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If The Social Network set new standards for the number of words you can pack into a minute, Star Wars: The Force Awakens might just set new standards for the number of scenes you can pack into a minute.
Pacing so relentless that characters talk to the point and all conversation is minimal set-up to the set-piece action following it. No time to think in a film that requires and demands your attention. Because uncovering the mystery of its heroine is all in the clues. Who is Rey?
It’s almost like the writers set out with the agenda: “Four lines a scene where we can. Six, if necessary. More than eight, it better end with a plot twist.”
To put The Force Awakens in context, it’s important to understand what Star Wars is about.
To put it simply: Fun. The fun of getting in and out of trouble.
There’s a boy, he befriends a pirate, saves a princess and together they fight for freedom of the galaxy. They live in a world infested by robots and assorted creatures – some are good, the others evil.
They always get a bad feeling about something with every adventure. They improvise. But the villain is always smarter than they thought. They lose some but always win in the end. Because Star Wars was never about one hero. It was about how anyone can be a hero.
Star Wars is about good always winning. If not Luke, Han will save the day. If not Han, Leia will. If not Leia, Chewy will. If not Chewy, R2-D2 will. If not R2, there will be divine help from unexpected quarters. Lando Carlrissan. C-3PO. Ewok army. Because The Force is always with them. The Force is the hero. And the man who uses the dark side of it is the villain.
It’s this one-upmanship between the good and the dark side of the Force that makes Star Wars edge of the seat entertainment. After the original Star Wars movie (that later became A New Hope), the sequels decided they needed a more personal conflict – between father and son – a twist that seemed like an after thought because in the first movie Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Vader betrayed and killed his father.
In The Empire Strikes back, Ben Kenobi justifies this with faux philosophy: “So, what I told you was true… from a certain point of view… Luke, you‘re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
Now imagine, you are given the task of reinventing the oldest story told to man and the most popular franchise to reboot. You can’t tamper the basics of the franchise that seemed set-up on an afterthought of a plot twist.
It still had to be about a familiar set of friends fighting familiar evil. Which is why the choices JJ Abrams has made for The Force Awakens are interesting.
After discarding George Lucas’s ideas for the reboot, Abrams decided to do something that would be controversial to nostalgia-seekers (I had a very hard time believing that they could kill off Han Solo – it felt wrong till I saw the movie a second time) but still find itself an echo in the original film with potential relationship conflicts set-up right in the first film. A film full of possibilities that Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow were free to interpret and exploit for their sequels.
Abrams has created three characters with identities they have forged for themselves. An orphan scavenger girl grows up believing she’s just Rey (no surname). A stormtrooper called FN-2187 gets named Finn by a resistance fighter when he decides to cross over to the good side. And the villain has discarded a Jedi name and embraced a darker masked identity.
The Force Awakens is about uncovering these masks. Which is why we see all three of them in masks the first time we see them. Rey has her face covered scavenging for parts, Finn is wearing a storm-trooper helmet and Kylo Ren is wearing a mask that reminds us of Vader.
Kylo Ren has embraced this identity long before the film, Finn makes his choice at the beginning of the film, rids himself of the helmet (and wears a resistance fighter’s jacket instead) and Rey finds her calling only at the end of it. As the wise Maz Kanata tells her: “The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead.”
And there’s Poe, who I suspect will have a lot more to do in the sequels, the guy we meet right at the beginning of the film, the master of the lovable droid BB-8, entrusted with the responsibility with the words, “This will begin to make things right.”
If the original trilogy ended with a son appealing to the good left in his father who has crossed over and succeeding, the new trilogy begins with a father appealing to his son who has crossed over and failing. Basically, the story continues by repeating itself with a different iteration.
While the makers would want us to believe that Rey is a Skywalker and possibly Luke’s daughter because his lightsaber calls out to her, a second viewing of the film convinces me that Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter and Ren’s twin sister. With no father-son confrontation left in the franchise, the only other big dramatic conflict would be brother-fighting-sister. Luke and Leia were twins after all.
It’s not entirely difficult to believe that Leia had twins, Luke had a vision of young Ben turning evil as the Force allows him to and thought it was best for Rey to grow up in Jakku under the watchful eyes of Lor San Tekka (the man who hands Poe the map to reach Luke) till it was time for her to fulfill her destiny of fighting her brother. She wasn’t living a protected life. She was toughened by fending for herself at Jakku without any attachments – the most important thing for a Jedi. That life was her Jedi training. Which is why she is tougher than Ren. She is able to be calm at the mention of the Force (she’s heard stories about it) when he still has temper issues. She has skills she never knew she had.
It’s safe to assume that Leia had no idea about Rey’s existence and maybe Han did. Hint: The Millennium Falcon parked in Jakku. Why does Ren tell Han he is weak and foolish, like his father. What did Han do that seemed weak and foolish? Maybe left own his family to raise another girl (before he left/lost her in Jakku)?
Why does Ren lose his cool when he hears about a girl the first time around? Was he warned about the day?
Han seems to instantly have a connection with Rey. They say the same lines, have the same skills, Ren says she sees Han as the father she never had and that he would have disappointed her. Earlier, the all-knowing Maz who recognizes people through the same eyes shoots Han a look with the piercing question: Who’s the girl?
Abrams cuts the scene before he could answer.
What else has changed? Han now believes in the ways of The Force. Something happened that makes him believe. “It’s true. All of it. The dark side, the Jedi, they’re real.”
Han’s sole purpose of existence in the film is to be a fond memory that will be snatched away right in front of Rey’s eyes. Maybe she had to see her father die in front of her eyes for her to feel anger, fear, aggression and all things a Jedi needs to stay clear of.
With the reboot, the graph is more or less set. Rey will go from being calm to disturbed and provoked by dramatic revelations of her family in Episode 8 and need to conquer this by Episode 9 while Ren will go from a tantrum throwing wannabe villain to a shrewd calculative deadlier than Darth Vader manipulator by Episode 9 after the training in Episode 8. His scarred face will mean that he now needs the mask for real.
Poe will take Han’s place in restoring coolth to the Star Wars universe by being the best pilot in the galaxy. Finn will be the damsel in distress in need of saving without any Jedi or special powers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rey and Poe hit it off with Finn being part of the triangle, especially because Rey calls Finn her friend.
And Rey, the last of the Jedi, is all set to be the heroine this franchise – that started with saving the princess – has long been waiting for.
And with that, JJ Abrams has already begun to make things right.
And, oh Yes, the fun is back. The Force is strong with this one. Very rarely does a film do things even better than the original with the benefit of hindsight, of course. Never mind the contrived MacGuffin of the map to find Luke (maybe it’s just one big inside meta joke – the movie’s just to let the audience find their Luke in Rey), The Force Awakens gives you everything you wanted and more and leaves you with the fun of trying to figure out who the hell its new heroes are.
Rey is A New Hope for Star Wars. Rey for rescue.