A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote a blog called Women in Storytelling – Star Wars: The Force Awakens because I was thrilled by Rey in the Star Wars reboot.
[Warning the rest of this blog contains loads of Starwalker Saga spoilers.]
Rey held her own and she had the Force. Though of course, this is the movie industry so she couldn’t have too much air time, as films with predominantly women in them struggle to get funding and male actors don’t like to be cast in supporting roles. They all want to be the hero!
Gender politics aside, Rey personified a new age, a new hope and in this brave new universe, the promise seemed to be that meritocracy reigned. Anyone could tap into the Force, you didn’t have to be a Skywalker, you didn’t have to be royalty. You could be a nobody, living nowhere, scavenging for spare parts. Hell, you could even be a girl!
And, it all made sense. She was an everywoman shaped by a lonely existence. She had learnt how to fend for herself and she could defend herself. She wasn’t just a scavenger. She was an expert in space ships that she could not only strip down for parts to sell, but she knew what these parts did and what they were worth. She could not only fix but also fly space ships – a self taught woman of STEM! (She didn’t need government funding to get her there either.) When she wasn’t honing these skills, she had spent hours on the sand dunes of Jakku, staring into space. For Jedi training which involves much meditation, it couldn’t be a more perfect way to pass the time whilst waiting for the opportunity to thrive rather than just survive.
So when, either by accident, or was it fate? Rey rescued a droid who was central to the battle of the survival of the Resistance, we got to see that she was a good person. She didn’t swap the droid for food even though she was hungry. She was someone worthy in whom we would readily invest our time and energy as she took us on her journey – her heroine’s journey. And she delivered. She piloted the Millennium Falcon, escaped the Storm Troopers and basically saved everyone’s lives, pausing only to fix the Falcon afterwards. The promise had been partially fulfilled. And then, when she took Luke’s lightsaber to him at the end of Episode VII, well I just couldn’t wait for the next episode.
This everything is possible theme continued right through Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) along with some usual masculine manly man heroic nonsense in it, like Poe not being able to follow orders to retreat, which resulted in a super long battle scene in which Rose’s sister died, but we got to meet fabulous Rose, who was quite clear that she was only there to: Save the things we love, not destroy the things we hate. A new agenda which I could get behind. Poe less so! I didn’t understand that even though up until he was in on everything and could wander up to Commander Leia whenever he had a question, he was just not a team player. The Po from Kung Fu Panda, did it way better – he was a Panda, and learnt kung-fu his own way, and became the Dragon Warrior, and loved being part of a team, and respected everyone else’s skill-set.
However, the Poe from Star Wars, though he was a special one, was kept out of the loop when Vice Admiral Holdo took over. It didn’t quite make sense where she came from either, or why she had to die when Poe was itching to be the hero. I’d have at least offered him the chance to die for the cause.
Meanwhile back at Jedi HQ, Rey tried to get Luke to help her understand place in all of this and give her some training. She even went to the cave under the island for answers in classic Star Wars style but only saw herself. She was hoping to see her parents but she couldn’t, because we were told over and over that she didn’t have any.
Finally, we all realised that Rey didn’t need any training, she just needed someone to be nice to her, Luke couldn’t as he was a bit of a plonka, but that’s consistent as he always was. Thankfully, he pulled it together for the end sequence to demonstrate the power of the Force. Rey did get a sort of friendship from Kylo Ren as they spoke together on the Force phone (the Lego CutScenes do Kylo Ren shirtless brilliantly. I laughed and laughed. Watch it here, starting at: 2:07:28) as he too was badly treated by his mentor Snoke, and Luke before him.
All things were possible in this film, that was the message, you didn’t have to be anyone to feel the Force and to do the right thing. Even at the very, very end of the film, the little boy who wears a resistance ring and has been telling the story of Luke Skywalker which has already passed into legend, goes outside after being told to sweep the yard and he picks up the brush using the Force. In that powerful magical moment, we were set up for the promise of a spectacular final film with Rey being an amazing key player.
