Monthly Archives: December 2015

Arthurian Symbolism in The Force Awakens

I love mythology. I love mythology retellings. I even find the Prequel Trilogy to be more palatable if I follow it by reading The Star Wars Heresies.
In fact, this is why I love Star Wars so much–it’s steeped in mythology and symbolism and I love it. I love pulling out the threads of older stories.
I’ll be honest…I wasn’t quite expecting The Force Awakens to continue that tradition…let alone continue it with the symbolism of one of my favorite mythologies. Maybe that’s why I’m loving it more and more each time I see it–a count which stands at three–right now, I’d have to rank it as #2 of my personal favorite of Star Wars, right after Empire. The Force Awakens combines two of my favorite mythologies: Star Wars and Arthurian legends.

Spoilers ahead. If you have not seen the movie, get thee to a theater before thou readest!

 

 

 

The search for Luke and the absolute reverence with which he is referred to put me in mind of an Arthurian staple: the Quest for the Holy Grail.
I’d say the map to Luke’s location is the Holy Grail appearing in Camelot at the Pentecost feast: the search for it kicks off the plot and it is fought over by the worthy and unworthy alike.
The Force is the Waste Lands, laid desolate by a young knight who slaughters a guest, unlawfully uses Spear of Destiny–betraying and wounding the Fisher King in the process. Balyn kills the king’s guest and uses the Spear to wound the Fisher King; Ben Solo slaughters his uncle’s apprentices, betrays Luke and tries to claim the lightsaber by brutal means at Starkiller base.
Luke himself also functions as the Holy Grail, in that he is the object of the Quest. Everybody has different objectives for finding him: Kylo Ren wants to kill him, Snoke just wants him to stay hidden, Leia wants his strength for her war. Rey, in the end, wants his training. You could also make an argument that Luke functions as the Fisher King as well. He is, after all, found on an island overlooking the ocean and he’s taken an emotional wound in the side by Ben’s betrayal.
I’d probably say that Luke’s old lightsaber is the Spear of Destiny…which is the spear used to maim the Fisher King and is sometimes connected with the spear that pierced Christ’s side. That’d certainly fit this lightsaber’s history as Anakin used it to commit his first atrocities as Vader. It’s used to commit an act of great evil but is thereafter used to further the triumph of the one it wounded.

In the Arthur legends, the Waste Lands and the Fisher King can only be healed when a knight (Galahad) proves himself worthy to hold the Spear and and drink from the Grail, undoing the damage that Balyn did. So: the Force can only be balanced when a Force sensitive person proves worthy to follow the map, carry the lightsaber and receive Luke’s training.

I would say that Rey is Galahad the Grail Knight, albeit a rather reluctant version. Either way, she’s young, of mysterious and isolated origins, seemingly untrained but unbelievably talented, and draws out a
sword of tainted legacy. Yes, I know I’m mixing up the metaphor here by double-casting the lightsaber as both Balyn’s sword and the Spear, as well as Luke as both Fisher King and Grail. In my defense, I’m not the only one who mixes up Arthurian symbols, however: almost everyone gets Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone confused. And speaking of…

 

The Grail Quest is not the only Arthurian interpretation of The Force Awakens. A slightly better known one is also applicable. You could structure it with Rey as the young Arthur and the lightsaber is both the Sword in the Stone and Excalibur…although presented in reverse fashion. That is, Rey is first offered the saber by a mysterious and ancient female handing it to her out of the depths–water in the legends, but I suppose the basement of a castle works too. (The Falcon does dramatically fly over the water before landing at the castle, which draws on the imagery of the Excalibur legend, the boat that takes Arthur to retrieve the sword.)
Then Rey draws it out of the snow like Arthur drew his sword out of the stone. Both actions are presented as an impossible feat…Rey because of her lack of training and Arthur for more obvious reasons. Both acts prove the character’s worthiness: Arthur to rule, Rey to take up Luke’s legacy.

As a bonus point for Rey-as-an-Arthur-figure…just look at her name. Yes, it evokes Luke’s own name as they both represent light: Luke is taken from the Greek word for light and Rey puts one in mind of a ray of light. It also invokes the once and future king: as Rey is Spanish for King. King of light, as it were. Well, female king of light.

