Warning: Spoilers for Star Wars: TFA

Tonight, I went with my husband to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, courtesy of a marvellous friend who agreed to childsit for us. (Which is, in case you were wondering, the reason why I hadn’t seen it sooner.) Here’s the short review: I LOVED IT. I loved it SO MUCH that, even hours later, I’m still humming the Star Wars theme under my breath and while vibrating with joy, because whatever criticisms my rational brain might have of the structure, the rest of me doesn’t care, not because it’s Star Wars and therefore inviolate, but because it’s been a long time since watching a film made me feel that purely happy.

Here’s the longer review:

Inevitably, because I live online, I went in slightly spoiled. I knew who Kylo Ren was, as well as the ultimate fate of Han Solo, though I managed to suppress that latter piece of information sufficiently to still be slightly surprised by it. And of course – of course, internets, have you met me? – I knew that Finn/Poe was the big queer ship that everyone was thrilled about. Crucially, both Oscar Isaac and John Boyega have said, in interview, that their onscreen relationship was being played as a romance, and while I recognise that a great many people will likely assume they’re joking – because valid queer subtext, such joke, amirite? – I’m going to calmly point out that if one of them was female, the media and its attendant critics would likely have accepted this as Word of God confirmation that they’ll be canon in the future.

So: with all that established, what struck me right from the off was how the three main characters – Rey, Finn and Poe – were all introduced in ways that evoked direct comparison with the original trio. Rey, a mechanic, pilot and trainee Jedi abandoned by her birth parents on a desert world, reminds us of Luke Skywalker. Poe, a member of the rebellion on a secret mission captured by the Dark Side, but not before smuggling out vital information in a droid, reminds us of Leia Organa. And Finn, a good guy trying to make a break from bad people, initially bent on running, but who ultimately stays to help his friends, reminds us of Han Solo. Each new character has a clear forerunner, yet still develops in original directions.

This is not accidental. It is, in fact, both purposeful and obvious, and in light of all the attention surrounding Finn and Poe, it seems extremely pertinent to note that their dynamic, not Finn and Rey’s, is the one held up as a mirror to Han and Leia’s. When Rey flies off to find Luke at the end of the film, echoing Luke’s earlier quest to find Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, she leaves an unconscious Finn with a forehead kiss, murmuring “thank you, my friend” – a declaration which reads as more platonic than romantic. Which isn’t to deny at all that the two have chemistry; far from it, in fact, and as a card-carrying bisexual, I’m more than happy to endorse the idea that Finn is equally attracted to both Rey and Poe.  But as the fierce initial pushback to the deliberate lack of a romantic relationship between Sherlock and Joan Watson on Elementary makes clear, our cultural narrative has almost as much trouble accepting platonic friendships between men and women as with explicit queerness of any kind, which makes it all the more vital to at least consider them options.

Arguably, in fact, the former is a direct consequence of the latter. If queer relationships are dangerous things to portray, then letting men and women interact without any sexual/romantic pressure is a gateway crime: a means of undermining the sexist, heteronormative mandate that members of the opposite sex can’t ever be just friends. Narratively, if a man isn’t shown to be interested in an available woman, the worry becomes that we’ll think him interested in men, which – you know that cultural, learned tendency we have, to assume that everyone is straight unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise? The reason why coming out is a thing? Shit like this is where that comes from: a constant barrage of narrative cues designed to reassure us that The Hero Is Hetero, even if nothing sexual happens, their usage so deeply tied to proof of straightness that identical cues presented between members of the same sex are frequently considered insufficient proof of queerness.

All that being said, examining Finn/Rey as  a romantic Luke/Han dynamic is similarly fascinating, and also of potential queer interest. Considering that Harrison Ford kissed Mark Hamill during a take of one or their more emotive scenes, it’s clear that Ford,  at least, was aware of the potential to take the subtext in a different direction. In fact, to delve briefly into the annals of fannish history, people did ship Han/Luke at the time of the original trilogy, though it was considered taboo to do so, not least because Lucasfilm issued protocols asking that fanzines stick to family friendly content, which – thanks to homophobia – was not considered to include queer romance. I would therefore argue that The Force Awakens, regardless of how you divvy up the romantic potential, is deliberately evoking queer subtext: if Finn/Rey, you’re retroactively queering up Han/Luke, albeit by inference, and if Finn/Poe, you’re acknowledging explicit queerness in Episode VII.

