Tuesday 22 December 2015

Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens (fourth-pass / SPOILERS)

World of Blackout Film Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (3D) Poster

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (fourth-pass / 3D Superscreen / PLOT SPOILERS!)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. J.J.Abrams / Trailer

Previous reviews:
• First-pass (spoiler-free)
• Second-pass (spoiler-free)
• Third-pass (thematic-spoilers)

Well, hello there. This review contains spoilers. Massive, whacking great spoilers which could pull the ears of a Gundark (sorry). I've marked this at the top of the post, and I'm mentioning it again now, but (again) this paragraph is acting as a buffer, because even if I black-out the spoilers as highlight-to-read (and I can't really do that for an entire post), the text itself will still be pulled into the preview-feed of RSS readers and the like. And since I'm too lazy to learn how to turn that off for individual posts, this chunk of words is what happens.

Although there are spoilers in this post by necessity, most of what follows is rampant speculation (and given that I still haven't caught up on all the lead-in material, a large amount of uninformed opinion as well). Feel free to put me right in the comments, but do be a darling and let me know which books/comics I need to read to fill in that particular gap.

So to begin with, two of the biggest questions fans had going into The Force Awakens were:
1) Who is Kylo Ren? and 2) Who is Rey?
Given that the first one of those is answered almost conversationally in the film, whereas the second one is not, the question of Rey's origin is what I'll be focusing on for this post.

Logic and deduction (and when have they ever helped*1?) would dictate that Rey No-Surname is descended from Anakin Skywalker. Given the theme of the six saga films so far and Rey's role in the seventh, it seems almost too obvious, indeed it's then questionable bearing in mind what else is revealed in SW:TFA. But Star Wars is a story about how destiny intertwines and repeats across generations. So by that logic (see above), Rey is either the child of Luke, or the child of Han-and-Leia.
Any alternative to those would feel contrived under the circumstances.

...and we'll leave aside for now the conundrum that Rey flat-out says that 1) she thought Luke Skywalker was a myth, and 2) Han Solo is a whispered legend, known only by his feats. In short, she shouldn't recognise either of them, yet if the girl in the Rey's Force-vision is Rey as we're led to believe, surely she'd be old enough to remember their faces, never mind know that they actually exist? That's assuming she knew her parent(s) before she was taken to Jakku, of course. Dammit, assumption and logic will be the end of me...]

So now that I've set out my stall and created enough space for those who haven't yet seen the film to have clicked away, let's ask… Who is Rey?

Rey Skywalker

The case for Rey Skywalker

Well of course, she's Luke's daughter. Isn't it obvious..?

• The Force is strong in my family...
Having the central protagonist of The Force Awakens be the daughter of Luke Skywalker is by far the most logical choice for the basis of her character. The saga-films (so far) have followed the Skywalker bloodline from Anakin as an intuitively gifted young boy to Luke as a fully-fledged Jedi Knight. Leia was revealed to be Luke's sister in the Original Trilogy of course, and while she's as much heir to the Skywalker legacy as her brother, is shown to be notably weaker when it comes to matters of The Force (either through lack of training or overall ability). And other than Leia's Yoda-like 'Kashyyyk-moment' in the third act of The Force Awakens, this doesn't seem to have changed much. Given what we (eventually) see of Rey in TFA, she's undoubtedly the daughter of Luke Skywalker.

Working on the assumption that Rey has been hidden for her own protection due to her familial importance and latent Force-connection, who would know better than most that a backwater desert planet is the ideal environment for the child to live by their wits and learn to handle themselves, whilst not giving them many opportunities to get off-world? Rey can't be left with her Aunt Leia as she's fairly high-profile herself (especially given who Rey's being hidden from), and stranding a third Skywalker child on Tatooine really would be pushing the envelope of obvious too far. Given Kylo Ren's penchant for historical lore, Tatooine would be the first place he'd search for his cousin.

• You must feel the Force around you...
As is shown in The Force Awakens, Rey is intuitively strong in the Force in a way which Leia never was, actually learning from Kylo Ren while locked in combat with him, both physical and psychological. Hidden at a suitably young age (and we have to assume that the girl we see in Rey's Force-vision is indeed Rey), a life of thankless toil on a barren rock of a planet should be enough to keep her physically in-shape while not allowing her to become bored enough to experiment with making things float around the room. Because the more she uses the Force, the easier she'll be for the Dark Side to track down. Bear in mind that even Luke was undetectable by Vader until Ben Kenobi taught him to connect with the Force...

• Things you will see, other places. The future… the past…
Beginning The Force Awakens with Rey on Jakkuu also mirrors A New Hope and The Phantom Menace thematically - all the more reason for the bloodline to be a direct continuation of the one which has been central, so far. And as I said in my previous review, repetition of themes is what TFA is all about, like it or not. As mentioned above, Tatooine would be a stretch this time around, as would another sandy-haired urchin giving to pouting when he doesn't get his own way. But there's enough freshness in Rey's take on the hero's journey to give the audience something new whilst having it all feel undeniably like Star Wars. So the son becomes a daughter, Tatooine becomes Jakku, Ben becomes Han and Yoda will become Luke. The faces may change, but the story of good and evil, betrayal and redemption, is cyclical.