 

Another Arthur bent to the story is the one told in the backstory and at the ending.
Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo stands fairly well in the place of Mordred, with Luke as King Arthur. Now, this doesn’t exactly match up as Mordred is usually presented as Arthur’s nephew (check)…and as his son. (Thankfully, they didn’t go there. People still haven’t quite recovered from the kiss between unknown siblings in Empire.)
Anyway, Mordred brings down Camelot by unexpected betrayal, aspiring to usurp Arthur’s place as King. Arthur, taking a wound at the battle in which he kills Mordred (I did say this wouldn’t line up exactly), retreats to the magic-steeped island of Avalon. He goes to recover from his mortal wound, but before he leaves, he tells his followers that he will return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need.
In this, Avalon is the island Rey finds Luke on, Luke is the Once and Future King and Rey, I would say, is all of us, telling him “Time to wake up, buddy. Hour’s here.”

Nothing quite matches up in a one-to-one correlation…but then, that’s a sign of good retelling. Yes, it uses the symbolism of an older tale but it also can stand as a complete and compelling story in its own right. Influenced but not a carbon copy. That’d just be boring.
I am, thanks to Mom, fairly more Arthur-obsessed than the average person. It’s very possible that I’m reading too much into the movie (I’m quite good at overthinking things). But, as Joseph Campbell says, there’s only one myth in the world, retold in a thousand different ways. His works have influenced Star Wars from the very beginning, so I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think that Abrams and Kasdan looked to mythology for inspiration. If so, they’ve done an excellent job of retelling Arthur in a galaxy far, far away.

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The Force Awakens: Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers ahead! Turn back if you haven’t seen the movie!

It has taken almost 24 hours for The Force Awakens to sink in. Having absorbed and processed it, I can now say that I don’t think we would have gotten this movie had the prequels not been so…half-baked, so not quite right.
And that is not a condemnation. I felt betrayed by the prequels and I know other people did as well. No matter what, that feeling of betrayal sticks to Star Wars now, like a ghost. The makers of The Force Awakens chose to use those built-in emotions rather than ignoring or denying them: by doing so, I believe they crafted a heartbreakingly beautiful story. It’s painful, but oh, is it beautiful.

It’s like Kylo…Ben…is the prequel trilogy: obsessed with the wrong Skywalker. He’s convinced, as George Lucas was, that Anakin was the hero of the story and that belief has led him into the most vile of betrayals.
Before the bridge scene, I watched Han and thought, “He’s trying too hard.” At the time, I thought I was referring to JJ Abrams. Now I realize it was Han–and no wonder. When your hopes and dreams have been crushed so cruelly, of course you’d try too hard. He’s trying to go back into his old life–to be once again the Han Solo from Episode 4. But he’s grown too much since then, grown in joy and grief, to disappear into the selfish rascal. Truly, that scene on the bridge has to be one of the most painful things I have ever watched…but also one of the best bits of storytelling that I’ve ever seen.
I’ve never seen Kylo Ren be anything other than Kylo Ren, monster and murderer…and yet…on that bridge, I saw Ben Solo. I saw him in the spaces between the words; I saw him, reflected in the pain and love on Han’s face. I saw him and oh, how I wanted him to return…this person I’ve never met. I saw the good man’s son.
And then the light fades, the last rays of that sun extinguished and I saw the good man’s son commit evil…saw him become evil…and yet…
And yet, in the most vile of betrayals, I saw the purest love. In the blackest darkness, I saw the brightest light. A sad smile, a gentle touch. You can’t erase good, even if you kill it. Han dies forgiving his son, not blaming his wife or his friend for what has gone wrong. He forgives. His body might fall, but his spirit rises above. Good and love and loyalty…they are eternal, a Phoenix flame that is reborn again and again.
The same eyes in different people, as it were.

It is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen…The Force Awakens is truly a story told almost completely in the subtext. The spoken words are but the echoes of the true drama; the frenzied action but the quiet murmur of the true struggle. I actually kept losing track of the physical action, I was caught up in the storm of emotions. Besides the bridge scene, three other moments stand out to me as the best distillation of the story.

A man with the birthright summons a lightsaber, but it won’t come to him. It sits quietly in the snow, in condemnation and mourning. You have been judged and found wanting. Good was your birthright and you turned away from it. You are not worthy to carry the weapon of Luke Skywalker. That legacy will pass to another.

BB-8 bumps a still R2-D2 and at first you think it’s a friendly hello. Then, he keeps insistently nudging him and you realize it’s something so much more bittersweet. It’s not “Hello”, it’s “Please wake up. Please wake up, my hero.”

