My Problem with Rey vs Kylo:
Written by Mike (Originally posted: Feb. 26th, 2016)
Now before anyone starts off with the “You just can’t stand a strong independent woman winning a fight against a male antagonist” accusation…. hold your outrage and hear me out. I love the idea of a plucky junkyard-planet urchin rising from obscurity and realizing a level of prowess in the force that shocks even Luke Skywalker. The fact that she has no Y chromosome (I’m making assumptions about humans in a Galaxy Far Far Away) is an added bonus because its fresh and more inclusive. What I don’t like, however, is a lack of consistency in the universe’s governing rules and the fact that Ray is made straight up over-powered. Don’t agree? Well let’s compare notes then.
As far as we know, Rey has NOT received any force training up until this point. She’s 19 years old and thus far hasn’t been schooled in the finer points of sensitivity, meditation, or application of the force. Hell, she doesn’t even really know IF it exists or not. Admittedly the whole “He’s too old” trope has been lampooned and stepped on throughout the entire Star Wars series (more so in the orig-trige than in the prequels). The comparatively old Luke Skywalker, who essentially was brimming with force swirling destiny, barely had the ability to tap into the perception powers of the force after a few hours of sessions with Obi-Wan Kenobi. These were actual tutoring sessions in which direct effort, focus and advice were provided and still Luke didn’t demonstrate any telekinesis or force persuasion abilities in the same time table as Rey.
Anakin, the literal CHOSEN ONE, with a higher…yuck….“medichlorian count”….than Yoda could merely fly his podracer/starships with slight precognitive abilities from au natural force use. Rey totally blows the future Darth Vader out of the water in terms of natural abilities. This in and of itself would be fine if the dialogue/writing alluded to this kind of ability in ANY way beforehand. How hard would it be to have someone she interacted with mention a strange luck that Rey is known for or that she’s good at “negotiating” her way out of tight spots. We’re talking 3-4 seconds of extra dialogue at most. But we have no inclination of this latent potential. Other people may mind that she knows starfighter engines but I buy that someone who has to pick through Star Destroyer hulls in order to eat will either learn how to be a star-mechanic or starve. I’ll even gloss over the “she talks to aliens and droids so she should be able to speak Shrywook and Binary”. The ace pilot thing doesn’t make sense either…but again, I’ll gloss over it. These things are a bit hokey but for some reason I didn’t mind or notice them. As many people would point out, Luke never had any explicit backstory inserts that he was already an ace pilot; the movie only stated he wanted to attend the academy.
Let’s fast forward to the part where she finds the “excali-sabre”. I wasn’t a fan of lightsabers “having a soul/destiny/will of their own” choice already, but fine, the more elegant weapon of a more civilized age can now grant visions. It’s odd that it wouldn’t have given the son of its creator visions but…okay I digress. After this point and a few sentences of “you gotta shut your eyes and feel the light” talk from Maz we now see Rey taking her first steps…out the door. There’s no sitting and finding herself in the presence of another force user to guider her or anchor her. She dips. That’s it. All I would want out of this scene was a few seconds of Maz (who may be a bit sensitive herself I couldn’t tell if that was what Abrams was trying to convey) moving Rey along. It would have totally fit that she sensed Kylo Ren approaching and freaked. God knows I probably would have.
Let’s now jump ahead to the force sadism chair scene. Kylo Ren, grandson of Vader and nephew and heir to Luke and has had training from both the only surviving Jedi Master and what I assume is the new trilogy’s equivalent of a Sith Lord, is trying to Spanish Inquisition his Uncle’s location out of Rey. This interaction is another that a few people I’ve talked to had a few issues with. I’m actually totally cool with Rey catching Ren off guard and going on the offensive. The specificity of “not as powerful as Darth Vader” was a little wonky but I like the idea of Rey’s latent abilities engaging as a fight or flight defense mechanism for her mind. What I didn’t like was the almost from left field force persuasion demonstration against the storm trooper afterwards. If ANYONE had mentioned that this was a thing I’d be perfectly happy. Anyone. If Han Solo had told a whacky story, if Maz had mentioned it, if Rey had said that she “heard of crazy Jedi powers” etc., if any of these 3-4 second things had happened in dialogue you wouldn’t hear a peep from me. But, as if Rey had seen a New Hope, she tries the ol’ Jedi mind trick.