Given the directness of these comparisons, it doesn’t escape notice either that Rey and Poe, who recall Luke and Leia, have no scenes together. Not only does this nix the creation of a traditional love triangle firmly in the bud, but it has the effect of making Finn – not Rey – the central romantic object. Off the top of my head, I can list approximately ninety-eight million narratives in which a central trio comprised of two men and one woman will focus on the woman as a sexual lynchpin without actually making her the hero. Even if, as per Harry Potter and Hermoine Granger, the tension for potential Girl Theft only exists in the mind of the jealous third party, it’s a dynamic we’ve seen over and over and over again – but in The Force Awakens, it’s Finn who has the key relationships with Rey and Poe, who never meet, and Rey who saves the day.

Plus, well. It’s pretty hard to deny the validity of a queer interpretation when Poe tells Finn to keep his jacket because he looks good in it, then leans back, looks him up and down, and bites his fucking lip. I mean, come on.

Nor is it insignificant that Finn and Poe are both played by men of colour. Fandom – and particularly that aspect of fandom focused on m/m pairings – is frequently a sea of white: that Finn/Poe has been embraced so quickly, so prominently is an enormously positive thing in its own right. Similarly, at a time when black children, and particularly black boys, are viciously denied the right to childhood by the evils of ingrained, systematic racism, John Boyega’s portrayal of Finn is even more important. As anyone who’s seen Attack the Block could already attest, Boyega is a talented, versatile actor, deserving of this and many more major roles. But in terms of representation, the fact that Finn is not only a joyful, comedic character, but consistently welcomed by his new allies, is doubly significant. Narratively, it would be easy to justify members of the Resistence being sceptical of, even hostile towards, a confessed former Stormtrooper, regardless of his actions. Instead, Finn is never once viewed with suspicion; is never called upon to justify his goodness; is always viewed with humanity, praised for his strength and kindness in resisting familiar evils, rather than being forced to prove himself worthy of trust.

When was the last time the big screen allowed a kind, funny black boy to become a hero without demanding first that he suffer suspicion for his origins? When was the last time a kind, funny black boy became a hero at all, let alone an arguably queer one?

And then there’s Rey: a competent, quick-witted heroine whose skills are exactly those of Luke and Anakin Skywalker – a great mechanic, pilot and an instinctively capable Jedi warrior, equally at home when talking to droids or climbing walls – and who, for her gender, is being called a Mary Sue. Dear anyone who has made this argument: shut the fuck up forever. The ultimate Mary Sue is Batman, and you’ve never given two shits about how he’s an inventor and a badass vigilante and a billionaire and a businessmen and a detective and totally hot right now, because he’s a guy, and you expect male protagonists to be awesome at everything, whereas girls should have a few flaws so we don’t forget about Eve being ultimately responsible for Original Sin. Daisy Ridley does an amazing job of conveying Rey’s complex mix of strengths and vulnerabilities, and I loved every minute of it. (And no, I don’t give a shit that she successfully used a lightsabre on her first try. So did Finn, and I don’t see you calling him overpowered.)

Yes, there were times when the structure of The Force Awakens lagged a little, when the plot either jumped or ran thin, but it’s hardly the only Star Wars film of which that can be said, and it certainly succeeded in many other ways that the previous films didn’t, up to and including the spine-tingling sight of gorgeous wrecked star destroyers littering the desert. Yes, it would’ve been nice to see more Maz and Captain Phasma and women of colour, and for Leia and Rey to have had an actual conversation; and yes, it would’ve been brilliant for the queerness to be explicit. But right at this moment, I honestly don’t care. Whatever its flaws, The Force Awakens left me feeling utterly joyful: I smiled the entire way through it, because for the first time, that nameless galaxy far far away finally feels big enough for all of us.

 

Comments
  1. I’ve just gotten back from seeing it for the second time, and I kinda wish I’d seen this blog before going in, to see if I could pick up on all that while watching. Oh well, if we don’t go to it again (my wife is fond of seeing movies she likes multiple times at the cinema), we’re bound to get it on DVD or bluray.

    But off the top of my head, I reckon you’re exactly right. And it is fascinating to consider.

