Using the Force in The Force Awakens
Remember when the title for Star Wars Episode VII was first announced? There were many a joke about waking up the Force. Did it use an alarm clock? Maybe it needs five more minutes. Would Episode VIII be called The Force Goes Back to Bed?
On FANgirl’s resident podcast, Hyperspace Theories, we took it a bit more seriously. You can listen to the discussion yourself by going back to episode 3 of the show and starting around the 30 minute mark. We talked philosophy and storytelling, but we didn’t talk much of how we thought the Force would be used in the movie.
Kylo Talks First
Interestingly enough, a bit over 7 minutes into this 7th Star Wars saga film we have our first literal show of (the) Force. Kylo Ren turns suddenly with his hand outstretched and freezes a blaster bolt fired by Poe Dameron in mid-air. We can guess Kylo first felt the shot heading his way through the Force, but since it all happens so quickly our only evidence is the action he took.
Of course the bolt isn’t the only thing being held in place with the Force. Poe Dameron is too. His body shakes, perhaps from his own fight or perhaps it comes from the strength of Kylo’s grip. Either way, Kylo is established as a relatively strong Force-user and definitely not someone to mess around with.
We’ll see Kylo use this power again when he crosses paths with Rey on Takodana. She’s much closer to Kylo than Poe was, but this frozen Force grip isn’t the only way he’s tapping into that mystical energy field. At the same time he also uses it to probe her mind in an effort to find BB-8, and thus the map. Having discovered that she has the information he needs, his final Force use of that scene knocks her unconscious.
All these uses of the Force are new as far as canon Star Wars movies go. Only once do we see Kylo use techniques that harken back to his idol, Darth Vader. Captain Mitaka, the unfortunate bearer of bad news, gets dragged across the room and held in a Force choke. Interestingly enough, not only did we never see Vader use those two moves together in the movies, but Kylo Ren also doesn’t use the choke to the same end-result as Vader. Maybe it’s that pesky light side Kylo felt under the sway of. Mitaka lives.
In the saga movies before The Force Awakens, we see certain moves used by those we’re told are part of the Dark Side. While other applications we only see employed by those dedicated to the Light. Force choke, Force lightning, attacking others by Force throwing things at them – we associate those with the Dark. Deflecting with the Force, using it to clear a path, and Jedi Mind Tricks come to be associated with the Light. Force-assisted jumping seems to be neutral.
With only one movie to look at, we don’t know if Kylo has those other Dark Side uses in his roster. Perhaps they’d be part of the training Snoke indicates is incomplete. Perhaps Kylo operates in a gray zone. Regardless his actions reveal strength and an ability to focus and exert control. He’s not the only one we see do this though.
Because a bit more than 7 minutes after we see Kylo use the Force on Jakku… there is another.
Rey’s Force-Using Journey
Some viewers of The Force Awakens were surprised by Rey’s abilities in her fight against Kylo. To them, it all seemed so sudden. But if you look closely, Rey was flowing with the Force all along.
While Rey sits at the foot of the AT-AT, she hears BB-8 and jumps up to rescue him. He’s a ways away and the helmet she was wearing covers her ears. If you listen closely, the sound of BB-8 isn’t just muffled, it echos. It echos like she’s hearing the sound from within her mind, not unlike the way Obi-Wan’s guidance echoed for Luke… through the Force.
This same effect in the sound happens again in The Force Awakens. Again we’re with Rey. This time on Takodana. She hears Kylo in the Force before she sees him. And I’m not talking about the vision. I mean out in the forest. Once Kylo is in Rey’s sights, the echo goes away.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Because she’s accessing the Force a few more times before Kylo finds her in the forest.
Jason Fry’s Rey’s Survival Guide shares that Rey had access to a flight simulator and would use it often in the evenings. The book also lets us know she’s flown around on the planet a few times. So the stunts she pulls with the Millennium Falcon aren’t piloting skills out of nowhere. She has some pretty close calls inside the Star Destroyer but she also knows the layout of the ships very well from having worked inside them so much. Does she subconsciously use the Force too? This one is more up for argument. We’ll mark it as a maybe.
Once Rey and Finn are on board Han Solo’s freighter and the rathtars are loose, look carefully and you’ll notice Rey and Finn’s dodging skills are quite different. Finn’s battle training would put him in a better position to react quickly and theoretically dodge more effectively. The in-person fighting examples we see of Rey show her as better at offense than defense. She’s easily grabbed by Unkar’s thugs and succeeds through wearing them down. Her skills going after Finn shortly after put her in a position where she doesn’t even have to consider a dodge. Yet it’s Rey who gracefully navigates the space around the tentacles on the Enervara that threaten them both. So again we have a good chance Rey’s subconscious is guided by the Force here as well.
When she hits the button to close the blast doors and free Finn from the rathtar her timing is just right to keep most of the rathtar on the opposite side of the closure from Finn. Too soon or too late and that scene would have been a lot more messy. When Finn asks if she saw what happened, she doesn’t take credit for it. Instead she replies “That was lucky.” And maybe that’s how she views it. On some level this suggests she knows there’s something larger at play but doesn’t know how to explain it. This really isn’t the place to either. Plus, as we mention in our Hyperspace Theories commentary, she holds back on info when it comes to Finn.
