HomeMoviesThe Force Awakens - Why It's Not As Good as You Think

The Force Awakens – Why It’s Not As Good as You Think


I’ve been harsh on Finn here, though not without reason. Still, of our two main characters, Finn is probably the better of them: his establishment is rather effective, even if it all gets thrown away, and you can chart something like an arc for him throughout the movie, as poorly realized and at odds with itself as it may be. This is more than can be said for Rey. Unlike Finn, Rey isn’t merely confusing, she’s an enigma. Her motivations and desires are almost entirely opaque to us for most of the movie, and by the time we finally learn them in an incoherent mess of sequel hinting, they’re not really relevant anymore. It’s difficult to follow Finn’s arc due to its conflicting signals, but it’s impossible to follow Rey’s because it has no signals at all, and that makes it almost impossible to care about her.

What do I mean by this, though? Let’s compare Luke’s first few scenes with Rey’s first few scenes to get to the heart of my complaint. The first time we see Luke, he’s helping his uncle on their moisture farm. Luke chafes against the drudgery and isolation of their work and longs for something bigger. He complains that Tatooine is the furthest planet from “the bright center of the galaxy” and begs his uncle to let him enroll in the academy. And when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi and hears that the father he never knew was an ace pilot and Jedi knight, he’s inspired to follow in his footsteps. This is all pretty simple stuff, but it paints a clear picture of who Luke is. He’s a guy who feels trapped by the doldrums of life as a moisture farmer, impatient to go off on his own and who wants to live up to the ideal of his father that Obi-Wan gave him. And every decision he makes from this point forward follows logically from this portrait of his character. This is what is meant by character psychology: that there is a consistent set of beliefs, desires, and flaws driving a character that explain their actions. This is one of those basic story things that A New Hope excels at, and Luke is just one of many examples.


In contrast, let’s look at Rey’s introduction. She’s scraping out a harsh existence as a scavenger on Jakku. She’s gruff but not unkind to BB-8. She won’t sell BB-8 for…some reason (kindness? Mistrust? A misguided attempt to have a “save the cat” moment without any justification? It’s very unclear). She’s tough and can take care of herself. And she’s very resourceful and good with machines. This is all pretty good texture for a character, the stuff you put on top of a solid core to make them seem more real and fleshed out. But what is the core of Rey’s character? What drives her and motivates her? The movie doesn’t really tell us. For these first few scenes, Rey is purely reactive: she reacts to BB-8, she reacts to the goons that trader sends after her, she reacts to the First Order attack, she reacts to meeting Han Solo, she reacts to those gangs attacking the ship. Doing nothing but running away from threats leaves little room for establishing any psychology, and the movie doesn’t even try with Rey. The only crumb we’re really given is that Rey wants to go back to Jakku, but the movie doesn’t explain why she feels that way, preferring to leave that in mystery. And without any sense of why she wants to do something so contradictory, we can’t figure out how we feel about that.

Preferring to leave things in mystery is a huge problem in The Force Awakens. In what I can only surmise is an attempt to recapture the magic of Vader’s famous reveal at the end of Empire Strikes Back, it constantly withholds key information from us so that it can later dramatically reveal it. But in none of these cases is this actually the most effective way to convey this information. In fact, much of it is crucial to understanding the characters, and the story suffers quite significantly from the decision not to tell it to us. And no one suffers more than Rey. It’s not until two-thirds of the way into the movie that we learn Rey was abandoned on Jakku and she’s been waiting for her family to come back. This information is absolutely critical to understanding who Rey is, and we don’t learn it until the movie is almost over! It informs every decision she makes and colors her perception of everything around her (I’ll touch on this more in a bit, but her worship of Han makes no sense at all until we know how desperately she wants some kind of family figure in her life, but we don’t know that until after every single scene where they interact is already over!). What’s worse, that hot mess of a flashback scene hints at further mysteries about Rey that it doesn’t even bother to explain, instead leaving them as sequel hooks. This is so totally contrary to what the movie needs that it’s baffling.

In an age of cinematic universes, this is not an uncommon problem. And certainly it is not inherently bad to leave mysteries or potential avenues for sequels in your movie (I was right there cheering at Thanos in the Avengers post-credits scene. No other post-credits has come close to that high). The problem is when you have mysteries about characters that impede our understanding of them. Take the famous Vader reveal, for example. That was a huge shift in what we thought we knew that laid a ton of ground for the conclusion to the trilogy, but, and this is crucial, it didn’t change our understanding of Luke before that point, it only informed how he changed after that point. Before that scene, we had a complete understanding of Luke as a character. Finding out Vader is his father radically altered his backstory and what he understood about himself, but it didn’t change anything about how he got to that point. Even with Vader himself, though the reveal does change everything about our understanding of him, there existed an alternate interpretation (that of an Imperial strongman who wants to convert Luke to their side because he’s powerful) that we had no reason to doubt. Meanwhile with Rey, we have no idea how she got to where she is or how that might have affected her, and we have no real sense of who she is without that. This information might illuminate that, but we’re not allowed to know it yet. Or it might end up being like Luke, where the only direct consequence was she was left on Jakku so we already know everything we need to about how it affected her. But even in that case, the decision to hint at and then withhold backstory on a character we already know so little about is bizarre. It doesn’t help the movie in any way, it only highlights how thin our understanding of Rey is.

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Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.


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