Now we get to the actual point.
I’m not mad or surprised that Finn and Rey managed to defeat Kylo. After all, he took a freaking bowcaster bolt to the torso. I’m reading into the situation a bit, but I would imagine ALOT of his concentration and force powers are going towards just keeping himself conscious and his organs intact. This makes the playing field much more level in terms of Ren’s ability to use the force in combat a la choking, lightning, etc. Where I start to think deus ex machina is when Rey is able to out-telekinesis Ren when he’s pulling the lightsaber. I have no issue with someone who knows how to use “force pull” out pulling Kylo when his attention and abilities are split. What I have an issue with is Rey instinctively and randomly knowing how to use the force in that way. When Luke pulled force pull out of his hat it was a supreme act of desperation, he was LITERALLY reaching for something he couldn’t grasp and this manifested in the force embodying his will. The metaphor for concentration, focus, and willpower overcoming intense adversity is much deeper and more resonant. In the instance Rey pulled the sabre towards her, I wasn’t so much as “Hell yeah! She’s dope!” I was more like…“Really? When did she learn to do that?” Now I will admit openly: I am an EU (now Legends) fanboy. I have way too much invested time and knowledge of specific force characteristics, techniques, names, times, and details. As such I will grant that I am nitpicking here a tad.
But in a way, I’m really not. As previously stated, it’s almost as if Rey herself has seen A New Hope, and is the embodiment of our childlike selves trying the Jedi Mind Tricks and the Force pulls that she saw Luke do. Again, if someone, ANYONE, had mentioned any of these specific traits and abilities of the force until now I would not care. The story would flow the same way and then any nit-picking would in fact be born of misogyny or Luke-fanism. For me the suspension of disbelief was hampered a little bit and I was again reminded that I was watching a movie, something that didn’t really happen on Luke’s journey. Now to be fair, good old JJ had a HUGE task on his hands and it must have been absolutely stressful to try to write a TFA that was engaging for new fans and nostalgic enough for returning audience members. The hype train definitely carried this work a bit though and I don’t feel bad making that claim. I want to really like Rey and I want to fanboy out on how awesome she is. She has the potential to be a really deep and interesting character and possible abandonment issues could definitely be a dark side pull in the future. Her interactions with a possibly reluctant Luke would be even more compelling harkening back to a Yoda-esque “you must train me!” I’m still pumped for the next episode and none of what I mentioned was world breaking. But ladies and gentlemen, I believe we are at the point where female characters don’t need to overcompensate for the “girlness” by being OP or maguffiny in their capabilities. Luke needed Han and Leia for specific roles in the first three and it feels like Rey (as Kev my cohost for my podcast pointed out) is Luke, Han, and Leia all rolled into one. I think that Rey is a compelling enough character that she can be vulnerable and mortal and she will still be beloved as the New Hope (pun intended).
At the end of the day there may be plot fill in, recap, and twists that negate everything I’ve said…and that would make me happy. When Kev and I were discussing what Rey’s fatal flaw was I determined that if I had to pick it would be naiveté or over-optimism. It takes a special kind of gullibility/faith/loyalty/denial to believe that your family was returning to Jakku a decade plus change later (I’m not calling her stupid by the way it could be that she instinctively clung to a hope that while not realistic still kept her going). This may in fact explain EVERYTHING. Once she learns that she has force abilities she assumes/believes/zens her way into awesomeness because she has utmost faith in herself and who she is. That would be a great metaphor for self-actualization and self-validation, something that everyone including young women in our society could definitely benefit from. If that’s the plan, writers of Episode VIII, please take a few seconds to write it in. I can’t wait to see it!
To read the article where it was originally published: https://letsgetfrivolous.tumblr.com