Alas, the wheels fell off and we got instead: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
I did read somewhere (I can no longer find it) that it should have been Leia’s film, one of the directors said that they explained to Mark Hamill how Luke had to go and Leia was to have a pivotal part to play. Sadly, Carried Fisher died unexpectedly and so they had to make another film altogether.
What a mess it turned out to be! They should have let Leia die before the film started instead of the CGI travesty they had mouthing platitudes which were totally out of character. But then again, everyone in the final film behaved totally out of character and all character development and managing the emotional resonance of the viewer, and a plot which made sense, was forgotten.
Rey turned into this silly solitary wandering figure who walks off like she was Elsa in Frozen II as everyone kept chasing after her. The Rey from the previous two films would have never put everyone in danger. She had spent too much of her life alone to abandon others along the way.
I don’t understand why Leia trains Rey in the same way as Luke was trained by Yoda, except as a nod to previous films. Surely, Leia, with her Jedi expertise demonstrated by survival powers which some call Mary Poppins-ish would have done training differently, as she lived her life very differently to Luke, who let’s face it was a bit of a loser and gave up, whereas Leia never gave up and saved herself on numerous occasions. Her training would have be very different and more like Rose’s saving the things we love.
The worst character gone bonkers though, was when General Knox turned into a mole – which made absolutely no sense. He was the one thought up how to track them through lightspeed in the first place. Why didn’t he just kill Kylo Ren? He would have had plenty of opportunity. It was the most out of character thing and then he doesn’t even try to escape after killing a load of Storm Troopers instead he lies and gets killed by General Pryde. He was literally thrown under the bus for the sake of a very clunky plot.
Least Knox got a part, poor Rose barely got a look-in in the final film. What happened to her? She was all but written out. The same could be said about Maz Kanata, a fascinating character, who never got seen again. Rather like the romance between Rose and Finn, and the friendship between Rey and Finn, as Rey wandered off into the unknown along with the film’s promise.
The only person who had any development was Kylo Ren, good for him, as he became Ben Solo once more. Rey had almost killed him earlier when he got distracted by his mum Leia dying, but then brought him back to life without losing any of her life force.
And, the reason Rey and Ben Solo were fighting in the first place was because it turns out that the Force is not a meritocracy after all. Rey was not a nobody. She was a princess, a nepo baby. Her Grandad was the resurrected Palpatine from whom she got her Force powers and the electricity ones which appeared in IX to fry Chewbacca’s ship – though the Rey from previous films wouldn’t have lost control like that. She cared too much about other people.
Palaptine, instead of dying several movies ago had been lurking in a dank basement to give Ben Solo and Rey a common enemy to fight against rather than figuring out the complexities of their relationship and Ben Solo’s actions, and place, once the battle had been won.
I just imagine the writers rubbing their hands together once they decided Ben and Rey were a Force Dyad to sort the plot out, but then in that case, why did Rey bring Ben back to life without a murmur? After she defeated Palpatine using the full force of the Jedi, Ben had to give Rey his whole life to bring her back? None of it made any sense whatsoever. Especially not their big snog as he was dying. But die he had to, otherwise we may have gotten into a whole minefield of emotions and that would never do. That would have just gotten in the way of big action manly man fighting scenes and the medal ceremony at the end. They were so busy putting in all the bits from previous films they didn’t take care of this one.
At the very, very end, royal Rey, instead of digging deeper into her memories to find out who she was, when asked what her name was, couldn’t even honour the parents who gave up their lives to protect her. She called herself Skywalker instead. This was not our Rey at all.
This film which had the potential to be so good, ended up so disappointing. Not only is it a bad film, but it also epitomes the lip service this society pays to equity and equality but does nothing to create a climate in which real change could occur.
I seriously hope there’s another reboot with Melissa McCarthy in it!
Thank you, Jasmine Stalker-Firth, for the many fabulous conversations about the Skywalker Saga. You have the best insights and ideas.