Yesterday, in fact.
Somehow, seeing the new Star Wars film on January 1st was the perfect thing to do. We went to the Moolah Theater on Lindell and had popcorn and sat back and became 12-year-olds for over two hours and it was…wonderful.
I have seen much back-and-forthing over this film the last few weeks, including some ill-advised and unwelcome splenetic blathering from George Lucas himself over how he disliked the direction J.J. Abrams has taken. I have also seen for myself the new action figure set at Target which failed to include the key character in what must be considered one of the most blatant examples of denial in industry marketing since…I don’t know. What? You really don’t think little girls will buy these even with such a full-on kick-ass role model as Rey? Or are you afraid they will buy them and we’ll have another round of how de-feminized the character is and how she’s a bad example for little girls who might opt out of the whole cute-girl-whose-brains-are-secondary track of socialization?
To get this out of the way right now, I think Rey is possibly the best thing about the new Star Wars. Vertently or otherwise, something significant has been achieved in her and I applaud it. Take note, ye unwitting crafters of the female entity for screen and page, this is how you do it. Simply put, she is her own self. She does not define herself by the men in her life, she not trade herself for favors, she does not bow to fashion conventions that depend on genitalia. She has her own concerns, her own goals, and runs her life on her own, the only constraints on any of that being the same exact constraints put on every other being in the world she inhabits.
And she is a deeply, deeply ethical and empathetic person. One who is not afraid to act on her own judgment, consequences be damned.
And she pays for it with doubt and fear and the agon of the compassionate.
As if she were a real person.
(Why does he go on about this? Why is he getting loud? What’s the deal?)
The deal is, so seldom in something like this do we get to see a woman as Person First, self-consistent, competent, and heroic, who does the rescuing, fights (and wins) against the bad guy, and can remain herself as a human being. She also has friendships. Not lovers, there’s no suggestion of that, not even as foreshadowing. Friends. They didn’t even try to dress her up in some form-accentuating bit of impractical gauzy revealing nonsense so we’d all see that while she’s running around kicking ass and being amazing she has cleavage and nice thigh. She’s dressed for work, for survival, for movement, for function. Her hair is even done practically.
By accident or intent, they did Rey right.
So how come she’s not in the action figure collection?
I have my opinions and they are not charitable. But it may turn out to be beside the point.
As to all the other dross being spake about how it stacks up to the rest of the films…
Sure, it’s a broad retread of the very first film. So what? This is myth, which is cyclic, and the value is in reaffirmation and validation. It is a Hero’s Journey and going all the way back to Gilgamesh certain forms remain constant. There are tests and trials and the plot matters much less than the manner of challenge and the quality of its confrontation. George Lucas forgot that when he made episodes 1, 2, and 3. He tried to turn a quest fantasy into science fiction, he tried to interject politics, he tried to justify things in a way that didn’t so much subvert what he had done before as crack the road in front of the calabash. J.J. Abrams, or whoever was principally responsible for the storyline here, went back to the Campbellian mythic underpinnings (Joseph not John W.) and brought back what mattered and made the first couple so compelling. Certain mythic forms reoccur, time and again, and Joseph Campbell understood this and Lucas sort of did, we think, at least in the beginning, but it went off the rails when a certain gravitic pull to compete with Star Trek seemed to drag everything off in an inauspicious direction. In spite of the superb craft of those later films, the genuinely well-executed action, and even the plot logic of much of it, they were curiously empty. One thing after another, with only a few moments of transcendence that failed to rescue them from essentially tales about bureaucratic failure. Lucas can be as snarky as he likes, but Episode VII has gone back to what made the first three films work.
And did it very well.
Episode IV and V were all about Becoming. Episode VI was about coming to terms with what you have Become.
Episodes I, II, and III were all about breaking things.
Episode VII is about Becoming.
And Rey? Pay attention, fellas. This is how it’s done. This is what a human being looks like. This is a hero.