On Weakness and Laser Swords

This isn’t a review; it’s a rant. And, yeah, of course it’s related to Star WarsStar Wars is a big important thing in the world again, and everyone either loves it or talks about it anyway—and so I, too, must talk about it some more.

There has been a specific aspect of the movie that has been subject to incredibly pedantic censure, and I feel the need to comment on it. At length. At great length. Probably with some five-dollar words. And, if we’re lucky, an air of superiority. Thus I bring you:

On Weakness and Laser Swords

a kindly justification for the Rey/Finn vs. Kylo Ren lightsaber fight

The Complaint

‘How can two people who have never fought with a lightsaber before, and one of them a smelly ol’ girl, defeat a practicing Sith who trained with Luke Skywalker?’

The misogynist part of the above sentence is based on an actual comment I saw on Facebook. Except the ‘smelly’ part; that’s based on Calvin & Hobbes. I bring that up because the now-expunged comment on the now-deleted post read, more or less, ‘How could Kylo Ren allow himself to be beaten by a Stormtrooper and a girl Force user?’ With his broad Homo heidelbergensis forehead lowered for ramming-speed, our stupid idiot here managed to actually touch faintly on my main point. Faintly. And, spoiler alert, my point has nothing to do with Rey’s gender.

However, before we get to my main point, let’s get the easy ones out of the way.

***

The Stormtrooper

FN-2187, dubbed ‘Finn’ by his new bromantic bro Poe Dameron, is a Stormtrooper. Stormtroopers have been fucking jokes since 1977, because they’re ineffective and easily killable. As one of my new favorite Twitter accounts says:

Haven’t we all been thinking about this for 20 years?

Storywise, having a Stormtrooper as a principal character meant that Finn was going to have to step up if he was going to face off with the other bad guys. The way the filmmakers wound up taking on this matter was to make the First Order Stormtroopers of a higher echelon than the Imperial Stormtroopers. Captain Phasma has metal armor, the enemy soldiers can actually hit people with their guns, Daniel Craig has a cameo as one of them, and then there’s this guy…


Pictured: The Militarization of Police in America

…and…hey, wait a minute, is that a Stormtrooper who can fight a Jedi? Why, yes. Yes it is. It is a Stormtrooper who can fight a Jedi. And that Stormtrooper is from the very same battalion that Finn is from. Sure, this guy kicks Finn’s ass, but this can still mean something for Finn in his fight with Kylo Ren.

Finn is part of the First Order division operating alongside Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren’s mission is to find Luke Skywalker. The Stormtrooper in the above scene confirms that this task force is trained to fight Jedi. So, even if Finn might not be one of the soldiers thrust into battle with the special anti-Jedi equipment, it’s possible that every First Order Stormtrooper —including Finn—tasked with finding Luke Skywalker would have minimal training with said equipment. Remember: these guys are a step up from the Imperial Stormtrooper, and Finn was trained as one of them.

So maybe it’s not so unrealistic when Finn doesn’t immediately get his actual ass placed on a serving tray and proffered to him when this happens:

ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit

Also, don’t forget that Finn really doesn’t do that well in the fight. He grazes Ren’s shoulder, yeah, but then the fight ends in pretty short order. And he ends up in a cot-dang coma.

***

The Newbie

The specific complaint about Rey Kenobi (I’m still calling it, guys, I really think she’s a Kenobi, and I’m not the only one who thinks so, I’m willing to bet actual money on it) that I’ve been seeing is that she ‘suddenly‘ gained the ability to use the Force and fight Kylo Ren.

‘Suddenly’? 

Early on in the film we see her pilot the Millennium Falcon with incredible skill, and when asked how the hell she can fly like that, she responds, ‘I don’t know!’ I abhor myself and everything about me for making the comparison, but, does that remind you of anybody? Specifically somebody small, whiny, actually uses the word yipee? Or how about a better example that wasn’t gauchely spelled out for you by the screenwriter: How exactly would a moisture-farming teenager know how to pilot an X-wing?

What I’m saying is that the Force, even in its dormancy and nascence, has been well-established as giving people supernatural comprehension and reflexes. So, there’s that.

Then, did you, like…miss every plot point Rey was involved in? Everything had to do with the, uh, the Force, kinda, uh, how do I say this, uh…kinda Awakening within her. She has a vision when she touches a lightsaber. She Jedi-mind-tricks Daniel Craig. What the fuck is ‘sudden’ about her ability to use the Force?

And as far as her ability to fight with a lightsaber, did you, uh… I mean, are…are you fucking blind?

Is it creepy of me to say I’m glad I’m not?
Answer: Yes, I’m sorry. 

This is her Chekhov’s Gun. In the very scene that Rey and Finn meet, she kicks two guys’ bungholes with that thing. Guys. She fucking knows how to fight with weapons. And she does it well. Combine that with her awakening Force, and you have somebody who could hold their own against a goddamn Jedi.

***

The Goddamn Jedi

As if I should be surprised by hypocrisy in this wretched hive of scum and villainy we call real life, let’s talk about Kylo Ren.

 Seriously, that Twitter account is full of gold.

The main complaint I’ve been hearing about Kylo Ren is that he’s weak, and whiny, and, as the Twitter says, ’emo’. I said in my review that Ren is instantly a more interesting villain than Darth Vader was in most of the original trilogy. Villains are best when they’re complex, when they’re human. Vader was conceptually inhuman in the first two movies, but he didn’t need to be otherwise because of how the plot used him. Had they put an emotionless, ruthless killing machine in Force Awakens, it wouldn’t have worked. He needed to be flawed. He needed to be the petulant, unready young man who screams and shouts when he doesn’t get his way.

And yet, hypocritically, the complaint is that it doesn’t make sense that he gets fought by Finn and defeated by Rey. Like I said in the podcast, that fight was less about how strong Rey and Finn had become and more about how weak Kylo Ren was.

Forgetting that he’s bleeding from a blaster wound during that fight, you can see Ren’s behaviors adding up throughout the film: he’s no Jedi. He’s quick to anger, rash in his decisions, and terribly overconfident. Given Finn’s likely training, and Rey’s kickassness and nascent Forceness, Kylo Ren’s shortcomings level the field between them.

The most interesting thing here is that the role of weakness is shifted from the heroes to the villain. We’ve been oh-so-used to the Hero’s-Journey-esque dynamic of a weak hero discovering their strength and overcoming the Big Bad. Instead we get to see this powerful, dominating, murdering asshat slide down the gravelly slope of the dark side. Where’s his story going to take him? What is his failure going to propel him to do? Eventually turn to the light side? Or go even darker? Considering his position in the First Order, and his actions throughout The Force Awakens, either option provides numerous interesting dramatic paths for him to take.

In the end, it was a terrifically interesting fight. Not as flashy as the abominable prequel fights, not as simple as the original trilogy fights, but with its own identity and intrigue.

So there you have it. Hope I cleared that up for some of you. And if not, I hope I fueled your rage. I feel your ang—okay, yeah, you get it.

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