Wymore is still getting a pass on the jokes during my Star Wars Palooza. The rumors that this has to do with a cortex bomb in my head are greatly exaggerated. Not lies. Just exaggerated.
This week we’re going to discuss Rey’s arc. Mainly because I don’t know what I’m going to say about Kylo Ren and I want to do Han last. At any rate, get comfy.
Rey’s arc is interesting, because in a traditional narrative form, it takes a massive backslide shortly after Rey is introduced. We start with Rey, adrift, a scavenger on Jakku. We see her doing a few cute, endearing things. She sleds down a sand dune. She has a rebel pilot doll. She sits outside wearing a rebel flight helmet comically too large for her. These elements show us Rey as sort of an adult child. If it wasn’t for the rest of her arc, these would certainly degrade her a bit in our view, but considering how damn mature her whole situation is, they just serve to remind us that she is barely old enough to be considered an adult. She probably had to grow up very quickly on Jakku, but the child Rey is still there, calling out for her to return, to play again.
Contrast this with Rey’s actual situation. She a junk scavenger on a harsh, brutal world. She’s obviously being taken advantage of by the only authority figure in her life. Her skill with a staff insinuates that’s she’s only survive this long by an expert application of brutal violence.
These things endear us to her. The injustice of her situation instantly connects our sympathy to her situation, while the childlike aspects amplify the effect. It’s hard not to sympathize with a person abused, still clinging to a childhood denied her.
We don’t understand this yet. We won’t until the midpoint of the movie, and even then, mostly subconsciously.
But after getting cheated for her hard work and watching her sitting adorably in the helmet, like a five year old in Daddy’s clothes, she hears a ruckus. She already has our sympathy, but now there’s a cat to save, and it’s time to earn our respect.
The cat that needs saving is none other than the more adorable BB-8. One of the rules of cat saving is that the cat must almost always be more adorable the saver. This act of heroism isn’t much from Rey, it’s almost trivial, but it means the world to BB-8. Now that we’ve engaged sympathy, made us fall in love a little, and garnered out respect with the mandatory cat rescue, Rey has her “Refusal of the Call” moment.
We’re going to get into this, probably after the character analysiseseseses (how do you make analysis plural?), but here’s the short version. There’s this thing called the Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey. It was somewhat famously applied to Star Wars once. An important first step is the Refusal of the Call. The Refusal is meant to show the character as humble, I think. If they jump at the opportunity to be a hero, they’re too eager, maybe a little smarmy. They have to resist their own greatness, deny it until reluctantly coaxed. So BB-8 goes to her for help. She refuses. BB-8 turns the cuteness dial up, and being a good little droid in a post-Spinal-Tap world, that nob goes all the way to 11. Rey relents, but “Just for the night.”
You might read the rest of my post and come back to this one. “Bob,” you might say, pulling out a cigarette holder and straightening your monocle (because I imagine all my critics arguing from 19th-century drawing rooms). “Bob, she doesn’t accept this call, old man. She qualifies it by saying it’s just for the night. Pip pip.”
To which I say, come now. Not one of you thought for a moment she was kicking that adorable droid out the next morning.
Her cat saving carries over one more scene, when she refuses to sell poor BB-8 to Simon Peg. The first part of the save was too easy, and this is where she makes her actual sacrifice. That’s neither here nor there, though. Unlike Finn, this is just one cat saving event spread over a couple scenes.
The really interesting bit comes after she meets Finn and Solo and they have their daring adventures. While she continues to endear herself to us “I bypassed the compressor!” We’re really just pushing forward to the next crucial scene, where Han Solo offers her a not-job, and she refuses.
What? Really? You don’t refuse two calls. Not unless the second one is actually a temptation. So why are we going back to rehash old ground? Especially since we’ve moved forward multiple stages in the Hero’s Journey since then? Why backtrack now?
But maybe this is a temptation. While we think too well of Han at this point to think that he won’t end up doing good out there, he is technically still a smuggler. Maybe this isn’t a real call.
That theory is blown away during the next sequence, however, because in Moz’s place, she gets the call again, and most literally this time. The lightsaber. It calls to her in every sense, both in Sir Alec Guiness’s voice and in Ewan MacGreggor’s. If you want to make absolutely sure the Call is heard, you make it in the voice of the same man who presented the Call to Luke.
