using fury to overwhelm the Sith (Rey slicing Kylo is quite similar to Luke taking down Vader).

As Henry also points out, there are exceptions to this where small elements of the original trilogy are mirrored throughout (the catwalk scene, for example), but there certainly seems to be a primary structure in place that combines all of the movies in a coherent way. But what’s the point? Why would Lucasfilm do a creative remix like this at all?

The expectations for TFA were always going to be astronomically high, so the strategy here makes some sense. Add all of the nostalgic fan service to TFA as a tribute in order to gain credibility for this new trilogy, so the next two movies can unfold in more creatively bold ways that aren’t enslaved to the source material. Put more simply: they started with a look at the past and ended with a strong look toward the future.

And in one strange way, TFA is basically the movie George Lucas intended to make in the 1970s. Rather than a trilogy, he envisioned the entire arc of Star Wars to be told in a single movie. TFA essentially fulfills that vision and authorial intent, so as someone who had a lot of problems with the film, I’m finding myself appreciating it more for what it manages to accomplish in light of what couldn’t have been done 40 years ago.

Did I miss anything? Add some of your own observations below. And if you like this essay, be sure to subscribe to EC Henry’s channel, and consider supporting him on Patreon for more great videos.


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

rey

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.

rey

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.

rey

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.

rey

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.

rey

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.

rey

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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Snarcasm: Let’s Complain about the ‘Rogue One’ Teaser Tailer

rogue one teaser

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read

The first teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dropped today, and I’ll be painfully honest. I fell in love almost immediately. So for obvious reasons, I have a lot of thoughts (some positive and some negative) that I’ll get into on a later date. For now, I’ll just say that I’m less worried about the prospects of getting a new Star Wars movie every year.

Before we get to the point of this Snarcasm, let’s watch (or rewatch) the Rogue One teaser and get back up to hyperspeed:

Normally on this column, I take on writers who write silly things on the Internet. This week, I’m turning my attention to the many “fans” out there trying their darnedest to complain about the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story teaser for the impossibly worst reasons.

There are too many to count, so hopefully I cover the basics that you’re bound to see over the next year. Let’s begin with Rob’s clear understanding of the box office.

Rob: This movie and all others made after Episode III should be called “Girl Power.” Disney, you are trying to sell more tickets to women. Don’t expect men to go see it.

Oh, the horror. Disney is making movies that don’t specifically cater to one gender anymore. What will they think of next in their ongoing conquest to hurt your feelings?

Except, wow, men sure showed up for The Force Awakens, didn’t they? You know, the movie with the highest domestic box office of all time, which happens to have a female protagonist?

Good thing Disney listens to the wise words of “Rob,” so now their sequel to Frozen will star two male characters both voiced by Ashton Kutcher.

James: I have to admit it’s a good first trailer but I have to join a few commenters discussing the reliance upon another female protagonist in the next movie. I LOVE Felicity Jones. Truly I do. And, I understand that they want to embrace females and ethnicities, but overcompensating and putting two films in a row, then having the next Star Wars also be….well…Rey. It just seems a little much. But, once again, the first trailer does deliver and spectacle and story.

Well, hey, at least he admits that it’s a good first trailer, right? That’s sure to soften the rest of this backwards comment. And toward the end, he even says that the trailer delivers (takes out glitter) spectacle! And story! Whatever that means!

I find it weird (and chuckle-inducing) that the complaint is having a “reliance” on a female protagonist. You know, because so many movies “rely” on this, since we live in a world where females get properly represented in sci-fi blockbusters, except when they hardly ever. Two in a row is just madness.

That said, I doubt James would dare say that the previous six Star Wars movies were a little “much” for having six male leads in a row.

Alphado: I don’t like that they’re making all the central protagonists female. Rey is the central protagonist of the new trilogy and the whole trailer of Rogue One revolves around another female character without a male protagonist in sight (only male antagonists). If they truly want to balance gender roles then have both female and male protagonists.

For them to truly “balance” gender roles, every movie coming out has to have only one female protagonist for at least 100 more years. I’m not sure that’s what you really want.

As for Rogue One, were you not paying attention to the male characters prancing around the screen with Jyn Erso at every turn? In fact, she and Mon Mothma are the only two women who even speak in this trailer. Counting the obvious protagonists (not extras), there were 5 males and 2 women. 

Someone call Anakin Skywalker so we can finally have balance.

Greg: Very strong trailer. My only issue is that this is twice in a row now we’re getting a Disney film where the primary cast is mostly or entirely “diversity based”, with white characters relegated to the background. C’mon, Disney…caucasian is an ethnicity too!

…Is this real life?

Twice in a row? You mean Force Awakens, where a white female was the main character? That wasn’t caucasian enough for you? A white male playing the main villain, Kylo Ren, wasn’t caucasian enough? General Hux, played by Domnall Gleeson? Harrison Ford as Han Solo? These guys were in the background?