• Your thoughts dwell on… your mother...
One of the swiftest counter-arguments I've seen to all this is, of course, 'well, who's Rey's mother then?'. In all honesty, that doesn't matter at this moment. If Luke Skywalker is Rey's father, then her maternal lineage can either be a yet-to-be-told backstory, or a yet-to-be-told discovery. There's clearly a reason that Luke has decided his self-imposed exile should be without his daughter, and Rey's mother could well be at the heart of that. Why the hell else would he abandon her to the hands of Unkar Plutt (assuming that's whose hands we see holding Rey back in her Force-vision)? Given that Anakin's immaculate-conception is fairly unlikely to have been replicated in Skywalker Jr (ouch), the Lucasfilm Story Group will fill in any relevant gaps which the films don't (and probably a few irrelevent gaps, too).

• This weapon is your life*2
In the catacombs of Maz Kanata's castle, Rey is drawn to an artefact of galactic importance - the lightsaber hilt which Luke lost on Bespin, along with his hand. This is the saber originally constructed by Anakin (indeed, Anakin's final saber), which he used to slaughter the younglings in the Jedi temple and fight his brother-in-arms on the shores of Mustafar. This was the saber passed to Luke Skywalker by his mentor, the one wielded in that fateful and emotionally-charged battle in the bowels of Bespin. After a sudden and immersive Force-vision leaves Rey breathless on the stone floor, Maz quietly pads towards the newcomer and begins to talk about the lightsaber: "This lightsaber belonged to Luke, and to his father before him. Now it calls to you…". As weapons go, this one just screams Skywalker history, which is why Rey has the reaction she does. Maz's line infers that she knows Rey is the offspring of Luke, hence her opening (or organising the opening) of the cell-door holding the box, and a fact she'll have had confirmed by her conversational gambit to Solo, "…who's the girl?".

Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One, created by Darth Plagueis as an arcane experiment, but long prophesied to be the one who brings balance to the Force. As Darth Vader, he helped plunge the galaxy into darkness, but Anakin Skywalker brought back that balance when he lifted his own curse and killed Darth Sidious ~ with the help of his offspring. Now that a new threat has risen, it will fall to the Skywalker line to put things right, once more. Luke cannot do this alone, he will need the help of his child.

It is their legacy and their destiny combined: Luke Skywalker and his daughter, Rey...

Rey Organa-Solo

The case for Rey Organa-Solo

Well of course, she's Han and Leia's daughter. Isn't it obvious..?

• Your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them...
Although still use them first, obviously, then decide whether to trust them or not. Rey has dark hair like Leia (and Padmé, and Shmi), rather than blonde like Luke (and Anakin). While that in itself means little, Rey's looks definitely seem descended from the female side of the Skywalker family. Ben (Kylo, remember) also has dark hair, and we know his parentage. but we'll get to him...

• Always two, there are...
The most pliable theory which leaps to mind is that Rey and Ben are twins (notwithstanding the fact that Adam Driver is 32 while Daisy Ridley is 23). Since we know than Ben is Han and Leia's son, it'd be as easy to make Rey part of the same family as it would to make her part of Luke's (who's been a bit busy 1) rebooting the Jedi Order and then 2) running away from responsibility, remember). Now obviously, in real-world biology, someone who's a twin themselves is only slightly more likely to then give birth to twins. But the twins-motif is one which was carried on in the old Expanded Universe too, and while many of the Legends continuity's norms are being robustly contradicted by the Story Group, the new canon can't just apply the opposite of everything which happened before.
Moreover, not only does a twin (or at the outset, a regular sibling) continue the theme from Luke and Leia, it also crystalises the yin-yang nature of the Force and of Anakin Skywalker's personality, exemplified by the two extremes - light and dark - being split into two characters in order to resolve their own and each other's conflict. In this form, Rey and Kylo Ren will be the Luke/Vader of the sequel trilogy, a motif which has already begun in The Force Awakens...

• I see your eyes; I know your eyes...
Once Han Solo has recovered from the surprise/relief of finding the Falcon once again, there's a very gradual build-up of recognition in his dealings with Rey, especially once she's mentioned that she and Finn arrived from Jakku. Over the course of the journey, Han puts two and two together, to the point where he's fairly certain who he's found ('They could use a good pilot', below). Similarly, while he and Leia don't discuss (on-screen, at least) their daughter, by the time Rey arrives at the Resistance base and meets Leia for the first time, Leia has seen/heard/learned enough, and the wordless hug with her daughter speaks louder than any scripted line could.

