Saturday, 5 March 2016

Geekery of the Weekery: The Force Awakens [Guest Post]

Ok I know I've already done a post on Star Wars, but today I'm letting my best friend Harriet take over to share her theories about the latest movie.  It's been pretty entertaining to watch Harriet go from fairly disinterested in the franchise to full on geeking out about it and researching ALL THE THINGS.  She has some very interesting thoughts and theories about the latest movie and where things could be going in the next movies, so pull up a seat for the first ever guest post of The Affliction Fiction, republished with permission from her Tumblr.

I was very late to the Star Wars party. I have never really been interested in the original movies, and even when Elle sat me down and got me to watch them, I couldn't pay attention. I already knew the gist of the plot just from pop culture references, and frankly I found the black and white morality in the SW universe downright boring. The villains were stereotypical Evil McBaddie guys, relishing in the fact that they’re evil and laughing at the concept of being a GoodGuy™, who inevitably saves the galaxy with the power of love and friendship, in the end even convincing the big baddie that being good was better all along.

Some people love this kind of dynamic, as it gives you a clear villain to hate and you don’t have to really think about anything, just sit back and watch the movies. I am the complete opposite - I can’t stand this particular cliché. I need to analyse every decision every character makes. I need to understand the motives of the antagonists, even if I don’t agree with them. I need to see villains doubt themselves and heroes sometimes fail like any human does. I can (reluctantly) tolerate this black and white representation of characters in other media like video games because I'm not really there for the story, I'm there for the gameplay. But in something as plot heavy as a film, a trilogy of films even, this kind of simplicity is really just not good enough for me. Maybe these clichés would have been fine in their time (and I'm told again and again that the only reason that the OT feels so cliché now is because everyone since has copied it), but that doesn't change the fact that this is how I feel about them.

Then I saw The Force Awakens.

I wasn't even planning on seeing it at first. In fact, I only saw it for the first time last weekend (two months after it first came out!). But all the gif sets and fan art and everything else that made its way to my tumblr dash finally convinced me to give it a shot. And I loved it.

Whether my reaction to this one was so different to my reaction to the OT was because of the better(?) plot, the Big Screen effect, or just because this movie was made to be accessible to a new generation of fans I don’t know, but I suspect it’s a combination of all three. Whatever the reason why, I have dived head first into the fandom and have since spent all my spare time reading theories, headcanons, fanfics, and trying to figure out what else that is now canon that I can get my hands on.

But right now I mostly want to talk about theories about Episode VII and speculation for Episode VIII, so if you’re interested in any of this then bare with me. My apologies in advance for being a “fake geek girl” and writing up a whole lot of meta on a fandom that has been around like 40 years and I've only just gotten into… But I'm well and truly in the deep end of this fandom now, and I've got enough internalised misogyny about it as it is so keep it to yourself, thanks! Here are the three main questions that I walked away from the film wondering:

1) Who are Rey’s parents? 

At the moment I have accepted the popular opinion that Luke is Rey’s father. The biggest reason for this is that I seriously doubt that Disney would let LucasArts drop the Skywalker name with the huge amount of recognition that it has. Sure, Ben Solo is technically a Skywalker too, but at the moment he goes by Kylo Ren, and even if he does go back to the light side, I doubt he’s going to adopt the name Skywalker (talk about adding insult to injury to Han!).

Other than this, the movie drops hint after hint after hint that Luke is Rey’s father. I don’t think I really need to go into detail about all the clues, someone else will have written up something far better than I ever could. At first I thought that all these clues must be red herrings because it was just too obvious, but now I think that it’s actually quite a smart thing that LucasArts have done here. The mostly hotly contended and discussed part of the movie is Rey’s parentage. The non-disclosure of this in the film generated a lot of hype for the next movie - everyone is excited to see if their theory is correct. Not only this, but I believe that leaving this bit of information out of the film has very strategically diverted attention away from what will be the real twist (because everyone expects a twist from a SW movie, right?). But more on that twist soon.

