Thursday, February 04, 2016

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The answer may surprise you...


"Who are you?"
"No-one of consequence."
"I must know!"
"Get used to disappointment."
          The Princess Bride

The question of Rey's identity hangs over the Force Awakens. The revelation of Darth Vader’s identity at the end of the Empire Strikes Back was a surprise because we didn't know it was coming. We certainly hadn't spent three years developing theories about it. I remember someone proposed it as a possibility in a review of Splinter of the Minds Eye; and Green Cross Man reportedly let the cat out of the bag in an interview. But most of us went into Empire Strikes Back thinking that Vader was the murderer of Skywalker Snr. We only noticed that the word Vader sounder a bit like vater after the event.

Until Christmas 2017 the idea that Rey is Han's daughter and the idea that Rey is Luke's daughter will hang over the Force Awakens as two delicious possibilities. Of course each trilogy should have a Skywalker as the hero: Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Rey Skywalker. But of course Kylo Ren should turn out to be Rey Solo's evil brother. Brother-battle is one of the stages of the Journey of the Hero. Cousin-battle, not so much. The moment when Rey says that Han Solo is just the kind of father she wished she could have had, and Luke says softly "No. I am your father" will be a colossal disappointment because it will abolish the idea that Leia is Rey’s mum. Similarly, the moment when the Supreme Leader says casually to the captive Rey "My apprentice will kill you, just as he killed Han Solo, your father" will be a huge disappointment because it will make the idea of Rey Skywalker evaporate. 

And no-one after 2017 will be able to see the Force Awakens as we saw the Force Awakens because one of things that everybody knows about the Force Awakens will be that the heroine is called Rey Skywalker (or, as it may fall out, Rey Solo), just like one of the things everybody knows about Star Wars is that that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, and one of things that everybody knows about Citizen Kane is that Rosebud is the Statue of Liberty.

I am a big fan of surprises. I would much rather you went to see Citizen Kane not knowing who Rosebud is. (I got to within 30 seconds of the end of the movie thinking we weren't going to find out.) But honestly, Rosebud isn't the main or only important thing about Kane. And in fact, if I told you now that Rosebud is ******, that wouldn't tell you one thing about the movie. It would simply make you think "How can it possibly be important that Rosebud is ******? (Although when you do eventually see the movie, a particular thing in a particular scene, which doesn't seem very important at the time, would leap out at you.)

But the surprise is rather pleasurable. I remember enjoying it. Almost as much as the first time I realized why it mattered that the dog hadn't barked.

People say "any film which can be spoiled by giving away the ending can't be a good film". But you might as well say "any film which can be spoiled by editing out the sexy bits can't be a good film" or "any film which can be spoiled by dubbing the dialogue into Aramaic can't be a good film" or "any film which can be spoiled by removing the incidental music can't be a good film." Films are about making you feel particular emotions. Surprise is an emotion. Change a surprising bit into an unsurprising bit, and you've changed the emotions I fell when I watch the film. Suspense, surprise, sexy bits, gross bits, embarrassing bits, bits where everything is very quiet and peaceful except for a very subtle musical beat and then SPLASH the shark bursts out of the chest of someone you didn't realize was an android are components of the overall impact of the movie. 

If you are less than 72 years old, you basically didn't feel what Hitchcock wanted you to feel when you first saw Psycho.

I remember, in 1980, my local cinema actually painted the words "please…don't reveal the ending" over a poster for the Empire Strikes Back—which, in itself, changed the film, by telling you in advance that the ending was going to be a surprise. In fact, the ending had been revealed months in advance, in novels and script books and comics. A radio presenter whose name is not worthy to be carved here, referred to Carrie Fisher "and her on screen brother Mark Hamill" way before Return of the Jedi had gone on general release, with no apparent sense that he was doing anything naughty.

"A good story" is arguably what happens when the audience knows things that the characters don't know; and the characters know things the audience doesn't know; and the writer or director knows things that neither of them know.

A little girl sneaks into an old house to retrieve her ball: the story teller and the audience know that there’s a psychopathic serial killer who eats little girls waiting there for her. But the little girl does not know. Result: agonizing suspense.

A little girl sneaks into an old house to retrieve her ball: neither she nor the audience realize that there is a serial killer in there, and the music is telling us that every thing's fine. Result: popcorn spilling shock when the murderer jumps out from the cupboard.