Her Force connection becomes a lot more obvious in Maz’s Castle. The vision, or Forceback as they called it in production, shows her information related specifically to her and the Force. Based on Maz’s reaction we can be sure that this is not something that happens to everyone. Plus we have the whole “I’m no Jedi, but I know the Force.” speech from Maz. At this point, it’s clear Rey has heard of the Force. She’s had its reality confirmed to her by Han Solo. And now Maz is introducing to her the concept that she could have a strong connection to it.
It’s all a lot to take in and so Rey runs. When she finds herself in the presence of First Order Stormtroopers, she goes to shoot her new blaster, but forget to switch off the safety. With the element of surprise gone she hurries to right her mistake, but isn’t fast enough to do so before the trooper fires back at her. Rey escapes being hit, yet not due to poor aim. She moves exactly enough to dodge the bolt – without even looking. For what could be the fifth time in the film, Rey is guided by the Force.
So we’re back to Rey and Kylo. She subconsciously does her Force thing. He uses it to block her blaster fire. And before we know it we’re at Starkiller Base for some face time.
From Passive to Active
We’ve established that the Force has been a subconscious factor in Rey’s journey. She’s had the puzzle pieces laid out for her by two mentor figures. And then Kylo uses the Force on her and is in her mind once again. She’s a smart girl. She’s got a knack for understanding how things work. So it isn’t a stretch to believe she reverse-engineered her first active Force effort. Rey takes what Kylo was doing to her and serves it right back to him.
He wasn’t expecting that. What’s more, the man who wears a mask not because he needs to, but because he wants to – the man who keeps himself at a distance from everyone else on purpose, just became vulnerable. As we’ve seen so far, Kylo is powerful when he focuses. This is where he starts to lose that focus.
Soon enough we have a second confirmation of Rey’s Force powers as Kylo finds himself telling Supreme Leader Snoke “She’s strong in the Force. Untrained, but more powerful than she knows.”
She’s figuring it out a bit though.
Back in the interrogation room we have a Rey who is not using the Force in a reactionary way anymore. She Jedi Mind Tricks a stormtrooper into letting her go and arming her. Does Rey know what a Jedi Mind Trick is? Perhaps. She’s heard stories of the Jedi, even if she originally thought they were myths. She could be trying out something she once heard, but what’s even more likely is she just got into Kylo’s head and she thinks maybe she can get into this guy’s head too. It takes a few tries to get her confidence and focus in line, but soon she’s free.
Much like the rathtar situation, when Finn asks her how she escaped she dodges the answer. This time it’s: “I don’t know and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She doesn’t know the specifics of how it all worked, but she’s definitely aware.
Less Than Fully-Operational Force Fight
Fast forward through the heartbreak and we have a wounded, emotional Kylo Ren blocking the way of disoriented, emotional Rey. She doesn’t have the familiarity with the Force that he has, so when she lashes out she doesn’t use it. She’s just firing. When he lashes out, he wildly flings her into a tree. It’s that same second nature Force use combined with pain, anger, and abandon that Kylo uses in his fight against Finn.
When Kylo repeatedly hits his own wounds, it’s not a Force power but it is connected to the way he uses the Force. His confrontation with his father didn’t seem to have quite the results he hoped. He’s not on the best footing at his job. And his side’s superweapon is literally being pulled out from under his feet. Making physical pain greater gives him something to focus on. Channeling that pain and the anger associated with it into power is what he needs to fight two very angry and uninjured people — especially when he has a wound that would leave anyone else still down for the count on that catwalk.
By the time Rey re-enters the fight, Finn has worn Kylo down even more. He doesn’t have an especially challenging time fighting Finn but he’s been putting out energy yelling, slicing through trees, and sustaining yet another injury. Rey has just regained consciousness, her friend’s status is unknown but not good, and her back has to hurt. Clearly she uses the Force to grab the lightsaber out of the snow. What follows is Rey quickly applying her staff-wielding skills to a lightsaber fight. If there’s any Force use here, it’s definitely back to passive.
She gets in some good swings but soon she’s using the old Solo run-away technique. While Rey still takes a few swings at him, a majority of her moves are based on a clear “let’s not let that red saber touch me” defense. It’s not until he’s forced her to the edge of the cliff, yell-offered to be her teacher, and reminded her that the Force is a thing that she realizes there’s another way to go about this.
Rey closes her eyes, realigns her focus, and actively taps into the Force in the strongest way yet. For some so far unknown reason Kylo lets her take her time with it. Now the mostly offense versus mostly defense tables have turned. Her moves are far less pokey-stabby and way more broad, overhead, hacking strikes. Kylo is injured to some degree again and his focus is pretty much shot for the rest of the fight. He widely swings. She stabs him in the shoulder. He stumbles. She strikes overhead and then kicks him to the ground.
How much anger Rey is using to channel this energy is up for debate. This lady clearly doesn’t have peaceful Qui-Gon fighting face. A combo of Force-usage with Kylo’s continual powering down gives her the leverage to start driving his lightsaber into the snow. This distraction allows her to use his own forward momentum against Kylo Ren, disarming him and lightsabering up his face.
The Last Jedi is on the horizon. Rey looks like she’s going to get some lessons in Force-usage. Meanwhile Snoke indicated during the attack on Starkiller that Kylo Ren’s training still needed completion. The Force Awakens showed us what different applications of the Force had in common. It’ll be interesting to see what these two do with some more experience and better focus under their belts.
It’s time for their Force portfolios to expand.
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