One of the most noteworthy scenes in Episode VII The Force Awakens was Rey’s Force-vision. It is a scene in which we are projected both into the past as well as into the future. Some events Rey witnesses pertain to her own history and some are of a more mysterious origin. It is the key moment where there is an awakening in The Force Awakens, Rey touches the lightsaber that originally belonged to Anakin Skywalker, was passed to Luke by Obi Wan who subsequently lost it.
The Visual Story
When Rey stands a top the staircase into Maz Kanata’s basement BB-8 looks up at her. On a droid-face it is never easy to judge and emotion or intent, but it seems less a quizzing look along the lines of ‘what are you doing’ and more an ‘are you sure yo want to go down there’. Almost suggesting that BB-8 knows more about what is going on. Such an all-knowing droid is not without precedent in the Star Wars Saga, it is the role played by R2-D2 who is now temporarilly off-line in the story. When Luke visits Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back he is also accompanied by an all knowing droid. R2 even knows who Yoda is when they first meet but keeps silent! It is quite possible that BB-8 knows much more about the events unfolding before him than we suspect.
As Rey descends into the basement, BB-8 follows her at a distance. In fact it is curious to see that BB-8 halts before Rey does the same in front of a door. Again here is a hint that BB-8 knows what it about to happen, or what is supposed to happen. Although there might not be a reason to believe that BB-8 can open doors from a distance, there is also no reason to believe that he couldn’t, especially when he knows what is supposed to happen. When Rey enters the opening door BB-8 follows her while maintaining the distance. He does seem to know whatever is happening has an intimacy he is not supposed to disturb. It is not a fearful-keeping-the-distance, it is a respectful motion.
Once inside the expression of Rey’s face shows she knows the trove to be the source of whatever it is she is hearing and she cautiously opens the lid. As soon as she touches the lightsaber a sequence of images unfold. The first image is a ‘far past’ image straight out of Empire Strikes Back. As the Bespin Hallway collapses Rey falls into a new sequence the first image of which is Luke (probably) and R2 mourning at what seems to be a funeral pyre just outside of the field of view. Rain starts gushing down, lightening flashing as we get what seems a shot of a hoodless but masked Kylo Ren seemingly saving Rey from an attack of what looks like a Knight of Ren. But I have the impression this is caused by persepctive rather than by actual proximity. These images clearly refer to a possible future. The sequence leaves ambiguous whether the images of Kylo and his knights or those of Luke and R2 are past or future. The gushing rain however suggests a continuity in the two images as if they are part of the same past or future event. Kylo seems to walk towards her and as she turns around she sees her young self and, after turning around again, the departing ship of, most likely, her parents. This is clearly a vision of the past again! As the image deforms with the Jakku sun seemingly having it’s light sucked out we get a view of Star Killer Base where Rey encounters a hooded and masked Kylo Ren. This is a possible future we will see realised in a slightly different way later.
Evidently Rey does not know Kylo at this time. Nor does she know Luke! The visions pertaining to these two must be completely puzzling to her. It seems to be the vision of her own younger self that unsettles her the most, which is also what her facial expression seems to suggest. The explanation of Maz Kanata after the end of the vision actually adds remarkably little to an understanding of what she has seen. Maz seems to express some degree of surprise at the fact that the lightsabre of the Skywalkers calls out to her and Rey seems frightened by the prospect to be entangled in a destiny this vast and something that is so cloudied and perplexing. She is in denial, much like Luke is after he has heard about his father from Ben Kenobi in Episode IV.
Rey runs from the realization she is waiting in vain and her past will not return. A future beckons that she cannot embrace yet her past has so much that is left ‘unfinished’ that she cannot move forward. Luke is in a similar situation when he is in Ben’s home and recieves this same lightsaber, he too cannot move into the future because, as Ben put’s it, he hears ‘his uncle talking’. In fact Anakin Skywalker himself is in a similar situation in Attack of the Clones after he has attempted to return to a past that has been long gone. A ‘hesitation’ he had a decade earlier when leaving his mother behind on tatooine is replayed in Attack of the Clones when he comes to her rescue, but does so while failing to save her life. The genuine hesitation of the young Anakin, become the guilt-laden return of the adolescent Anakin and it ends in the disgrace of the Sandpeople Massacre. He is propelled back towards his destiny only because of the enemy’s action; the capture of Obi Wan.
Luke also wants to retread his path back to the homestead. However this option gets violently erradicated by the Imperial Stormtroopers’assasination of the Lars family. In a similar vein Rey’s attempt to retrace her steps to Jakku are blocked by the actions of the First Order attacking Maz’s hide-out. In all three cases ‘fate’ drives our protagonists towards their destiny and disallows them a move back to a past that is now gone. One might argue that this amounts to further evidence that there is a Skywalker lineage at work here. But there is one further interesting parallel to note as another main character in the Star Wars hexalogy goes through a similar motion.
Master Yoda sends out Obi Wan to find and kill Darth Vader and although Obi Wan does as he is told and goes to seek out Vader he is actually not going after Vader. Obi Wan is looking for Anakin Skywalker, someone who according to Yoda, in that same scene of Revenge of the Sith, has been lost, ‘consumed’ by Darth Vader. When Obi Wan finally finds Anakin he is clearly looking for his former friend and cannot believe what he finds. Anakin’s return to his past ended in a disgraceful crime, Obi Wan’s journey takes him into a similar abys. Not only does Obi Wan not fulfil the prime aim of his mission, to destroy Vader, but against the Code of the Republic Jedi he expresses his attachment to Anakin, also using that name, and finally leaves him to die a slow torturous death on the banks of a lava river. Only after this duel does Obi Wan take over Yoda’s view that Anakin is no more. The next time they meet Obi Wan will no longer address him as ‘Anakin’ but only as ‘Vader’.