Rey from Star Wars:
The Force Awakens
I saw a fantastic post (unfortunately I can’t find the source now) that explained how a Solo/Kenobi/Other parentage wouldn't make sense from a narrative point of view. Basically, if Rey was a Solo, this should have been revealed before she watched Ren kill Han for the biggest emotional impact on her and the audience. It would simply be poor writing if she/we found out afterwards. If she was a Kenobi, the writers will have to find a way to fit in this rather long explanation in the new movie, and it goes against the themes of Rey’s journey (finding her family and rescuing them instead of waiting for them to come back to her) and the themes of the SW movies in general (Anakin and his descendants trying to find the right balance of light and dark). We don’t know of any descendants of Obi-Wan, so several new characters (who are probably already dead) will have to be invented just to make this theory work. If she is Rey [Other] then even more dead characters will have to be invented (or a side character from the old movies fleshed out), as well as an explanation as to how Rey became so powerful in the force. These last two theories are messy and convoluted. Remember - the simplest answer is often the right one. Fans who don’t want to see the Kenobi line end could hope for Rey’s mother to be a Kenobi descendant, which is what I am personally hoping for.

 Rey Skywalker is the only viable theory that is left, and it explains why Rey’s parentage wasn’t revealed in the film at all. If it was revealed before the twist of Kylo Ren being Leia and Han’s son, it would have stolen the spotlight and given Han’s death scene comparatively less impact. Unless Leia and Han were your personal favourite, you (the average fan) are probably going to be more interested in Luke Skywalker’s child than theirs.

Lastly, in an interview here Daisy Ridley stated (pre-movie release) that viewers will find out who Rey’s parents are by the end of the film.

Everyone wants to know who Rey’s parents are. Do you know?
Will the viewer know after the first episode or not necessarily?
Questions will be answered, absolutely. The main question will be answered.

So it would seem that either 1) we were supposed to interpret the Luke-as-Rey’s-father hints as confirmation but it wasn't as clear as the creators thought, or 2) they intended to confirm Rey’s parentage in the film but changed plans before the release. My guess is that there were dialogue scenes between Luke and Rey at the end that were cut because they ruined the flow, and maybe the director decided keeping it a secret for now would cause a lot of valuable discussion (which of course it did!).

Now, there are arguments against the Luke-as-Rey’s-father theory, but I don’t think they are strong enough to debunk it. It’s certainly going to be easier to explain why Han and Chewie don’t recognise her or why Luke has a daughter when Jedi are supposed to be abstinent than explaining a convoluted family tree involving people we've never seen before.

Of course, who left her on Jakku, who her mother is, and why Luke never comes for her haven’t been addressed by this theory, but I can only speculate on these without any evidence to back any of it up. I do have my theories, but message me directly if you’re interested in those.

2) What is Kylo Ren really up to?

Kylo Ren is one of those love-him-or-hate-him characters, and I can see why from both sides. He’s a whiny, tantrum throwing man-child who killed his own father in search of more power, and people who loved Han are unwilling to forgive him for that.

He’s also a very conflicted person who continuously fucks up and seems to be being used by the person he is serving. This makes him a sympathetic character for some.

Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
While I absolutely understand the Ren hate, I am just really glad that this SW villain shows a human side from just about the very start. Being able to somewhat understand the thought process of a villain makes me far more invested in the story. Villains like Vader or Palpatine come across as so incomprehensibly evil that they take away the suspense of the conflict. We know from experience with films like this that the good guys always defeat the bad guys. But when the lines are blurred between good and bad, other options are opened up and it’s less clear who will win, or if there will even be a winner at all. I'm not saying that Kylo Ren is a “blurry good guy” - killing all the villagers on Jakku and the hints we get on his past (i.e. Jedi massacre) are clearly very bad things. But I think there is potential for a redemption arc in his future.

I think it’s quite clear that LucasArts is planning on this too, not only because he has been humanised so much in episode VII, but because he is the son of Han and Leia, two of the three heroes of the OT. It would be a stain on the image of them that was built in the OT for their only child to remain on the dark side, and that alone is enough to make me believe that he will come back to the light. As a side note, he was heavily marketed and expected to be the most popular character from the new movie which leads me to believe that LucasArts intended for him to be a lot more likeable than he ended up being, perhaps adding further evidence to a Ren redemption theory.