    As for Rey… she’s a prodigy, at the very least. I can understand accusations of Mary Sue, but I think they’re a bit misguided. You can build the backstory from what we know… like, obviously she’s crawled over every inch of the Falcon while it was grounded. She knew about the various mods done to it. Have to wonder where she learned to fly if she’s never gone off world, but she may well have flown all manner of craft in atmosphere…

    And frankly, she used a lightsaber exactly as well as I would have expected for her first time.

    *shrug* I liked the movie, altogether.

    • If you look at some of the implied background, her ability to use the Force makes sense. Some of those flashbacks imply that she was at Luke’s Jedi training school before Kylo Ren destroyed everything and she was smuggled out. Even as a small child, she’d have been given a little Force training. She might have blanked it out as a lot of children do after trauma, but the ‘muscle’ memory’ would be there.

      I really liked the movie, for pretty much every reason listed in this review. It made me happy in ways I didn’t expect.

  2. Reblogged this on The Story Shaman and commented:
    This post by Foz Meadows pretty much sums it up regarding The Force Awakens. Read and be joyful.

  3. Tricia says:

    Yes yes yes!

    I second everything you said – I was absolutely delighted by The Force Awakens. The diversity, THE REY, the callbacks to the original trilogy (A New Hope in particular). It was everything my seven-year-old self wanted.

    I had noticed the similarities between our new trio and the original trio, and I’d also seen fandom explode with Finn/Poe excitement. But I didn’t put together the fact that these totally go together and insinuate that Finn/Poe is actually possible canonically. I was skeptical of queerbaiting before, but….maybe!

    Thanks for your review. It got me excited about the movie all over again.

  4. […] Foz Meadows heartily approved of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and adds some interesting shading to …. […]

  5. Well, here’s a different take on it.
    … Millennials, as well as the first arrivals of the yet undefined new cohort, are internalizing very different messages about love, connection, sacrifice and the beauty and richness of both maleness and femaleness. They aren’t looking to the mature characters as their role models or heroes, but to the young and anxious Finn and Rey, who embody the new unhealthy gender dynamic: The young female who believes she must be hostile, rejecting and cold in order to assert her strength and relevance and the young male who clumsily acts as if he must apologize for his existence, his maleness, his intellect, his emotions, his needs and his pain while he chases after the type of female who will only confirm his sense of irrelevance.

    http://disinfo.com/2016/01/star-wars-the-force-awakens-the-generational-contrast-of-malefemale-dynamics/

  6. […] •Foz Meadows rips into a claim Force Awakens has a bad male/female dynamic because (what else) feminism! Meadows, herself, loves the dynamic. […]

  7. Madeleine Churchhouse says:

    I cannot beLIEVE some people think that was a negative dynamic between Finn and Rey? That had never occurred to me before. Now I feel sad. I thought it was great – I cheered at the moment when he wanted to help her and then was like ‘Oh actually no I don’t need to.’ He unlearned his gender stereotypes in order for them to become real friends for who they both actually are, and not how they thought the other should be…surely that can’t be anything but positive for young kids? Is she literally saying that Rey has a duty to instantly accept Finn’s romantic overtures because if she doesn’t that will Hurt His Feelings and then give him Man Pain and make him violent/damaged? And this kind of insinuates that she blames sexist behaviour against women… on women?? I DON’T UNDERSTAND PEOPLE SOMETIMES grrrrr
    bUT on the other side — I had never thought about Finn being Han and Po as Leia! That’s such an awesome comparison. Because Finn is so cute I had always imagined him as the other half of Luke in my head (naive, loveable ANH Luke) with Rey being the rest of Luke, (Awesome Jedi Chosen One Luke). I also feel like narratively Leia is Rey’s mentor in terms of strong lady who saves the day. I guess I automatically saw Poe as Han because he’s, ahem, sexy, and more worldly/older than the others, and because Finn and Rey seemed such a brilliant buddy pair, like Luke and Leia.
    And YES for Rey not being a Mary Sue.
    I did read a lot of stuff from PoC fans who are 1000% done with Finn being quite sweet, comic relief and not being confirmed as a Jedi because it was patronising (also bad marketing because HE was always shown with a light saber not Rey!) and that this leaves him not the real narrative hero which is kinda race-baity. Personally I thought it made him more like the audience substitute into the show which is why he’s kinda cuter, but I reckon he’ll be a Jedi too by Episode 8. Luke also went through that clueless, cute stage to becoming quite untouchable and powerful by ROTJ. This is my theory at least. (Also – Finn just looks so good with a lightsaber! Damnit John!)

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