The new Star Wars is out this weekend, and by the time this post goes live I will hopefully be about to watch it. This is a cause for celebration, so your post is a teensy bit early this week so that I can recover Friday.
I cannot tell you how excited I am. Rian Johnson is one of my favorite directors, albeit little known. If you haven’t seen his other stuff, Brick and The Brothers Bloom are both fascinating movies. When someone shouts in the trailer “this is not going to end the way you think it will,” I believe them. Johnson never fails to have a twist in his movies, and I believe that The Last Jedi will be no exception.
Because the movie is so close to release, I’ve been thinking back on The Force Awakens, and, to a lesser extent, on Rogue One. We’ve had decades to watch and rewatch the previous Star Wars movies, even the terror that is the prequels, and come to our conclusions, to carve out a niche in our hearts for the familiar characters of Luke and Leia and Han. Most of us have never watched a Star Wars movie as a standalone, I would imagine. We’ve always known how the plot goes, always seen Luke not just as the whiny farmboy but also as the powerful Jedi who returns balance to the Force. When we watch A New Hope, we are watching it within the context of both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens has no such advantage.
Now we are finally getting the next installment in this new trilogy, a year later. What happens with The Last Jedi will make or break the previous film, as often happens with trilogies. I have faith in Rian Johnson, and in the creative team that is spearheading this reboot, personally. So today I want to take a moment to reflect on the main characters of each trilogy and their parallels. Luke, Leia, and Han, and Rey, Finn, and Poe. Specifically, at Luke and Rey.
Luke and Rey are the strongest and clearest parallels from each party. Both Luke and Rey are orphans. Luke is raised knowing that his aunt and uncle are not his parents, and that they are both dead. He knows, he thinks, who is parents are – his father, a war hero, his mother, a wife. Leia is more concerned with her mother, and remembers her more clearly, but her adoptive family raised her as their own. Finding out about her is not as much of a concern as supporting her new family. She knows who she is.
Luke doesn’t, exactly. He’s a boy, a kid when we meet him, barely on the cusp of manhood. He has ideas about what to do with his life, but they are just dreams. Any shred of knowledge about his father, who, presumably, would not keep him bound to a farm in the middle of a desert, is something he jumps at. But all that said, he has a good life. He is loved, he is fed, and if he is questing he is not doing so out of desperation. It takes the Empire to unmoor him, though if he had had his way he would have gone off and made something of himself at some point. But his adventures, in his head, are bloodless. Until they’re not.
Rey is a very different character.
Yes, she grows up on a desert planet. Yes, she is an orphan. Yes, she is preternaturally gifted with the Force, just as Luke will be – more so, even. All of those things are true. But that is the end of the similarities between Rey and Luke. Rey does not want to leave Jakku. Like him, she is forced to leave because of the Empire, but she does not want to go. She continues to try to return to Jakku, where her parents might find her. She believes, strongly, that someday she will be found. Rey’s childhood left her when she was less than ten, and she prays every day that it will come find her again.
She lives alone. She does not have enough to eat. She has no family to love her. Luke works hard on the farm, but Rey works harder, and the work she does has no safety net. Scavenging means that her death can come for her at any time, and it will probably wear a familiar face. There is no protection from her competitors. She must rely on herself, on her own fighting skills.
When Luke comes to the Force, his experience is in sharpshooting and mechanics. When Rey comes to the Force, her experience is in self-defense, in infiltration, in survival.
I think that the differences between Rey and Luke tell us a lot about what kind of story we are going to get from this trilogy. Luke’s story was always going to be a hero’s journey, the classic kind, farmboy turned king, or, in this case, wizard. Rey’s story is much more complicated. Perhaps that is why it sits uneasily in the mind. There is no true parallel that we can latch onto. What does a woman whose skills are survival become? An assassin, or a spy, or a courtesan. Not a hero, not in our stories.
Perhaps it’s time for that to change.