It’s been some time since my last Scene It? post and I’ve got something special for this one. I’ve got a comparison post for you! I won’t be discussing just one scene but comparing two. I know, where do I get these crazy ideas from? Sarcasm aside, I’m quite excited to compare these two scenes and I hope that by the end of this post you see the same similarities that I do. So, the two scenes I’m looking at are from The Phantom Menace and The Force Awakens and feature some of the fandom’s most beloved characters and duels. Yup, I’m talking about those scenes! This post will contain SPOILERS for The Force Awakens for those that haven’t seen it.
First up: Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul
What I’ll be looking at is the part of this scene starting at roughly 03:00. At this point Obi-Wan has been in an intense fight with Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn, but he has been sidelined for a while due to being knocked out of the fight. He knows what’s at stake and he can see his Master getting weaker. His frantic breathing makes him seen like a caged animal, ready to burst into the fray. But it also betrays a little bit more about Obi-Wan and his link to the Force. Largely due to Ewan McGregor’s amazing performance in this scene it is very clear that the battle is going lopsided. Obi-Wan can almost sense what is going to happen. Moving from quick action shots between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul and reaction shots from Obi-Wan, George Lucas creates a really tense atmosphere which is ended by Darth Maul stabbing Gui-Gon. It is Obi-Wan’s ‘Nooo!’ which really creates the emotional depth in that moment, echoing the audience’s feelings. What happens after that is of main interest to this post.
The look on Obi-Wan’s face as he looks down at his Master is genius. Obi-Wan is filled with pure rage, the anger visible on his face. He is brimming with it as it lapses over into a furious determination. This is not a calm and peaceful Jedi weighing up his options. Obi-Wan’s physicality is miles away from the quiet calm that we saw Qui-Gon exude only minutes earlier. Obi-Wan is ruled by emotions here, whereas throughout The Phantom Menace we have seen Obi-Wan be the voice of reason to Qui-Gon Jinn’s more emotional arguments. As such, he fundamentally goes against the Jedi Code here and, I’d argue, lets the Dark Side fuel his fighting. He is pumped up and ready to go and Lucas delivers us one hell of a fight here.
Obi-Wan goes off like a bomb the moment he can get to Darth Maul. Although the lightsaber battles in the Originals trilogy were fascinating they are also rather slow. They are emotionally heavy but the fighting isn’t as elastic and breath-taking as it is in the Prequels. The Phantom Menace was the first time we got to see the Jedi at the peak of their power, trained and ready, highly skilled and turning fighting almost into an art form. The incredibly elacity and speed, then, of the fight between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul is breath-taking and is what has made this one of the fandom’s most beloved scenes. Obi-Wan seems to match Darth Maul’s ever move and props are due to both Ewan Mcregor and Ray Park for the extensive training that must have gone into making this scene so explosive. Especially in that short moment where they cross blades and Obi-Wan looks down at Darth Maul there is such hatred in his face. And it’s completely understandable to the audience but it’s also a very dangerous moment for Obi-Wan. This is exactly the kind of seduction that the Dark Side offers that is so hard to resist. In a moment where calm and clarity are difficult to read, the Dark Side allows Obi-Wan to tap into his emotions and gain strength.
Darth Maul manages to Force-knock Obi-Wan off his feet and into a chasm. It becomes a very tense moment, especially with the pleasure that Darth Maul seems to take in it. At this dark moment, where danger is literally looming over him, so confident in its strength and superiority, Obi-Wan relies on the Force. He sees an opportunity, his own weapon lost, his life in danger, and, with the Force, reaches for his Master’s lightsaber and cuts Darth Mail in half. What is fascinating is Darth Maul’s utter look of surprise. He was not expecting Obi-Wan’s move, whereas Obi-Wan has seemingly been anticipating most of his moves. Key is that in this moment where he has been relying on the Dark Side to fuel him, he reaches into the Force to help him once again. Although he does so to defeat an enemy, it feels like a calmer moment than the fighting before. Obi-Wan has managed to draw both on the Dark and the Light Side in this fight and in the end I believe it’s what makes him one of the most powerful and balanced Jedi in the whole Order and all of Star Wars. He can use his emotions but doesn’t get rules by them. After he defeats Darth Maul he rushes straight to his Master’s side to witness his last words. In the end his compassion is what controls his actions and he has no problem with using both the Light and the Dark to do what he thinks is right.
