The Force is Not a Skill Tree

Innumerable are the reviews and commentary on The Force Awakens, so I don’t want to pile on. Overall I enjoyed the movie, though I readily concede it was hardly spotless nor was it terribly heady. I do, however, have one thing I think needs explaining: Rey and the Force.

I would caution you against spoilers here, but the movie has been out for a month now, so if you’re that worried about having the movie spoiled, you probably should have seen it by now.



Deal with her awesome. Deal, I say.

A lot of folks out there seem to have a problem with Rey and how Rey goes from “junkyard girl” to “OMG jedi badass!” over the course of the movie, seemingly on her own. Just a brief sampling of comments I’ve seen:

WTF? How does Rey figure out how to use a Jedi Mind Trick when it takes Luke THREE MOVIES to get there?


How is that Kylo Ren, who can stop freaking blaster bolts in mid-air loses to some chick who is just picking up a lightsaber for the FIRST TIME?


Why is it, all of a sudden, Rey can fly the Milennium Falcon better than Han and fight with a lighsaber better than Kylo and…(rant rant rant)

It goes on like that for a while. Now, this could turn into a post about the double standards for male and female heroic leads in action movies and how the objections to Rey are, at their heart, a basic rejection that a girl could be that badass. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to explain to you all why Rey’s sudden, amazing skills are not only totally believable but entirely in keeping with Star Wars mythology.



How does Rey magically go from nobody to proto-jedi without ever having instruction?


The Force is not a correspondence course. It’s not like working towards your bachelors or studying for the SAT. It is not a quantitative entity. What does Yoda tell Luke on Dagobah over and over and over:

You must unlearn what you have learned! Let go your conscious self!


Do or do not. There is no try.


Feel the Force flowing through you!


Luke: I…I don’t believe it!

Yoda: That is why you fail.

This message is carried throughout the series, even in the prequels. The Force is not some kind of thing you earns points in, like an RPG (and I feel RPGs have really messed with our heads about this.). It is not a linear model of progression, where you master simple stuff first and more complicated stuff later. There is no simple or complicated stuff. It is all just stuff.

The Force operates on instinct (Obi Wan: “Let go your conscious self and act on instinct.”). Instinct is not something you necessarily have to learn. Granted, instinct can be learned (through exhaustive repetition) and can be improved through discipline, hence why a Jedi Academy ever existed at all, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, a lot of people in the Star Wars universe go around using the Force all the time and never realize it. Consider little Anakin Skywalker and his superhuman pod racing abilities, or Luke’s capacity to bull’s-eye womp rats with his T-16. As for Rey and her “sudden” abilities, they really aren’t so sudden at all. She can do a mind trick because she’s already done one before! Remember this scene:

rey-bb8She just up and takes a valuable droid from a scavenger and tells him to scram. What’s he do? He scrams! THAT’S A JEDI MIND TRICK, PEOPLE!

Rey is able to become badass at the end because she actually starts to understand how she has been able to do things she has always done. It takes the stress of the New Order’s pursuit of her to unlock that potential. Then she does exactly what Obi Wan and Yoda and Qui Gon have been telling their students for ages: She acts on instinct. That’s how the Force works, folks.

I know this sounds implausible or counter-intuitive to a lot of you, but you really have to listen to the teachings of the Jedi Masters we have in the films. The Force is counter-intuitive! That’s what makes it so hard to use – you can’t think about using it, you should just use it.

Just like Rey does.

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on January 11, 2016, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Spoilers, I guess:

    I saw a theory on Tumblr that Rey’s defeating Kylo Ren makes sense because a) he’s injured and b) she’s kind of super-charged from the Force in that scene.The Force being in all living things and all, being Force-sensitive on a barren wasteland planet would essentially be learning to survive on the barest resources in every aspect. Then she visits Maz Kanata’s homeworld and then the Starkiller base, both of which are covered with trees and plant life and therefore has access to a lot more resources. It was a neat theory, but I don’t subscribe to it too much. Using the Force in space would be a lot more difficult and Vader’s happily Force-choking the entire Empire command structure left and right.

    But yes to everything you said here. Maz tells her that she just has to close her eyes and feel the Force. Which she DOES, both before she mind-whammies JB-007 and then beats Kylo Ren. She’s quick-witted, resourceful, and tenacious, all of which come from a lifetime where she was left to fend for herself and never give up hope.

    Basically: all the whiny fanboys can whine on. Rey’s awesome and doesn’t need their validation.

    • Yeah, typically the more involved the fan theory, the less I give it credence. This has less to do with fancy theories of life force energy and so on and a lot more to do with how the Force has been said to work this entire time: less like a video game or a practical exam and more like meditation and getting in “the zone.”

      Rey just happens to live in the zone.

  2. Good stuff. To further your point, I would argue that the Jedi Academy was founded with a curriculum that focused more on control and ethics and morals (e.g, yes, you can use the force to do almost anything you’d like, but that does not mean you should). It was the Jedi Council’s constant and legitimate fears of force users falling to the Dark Side that motivated most of their training, rather than any sense of skill sharpening.

    • Yeah, I don’t think “getting more powerful” was anything Mace Windu ever considered important. Qui Gon *did* think it was important, and thus were sewn the seeds of the Jedi’s downfall.

  3. Great write up…and I agree wholeheartedly.

  4. Great article! I definitely agree with your points. Also I’d like to point out that Luke trains with Ben Kenobi for a few hours and for Yoda at most a week or so (depending on now long the Falcon was really hiding in that Asteroid field); it’s not like it took him exhaustive years of study to go from moisture farmer’s son to galaxy saving Jedi.

    As for the duel with Kylo Ren at the end of the movie, Rey does exactly as you say; she intuitively taps into the force. If you’re watching closely the entire cadence of the fight changes right there, it’s subtle but it’s very well done.

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