What makes so many people baulk at the idea is that Ren seemingly killed his father in cold blood. We walk away from the movie believing that Ren has now solidified his move to the dark side, and will be a stronger villain in the next movie. At this point, he seems pretty irredeemable.

Now go watch this great video for a different opinion on the events from Kylo Ren’s perspective.

As I mentioned earlier, I think the big reveal in the next movie will not be Rey’s parentage. It will by Kylo Ren betraying the First Order. I am really hoping that this interpretation of events described in the video above will be revealed as canon in the next movie, because it would make Han’s death meaningful, which is one thing that really annoyed me while watching the movie. But even if this is not what happens, I am still quite sure that Ren will have a redemption scene at some point in the trilogy, it is just a matter of when. I doubt it will be in the third movie, as this would be too similar to Vader’s redemption in the OT. Perhaps LucasArts will intentionally continue to mirror the events of the OT and have Ren mirror Vader, but there are already enough differences between their characters that I don’t think this will happen.

When Rey tells Ren that he is afraid that he’ll never be as strong as Vader, maybe we shouldn't take this at face value. The biggest feat of strength Anakin did was to sacrifice himself to save his son, and turn away from the dark side that had consumed and controlled him for years. Maybe Ren is afraid that he won’t have the strength to turn away from the dark side when the time comes.

Whether Ren will attempt to find acceptance with his mother in the resistance, continue to work with the First Order and try to destroy them from the inside, or make some kind of Vader-like self-sacrifice, I don’t have a strong opinion on yet. But I think we can definitely expect a Ren redemption at some point, and if it is true that Han willingly died to help Ren achieve this then it will be lot easier for Ren-haters to accept this inevitability.

Seriously, go watch that video. It is my favourite new headcanon.

3) Who is Snoke, really?

The biggest question I had while watching the movie (other than the two I just talked about) was “who the hell is Snoke?”. As a newbie to the fandom, I thought that he might be someone that the older fans were familiar with, especially seeing as Leia and Han talk about him as if they know him quite well. I quickly found out that even the most hard-core fans were just as confused about him as I was.

So we have two basic options for the real identity of Snoke. Either he is someone who has been featured or mentioned before in one of the other canon materials, or he is a completely new threat that hasn't been seen at all until episode VII.

Snoke from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I am hoping that Snoke is a character that is somehow tied to one of the earlier films, simply because that would make for better story telling. Having a completely new big bad guy who mysteriously has never shown up until now feels like we’re getting into Dragon Ball Z territory - constantly inventing stronger and stronger enemies who grow more unrealistic as more ridiculous explanations get thrown together for their sudden appearance. A bit of a slippery slope, yes, but I really don’t want to see the SW franchise head down that road.

It would make for a much better story and a more frightening villain if Snoke is someone we already know about, with a reasonable explanation for why he wasn't in the other movies. And the lead contender for this position is Darth Plagueis.

The biggest clue towards this theory is the extreme similarities in Snoke’s theme and the music played when Palpatine tells Anakin about Plagueis in Episode III. See this video by redditor AUnderkofler for a detailed look at the similarities between the two pieces. Many argue that it is impossible for this to be a coincidence overlooked by highly acclaimed composer John Williams and director J.J. Abrams, given his background in score composition.

Plagueis is also said to be the only force user known to create or sustain life, and Snoke claims that he has seen empires rise and fall in his lifetime, so we can assume that he has an unnaturally long lifespan. Of course this could be a lie, but I don’t see what purpose lying about this would serve.

Furthermore, it is implied in Episode III by Palpatine that Plagueis either created Anakin, or that Anakin was created by the Force itself to “strike back” at him for his unnatural powers. This would explain Snoke’s great interest in Kylo Ren, the grandson of Anakin Skywalker. Perhaps Luke, Leia, and Rey didn’t show enough potential to be influenced by the dark side, but Ben Solo did and so was targeted as Plagueis’ next apprentice.

