Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cloud City Social Club: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCSC003 - STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, Part 3!

Sean, Andrew, and Brooks delve into Rey's mysterious Force vision and what it might mean in STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

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EXPANDING UNIVERSE - STAR WARS: The Franchise Awakens - These are the First Steps

There’s a lot going on in Rey’s vision. 

As the vision begins, the voice of Yoda can be heard describing the Force (a sound recording taken from Episode V). Later we hear the voice of the elderly Obi-Wan Kenobi (a sound recording of Alec Guinness which is cut together to actually call Rey’s name). Darth Vader’s breathing can also be heard in the background as Rey traverses a corridor that looks like a hallway in the Cloud City of Bespin (the site of Luke’s first battle with Vader, in which he lost the lightsaber that Rey has just discovered).

This is the same hallway Rey sees in her vision.

The cries of the little girl that drew Rey into the lower level turn out to be a prelude to the vision. Rey sees a little girl in the desert – presumably her younger self – begging a spaceship not to leave as it flies away. She is held back by what appears to be Unkar Plutt. In the novelization Rey can also hear a familiar voice assuring her that they will return for her.

Rey sees a cloaked figure with a robot hand (presumably Luke Skywalker) watching alongside an R2 unit Astromech droid as a temple burns to the ground. She also sees Kylo Ren murdering what looks like a fellow Jedi with a band of followers behind him. Perhaps these are First Order troops or the Knights of Ren who are said to serve Kylo. It is unclear in the vision who any of them are except Kylo Ren. But even he is mostly obscured by darkness and rain, and it is only his signature style of lightsaber that positively identifies him.

There are a lot of possibilities here: According to the script, it is indeed Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 who look on as a temple burns. This is not stated in the script, but in the novelization Rey not only sees hallways in Cloud City, but the distant figures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader as they duel. Seeing a boy at the end of the hall, she follows and the vision shifts to the rainy night that is the scene of Kylo and his Knights of Ren battling unidentified opponents. The script confirms that the hooded figures accompanying Kylo are the Knights of Ren, but nothing in the film, the script, or the novel identifies who they are fighting. We are meant to assume, from Han’s exposition, that we are witnessing the final destruction of Luke’s New Jedi Order, but there is nothing I can see anywhere that overtly states this. In fact, I think there are some hints that suggest otherwise.

Here’s what we know: Han tells Rey and Finn that Luke was trying to build a New Jedi Order until his apprentice turned on him and destroyed it all. He does not specifically mention Kylo Ren, though it’s possible that Kylo was the wayward apprentice. We learn later on that Leia sent Kylo to be trained by Luke because he had too much Vader in him, the failure of which lost them their son and destroyed their marriage. We know that Kylo took his new name from the order he now commands, the mysterious Knights of Ren. According to the screenplay, Rey’s vision shows her a scene of Kylo and the Knights of Ren decisively winning a battle of some kind. Kylo’s victim is stabbed from behind, suggesting this may be an act of treachery rather than a fair fight. But Kylo’s victim was also poised to strike Rey in this vision, as seen from her point of view, so Kylo may also have been acting to save whoever is being represented in the vision (or possibly even Rey herself). From this perspective Kylo Ren interceded to save the person from whose perspective Rey is viewing the battle. Kylo is flanked by six other Knights of Ren, but the vision shifts before we see what happens next.

So what could this mean? Kylo formed the Knights of Ren to destroy Luke’s New Jedi Order? Possibly. That’s certainly the most obvious explanation. But their victims in the vision are not necessary fellow Jedi. We don’t even know for sure that the Knights of Ren were founded to destroy Luke’s Jedi students. What if the Knights of Ren were Luke’s New Jedi Order? The apprentice that destroyed Luke’s dream may not have done so by killing his fellow students. Maybe he turned them all to the Dark Side. Lor San Tekka said the First Order rose from the Dark Side. Maybe the Knights of Ren, once turned, helped to form the foundation of Snoke’s new Empire. But if so, who were the Knights of Ren fighting in Rey’s vision? The remaining loyalists among Luke’s students? Maybe. But maybe not.

The warrior Kylo kills – apparently to prevent him from striking someone else – seems to be dressed in the traditional battle armor of the Kyuzo warriors. His face is not shown, and in one frame looks like it might be human, but it happens so fast you really can't tell. But the headwear and armor look like those worn by the Kyuzo.