Rey holds out the lightsaber to Luke as a musical score builds to an understated climax. That last moment is a question–a question and a challenge. A double-edged question at that. “Are you who I believe you to be? Will you be my teacher? Am I worthy of your legacy?”
In a meta-contextual way, it’s a challenge to Star Wars itself…by Star Wars.

Who is Luke Skywalker? What is Star Wars? Who are any of us?
Begin again. Chose again. Believe again.

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The Force Awakens: my spoiler-free thoughts

Michael, Dad and I went to see The Force Awakens on Saturday. Mom couldn’t go because flashing lights bother her eyes.

This is going to be at least a two-part reaction. Up first: my spoiler-free reaction.

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I’ll be honest: for one hideous second, I was afraid I hated the movie.

That moment passed. More moments passed and the movie ended. I just sat there, silent and still and completely overwhelmed. For one very long moment, I couldn’t remember how to string words together; I literally could not speak.

Then I turned to Dad and said: “I feel like I need to think for a week.”

Then I felt an overpowering urge to hug my family and tell them that I loved them.

Then I cried all the way home.

Then, when we got home it was like a comedy sketch, all three of us falling over each other, trying to get to Mom. I’ll never forget the look on her face–that look of absolute, dumbfounded bewilderment as the three of us, sobbing and staggering, rushed to hold her.

“Was it that bad?” she asked.

“No,” said Michael, “it was that beautiful.”

“I wanted you to be there so badly,” Dad told her.

“It was Star Wars,” I sniffled. “It broke my heart, but oh, was it beautiful and so Star Wars.”

We piled into the house, still crying, still reaching for each other. Jasper, Mom’s puppy, threw himself down and just panted. He’s such an empathic little dog that the poor guy was getting completely overwhelmed by the rampant emotions swirling around him.

~~~~~

30 hours later, I’m still drained. I felt like I’ve had a year’s worth of emotions crammed into me and I’m still processing. I wasn’t expecting to be this moved by it. I was expecting either exhilaration and excitement…or disdain and disappointment. I wasn’t expecting this reaction.

The Force Awakens was Star Wars, and oh, it was the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I have seen in a long time. This is the movie I have been waiting for so long and oh, was it ever worth the wait. Go see it.

Like now.

I need to see it again.

This is Star Wars the way it should be.

 

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Fictional Happiness?

It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m very excited for The Force Awakens.
I can’t help it, it just makes me happy. Nor do I feel particularly apologetic for this excitement. It’s been a rough year and joy is always welcome in my life.
So yes, I’m the girl humming the Imperial March. I’m the girl who is the proud owner of a BB-8 shirt and three tickets to Star Wars. I’m the girl who jumps up and down in sheer joy when I see something Star Wars on the tv or the grocery store shelf. I’m the girl who is in love with BB-8 (just look at him…isn’t he the cutest thing ever?)
I’m also the girl with the biggest grin on my face. I am not about to apologize for my happiness or its fictional source. Yes, I know it’s “just a movie”. It still makes me happy–isn’t that real enough?
Some call it “escapism”…fleeing our stress-filled lives into a fantasy world. I’ve never seen it like that; I’m not escaping anything in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. I carry myself into the story…this means I carry with me the real world and all its problems. Stories–mine or others–have always moved me, have always been important to me. They are how I make sense of myself. I don’t have any perfect words to describe what it’s like to be me in the thrall of a story. There are no string of words sufficient to completely explain; I have to make do with imperfect words string inadequately together.

I’m never alone…and maybe that’s why I like time to myself. Stories aren’t beyond the waking world, they are behind my eyes. Closing my eyes is opening them onto that other world and whatever story is telling itself there. To be a part of a good story is an honor. Star Wars…well, the Original Trilogy…that’s a cornerstone, a touchstone. It’s one of the stories that has always been there for me; an experience repeated so often that it became, not rote, but ritual. No matter what was going on my life, I could always find myself in Star Wars.

So yes, I’m super excited for Star Wars and regardless of what the critics think of it, I am grateful for this period of delightful anticipation. Eager as I am to see the movie, I’m almost sorry it’s over.
To Disney and Lucasfilms, thank you. You’ve made me laugh and smile through a rough patch of this journey called life and for that, I thank you. It’s like balm for my soul to see my cherished friend from childhood given the love and respect it deserves.
So come on Saturday! I’m ready to discover new truths about myself, truths heralded in a John Williams score and illuminated by lightsabers.
I’m ready to be delighted by an old friend. Star Wars might be fiction, the joy it has brought into my life is real. And it’s being shared.

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