Star Wars and the Lightsabers of Storytelling

kylo ren vs reyPerhaps better than any other Star Wars film so far, the lightsaber duels in The Force Awakens tell a story and establish who the characters are in that moment. Only the duel between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi even comes close to telling this sort of tale via clashing blades. At first glance, the duel between first Kylo Ren and Finn and then Kylo Ren and Rey is brutal and it doesn’t get any less brutal after repeat viewings. Gone is the elegance of the Prequel Trilogy and with good reason. Kylo Ren doesn’t have the benefit of training with a Jedi Order who has perfected the weapon over millennia and Finn and Rey have never even held a lightsaber before that day. Every swing of a saber has meaning and you don’t need to have seen a single other frame of the film to get what sort of people these three characters are.

Finn has the least training with these sorts of weapons and it shows. He gets in a few good blows but it comes off as more beginner’s luck combined with a Kylo who is far from being at his best. (More on that last part later.) With any sort of sword fighting, a raw beginning can sometimes have more luck than someone who has trained, as they do not react in a way that is expected. In other words, someone who has even basic training will be more likely to attack and block in a way that utilizes more standard stances and responses that will be easier for someone else with even more training to counter. Unfortunately, it’s just not quite enough to help Finn last more than a few minutes despite his determination to help his friend.

Kylo Ren’s responding actions speak louder than any words could. He doesn’t take Finn as a serious threat. A traitor? Sure but he’s clearly familiar enough with Hux’s training program to know that there’s no way FN-2187 knows enough to be more than a nuisance and it shows. He toys with Finn especially at the start, dodging some of Finn’s more wild swings with a distinctive ease and even knocking him to the ground and turning away instead of pressing his advantage and ending it. Turning your back to an enemy is an insult. It’s not until Finn lands a blow that actually hurts him that Kylo steps up his game and decides to end the fight now. This time, he’s not content with disarming Finn and follows it up with an injury that ensures the former stormtrooper will stay down.

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The Fan Awakens

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by our friend Shannon Donahue, who created our Tosche Station logo!

I’m hooked. I’m a fan. I’m a Star Wars fan. I am a science fiction fan. It’s a big deal you guys.

Confession… I hated science fiction.

Like, I really hated it. It only took one (kind of awful) person I knew as a child to ruin an entire genre for me. I was sure that I could never have anything in common with that person so I sure as hell wasn’t going to like “stupid space stuff”. Nope, not me.

To me, science fiction had nothing at all to do with my life. I couldn’t see how these people in weird costumes or freaky alien makeup had anything to do with me. How on earth could I have anything in common with these people/things? Not only that, but I failed all my science and math classes in school.  My brain just doesn’t think like that. I like music and art and historical costume dramas. I hung on to this as a part of my personality for a really, really long time. It was just a part of who I was. I didn’t like Sci Fi. I was NEVER going to like Sci Fi.

The problem with that was my best friend was a HUGE Star Wars fan. Growing up she had all the books, she had the posters, she had the 3 ft Darth Vader statue that she hand made. She made a fan video complete with costumes. I didn’t get it. I was never going to get it and I didn’t want to. But when you love someone, you pay attention to the things they love. As we grew up and changed I learned a few things along the way. I might not have seen any of the Star Wars movies, but I knew enough about them to understand and play along. I knew the characters. I had a basic understanding of the plots. Slowly I had more and more friends who were HUGE Star Wars fans. In my group of friends I was the weirdo that didn’t like this stuff. I slowly began to realize that maybe, just maybe I was holding on to hating something for no good reason. I found myself painting Star Wars art for friends all the time. It was beginning to feel like every day I was having another conversation about Star Wars.

So, before I attended my first DragonCon four years ago, I sat down and watched the original trilogy. Dude, I didn’t hate it. Okay, I didn’t love it either, but I didn’t hate it. This was groundbreaking psychological shit for me. I felt free somehow. I realized I didn’t have to know space or science stuff. This was mystical, not scientific. I could get on board with this. But I still wasn’t really a fan.

