Some highly perceptive and insightful commentary on Episode VII (and the third trilogy as a whole) from my insoluble good buddy, Gordon Goesch:
Okay, after literal months, I finally have my thoughts on Star Wars sorted out. If you haven’t seen VII and are still avoiding spoilers, well then, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I figure courtesy can’t hurt. Proceed no further.
TL;DR at the bottom.
Rey is the hero. I can hear everyone in the world saying, “duh,” as they read that, but let me elaborate. Rey is going to undergo a Hero’s Journey, just as Luke did. She has already received her call to action, attempted to refuse it, found and lost a mentor (Han), and now has crossed the threshold and sought out a second mentor to help her on her road of trials (Luke, of course). (Kudos, by the way to my friend Neal Silvester‘s newly released book, The Hero Doctrine, for providing me with the terminology I needed to articulate this.) That’s one of the reasons that TFA so closely mirrors ANH. They’re telling the same basic story. Which is fine. Given the Archetypical nature of Star Wars in general, I’d be upset if the structure were much different. More on this later.
Related to this, I am mostly convinced that Rey is a Skywalker. This comes down to one very important decision the film-makers made. The decision to use Anakin’s Lightsaber as the representation of the Hero’s Mantle. The lightsaber represents the heroism that Anakin exemplified when he was at his best. (And he WAS a hero, tragic fall notwithstanding. Anyone who isn’t convinced is referred to the excellent Clone Wars TV series, which made me actually LIKE Anakin. Anakin’s awesome guys.) It represents the same heroic destiny that Luke accepted when he left Tatooine. It’s pretty much the perfect symbol to show that the role of hero has passed to the next generation. Then comes what I call The Elder Wand Scene. Kylo and Rey both attempt to use The Force to pull the lightsaber to them. Kylo, though injured, is by all accounts the more powerful and better trained of the two. But what happens? The lightsaber flies not to the one with greater mastery of The Force, but rather to the hands of its TRUE MASTER. Forced to pick between two (presumed) direct descendants of Anakin, the weapon flies to the one who exemplifies the heroism it represents. Now, it’s possible that the filmmakers are going in another direction with this. Perhaps they are instead going to make it a point that one does not have to descend from greatness to be a hero. Perhaps Rey simply has huge potential that she managed to tap in that moment. Perhaps she’s not a Skywalker after all, merely a coincidence. They could do that, though I feel that if they did, the use of the lightsaber was a mis-step, though not an insurmountable one. They would need to make their intended message clear from right out of the gate in the next film. What they should NOT do is continue to foreshadow Rey’s lineage and then suddenly reveal that, “Oh, she’s not a Skywalker after all, whatatwist.”
Okay, so Rey is starting on a Hero’s Journey, and is probably a Skywalker somehow. This is completely appropriate, because Star Wars has always followed very strong archetypes in its story-telling and it would be weird if it suddenly did otherwise. Viewed in this light, this new trilogy seems set up to tell a great story. What’s your point, Gordon? My point is: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzVmPsqHDDQ).
These films cannot be viewed in a vacuum. This is not a new story in the Star Wars universe, this is the continuation of the main story! If episodes I-III are the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, and episodes IV-VI are his redemption at the hands of his son, then VII-IX MUST be about his legacy. The impact his life had on the galaxy, for better or worse. Now, VII is off to a good start on this front, so far showing that despite his redemption, Anakin’s mistakes continue to haunt future generations. Ideally, the movies are about Anakin righting the wrongs he caused, either through his son or more directly. Regardless of wether he acts on behalf of his father, Luke cannot be a simple mentor figure. He must come back to correct the mistakes he made when he ran away. He has to show that a single triumph is not all it takes. He has to represent the hero who endures to the end. He cannot be THE hero of the trilogy, but he must still be A hero.
Just as the original trilogy means something different when considered on its own or as part of a larger series, so too must episodes VII-IX. They must stand on their own as films, that’s true. But they also must be part of the same story as the first six. Unless the films work on both levels, they cannot succeed.
TL;DR: I ramble a bit, but the point is that Rey is the Hero, but Anakin (yes, posthumously) must still be the main character.