Since "suspense" or "shock" is what the director wanted you to feel, anyone who says "It's a great film, particularly the bit where the serial killer jumps out of the cupboard" has decided that he knows better than the director what the experience of watching the great film should be.

Or he just likes ruining people's fun. 

When we first saw Empire Strikes Back, we didn't know that Vader was Luke's father and neither did Luke. We felt a genuine shock when Vader revealed the truth; that stomach-turns-over falling-down-a-deep-hole shock that only the best stories can give you. (Yes, I felt it when the workman started chucking Charles Foster Kane's garbage into the furnace, as well.) We spend the last ten minutes of the film deliciously participating in Luke’s shock, confusion and desolation. But anyone who goes to see Empire Strikes Back for the first time today already knows that Anakin Skywalker took the name Darth Vader and had twin children who were hidden from him at birth. Luke is the only one who doesn't know. We watch Luke finally learning something we knew two movies ago. We watch Luke's reaction, but do not share it. And that, quite simply, is a different movie.  

We would all like to experience that thrill again for the first time. And I think that is why J.J Abrams has been almost fetishistic about not revealing any aspect of the plot of the Force Awakens in advance—and keeping a lot of important stuff secret within the actual film. I am pretty sure that the main reason Finn gets to wield a lightsaber is so that a lightsaber-wielding Finn could be shown in the trailers and on the posters. To trick us into thinking that Finn is the Jedi, Finn is the Luke-analogue, Finn is the hero. So that we will be surprised when Rey is the one Luke's lightsaber calls to...

There was a small amount of fuss because a Star Wars themed Monopoly set did not include a Rey figurine. The manufacturers claimed that when they were planning the merchandising, they weren't allowed to know what Rey's role in the film was. This explanation seems entirely convincing, unfortunately.

When Rey returns to the Resistance base after the Bad Thing has happened, Leia embraces her. Not Chewie; not Poe; Rey. Rey the scavenger who Leia only met a few hours ago. On one side of the airfield are Leia and Rey, comforting each other. On the other side is everyone else. The Bad Thing primarily affects Leia and Rey.

Of course Rey is Leia's daughter. Why are we even talking about this?

Rey instantly knows what she's doing when put in charge of the Millennium Falcon. Being a pilot isn't inherited, but some of the things which make a good pilot are, and Han is a great pilot. He offers her a job within fifteen minutes of meeting her; and there are several amusing scenes where Rey and Han say the exact same thing at the exact same moment.

Oh, you say: she could have inherited that from Luke, who was pretty good in a fight; or indeed from Anakin, who was the best star pilot in the galaxy. She could. But when everyone meets up on Starkiller base, Chewbacca says that it was Finn's idea to rescue Rey and she understands him. She understands Chewbacca. Neither Han or Chewie are remotely surprise by this.

Of course Rey is Han's daughter. Why are we even talking about this?

Luke Skywalker can’t be married. I know you are still sore about Jar-Jar Binks. I know that the midi-chlorians were a terrible misjudgement. But this is Episode VII. Not Episode I rebooted, or Star-Wars-4-let's-pretend-the-ones-in-between-didn't-happen-like-with-Superman-Returns. Episode VII is the continuation of the story that started 66 years ago with a tax dispute. The prequels are gently references several times in the Force Awakens: the Jedi Temple, the Sith; the possibility that the First Order might have used clone troopers.

Luke Skywalker can't be married. No: I don't know how the Force manages to run in families if the Jedi aren't in the habit of producing little Jedi; but the canon makes it very clear that Jedi neither marry nor are given in marriage. The whole tragedy was set in motion by Anakin breaking the laws of the Jedi order and marrying Padme Amidala.

Luke Skywalker can't be married. And even if he were, don't you think his wife would be hinted at somewhere in the story? Why is it Rey, rather than Mrs Luke, who is sent to take the lightsaber to Craggy Island?

Rey can't be Luke's daughter. Why are we even talking about this?

Of course we are building towards a mighty battle between Rey and Kylo Ren. Of course this is going to be a battle between a brother and sister. A famous mythological battle between cousins is barely worth thinking about.