Then I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens. I thought I was just excited for my friends. Then the second and the third trailer. Oh Boy! As each trailer was released and then finally the movie, I fell more and more in love and here’s why…

Rey

I am so in love with her. Rey is exactly what I want in a female character. She’s soft and she’s hard. She does what has to be done with strength and determination. It seems to me that she has every reason to trust no one, but she flies into a terrifying new direction with new people and places and she does it with such amazing grace. I am in love with the fact that I can turn to my nine year old niece watching the movie and know that she is seeing herself and seeing a woman full of strength and kindness.

Finn

There is so much to love!  He’s funny!  He’s interesting! I love that this movie made you rethink good and bad and black and white. Finn helps us do that. He is a stormtrooper; we are supposed to pull against this guy, but somehow from the very beginning we don’t. We want him to succeed. We want him to find himself away from The First Order. The moment that Poe renames him is brilliant to me. I love that Finn is scared and silly and that he has what seems to be a limitless kindness.

Kylo Ren

Adam Driver does something with his presence and his voice that is both completely and totally terrifying and also completely vulnerable and broken. We know nothing about his story except who his parents are. That revelation breaks us. It breaks us for Han and Leia, but also for Kylo. What sort of hurt, what sort of lies must he be holding on to for him to turn so dark when he came from such love? This doesn’t feel forced or contrived to me but very, very real. Our parents are a part of who we are, but more than that our perception of our parents is a part of who we are. I still find myself wondering about Kylo Ren and who he must think his parents are if he feels he must turn from them so violently.

Family

I was going to write about Han and Leia and what I loved about them. I was going to write about Luke. But what I loved about them and every character in this movie is this: it’s a movie about family, not just the family of your birth but the family of your choice. You can choose to walk away from the family of your birth. You can choose to find a new family with your friends. I felt this so strongly throughout the movie. Obviously the other movies have been about family, but that always felt like it was just the Skywalker family.

I connected so strongly with this movie because I felt the bonds of family in almost every scene. The family that is forged between lifelong friends like Han and Chewie. The family that can be instantly created between new friends as we see with Finn and Poe and then again with Finn and Rey. Our families, no matter how they are created, are our strength and our weakness.

The Look

I loved the look of the movie. I’m a visual person and this kind of stuff is important to me.  

  • BB8 is not only the most charming thing I’ve ever seen outside of a Pixar film, it’s also genius in its simplicity. It’s nothing but circles and a few rectangles and somehow it emotes better than most humans I know.
  • Maz Kanata’s Palace is another example of the look that I love. Flying into that land and walking up to the front doors felt real and magical. Then you find yourself in a dive bar! I loved it. Lupita Nyong’o was perfection as Maz. I want to sit and have shots with her, I want her to look into my eyes and see more than I see. I want her to teach classes at my local metaphysical book store.
  • The dreaded catwalk scene with Kylo and Han is pure lighting genius.
  • The last 5 minutes of the movie on Skellig Michael. Your heart is in your throat, your eyes are burning with hope and the unbelievable beauty of that place. Then your eyes are burning because of the unbelievable acting from Daisy Ridley and especially Mark Hamill.

I could never put my finger on what didn’t capture my interest in the original trilogy. It took this movie to show me. Just as a Jedi must not deal in absolutes, why must these movies? The Jedi and the Rebellion are good and everyone else is bad. The universe that has been expanded by The Force Awakens feels more real to me because there are no absolutes. A stormtrooper can be the hero. The villain can be a Skywalker/Solo. There is Darkness in the Light. There is light in the darkness. This movie perfectly captured that to me and I hope that it is indicative of how the rest of these movies will go.

What I learned about Star Wars and about science fiction is this: it isn’t necessarily about space. It isn’t necessarily about war. It isn’t about science and it doesn’t feel like fiction. These stories are about people dealing with life. Life with some crazy shit going down. Just like my life, minus the hyperdrive.

