Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – brilliant acting carries a suspiciously familiar plot, and why you should be asking; “Who is Rey?”

When I tell people that I love Star Wars, they tend to be surprised. For whatever reason, I don’t seem to give off Star Wars fan vibes. This is not because I don’t have other nerdy tendencies – I very much do. I suspect  it is surprising quite simply because I am not a man. I am in fact, in a lot of ways, a very girly girl. (I am currently wearing a fluffy pink jumper and coral nail polish.) And Star Wars is generally considered a ‘boy thing’. So when, for the first time, a female character was introduced into the legendary series who is not present primarily as an object of male desire, I was more than a little excited. Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is not paraded in a bikini like Princess Leia, nor is she a ‘Damsel in Distress’ type, like Padmé, whom Anakin Skywalker is obsessed with saving (although he is not exactly a traditional knight in shining armour). By contrast, Rey is fiercely independent, proving on several occasions throughout the film that she does not need rescuing by the male characters. She holds her own alongside the men as a pilot, and with a lightsaber, and is apparently able to command the Force without Jedi training.

 

I was impressed by the acting in The Force Awakens, particularly Ridley’s, who not only portrays Rey as a seriously badass, force-sensitive female character, but also reveals genuine emotion in her. She shows fear, she shows anger, she is moved to tears – and Ridley does not allow this to make the character appear weak. What is so brilliant about Ridley’s performance, and why I believe she will resonate particularly with female Star Wars fans, is that she keeps Rey feminine, retaining emotion and drama, without undermining her strength. Rey’s sensitivity is shown to be not a feminine weakness, but rather a strength that allows her to use the Force intuitively, to show brilliant resourcefulness, and to show not only compassion for other characters, but also to perceive their weaknesses, helping her to defeat her rival, Kylo Ren (born Ben, to Han Solo and Leia Organa, played by Adam Driver). Ultimately, Ridley as Rey sends a strong message that femininity is not a weakness, but a strength.

 

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Daisy Ridley as Rey.

It is the acting in The Force Awakens that carries the film – notably, alongside Ridley, John Boyega gives a funny and heart-warming performance as Finn, the Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-Fighter, and Harrison Ford stays true to Han Solo’s lovable rogue space-cowboy character. However, while the acting of Episode VII surpasses that of the previous Star Wars instalments, and much as Ridley has inspired me to sing the film’s praises, I have to say that, for me, this latest instalment is not in keeping with the Star Wars ethos that we know and love. The film is missing the quiet wisdom and life lessons from the old Jedi, particularly Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and has given way to the commercialised atmosphere that has become all too familiar in today’s cinema. The plotlines are, unfortunately, not particularly original. There is something a little too familiar about a dysfunctional father-son relationship, culminating in a confrontation on a perilous walkway, and a giant weapon which the good guys destroy by targeting its weak point.

 

Unlike the tense, dramatic struggle between good and evil in the earlier films, this one falls short. The motivation behind each side’s, and indeed each individual’s, actions is not explained, to the extent that, in terms of plot, this instalment could be described as a Hollywood-ised mishmash of the previous films, relying on (admittedly impressive) special effects, and the fondness and appreciation fans have for the previous storylines. I want to stress that I did enjoy the film, and I commend the actors for carrying the weight of such an immense franchise, and Disney for introducing a proudly independent and intriguing female character. Nonetheless, the thought provoking originality, and depth of understanding of human relationships, of George Lucas’ first six films, sadly, is not reached in The Force Awakens.

 

What might save this film is that it has left a number of interesting questions unanswered. Who exactly is Rey – a descendant of one of our favourite Jedi? Or a random Force-sensitive hero? (Personally, I’m betting on her being Luke’s daughter). Is Finn Force-sensitive, and is it the Force awakening that results in his defying the First Order? Now that the Force has been awakened, can anyone and everyone use it? Or do you have to be born with it? I am hoping that in Episode VIII, the answers to such questions will be so mind-blowingly good that fan theorists fail to guess them, which would redeem Episode VII as a necessary prequel. However, this also builds Episode VIII up for a potentially massive fall, and if it doesn’t live up to expectations, I suspect that fans, including myself, will be sorely disappointed.

Family: Who says we can’t choose them?

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Image from Pinterest, quote from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch

Most of us use our Christmas break to spend time with family, some who you’ve missed for months or even the whole year, and can’t wait to catch up with, others who, if you were being totally honest, you don’t really want to see but feel like you should. Why do you? Most people simply answer, ‘Because they’re family’. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Don’t get me wrong – if you have elderly relatives who are likely to be lonely, they will appreciate your company, but if this is your reasoning, a visit once a year is not going to stop this loneliness, so I would assume, if you’re seeing someone out of kindness and fondness, rather than a sense of family Christmas duty, you will have a relationship with them, and would see them fairly regularly anyway.

The type of people I’m talking about are your superficial aunt, who doesn’t give you the time of day unless she wants a picture or some gossip to share with her ladies-who-lunch club. Or the cousin who can’t hold a conversation because they are apparently incapable of listening to any voice other than their own. These are not terrible crimes. But if you had friends who behaved like them, how long would you remain friends? To me, family loyalty trumps any other kind – say something even slightly negative about any of my brothers or sisters and I am highly likely to jump down your throat – but I know that (even if they wouldn’t admit it) they would all do the same for me. Relationships, whether family or otherwise, have to be maintained, and they have to work both ways. As much as I love and appreciate the family members I am close to, I am entirely unconvinced by the idea of unconditional love for all family.

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Image from Pinterest

I have also realised that I have gradually and selectively added to the people I consider family; friends I count among my (admittedly numerous) siblings, role models and surrogate aunts and uncles I have found in teachers and friends of my parents. At what point does an unrelated friend reach the status of family? Here are my top five things I have found are common to all my relationships with my (extra and selected blood-related) family members:

  1. Trust. You trust them with your random, at times odd thoughts and questions about life, and they are fully aware that you might be certifiably insane, but they love you anyway. For me personally, this one is really important, because I don’t trust many people – if I trust you, you have made it into the inner circle, and, if you don’t already, I will work hard to make sure you know you can trust me.
  2. Conversation, or silence, is never awkward between you. Sometimes you talk for hours about anything and everything, other times you’re happy to be quiet together, watching movies or crap TV, or listening to music, without worrying that you need to fill the silence.
  3. You can be mean to each other, and know the other wont be offended, (although they will often dramatically protest that they are mortally wounded by your insinuation) but if anyone actually hurts them, you will plot their downfall together. By extension, this also means you automatically hate everyone they hate. Even if you haven’t met them.
  4. You become an accepted member of their actual family, and find that you know as much about their crazy relatives as you do about your own.
  5. You feel like you have known them forever. This might be because, as with biological siblings, you grew up together, and have witnessed all of one another’s questionable choices in dates, fashion, music, and anything else you could possibly have got wrong. You know all of each other’s secrets, so it’s in both of your best interests to keep them, and each other, close. This could also apply to a relatively new friend, who has become a fundamental extra family member to the extent that you are unsure who you went to in a crisis, or phoned to relate your latest ridiculous escapade before you met them.

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Instead of guilt tripping yourself into going to yet another extended family lunch, or visiting your dreaded Aunt Beatrice, choose your family. Surround yourself with your favourite people, whether that is your family, your friends, or a mixture of the two, and enjoy their company, whether it’s Christmas or any other time of the year.