Monday, December 28, 2015

What is Allowed, Some Thoughts on "The Force Awakens"

(This post discusses the plot of "The Force Awakens" in detail)

If you are a girl who loves movies you learn a few things. You learn that you are there to help, not be the hero. Your place is clearly marked, and the consequences for stepping outside it severe. You learn that you do not speak up first. You do not rush for the captain's chair. You do not use your wits to survive. You wait to be saved. You do not ask for anything more. You learn what happens to women who ask for too much, who demand to be first. They are the villains, and they end the story dead or humiliated. There are exceptions, but they are piteously few.

And as you grow and your tastes include a fondness for sci-fi you learn how much you have to imagine yourself into the story. Because often there isn't anyone there who looks like you. You aren't even there to help most of the time. You are there to be saved. You are not the chosen one. You do not have special powers. And if you do you are refiled from character to objective. You are the prize the hero will collect after completing enough plot trials. You certainly will never revel in your abilities.There will be no space given to your trepidation discovering the hidden depths inside yourself. You matter only so much as you can help the hero look good. And there are exceptions to this too, but again they are piteously few.

This is why I had to see "The Force Awakens" for a second time. I had to be sure I had seen what was really on screen. I had to confirm Daisy Ridley's Rey was real. Because Rey speaks up. She speaks up for herself and for the little drioid BB-8 she meets when he's in the process of being stolen. She rushes for the captain's chair of the Millennium Falcon when she and Finn (John Boyega) flee the desert planet Jakku. And it's her very wits that have enabled her to survive for so long alone on a harsh world. Using her smarts to scavenge crashed ships for parts and building up a considerable mechanical acumen in process. She aches for a family that is not coming back for her, We see her struggle to finally let go of the dream of being found and move forward to claim the future in front of her. Rey does help Finn and later Poe (Oscar Isaac) but that is not the only reason she is in this story. Not by a long shot.

She is guided by voices, some she can hear clearly, some she can only sense as suggestions in the back of her mind.  She is destined for important things. And her clear terror at recognizing that is what saves her from Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren is the traditional male hero who hasn't had things go his way and is broken by that and can only respond in turns by tantrums and lashing out in violence. He senses Rey's importance and wants to possess it for himself. It's Rey's willingness to trust her instincts, to listen to the small still voice that lets her escape his clutches.

In the snowy woods of a planet sized weapon she and Finn face off against Ren. Ren knocks out Rey with a wave of his hand and Finn flicks Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) lightsaber to life. Earlier we had seen Rey discover the lightsaber and receive a vision the moment she touched it. But I was still so used to how stories like this usually work that I wasn't surprised to see Finn be the one to wield to it. Rey even starts to regain consciousness to witness the fight between two men. But then Finn is seriously wounded by Ren, the lightsaber knocked away into a nearby snowbank. Ren reaches for it with his Force powers, frowning that it seems to be taking so long to draw the weapon through the air to his waiting grasp. The lightsaber finally pulls loose and flies, right past him and into Rey's outstretched hand.  There is a moment of shock for them both. And then Rey raises her gaze and flicks the lightsaber on. And from that moment I had to remind myself to not forget to breathe.

I watched in dawning wonder and awe as Rey ably defended herself from Ren's killing blows. How she fought him to a standstill and was only stopped from a final reckoning by the destruction of the artificial planet they were standing on. How she got Finn to medical attention back at the Resistance base. And then there was the final scene. The scene where Rey walked to the long missing Luke and simply held out his lightsaber. And the look on Ridley's face made my heart crack into pieces. Her hope, her fear, her need for answers echoing the audience's own as the camera pulled away for the final dissolve into the credits. And as the familiar theme kicked up for the second time the weight of it hit me. I had met the character I'd been waiting nearly three decades to see in a movie like this. I felt universe get bigger as I accepted what I had been shown. This wasn't just going to be the story about how Finn and Poe become great heroes, with Rey helping out and minding her place. This was also going to be the story about how Rey becomes a great and powerful Jedi.

I didn't know how badly I needed to see that story.

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