This Forcevision is a turning point in the film but it never clearly spells out how or why it is a turning point, or what it is that needs turning. Sure, there is the superficial story of the protagonist that seeks to hold on to the past but must be moved forward on the path of destiny. But I think there is another, less explicit but possibly more profound turn that occurs here in the depiction of Rey. It is good to realise that up untill this moment Rey has very much been depicted as a Skywalker/Solo. Rey’s pilotting skills and technical repair skills seem to match those of Anakin and Han. Rey’s seclusion and isolation on a desert planet in the custody of someone who is not her father seems to resonate with Luke’s youth on tatooine. Her dependence of being at the mercy of whatever that pusher of an Unkar Plutt is willing to pay for scrap metal rhymes with Anakin’s servitude to scrap-dealer Watto. The audio story reveals something quite interesting pointing into the direction of a ‘plot reversal’.
The Audio Story
The audio of the scene is a treasure trove of tidbits from the Original Trilogy, here are just a number that I think I have identified in the order of their appearance
– Vader’s breath
– “Its energy” (Yoda on Dagobah)
– “Noooo nooo” (Luke on Bespin) and softer the start of Vader’s “Nooo” in ROTS
– “Surrounds us and binds us” (Yoda on Dagobah)
– You’ll be “tempted” (Obi Wan on Dagobah at Luke’s departure)
– “Surrounds us” (Yoda on Dagobah)
– “Any Jedi” … (Sidious)
– “Rey?” (Obi Wan from the OT)
– “These are your first steps” (Obi Wan from the PT)
There are several more I can hear but can’t properly associate with a character or a scene from one of the other 6 movies. I was surprised to find Sidious, from Revenge of the Sith where he says to Anakin ‘Only through me can you achieve a power greater than any Jedi’. Try for yourself here!
The only truly new dialogue that is in here is coming from Ewan McGregor’s Obi Wan. Lots of other dialogue is hinted at but only presented bitwise. From the collection of voices that speak to Rey two emerge clearest, Yoda and Obi Wan. Yoda’s comments are taken up in the post-vision dialogue by Maz Kanata. She alsmost literally repeats Yoda’s words. Yet Rey initially rejects Maz’s suggestion to take the Skywalker saber and she runs away from destiny. But which destiny is she running away from? From being another Skywalker?
The audio fragments tell a story of temptation to the darkness, of letting in the Force and allowing it to lead you, of heritage that connects one to the legendary events of the past. They surround the ‘awakening’ of a young woman who hardly knows her own past. She knows she is waiting for her ‘family’ as she explains BB-8. She didn’t say she is waiting for her father or mother, of which of course she knows she will have, or have had, one. But she is waiting for ‘family’! She is waiting for a community that she belongs to, for a back story that is hers and that encompasses more than just a father or a mother.
Rey’s Forcevision evidently contains clues as to her origins. Up untill that moment Rey has been primarilly displaying Skywalker qualities and characteristics. That changes after this Forcevision. The dialogue between Maz and Rey isn’t very illuminating with respect that is being said. So maybe we should think about what has not been said! Prior to the scene Maz ask’s Han about the identity of ‘the girl’ and the most consistent assumption is that Han tells Maz off-screen that she is a girl from Jakku. Many have theoreized that Han actually knows who she is and tells Maz the whole story. My theory however would be that Han has no idea who she is, but what he tells Maz is enough for Maz to identify her. Because in her dialogue with Rey Maz does not only seem to know who Rey is waiting for … she also knows that they are not coming back! They! I think Maz knows more than we suspect and has spotted something in Rey’s fate that will lead her to Luke with a certain mission involving the Skywalker saber.
In the final third of the film Rey starts showing ‘Kenobi’ behaviour. She sneeks around the Starkiller Base like a Kenobi did on the Death Star or on Geonosis, she ‘mindtricks’ a stormtrooper like Obi Wan in Mon Eisly, the final segments of her battle with Ben Skywalker mimic visually the battle between Obi Wan and Anakin and of course finally Rey becomes the messenger picks up the Skywalker saber from the ground and who hands it to a Skywalker. In the Kylo v.s. Rey saber battle shots that show resemblance with the Anakin v.s. Obi Wan battle you will see that in terms of pose, movement and screen position Kylo has the Skywalker position and Rey has Kenobi’s.
To me it all suggests that in this pivotal scene in The Force Awakens we are introduced to the fact that Rey’s past is not only tied to the Skywalker storyline, but also to Kenobi’s. That her future is not merely to take her place in the line of Skywalkers, because in a sense that place has been taken already! Kylo is in many ways the Anakin between Episode’s 2 and 3 that we have not seen except for glimpses in some of the Clone Wars episodes. Rey on the other hand may very well, in terms of character type, evolve more into a young, female, Obi Wan as we have seen in episode’s 1 and 2. Suggesting that Luke may actually be more of a Qui Gon than of an old Kenobi in Episode VIII.
I think this scene is an exciting one and with so much of Rey’s backstory still shrouded in mystery it will be a joy to spend 18 more months unearthing what we can from the visuals, the soundtrack and of course the rest of The Force Awakens.