So why is Rey hiding on Jaku, if her parents are alive, albeit separated? Time frames are a bit hard to work out: Kylo seems to be about 30 and Rey about 20. Luke has been gone a very long time; long enough for the First Order to develop a fleet, uniforms and an infrastructure; long enough for people to think he's a myth. Long enough for Han to have become well-known as a smuggler and a pirate again. A decade, at least. Leia is treated very much as Han's "ex"; they aren't a couple who've been apart for a few months. Probably, when Kylo Ren slaughtered the students at Luke’s Jedi school, he was around 20 – hardly any younger – meaning that Rey would have been only ten.

The question "where does Rey's skill in the Force and lightsaber fighting come from since she has no training" is best flipped around: "Since Rey is skilled with the Force and lightsaber fighting, she must logically have had some training." Jedi start training very young, so by the time she was ten years old, Rey could easily have been taught the basic lightsaber moves and how to exert mental influence over the weak-minded. But who was her teacher? If she was trained by Luke, then why does she think he is mythical? Of course this is science fiction, sort of, and in science fiction people can have their memory's wiped. But memory-wipes are a very unsatisfactory plot device.

The first words spoken in the movie are by Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow, no less) "This will help to make things right". We don’t know who he is: but he knows Leia ; knew Kylo Ren when he was still known as Ben Solo; and has the secret map containing Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts.


"Before it was clear that Ben Solo would turn to the Dark Side,  Luke requested that his niece Rey also be sent to learn the ways of the Force. Leia and Han quarreled over this: Han felt it was their duty to let her be trained, but Leia wanted to raise her own daughter. And old retainer named Tekka was charged with taking the young child to the Jedi school. But when Ben Solo became Kylo Renn, Luke warned them away, telling Tekka to hide the child, but gave him a map so that she could come to him when the time was right. Han and Leia believe that Rey was killed by her brother; Tekka has allowed them to continue to believe this because this keeps her safer from Kylo Ren. He has watched the child on Jakuu ever since, and taught her what he knows of the Force, but refused to answer questions about her Uncle or the Jedi, allowing her to believe that they are myths."

Abrams likes to foreshadow his big revelations. There have been references to Kylo Ren’s family before we find out whose son he is. The film is full of hints that Rey has a connection with Han and Leia; but nothing points to her having a special relationship with Luke. (True, she feels his lightsaber “calling” to her; but it’s a powerful Jedi artefact, and she is Darth Vader’s granddaughter.)

Some Skywalkerists think that this is deliberate misdirection: the hints that Rey is Han's daughter proves that she is not. But if the film is constructed along those principles, there is no point in saying anything more about it.

[*] Yes, trigger warnings. Of course it's okay to say "by the way, the film has some big shocks in it" if your friend is the sort of person whose whole week would be ruined by a serial killer jumping out of a cupboard, in the same way that  "by the way, there are some scenes in which gentleman take all their clothes off" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say to someone who would be agonizingly embarrassed if they saw a Thingy.

If you want me to carry on writing, either buy my book...


A. L. Brackett said...

At this point I do not think any of these "hints" prove anything, at least not in a predictive sense. before 2002 would any one have thought the line "he did not hold with your fathers ideals, thought he should have stayed her and not gotten involved." proved that Anakin and Owen barely knew each other at best or that Anakin was already on a mission for the Jedi council when they first met? Probably most of us would have thought the opposite...but that is what Lukas gave us. So I am afraid trying to predict what a deranged writer or director might through at us just because they can is a fools errand. The fact that Disney has no appertain point to prove and would probably like to make some money on their investment make one hopeful that Ep.VIII might not be full of abject foolishness and contradictions, but they are by no means a guaranty.
However, I do think the question of what would work best, where the story should go from here based on what we have so far, is something we can to some extent ascertain.
Before seeing the movie I was decidedly of a Soloist bent, and the first part of the movie seemed to fit quite well with that. But as the movie closed I had to realize the truth, that Soloist position...its never coming back...but there is one who still could...

Thomas said...

The enjoyable feeling I will forever associate with the ending to "Citizen Kane" is that of the realization that the wonderful, iconic ending to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was in fact copied from "Citizen Kane".

The ending to "Citizen Kane" is not only the revelation of Rosebud's identity, but also the realization that nobody in the movie will ever learn the answer to the riddle. The enormous quantity of Kane's possessions alone would have prevented anyone from ever finding the key to the mystery. That is the meaning of that last shot, when the camera pans out.