Force Awakens spoilers. Duh. Just go watch it.
I grew up after the original trilogy and before the prequels were released. But I had good parents that made sure I was exposed to episodes IV, V, and VI at a young age and, in turn, educated my younger brother several years later.
Skipping ahead, I was nervously awaiting zipping out of work on December 17th, 2015 to go to one of the first Force Awakens screenings when one of my co-workers, recognizing a flash of terror crossing my face, tried to calm my nerves. “Just remember,” she said, “there’s no such thing as a perfect movie.” And I recognize that this statement is 100% accurate. The rational part of my brain totally gets that.
But 9-year-old me who just saw Star Wars for the first time doesn’t understand that. 9-year-old me who just saw Star Wars for the first time just saw a perfect movie. Star Wars was not the movie that made me realize I wanted to make movies exactly, but it’s the one that made me want to make movies. Read that sentence a few times and hopefully you’ll get the difference. I didn’t realize it yet, but that’s what I wanted. Because I didn’t want to make a Star Wars movie after I saw it, I wanted to exist and play in that universe.
And one of the important decisions you have to make at that age is what character you are. I think the idea is that all the little girls are meant to want to be Leia, and the boys are meant to want to be Han. I wanted to be…well, I wanted to be R2 and I know I’m not alone in that, but droids aside…I wanted to be Luke. And yes, Luke tends to whine. He can be an annoying teenage brat. I’ve heard all the arguments and I even agree with some of them, but that was the character I wanted to be. I know I wasn’t the only child that gravitated to Luke, but a lot of the time he gets dismissed. But here’s why you should want to be Luke: the lightsaber and the force. You have the neatest weapon in any film and can move shit with your mind!
At the time, your choice of Jedi were Luke and Obi-Wan. Both supercool, both men. And the the prequels didn’t help much. If you were looking for it (which I was) you might catch a glimpse of a feminine alien wielding a lightsaber. So yes, there were a small number of female Jedi, but they were never featured. I didn’t care. I’d be Luke. If I’d been born a boy that would have been my name. It’s fine, guys, it’s fine. At a certain point you start to make up your own characters anyway.
Then the Force Awakens happened.
9-year-old me was thrilled.
Rey is Force-girl and she lightsaber fights and she mind controls a Stormtrooper and she flies the Millennium Falcon and SHE’S THE MAIN CHARACTER.
Rey was the female Jedi that I had waited for my entire life. It was worth the wait.
Well, okay, no, it wasn’t, and this should have happened a long time ago, but she’s just about the best character she can be. Her parentage is a mystery, but she isn’t. We know a lot about her immediately. She’s complicated and flawed, sometimes standoffish or obstinate or even cowardly, but extremely capable and competent. If she’s unconscious and being carried off by the villain, she’s gonna get herself out of the mess, thank you very much. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful when extra help comes along. Her realization that Finn risked, well, everything to try to rescue her was played brilliantly…after discovering Rey could do most of her own rescuing. And she can pilot, but she’s not the smoothest. We’ve got Poe for that.
Bonus points for dressing appropriately for her environment (looking quite a bit like Luke Skywalker).
But the best part is when she has to battle Kylo Ren. Finn, who has Anakin/Luke’s old lightsaber, starts to fight Kylo. This does not go well, and Finn gets knocked out. Then Kylo reaches for the fallen lightsaber and it starts to twitch, meaning he’s trying to retrieve it with the Force, but it’s happening slowly. Suddenly it comes flying out of the snow, boomerangs past Kylo’s head, and is caught by the waiting Rey. It turns on as soon as it hits her hand and every audience I’ve seen this movie with goes nuts. We all saw it coming and we all wanted it so bad. And the fight wasn’t the greatest and it’s odd that Kylo doesn’t do better, considering that he trained under Luke, and Rey only JUST realized she can use the Force a couple of hours ago, but when she slices him across the face, it’s incredibly satisfying. Especially considering that last scene with Han Solo. *Shudder* I’m still in denial. But that Han Solo scene had to happen too.
The Force Awakens is A New Hope. It’s the same story. Which I’m actually kind of okay with. I’m in the minority, I know, but I like episode IV best, and I thought it was cool to see a re-imagining that wasn’t a remake. Since they recycled the story, we start drawing lines between parallel characters. Luke, who will presumably be in the next film quite a bit, barely appears in the Force Awakens. We expect he will train Rey, so there’s your Yoda. Rey, of course, is taking Luke’s place. So what does that make Han? Obi-Wan. Stay with me.
Obi-Wan is the one who is found by, and immediately begins protecting, Luke. Obi-Wan then offers to take Luke to the Rebellion so he can fight the good fight. Luke refuses until his other option is eliminated and he goes with Obi-Wan. Luke then witnesses Obi-Wan’s death at the hands (and lightsaber) of an evil dude who likes to wear a mask, after Obi-Wan laid down arms (remember, he turns his lightsaber off).
That’s exactly Han and Rey, and I knew, as soon as Han confronted Kylo, that it was all over. I’m still scrambling for a way he survived or can come back, but as we, the audience, sat there in stony silence (and a blood-curdling shriek, compliments of one young woman in the audience), we knew the narrative had reached the eventual inevitability of the Obi-Wan death. And Rey reacts similarly to Luke. There’s a moment of “what just happened/did that just happen,” she yells “NO!” (blowing their cover), and everybody starts shootin’ everybody. It’s a bummer. It’s the reason nobody could walk out of the movie 100% elated. And it needed to happen if we wanted our female Jedi.
But because that happened, all the girls who are coming to Star Wars now, get to be Rey. I’m jealous. And Daisy Ridley, who I have yet to mention here by name, does an amazing job playing Rey, and I’m slightly jealous of her too. But she, along with the rest of the cast and crew, deserve all the accolades they’re receiving.
Thank you for Rey. Thank you for giving girls the Force. I mean, we already had it, but now everyone gets to see us use it.
We’re pretty cool like that.