They are not prominently featured in the film, but several of them, led by Constable Zuvio, are the self-appointed defenders of law and order in Niima Outpost, where Rey made her living on the planet Jakku. According Pablo Hidalgo’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary, they’re pretty much the only law in Niima Outpost. Jakku is also the site of the last major engagement between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire before the Imperial Forces finally surrendered to the Republic. Jakku was home to a secret Imperial research facility prior to that battle, but after the initial peace accords the last remnants of the Empire fell back to the Unknown Regions of space and disappeared, returning years later as the First Order.

So what was happening on Jakku? Could the Knights of Ren have been there? Rey’s vision could have been telling her that Kylo and the Knights of Ren were possibly on Jakku and may have even been part of her mysterious past. 

Employing your basic “Bigfoot on Mars” approach to analyzing the limited amount of information we’re given in this scene, I have an interesting theory I’d like to put forward for your consideration. Using undiscovered evidence, I’ve been able to piece together a speculative timeline of loosely inferred or outright invented observations whose main purpose is to support each other (the perfect recipe for your basic internet fan theory):

See, there's no way Bigfoot could be a man in a gorilla suit. A man in a gorilla suit
could never survive the unforgiving atmosphere of planet Mars. That's just science.

A) An Imperial research facility was established on Jakku to explore the possibility of weaponizing Force-sensitive children. The Visual Dictionary tells us the first of these assumptions is true, but the only “fact” suggesting the second might be true is that this was the plot of the Dark Side Inquisitors in Star Wars: Rebels, which is a canonical work even though it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the new film.

Shown above: Ezra Bridger protecting a child from Dark Side Inquisitors.

B) A young Kylo and his Knights of Ren were somehow involved in this enterprise (very likely fighting to stop it, acting as Luke’s fledgling Jedi Order). This assumption is based on the fact that in Rey’s vision she sees Kylo and a gang of unidentified soldiers attacking a guy in a hat that I think looks like the hat worn by the constable of Niima Outpost. Since there are Kyuzo warriors on Jakku and the guy in the vision looks sort of like a Kyuzo warrior, maybe the battle in the vision actually takes place on Jakku. 

Kylo's victim in the vision actually looks more like Embo, the Kyuzo bounty hunter
from the Clone Wars series rather than Zuvio's constabulary.

C) Rey’s vision is a flashback of something that actually occurred in her past. Because the vision shows one of these Kyuzo warriors in an attack stance preparing to strike at Rey, then maybe Kylo Ren was actually saving Rey, meaning that at this time he was still one of the good guys. Since this happens on Jakku and the Imperial facility that I’ve now decided was experimenting on young Jedi was also on Jakku, Kylo and his compatriots (who are either his fellow Jedi students or the actual Knights of Ren, who were also Luke’s students before they turned to the Dark Side) are on Jakku to shut the facility down and end its experiments. If the facility were experimenting on Jedi children, that would explain why Luke would want his New Jedi Order to become involved in putting a stop to that. In this scenario the Kyuzo warriors stand against them for some reason, which I’m willing to admit is pretty shaky and I don’t have a good in-story reason why this would be the case.

D) Rey was also somehow involved in this research, possibly volunteered by her Imperial parents. Why do I think Rey had Imperial parents? Well, the British accent that everyone’s so keen to suggest Rey inherited from being a distant relation of Obi-Wan Kenobi is also just British enough to match the accent of pretty much every Imperial officer in the saga. Rey’s accent would make no sense to show that she’s related to Obi-Wan, who would have been dead decades before her birth, but if she were raised by Imperial parents she may have gotten her accent from them before they abandoned her on Jakku. The more reasonable explanation for her accent – if it requires an explanation for a character to have an accent – would be that it’s similar to Unkar Plutt’s. The vision shows us that he stepped in after her parents abandoned her, in a foster home scenario that reimagines Uncle Owen to be more like the uncle from the Harry Potter series. 

There is a bit of a resemblance between Unkar Plutt and Uncle Vernon.
Rey may have even gotten the better deal; at least she got to live in an AT-AT.

"Unkar" even kind of sounds like "Uncle". What's with these
mythic heroes always getting dumped on their uncles?