But Palpatine claims he killed Plagueis according to the “rule of two”, where only two Sith can exist at any time - master and apprentice. So how can Snoke be Plagueis if Palpatine claims to have killed him? There are a couple of theories.

Firstly, Palpatine could simply be lying about this. There might be many reasons why Plagueis is still alive but we don’t see him at all in the movies. Perhaps he has existed as Snoke all along and was pulling the strings the entire time during the OT and the PT, and now has moved on to Ren and the First Order. Perhaps the rule of two is a lie, or doesn’t apply to him as the greatest Sith Lord.

Secondly, perhaps Palpatine thought that he had killed Plagueis but actually failed. Plagueis might have been gravely wounded and hadn’t recovered by the end of Episode VI, so we never heard of him until now. This might explain his horrid appearance, although that could also be explained by extended use of Dark side Force and/or extremely old age. A write up on Reddit sums up this theory very nicely, and in my opinion is the most plausible of the Snoke=Plagueis theories.

A third theory, and by far my favourite, I chanced upon while reading Reddit speculation threads. User FusterCluck15 wrote this so succinctly that I don’t think I could rephrase it any better, so I will copy it here:

The secret to eternal life is the ability to posess bodies, plagueis was palpatine, when vader tossed palpatine down the reactor core you see his evil spirit fly up and hit vader in the face, after vader dies palpatines/plagueis’s spirit begins to take over the corpse but is not able to actually make it move until after luke burns the body hence the scarring. This is also how Ren gets vaders helmet–snoke gives it to him.
Plagueis/palpatine could live forever by switching bodies, but could only do so into the body of the one that kills him, thats why he wanted luke to strike him down. He had originally wanted anakins body for this purpose but after mustafar anakins body was no good.
This means there has litterally only ever been one sith lord, and the whole apprentice killing the master is a trick, because murdering the master makes you become the master. 

This post got very little attention and I haven’t seen the theory discussed anywhere else, so unfortunately I’m not aware of any counter arguments which might prove this theory false. As it stands, however, this theory makes so much sense that it feels too good to be true. One last thing I’d like to add is this image showing the similarities between Vader and Snoke - if Snoke is using Vader’s body then the gash they share on the skull makes in-universe sense, rather than a trait that simply draws a parallel between the two.

While I think this theory is pretty unlikely I would absolutely love for it to become canon. It would really tie together the three different trilogies in a way that allows them to all be one continuous story about one family against one villain, and puts a lot more weight into the prophecies that Anakin and Luke would bring balance to the force. Their fight isn’t over yet; it is multi-generational. It would also allow Luke to have more of an active role in the next movies which I’m sure the older fans really want to see, because as it currently stands the films could very easily go down the road of Luke taking Yoda’s place as the wary master, only interested in teaching and unwilling to fight alongside the new heroes. I don’t know about you, but I wanna see some of Luke’s amazing new Jedi powers in combat.

Most interestingly for this theory, I think, is the implication it would have for Kylo Ren. Is he so loyal to Snoke because he knows he inhabits Vader’s body? Or is he unaware of this and would be horrified to learn that the man he is serving has been pulling the strings all along, and presumably wants to inhabit Ren’s body once his training in the Force is complete? What would happen if Ren did try to kill Snoke? Maybe Luke has found out Snoke’s secret from his time at the Jedi Temple and would come to Ren’s rescue! There is so much room for speculation with this theory which is one reason I like it so much. I’m keeping my fingers crossed with this one but I’m not very confident in it’s truth.

There is one more theory for Snoke’s real identity, and that is… Darth Jar Jar. I’m honestly not sure if this one is taken seriously by anyone or not. I do believe that it was George Lucas’s intention to reveal Jar Jar as a Sith in Episode II, but that idea was obviously scrapped and I can’t imagine that the new trilogy team could live it down if they brought Jar Jar back. I hope to god this doesn’t happen. This is pretty much my worst case scenario to be honest.

Anyway, thank you if you read this far! And please message me with thoughts, I would love to talk about any of this, or even anything that I didn’t mention, anything at all Star Wars is pretty much consuming my life right now.

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