The scene I want to compare and contrast this with is one of the final scenes in The Force Awakens, the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. (Unfortunately there are no high-quality videos of this yet.) A lot of similar themes and motifs pop up in this scene which we can recognize from The Phantom Menace. Finn and Rey have just witnessed Kylo killing Han Solo during which we got a similar ‘Nooo!’ moment from Rey. Here the only father-figure she has ever known is ripped away from her, similarly to how Obi-Wan lost his Master. The difference is that both Finn and Rey initially go up against Kylo Ren together. Just like Obi-Wan, Rey gets knocked unconscious and is momentarily out of the fight. She regains consciousness just in time to witness Finn losing against Kylo. Just like Han Solo’s death, this is an emotional trigger for Rey. Finn has been a very important part of Rey’s new life and potentially losing him while still in a dangerous situation provides an extra trigger.
We then see Kylo Ren trying to summon Luke Skywalker’s (originally Anakin Skywalker’s) lightsaber to him. Equally to Darth Maul’s glee in seemingly defeating Obi-Wan, this is an important moment for Kylo where he feels like he’s reclaiming a part of his heritage. In a moment that is now iconic (I feel I can make that statement), the lightsaber responds, but not to him. It goes straight past him and flies into Rey’s hand. Whereas the fighting in The Phantom Menace is a sign of the high development of the Jedi Order, the fighting between Rey and Kylo shows exactly how unexperienced they both are. Neither has ever been in an actual lightsaber fight, Rey definitely not and Kylo most likely has never fought for his life but only while training. Their fighting is tense and rough, with an incredible need behind it. Most likely one of them won’t survive so, as such, the stakes are equally high as in The Phantom Menace.
Towards the end of their fight Kylo has Rey at the edge of a cliff. Similarly to The Phantom Menace they are crossing blades, this time with Kylo looming over Rey. This is an amazing scene, both hectic and calm at the same time. In a beautiful shot, Rey is literally exposed to both the Dark and the Light Side through the symbols of the lightsabers. Cast in both the blue light and the red Kylo, inadvertently, triggers her to use the Force. You can literally see it register in her expression as she taps into the Force. Similarly to how Ewan McGregor shows a lot of Obi-Wan’s emotions through his physical expressions, Daisy Ridley manages to convey Rey’s emotions with a number of physical cues. The most impressive one for me personally are the few moments in the film when she actively uses the Force and a steely confidence seeps into her facial expression. We get that here as she calls on the Force and it answers back to her. She almost relaxes into its power and starts fighting back.
Similarly to how Obi-Wan becomes explosive once being let loose on Darth Maul, Rey gains in power. She is ferocious and Kylo is equally surprised at her sudden strength as Darth Maul was in The Phatom Menace. She wounds him, she forces him back and then there is that amazing slow motion sequence. When I saw this sequence for the first time I couldn’t help but compare Rey to a hunter. She is singularly focused in on Kylo, stalking him as a prey and practically looming over him. She is hungering for his defeat here and I am not the only one who has seen her here as using the Dark Side. She is fuelled by so much anger here and is clearly the aggressor here. There is one specific moment where Kylo Ren is lying on the ground heaving, wounded and practically defeated and J.J. Abrams gives us what I call the typical ‘hero shot’. Filmed from slightly below, the camera pans up to Rey, wind in her hair, breathing heavy and looking down at her enemy. She has won this battle and could, arguably, kill Kylo right there.
But here is where one of the clearest similarities to Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace occurs. Within seconds she leaves that mind space and returns to Finn’s side. Just like Obi-Wan Rey taps into the Force in a moment of need and is partially fuelled by the Dark Side in order to save her life. But in the end it is her emotions and her compassion which also brings her back to herself and brings her back to Finn. Just like Obi-Wan, Rey has the ability to tap into both the Light and the Dark without letting either control her actions. She both uses the Force and lets it guide her into action but she can also bring herself back from the edge, unlike Kylo. I’ve chosen to see this similarity as a sign that Rey will, hopefully, be a very strong Jedi, extremely in touch with the Force but not controlled by her emotions.
In summary, I think there are a number of key similarities between Obi-Wan and Rey in these two scenes which were perhaps not on purpose but definitely are there. Both of them are in a high-stakes position which spells either life or death. Both have just lost someone, a father-figure, and in Rey’s case she also fears she has lost her friend. Both call upon the Force to help them and fight explosively, relying upon their emotions and, arguably, the Dark Side to help them win. Both are victorious and subsequently let go of their anger to return to their friend’s side. We have seen Obi-Wan’s journey in Star Wars and saw him become one of the best Jedi in the Galaxy. I’d also say it’s not entirely irrelevant that we hear Obi-Wan as one of the voices in Rey’s Force-inspired vision. Although I wouldn’t push that to the point I’d argue she’s his grand-daughter, I do think that a link between the two exists in the sense that they form opposites to Anakin Skywalker and Kylo Ren. The latter two are very much ruled by their emotions, while knowing that they are going down a wrong path. Both Obi-Wan and Rey are able to tap into the Dark Side but to also put it aside, to use their emotions but not let them take over.
What do you think? Can you see the similarity or am I reaching?