Also, this is the second time John Williams plays the Skywalker theme over Rey’s image (the first time indisputably so). He does it three or four more times. So if you’re in the camp that thinks Rey is Luke’s daughter, it’s hard to deny that this is exactly what John Williams wants you to think. And he isn’t Wymore. We might be able to trust him.
Also, this is when everything done with her character’s child/adult dichotomy comes together in our mind. We see her, witnessing (or remembering according to some theories) the slaughter of the jedi. Here we see 5-7 year old Rey abandoned on Jakku. And that’s when we realize the truth. She still cherishes the trappings of childhood because that’s when her childhood was stolen from her, all those years ago. She had to grow up instantly on Jakku and so she locked away the child, in the secret place in her heart. We only see it when she’s alone, and no one else could see. And that call that we hear in these trappings, its the scream of that little girl, watching the ship leave.
Actually, you might be able to nail down a smaller refusal a bit earlier, but I hadn’t established the pattern yet so I couldn’t mention it then. When they meet Han, Finn says, “The war hero?” and Rey says, “No, the smuggler.” Not a full refusal, but certainly a refutation of the basic first principles of the call itself. She won’t even acknowledge that Han accepted his call, way back when.
But back to Moz. Here Rey refuses the Call with full-on, running-from-the-room drama. BB-8, chases her, representing Faith (See two weeks ago). Look. Refuse the call twice in a row, and the Sidekick will get disapproving. It’s his adorable little job.
That’s two refusals, and we’d lose respect for Rey if she kept it up (that’s what Finn is for). Rey is our paragon, so right after this she is captured, so she isn’t allowed to refuse anymore Calls. From here on out, its just temptations and trials.
A lot of amazing stuff happens to Rey from this point on in the story, but most of it doesn’t really affect her character arc. Character skill, set, yes. General development, sure. But the movie has set it’s rules for us. Despite her INEXPLICABLE defiance of structure by accepting the Call and then refusing the next one, it is the Call we care about. We know she’s destined to take up that saber. We’re screaming it. John Williams is Screaming it. Moz all but screamed it. We can see it in BB-8’s judging, forgiving eyes.
Her mind-tricking the guard is more about getting her agency back into her hands (and setting up her force use for the final confrontation), and here we step away from Rey. The next scenes we check in with Rey, but they are mostly about Finn and Poe (who’s taken over as protagonist for a bit). And of course Han and Kylo.
We come back to Rey as the main character after the tragic scene on the bridge, when she and Finn confront Kylo. Here, we see Kylo, even wounded, smash her like that little pilot doll. Then toy with Finn for a bit before severing his spine. And then he tries to take the lightsaber of Luke Skywalker.
And this call can’t be denied.
And as the Hero’s Journey plays out to the end, while we watch Rey finally finishing her second attempt at one of the early steps, we might be confused by the fact she did it twice, but we are satisfied. This is what we’ve been waiting for. John William agrees of course. We know because the Skywalker theme starts up again. Not for the last time.
No need to rehash the ending. It’s moving and awesome and inspiring. And when the smoke clears and the cats are all done being rescued, Rey leaves behind Finn’s broken body and takes her steps to fulfill the promise made in the first line of the opening crawl.
And on the way we see the fallout of her choices. She’s become Han Solo as well as Luke Skywalker. She is both the person she respected and the person we knew she was meant to be. She follows the map. She climbs a stair or two.
And as the Skywalker theme plays over the two of them at the end, we realize why there were two calls. And why we saw the hero’s journey played out in its entirety while she was still call refusing for all she was worth.
We thought were were just watching the story of the Force Awakens. We were wrong.
We were watching two stories, one moving at a pace to finish at the end of Episode VII. The other, however, presumably ends at the end of Episode IX. She accepted that first call way back when so that she could get here, to finish her first steps on a much bigger journey. She holds out that lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, we realize just how long a journey still lies ahead.
And from the look in her and Luke’s eyes, we can see they realize it as well.
[originally posted at: http://www.robertjdefendi.com/main/2016/1/17/spoilerific-analysis-of-star-wars-the-force-awakens-part-3-reys-character-arc-and-refusing-all-the-calls]
The next installment awaits...Slouching Towards Amazon: LTUE Post Mortem