** edited to leave out the three pages of POE IS HOT! SNAP IS THE BEST! X-WINGS, YAY!

Boys with Big Hearts

Easily the best thing about this new Star Wars trilogy is our new hero, Rey, and the praise for both her and Daisy Ridley is flooding in. While not the straight-up leads of the film, the rest of the new trio, Finn and Poe, are almost just as great. (Almost.) The Force Awakens is headed by three amazing newbies, each of which a character for young kids to look up to and want to emulate.

Sure, Rey is a hero for all genders, but let’s not kid ourselves: children aren’t stupid. Little girls notice the distinct lack of leading ladies in cool roles, and Rey is someone that they can finally pretend to be in the playground without having to be “Ara, daughter of Aragorn”. She is finally theirs. 

Everyone can love her and look up to her, but she is most of all for all those little girls who have been needing a girl leading Star Wars since forever ago. That, of course, is a post for another time.

Finn and Poe, similarly, are heroes for everyone of any gender, but they are also wonderful examples for young boys to emulate. Where Poe could have been a Han or Anakin-esque cocky pilot with a little too much arrogance, he is instead a genuinely, confidently sweet guy. Finn, raised as a Stormtrooper in the First Order, is similarly sweet, with a big heart and an overflow of empathy. Continue reading

Star Wars: Unafraid and Lady Lovin’

Here’s the thing: I am not a movie buff, I am not a film student (anymore), and I almost never have strong feelings about anything. I go into everything with no expectations except cool women and pretty cinematography. You can imagine that a lot of recent films have disappointed me.

The Force Awakens has already given me everything I want, just in the trailers and teasers and TV spots. A female lead, gorgeous shots that are a blend of old and new, and Leia. My God, do I love Leia. I am perfectly content with just the teasers and trailer, and the thought that there is an actual whole movie coming out next week is so overwhelming I can’t even directly acknowledge the thought lest I explode. Or cry. I can’t look directly at the idea, I must tip-toe by the realization that this is actually happening.

But I have no fear (and really, do I ever?) I’m not known for my good taste in films, I unabashedly love terrible or unpopular movies. Can I count the number of times I’ve watched the Prequels? No, but it’s probably a higher number than the OT. The only thing that could legitimately make me dislike The Force Awakens would be awful treatment of the lady characters, but I have such utter faith in the team at Lucasfilm I hardly believe that will happen.

I do have hopes, though. Hopes that Rey and Finn will shine, and will inspire other films to cast women and people of colour in starring roles. Hopes that I will want to watch this movie as often as I crave watching The Hunger Games. I want to fall in love with Rey and Finn and the other characters the same way I have so fallen for their actors, so funny and charming and kind. I want this film to give me feelings so strong I realize I can never love any person as much as I love TFA. Finally, I desperately want to see Han and Leia have sweet moments. I will ship them till my dying breath.

Star Wars has always been an innovator, a leader, an inspirer. As long as I can remember, Star Wars has been in my life—from babysitting me when my parents didn’t want to deal with a bored toddler, to me wanting to be Obi-Wan’s sister with a pink lightsaber when we were pretending to be in Lord of the Rings back in primary. Those orcs didn’t stand a chance.

The OT showed me that I could be a princess and still be in space with cool ships and guns. The PT inspired me in part to take up politics so I could be like Padme, inspiring change in a country I felt so strongly for (a failed venture, that in part lead me back to falling in love with Star Wars.) The Clone Wars gave me Ahsoka, who I love so dearly I am actually astounded by the depths of my feelings. Abrams is wrong, Star Wars has always been for everyone.

I want the new films to give me, and all young girls coming into this fandom, women (note the plural) to look up to and give us hope for our futures, or inspiration for our present. This is really all I am hoping for: a positive force for women and girls of all ages. I don’t care if Rey is a Skywalker or a Solo, I only care that she is everything Star Wars has been needing for over thirty years, and that she’ll be someone for little girls to look up to and love.

I also really want Finn and Rey to hold hands. Romantically. Oh God, please don’t be related.