• That face you make...
As the Millennium Falcon is just about to land on Takodana, Rey looks out of the viewport in wonder exclaiming "I didn't know there was so much green in the whole galaxy!". After spending the rememberable-past on a planet where everything is ochre apart from the sky, and water is the most scarce commodity, she can't believe a world with so much abundant moisture, where life can flourish without the struggle it has on Jakku. The camera then cuts to Han Solo in the pilot's chair who averts his gaze to sever eye-contact with an expression of what can only be described as Excruciating Guilt™. The guilt of a father who's just realised the full weight of an earlier decision. His initial reaction suggests that Solo was complicit in the decision to hide Rey in the deserts of Jakku, but the explanation he appears to be fighting back is that the duration of her stay was never intended to be so long. But with the corrupted Kylo Ren still on the loose, Han knows that now isn't the time to be springing revelations on his excitable young charge.

• They could use a good pilot like you...
Shortly after landing on Takodana, Han gently skirts around offering Rey a permanent place on the crew of the Falcon. In the short time they've been reacquainted, Rey's already shown she has determination, ingenuity and an intuitive understanding of hyperspace mechanics. Much of this comes from Anakin Skywalker's lineage obviously, but these are also the defining traits of Han Solo. He downplays the offer, of course, especially after seeing how enthusiastic Rey is about the idea, but the inference is clear: Now they've run into one another, Han wants his daughter where he can keep an eye on her. If Rey were Luke's daughter, Han would still be inclined to look after her, but with a view to helping her locate her missing father. No, this way Han gets to watch over his child and break the news when the time is right (or even let her figure it out for herself, as she'd no doubt do); but still keeping clear of the First Order and Kylo Ren, and also avoiding unnecessary Resistance entanglements...

• Never told you the truth about your father…*2
When Kylo Ren is interrogating Rey, he pulls the most recent thoughts and images from her mind, particularly those centered around Han Solo (who Ren knows only too well). "He's the father you never had" he taunts. Precisely that, Kylo, precisely that. It's been pointed out by her own brother, and while it was worded in an almost coy way, this is the first step of Kylo Ren's training as he slowly reveals Rey's heritage and legacy.

• Hidden safe, the children must be kept...
As tense as Han and Leia's conversations are when it comes to their errant son, there's still the suggestion of something left unsaid. Perhaps they can't raise it in a room full of people, or it's even just something they regret more than their son's fall to the dark side. Something like putting their own daughter into exile for her safety, in the knowledge that the young girl has no idea who her real parents are or why she's been left on a dustball at the arse-end of the Western reaches of the galaxy. Hey, it worked for Leia, and although fate eventually brought her back in contact with her family, her lack of Force-training ensured that she never became a target for that reason, at least.

Alternatively, assuming Rey's innate Force abilities were the reason she was hidden as a child, her existence as a possible redeemer (and/or restorer of balance) could be the only thread by which Han and Leia can hope to be absolved of their son's behaviour. They believe that the day will come when Rey will discover who she is, but they don't want to push that, so they don't dare talk about it in the meanwhile, even after (presumably) several years apart...

• Settling the score...
Perhaps most pertinently (and the thing which I noticed before I'd even started picking apart all of the above points), when Rey steps down from the Millennium Falcon's boarding ramp at the Resistance base on D'Qar and Leia hugs her, the score moves into Han Solo & The Princess from the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack. If this isn't an audible signpost that Rey is their child, then nothing in this world makes sense. And sure, the cue could just be to indicate that Leia's on-screen, but we've already had Princess Leia's Theme dropped in from Star Wars a couple of times by then. Upon watching the movie again, I also noticed that the Han/Leia theme is also used several times earlier in the movie, in scenes where Rey is present but Han and Leia aren't. It might not be at the level of Qui-Gon's Funeral, but you can always rely on Johnny Williams to spell things out for an audience ;)

So yeah, if it came down to it, I'd probably put money on Rey Organa-Solo. Although I also wouldn't be surprised if it goes the other way (or another way altogtether).
Stranger things have happened in the GFFA; just take a look at Meebur Gascon.

What have I overlooked? What have I misinterpreted?
Let me know in the comments...

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
For the younger cast members, it'll be a high watermark to match later

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does, but only because it sets out to be A Star Wars Film™, nothing more.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, maybe.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Yep. It's camouflaged, but it's there.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens features a brief appearance from Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who also appeared in the Family of Blood episode of Doctor Who alongside series regular, Freema Agyeman, who also starred in the Daleks in Manhattan episode alongside Hugh Quarshie, a longtime stalwart of Holby City, as was Denis Lawson, who took the title-role in the mostly-forgotten 1986 sitcom Kit Curran, a show which also featured Lindsay Duncan, who appeared in BBC's Spooks, as did Richard Armitage, who starred in two episodes of Ultimate Force, a series which featured the very young Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who stars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Come on, don't act like you're not impressed…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And don't say 'the Death Star'. Sorry. Again.

*2 Edit: These points added to this fourth-pass review after noting them later in the fifth-pass.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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