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Tweaking: Star Wars The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Welcome to a new addition to I Have Some Notes: Tweaking! Join Gregg Beever as he dives deep into good films to find any screws that need tightening.

Let’s face it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a miracle. J.J. Abrams took on a monumental task reviving the biggest franchise in movie history and somehow managed to please critics and fans alike. He successfully married the classic aesthetic of Star Wars to modern filmmaking, helped create new loveable characters and revived old characters without letting their presence dominate, well, everything. Nothing short of miraculous.

If you’re sensing a “but” coming it’s probably because this is I Have Some Notes and “buts” are what we’re all about.

Star Wars The Ass Awakens

See?

The Force Awakens, miraculous though it may be, is far from a flawless film. From the wink-wink-nudge-nudge of the 2nd act to the sloppiness that creeps into the 3rd, Episode VII stumbles here and there. While there’s a lot of things I could nit pick – *cough* a “map” to Luke Skywalker *cough* – there’s one small moment specifically I’ve always wanted to fix.

During the film’s climax, Rey and Kylo Ren are facing off in an epic lightsaber duel. The two have locked swords in a test of strength that Kylo Ren appears to be winning when he pauses to convince Rey to join the Dark Side.

Rey & Kylo Ren in a Lightsaber Duel

“You need a teacher,” Kylo Ren says “I can show you the ways of The Force.”

“The Force?” Rey replies. She closes her eyes to have a good think about the Force, appearing to gain strength from it. In what is supposed to be a big dramatic moment, Rey opens her eyes, steels herself for a second and…just keeps fighting some more. Cool, I guess?

This has always felt flat to me. First of all, Rey’s moment of reflection changes nothing about the fight, other than she goes on to win it. Kylo Ren reminds her of the Force, but she doesn’t use it to defeat him, at least not in a way that is obvious to the audience.

Secondly, we’ve already witnessed Rey use the Force to greater effect earlier in that same scene. After Finn’s defeat, Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber rests in the snow several meters from his broken body. Kylo Ren attempts to use the Force retrieve it but is interrupted by Rey, using her new Force powers to contest him for possession of the weapon. Rey heroically pulls the weapon to her hand, the score swells with Luke’s theme, chills go up your spine and neurons fire off like sparklers in your nerd brain.

Rey wields Luke's Light Saber

It’s a very nice moment, but it renders the conclusion of the fight rather anti-climatic.

To fix this we actually have to rewind back to the beginning of the 3rd act in yet another example of the Force being utilized more clearly.

Rey's Interrogation

Do you like our torture chairs? They’re designed for your comfort.

Okay, so Kylo Ren has captured Rey and he’s trying to extract the map to Luke Skywalker (eye roll) from Rey’s mind. It doesn’t go as planned, Rey’s mind proves tougher than Kylo expects and she instead manages to steal a secret from his mind. This is a key scene, Rey discovers she may have powers she’s not aware of. It’s nicely scripted and the hint at her powers is nice and subtle.

The very next scene, however, Rey is suddenly not only keenly aware of her mind powers, but also what exactly they can do. She attempts to use a weak willed Storm Trooper guard to escape. The scene was originally scripted as follows:

INT. STARKILLER BASE – HOLDING CELL – DAY

SLOW PUSH IN ON REY, shackled, mind still racing over what’s happened between her and Kylo Ren…She turns to the Stormtrooper Guard. Studies him for an intense beat. Then says:

REY
You will remove these restraints. And leave this cell, with the door open.

The Stormtrooper Guard looks at her. A beat.

TROOPER GUARD #2
What did you say?

Rey’s eyes stay trained on him. She shifts in her seat, her confidence wavering, but she repeats, with authority:

REY
You will remove these restraints. And leave this cell, with the door open.

The Stormtrooper Guard, rifle aimed, MOVES FOR HER. Rey’s heart pounds — is she about to be killed, freed, or laughed at? The tension unbearable when the Guard says:

TROOPER GUARD #2
I’ll tighten those restraints, scavenger scum!

Rey stares intently at the trooper. Calms herself. And tries again.

REY
You will remove these restraints. And leave this cell, with the door open.

TROOPER GUARD #2
I will remove these restraints. And leave this cell, with the door open.