But reasonable is not what I’m shooting for here, so in my preferred scenario Rey was brought to Jakku by her Imperial parents, who handed her over to Dark Side Inquisitors who were experimenting on Force sensitive children to throw the Force out of balance or some nonsense like that. This operation was broken up by young Kylo and the courageous Knights of Ren, after which Rey and her parents went into hiding. Shortly before the final battle between the Empire and the New Republic that wiped out the bulk of the Imperial fleet, Rey’s parents escaped, leaving her in hiding. Due to the decisive defeat of the Empire, Rey’s parents were either killed in the battle or unable to return, leaving Rey in hiding. This is another point toward Rey’s parents being Imperials, because leaving your kid to the unforgiving conditions on Jakku with the likes of Unkar Plutt is pretty much a jerk move, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

One canonical reference that suggests Rey has some sort of Jedi history and Kylo is in some way aware of it is revealed in the novelization of Episode VII. In the book as in the film, Kylo is very interested in reports of a girl who is helping FN-2187 and the droid escape Jakku. In their final battle, in which Rey instinctively calls the Skywalker saber to come to her rather than Kylo, Kylo says to her with revelation: “It is you”, suggesting that he has suspected she is someone he knew before. This line is not in the film, but it supports the idea that something in both their pasts brought Ren and Rey together once before, long enough ago that he wouldn’t recognize her right away if he saw her again. If she were some child that ran off into the night as he and the other Knights of Ren were destroying an Imperial research facility, he would have some inkling that there might be a girl on Jakku with Force ability but no knowledge of her location or identity.

The vision concludes with a prescient look at what will occur at the end of the film – a confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren. It is at this point that we hear the voice of the older Kenobi say Rey’s name. As Rey is thrown out of the vision and returned to the castle, we hear the voice of a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi (supplied in a new dialogue recording by Ewan McGregor) saying “these are the first steps”.

EXPANDING UNIVERSE - STAR WARS: The Franchise Awakens - Family vs. Destiny

Rey and Finn’s trip to Maz’s magic castle is important because at this point in their mythical journey, they have both received their call to adventure. For very different reasons, they will each offer what Joseph Campbell refers to as the Refusal of the Call.

In stories and fantasies, we expect characters to jump at the chance to be a hero because we want to experience that vicariously through them. That’s because we can enjoy the adventure from a safe vantage point, in part because we have some assurance that they will succeed, but more importantly because we know that none of it is real and that no one is ever in any actual danger. But in our real lives if someone were to confront us with the opportunity to leave all safety, comfort, and responsibility to put ourselves in the way of life-threatening peril, our natural response would be to refuse. Luke Skywalker initially refused to help Obi-Wan Kenobi with good reason, just like Bilbo Baggins refused to accompany Gandalf and the dwarves on their suicide mission to rob a treasure from a dragon. 

"Okay, pretty standard so far... Leave my life of luxury to help a bunch of strangers 
steal the gold out from under a dragon... What's the worst that could happen?"

Even in the ultimate nerd fantasy, The Last Starfighter, Alex Rogan declines a perfectly polite invitation to fly off into outer space and fight an alien war against an evil empire he’d never heard of. 

"You're pretty spectacular at playing video games, kid! How'd you like to get shot at for real?"

And why? Because in the story, we need to believe that the characters at least think they’re real, with real lives and goals that were already happening when the story began. The refusal in classical myths happens for the same reason: To show us that all heroes in some way begin as flawed imperfect people.

Finn’s refusal is more immediate and overt. He’s terrified of being captured by the First Order and does not believe they can be stopped. He’s basically like a child who’s been raised by a cult and taught their entire lives that the cult is omnipresent and all-powerful. No reasonable argument can be presented to Finn that the First Order is an enemy that can be battled. 

"You've seen what their trash compactors are like, Solo. 

Would you want to go back to doing their sanitation work?"

The only reason he’s resisted them at all thus far is because he found himself in human situations that presented him with a moral imperative to act. Now that he is free of that immediate imperative, Finn’s instinct is to put as much distance between himself and the First Order as he can. He tries to convince Rey to run away with him, but she refuses. 

Rey’s refusal will happen on a more fundamental level than Finn’s. She has accepted the current adventure, but her experience in the temple will serve to show her that she has a greater destiny. Here is where Rey’s arc echoes Luke’s training on Dagobah.

A lot of people have complained about Rey displaying Jedi ability without having any formal Jedi training. I think it makes more sense story-wise if we see Rey following Luke’s arc throughout the entire first trilogy and not just through the first movie. Throughout the course of this film, we see Rey discover the Force, experience a Force vision that outlines her hero’s journey for her, all the way through to a confrontation with her opponent on what is at this point assumed to be the opposite end of the moral spectrum. As a matter of construction, Rey’s progress is accelerated because the movie is attempting to cover more ground in terms of her character development.