Oh…yes, because there were like two or other three other characters who weren’t caucasian, so that certainly means Star Wars is oppressing caucasians by mixing the cast up. Good thing the star of Rogue One is caucasian, or else Greg would just get lost.

Brian: Doesn’t look like Star Wars let’s be honest

If only the trailer had stormtroopers, a story centered around the rebellion, ships and weapons straight out of the original trilogy, and imagination-stretching character designs.

Daniel: Poorly repackaged garbage. Nifty how they have an Imperial in a white uniform. Christ people have no idea the poorly recycled crap they are being sold.

Wait, I’m losing track of what we should complain about. So it’s too much like Star Wars now?

Eric: More like Hunger Games in space.

Wait, Hunger Games? I don’t think—

Steven: Except Hunger Games doesn’t have AT-ATs

What? How in the world—

Chris: Hunger games, the divergent movies, and now star wars. A strong independent woman who needs no man. Looks like star wars will just now be attracting teens

I really don’t think you understand how—

katarn11: THE HUNGER GAMES: STAR WARS EDITION!

Uh—

Yehezekiel: The Hunger Games: Space Edition

I hardly think that’s—

Ghost: stupid stupid stupid. Is this the hunger games Star Wars edition?

ENOUGH.

Guys and gals (but mostly guys if you can believe it), Hunger Games is hardly the first franchise to pit female characters against oppressive regimes. And to blithely complain about Rogue One having surface-level similarities to this franchise is pointless after you dig at least an inch.

First of all, this “Jyn Erso” character (who we all know is a fill in for Jan Ors), is nothing like Katniss, just based on this very short glimpse we’ve been given of her character.

From what we can tell, she’s an adult rebel of action, whereas Katniss was a reactionary teenager who sort of stumbled around in opposition. Jyn Erso has a clear goal and mission, while Katniss Everdeen is forced to kill other teenagers. Jyn Erso is rebellious to the rebels, while Katniss just sort of whined about Peeta during the majority of Mockingjay.

Yes, it’s too early to make assumptions about “who” Jyn Erso is based on this one teaser, but that goes double for these bizarre Hunger Games comparisons. We’re even teased with a possibility that Jyn will become evil in the end. The only thing we wondered about Katniss was whether or not she was going to kill a cat.

StormtrooperP: So I guess Star Wars is just all about women now?

It never wasn’t. These movies have always had central female characters, like Princess Leia and Padme. For once, though, there’s actually a believable ratio. 

Derbi50: Yay. More girl power crap in Star Wars, because it was super low on that. It’s just ungrateful disrespectful crap. 99.9% percent of military casualties in the 20th century were men. It’s like making a movie about men giving birth or stealing all of their wives stuff in a divorce.

I’m not even sure what to do with this comment. Maybe he’ll chill out once he gets his GED.

ShutupLieberman: Looks like a Divergent movie.

I don’t think you’ve ever seen a Divergent movie.

Adoscafeten: I’m surprised noone’s commenting on how the aesthetic looks like a tv-movie.

I’m surprised you’re surprised by this. You know, since it doesn’t look like a tv-movie at all.

I loved it up until the “subtitle” was presented: “A Star Wars story”? Why is it necessary to include that? It detracts from the intrigue of a supposedly “new” story by reminding the viewer that the Star Wars franchise, while beloved, is a highly commercialized entity. It broke the spell for me!

I actually understand this frustration, but this inclusion of Star Wars in the branding is unfortunately essential. It could mean the difference between this film making millions and millions of dollars less than it could, simply because people won’t realize it’s based on a franchise they already like.

Mstrymxer: WTF. Why is everyone british?

Because Star Wars has had British accents in its movies since 1977?

Star Wars: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay?

STOP.

Bluehawk52: Jyn = Rey. Visage. Age. British. Same. Unoriginal. Take the blinders off, put down the Kool-Aid, and think for yourself, people. Star Wars is dying. Send these Disney clowns a message and don’t support this trash.

If I put down my Kool-Aid, does that mean I have to take a sip of your Bud Ice?

Look, I hardly think Star Wars is anywhere close to dying, mostly because I pay attention to things and use my brain to form opinions. Seeing The Force Awakens become the third highest-grossing movie of all time helped me form that opinion, for example.

So calling Rogue One unoriginal because its protagonist is similar to a different set of movies in this franchise is like saying Captain America: The Winter Soldier sucks because Chris Evans is a white guy like Robert Downey Jr.

And as for unoriginality, I think if you actually rewind the trailer and take your own blinders off, you’ll see a load of things teased that have never even been touched by these movies. Not least of all a samurai fighting stormtroopers.

thezim: It should be called PC WARS: THE FAKE EQUALITY SAGA

Alright, I’m done. Wake me up when the 15-year-olds are done with study hall.


Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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