He reaches down and UNLATCHES THE RESTRAINTS. HE THEN TURNS AND STARTS TO HEAD OUT, her back to him as he exits. SHE IS IN SHOCK. Then tries, quickly:

REY
And you will drop your weapon.

TROOPER GUARD #2
And I’ll drop my weapon.

In isolation this is a great scene and is quite funny. However, Rey’s understanding of the Force has gone into hyperdrive. Did she jack into The Matrix and download “Jedi”? It just feels awkward.

So what if we tweaked the scene to pull back her knowledge of the Force a bit:

INT. STARKILLER BASE – HOLDING CELL – DAY

SLOW PUSH IN ON REY, shackled, mind still racing over what she saw in Kylo Ren’s mind. She struggles, trying to free herself from the shackles. The Stormtrooper Guard in the cell takes notice and steps towards her:

TROOPER GUARD #2
There is no escape, scavenger scum!

REY
Let me go.

The Stormtrooper Guard looks at Rey a moment then steps closer. Now Standing over a shackled Rey he says menacingly:

TROOPER GUARD #2
What did you say?

Rey eyes plead with the guard:

REY
He’s going to kill millions more, I saw it. Please, let me go.

The Stormtrooper Guard laughs at her requests:

TROOPER GUARD #2
Get comfortable, scavenger, you aren’t going anywhere.

His laughter angers Rey, she THRASHES AROUND IN HER SHACKLES and YELLS AT THE GUARD:

REY
Let me go!

The Stormtrooper Guard stiffens and MOVES FOR HER. Rey’s heart pounds — is she about to be killed? The tension unbearable when the Guard says:

TROOPER GUARD #2
I will let you go.

He reaches down and UNLATCHES THE RESTRAINTS. Rey is puzzled. What is happening? She decides to test a new instruction:

REY
Leave the cell with the door open?

The Storm Trooper Guard answers promptly as if he were receiving orders from a superior:

TROOPER GUARD #2
I will leave the cell with the door open.

HE THEN TURNS AND STARTS TO HEAD OUT, her back to him as he exits. SHE IS IN SHOCK. Then tries, quickly:

REY
And you will drop your weapon.

TROOPER GUARD #2
And I’ll drop my weapon.

Maybe that isn’t as smooth, but you get the idea. Rey’s powers are now as surprising to her as they are for the audience and it is a believable evolution from the previous scene. Good, right?

Okay, now let’s zip back to the climax of the film.

Snow Saber

Finn’s been defeated, and the lightsaber lies in the snow. Instead of Kylo Ren and Rey having a mind battle over the laser sword, we simply have Rey pick up it up. There’s an opportunity for nice little moment here, because Rey is afraid of the lightsaber. Remember the last time she touched it in Maz Kanata’s cantina she had a frightful vision of the Jedi being murdered. By picking it up, Rey is bravely choosing her new path, we can even have a moment of hesitation to really sell it.

Now Rey and Kylo can fight while we await Rey to really use the Force. Here’s how I imagine the fight ending (edited from the original script):

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
Amid the BARE WHITE TREES Rey and Kylo Ren BATTLE HARD. She seems to be STRONGER THAN HE IS for half a dozen blows — until he FINDS HIS STRENGTH and FIGHTS BACK, PUSHING REY BACK, into the forest. He throws multiple HEAVY STIKES before FORCE PUSHING REY TO THE GROUND! The fall causes Rey to drop her lightsaber. She scrambles to her feet but it’s too late, KYLO REN has her at THE END OF HIS SWORD.

KYLO REN
You need a teacher! I can show you the ways of the Force!

REY
The Force.

Rey closes her eyes and focuses for a long beat. In the snow, her fallen lightsaber begins to shake. Kylo Ren fails to notice Rey reaching out with THE FORCE for her weapon. Rey opens her eyes, SNAPS THE LIGHTSABER into her hand and ATTACKS!

The rest of the scene would play out as normal, Rey bests Kylo Ren and gives him a big ol’ laser burn to the face. Now we have Rey using the Force purposely for the first time at the most emotional and pivotal moment of the battle.

I think this works a little better, but as we are so fond of saying on the show, I am no screen writer. Only a wannabe. What do you think? Does would this make the movie better or worse for you?

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