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.
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?
BECAUSE SHE JUST FUCKING DOES IT!
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:
She 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.