In the framework of the story, I don’t have a problem with Rey exhibiting Force ability without the benefit of training. First, the Jedi philosophy is not the only path to developing these skills. Jedi and Sith both have separate forms of training that teach students how to harness the natural connection they feel with the Force. Training helps you hone skills and focus energies, but it’s not the key to having those abilities. Luke himself only had a couple of weeks of formal training in the original trilogy, consisting of a little basic history and lightsaber instruction by Obi-Wan Kenobi on the way to Alderaan and followed up with a crash course of swamp jogging and rock lifting with Yoda on Dagobah. Most of his power came from his acceptance of his connection to the Living Force, not his education on the subject of Jedi traditions. 

The Jedi are always insisting on training children at a suspiciously young age, but if we watch this in the prequels and in the Clone Wars TV show, this seems to be more for the purpose of indoctrination than anything else. The training is meant to instill you with an innate belief that the Jedi way is the sole path to the Light Side of the Force, which is the only good and proper use of the Force. That is not necessarily a message this new trilogy is intending to communicate.

C'mon, Yoda, how does giving blindfolded kids actual lightsabers teach them the "knowledge and defense" aspect of the Jedi philosophy?

Just as it was with Luke, having a vision of her destiny is an important milestone in Rey’s acceptance of her connection with the Force. This is her cave trial, in which she must face her own fears and accept her path. This trial recalls the belly of the whale imagery just as it did in Episode V. Luke descended into the Dark Side cave on Dagobah to face a vision of Darth Vader. Rey descends into the lower level of Maz’s castle, which becomes a dungeon of magic treasures and dangerous possibilities. 

In the bar, Rey hears a cry from the stairwell and descends the stairs to investigate. She finds a chest with an old lightsaber in it. When she touches the lightsaber, her vision begins.

At the end of Rey’s vision, Maz appears to help her understand it. She explains that the lightsaber belonged to Luke Skywalker and his father before him, so Rey should take it.

It’s important to note that this is not the lightsaber Luke made for himself before the events of Episode VI. This is Luke’s first lightsaber, the one he lost during his duel with Darth Vader on Bespin. It is the lightsaber given to Luke by Obi-Wan in Episode IV, which Obi-Wan told him his father intended him to have. The lightsaber is given the same sense of reverence in this film as it was when it was originally introduced.

"That's the lightsaber I stole from your father the day I set him on fire. Want to go to Alderaan with me?"

There’s a lot of Expanded Universe lore we could get into regarding the significance of this lightsaber. Even though the expanded canon prior to Disney’s acquisition of STAR WARS is now officially considered non-canonical, those ideas still exist and are available to the creative teams producing new stories. Some concepts in Episode VII appear to have been mined from stories in the old Expanded Universe, so there are a lot of interesting aspects of the story this lightsaber may come to represent outside of the fact that it once belonged to Anakin and Luke Skywalker.

In terms of the official canon, the significance of this lightsaber is questionable. Episode VII pays homage to Episode IV by giving the lightsaber itself a relevant contribution to the story. Outside of the story, this lightsaber is special because we as fans remember the way it was presented to Luke in Episode IV.

Inside the story, this lightsaber is not necessarily important to the core canon at all. While Obi-Wan supposedly kept it for Luke and told him his father wanted him to have it, we know that the latter of these assertions was a lie. Anakin may have had knowledge of Luke’s existence after he became Darth Vader, but he showed no actual interest in him and certainly wouldn’t have had any communication with Obi-Wan as to how to bequeath to Luke the lightsaber that was stolen from him while he was burning alive. The only reason Obi-Wan tells Luke this in Episode IV is to manipulate him into joining the adventure ahead.

Further to that point, this lightsaber has absolutely no significance as the weapon of Anakin Skywalker. In Episode II Anakin’s inability to keep hold of a lightsaber is a running gag, so much so that by the end of the film he only has a lightsaber because another Jedi throws him a spare. So the exalted Skywalker lightsaber that Obi-Wan pretended was an heirloom and Maz makes out to be Excalibur is just Kit Fisto’s backup blade, which Anakin happened to have with him when he dueled Obi-Wan on a lava planet.

Full disclosure: Expanded lore states that this lightsaber is not the spare that was tossed to him during the battle on Geonosis, that he constructed this one shortly after that and used it all the way through the Clone Wars, then murdered children with it and lost it to Obi-Wan Kenobi while he lay dying on Mustafar. 

"Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough... to be stabbed to death."

