The movie takes a bold risk I usually advise against: it introduces its heroes separately, and gets us to care about each of them separately in unconnected scenes. This is a lot more work, and works against our natural inclination (to cling to one character and let that character lead us through the story), but in this case it works great. They win us over to both Finn and Rey in their separate intros, and we invest them equally as co-heroes.
There’s a lot to like about Rey right away:
- Like Luke, she’s a working-class-hero on a glory-less hard-scrabble backwater planet.
- As with Luke, we don’t quite get what’s going on economically, but we understand enough to get invested in her financial struggles and frustrations, which is all we need. We think she’s earned those rations and we burn when she doesn’t get them.
- She has humiliations and tough decisions to make that make us like her, especially with BB-8.
- She has independence, attitude and gumption. We love her when she says “Stop taking my hand!” (and how she says it.)
Then it gets worse. Everybody is suddenly giving her more praise than she seems to earn: Han, Finn, Maz, Kylo Ren...everybody. We already liked her, okay, guys? You can stop telling us to like her. Then, all of a sudden, she goes from thinking the Jedi were a myth to being a Jedi master in a few hours …and she just becomes kind of a joke.
The turn is so baffling that it’s convinced everyone that she must be Luke’s daughter in order to explain it, but what would that explain? Yes, Return of the Jedi introduced the notion that the Force is strong in some families, but it was kind of an afterthought. Luke didn’t have it easy because his dad was a Jedi: he had to train the hell out of himself, and, more importantly, he had to go on a searching spiritual journey to access the power.
This movie flushes all that spirituality down the toilet: It’s 2015, who has the time? Yes, it’s neat to see a girl do all this stuff, but it feels empty: it’s unearned and it cheapens Luke’s journey along the way, implying that it was all in the (midichlorian-filled) blood, not won through trials of the heart or soul.
How could they have fixed this problem? Either have her just not be a Jedi until the next movie (James Kennedy pointed out that Luke never even used his lightsaber in battle in the first movie, back when we had patience), or make her a life-long would-be Jedi groupie who takes to it instantly because she’s a book-taught amateur and she’s just been waiting for her chance to put her fandom into practice. (That would also explain why she’s suddenly so eager to find Luke at the end, when she couldn’t care less before that.)
Tomorrow, let’s get to the guy whose ass she kicks…