But from what we see in the movies, Anakin has no special fondness for this particular lightsaber, he did not express any desire for it to be passed down his bloodline, and he certainly did not willingly give it to Obi-Wan Kenobi at all. The only connecting thread this lightsaber offers for its users is that it represents the Skywalker curse. It’s the lightsaber that was used in duels that represented a catastrophic defeat for Anakin on Mustafar and then later for Luke on Bespin. From what we know, this blade is bad news and Rey is right to want nothing to do with it.

Maz can see Rey’s reluctance. Like Luke at the beginning of Episode IV, Rey doesn’t want to forsake her familial duty to accept more universal responsibilities. This is a common division we see between the heroes and villains in the STAR WARS saga. In the prequels, Anakin actually yells “yippee!” at the prospect of running away with the Jedi and leaving his mother to a life of slavery. Even though he seems a little conflicted about it later, we learn in 

Episode II that he made no attempt to contact or follow up with her until years later. Luke, on the other hand, is offered the opportunity to leave with Obi-Wan and live the life of adventure he’s always dreamed about in Episode IV, but he refuses the call because of his obligation to his aunt and uncle. Only after they’ve been killed does he consent to leave Tatooine. And even then Obi-Wan is manipulating Luke’s sense of familial obligation by pretending that Luke’s father wanted him to follow the path of the Jedi. This is a lie from any point of view, since we learn that Anakin himself had rejected the path of the Jedi.

"Consider this my resignation from the Jedi Council."

The difference between Kylo Ren and Rey is represented by the same dynamic in Episode VII. Kylo Ren abandons his family to pursue the destiny he believes he deserves, but Rey basically dooms herself to exile as little more than a slave on Jakku, with only the vague hope that her family will one day come back for her.

Understanding that this hope is an obstacle to Rey’s development, Maz tells Rey that her family isn’t coming back. In a throwback to Yoda’s cryptic offhand comment in Episode V that there was another he and Obi-Wan could look to should Luke fail, Maz tells Rey that someone else might come back even though her family won’t. At face value, you could assume she’s talking about Finn, but she seems to be hinting at something more profound. Rey assumes she’s talking about Luke, even though Luke’s return shouldn’t have any personal connection for her. Unless there’s a connection between Rey and Luke that has not yet been established in the story.

In any event, this choice prompts Rey’s refusal of the call. Unable to accept that her family is gone and overwhelmed by the sudden responsibility of learning the ways of the Force (and possibly experiencing a genuine intuition that Luke’s lightsaber is more of a cursed object than an enchanted item), Rey vows never to touch the lightsaber again and runs off into the woods. This is probably bad timing on Maz’s part, because she presents the lightsaber and the Force in such a way that they both represent to Rey an abandonment of her family, when Maz is essentially just trying to help Rey come to terms with the truth.

Rey is not ready to trust in the Force yet. When Maz told her to close her eyes (to trust in something more than she saw in front of her), Rey could not bring herself to do it.

The irony is that what Maz is encouraging Rey to do may very well be to accept her familial obligation. What is not overtly stated but is at least implied is that following the path of the Jedi may be an important part of Rey’s heritage. Maz tells her that the lightsaber was Luke Skywalker’s and his father’s before him, and therefore she should take it. There is a strong possibility that we will at a later point in the story (the sequel) learn that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. 

It may be apropos of nothing, but this theory reminds me of the original teaser for the film. In the teaser Luke explains to someone (presumably someone in the story) that the Force runs strong in his family. “My father has it,” Luke says in a voice-over, “my sister has it, and you have that power too.”

This is obviously a throwback to Luke’s revelation in Episode VI that Leia is his sister and has the potential to become a Jedi. While he uses the words “my family” rather than saying “our family”, it seems like he’s explaining this to someone with the same bloodline, or why say it at all? This could be something said to Kylo Ren during the time that he was being trained as a Jedi, but why say “my sister” instead of “your mother”? It’s also interesting that Luke says “my father has it” (present tense), but that may be getting a little too granular.

Most likely the Luke voice-over in the teaser was recorded just for the teaser to excite the audience’s sense of nostalgia. Even so, it’s interesting that the story being teased here is a story about Luke training a prospective Jedi who may also be a Skywalker.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cloud City Social Club: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCSC002 - STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, Part 2!

Sean, Brooks, Andrew, and Lynn return to continue their discussion of STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS!


Tuesday, January 5, 2016


In this inaugural installment of an all-new ongoing STAR WARS podcast, Sean, Brooks, Andrew, Greg, and Lynn discuss STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS!