This is the first of series of posts focusing on analyzing fights from the Star Wars movies and fandom. I already have a list of shorts and tv episodes I want to cover. In it we’ll go over the build up to the fight, the story being told in the fight itself, and the fallout from the fight. I’ll also be adding my opinions throughout the write up. Since this goes in to plot as relevant to the fight, SPOILERS AHEAD.
To begin we’re going to go over the most recent lightsaber fight in cinematic history. The Lightsaber Duel between Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren marks the finale of The Force Awakens. Everything has built to this moment for these three characters. The fight itself is on Weapon-Planet Starkiller Base, which is currently undergoing attack by the Resistance. Several key structures on the Weapon-Planet are destroyed before and during the fight, which causes the increasing destruction of mainly snow and forest terrain.
The fight is between two groups. The first of them is the team of Finn and Rey. Finn is a seemingly rookie Stormtrooper who has defected from the First Order due to having a permanent case of a conscience. He is an unofficial member of the Resistance, instead going against his former comrades to rescue his recently made friend Rey. The First Order sees him as a traitor, and clearly have a kill on site order on him.
Before the fight, he is given the Lightsaber of the Skywalkers, the blue bladed saber that Anakin had during the end of the Clone Wars and Luke had at the beginning of his training. The Skywalker Saber was lost on Bespin during Luke’s Duel with Vader. How it arrived at the storerooms of smuggler queen Maz Kanata is unknown. Finn clearly has some melee combat training, as he is able to wield the saber against stormtroopers without formal training and (possibly) no Force Powers.
Rey is a bit of a cypher. Her past and origins are unknown. She was abandoned on the junk pile planet Jakku at a very young age. She grew up as a scavenger, and as such is trained to survive. She is an expert climber, and has practical experience in a fight. We see this when she is mugged on Jakku in a bid to steal the droid BB-8.
It is revealed in the second act of the movie that Rey is a Force-Sensitive. She is drawn to the Skywalker Saber in Maz’s store room and is given visions of the past while hearing voices of previous Jedi masters. She is at first reluctant to accept her status as Force Sensitive. However, after being abducted by Kylo Ren and submitted to Force induced torture, she is becoming more accepting that not only of her powers, but her strength.
Their opponent is Kylo Ren, leader of the Knights of Ren. The Knights serve as an unknown part of the First Order, an extremist sect of the fallen Galactic Empire. Ren is treated with similar deference as General Hux of Starkiller Base but his status in the command structure is unknown. He hero worships Darth Vader, going so far to having the melted remains of his helmet in his quarters. He is prone to tantrums, often destroying equipment in rages. He is oddly fascinated in Rey, becoming angry at her discovery and then becoming obsessed in teaching her. The reasons for this, which feel more than just the surface excuse of a potentially strong ally, are unknown as of this article.
Kylo’s real name is Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa. He was once the apprentice of his Uncle, Luke Skywalker, until he turned on the New Jedi Order to Snoke and joined the Knights of Ren. He is in conflict between the Light and the Dark. Before the fight, he murders his father in front of Rey, Finn, and Han’s companion Chewbacca in a bid to rid of himself of his Light Side.
In turn, the Wookie shoots Kylo with his bowcaster. Several times in the movie, we are shown the power of the bowcaster, often sending multiples targets flying in its blast. Han (seemingly for the first time in the 40 years they’ve known each other) marks on it a few times. Chewie flies in to a rage, attacking stormtroopers and blowing up the base with the charges they have previously set.
The fight begins as Rey and Finn flee the scene of Solo’s murder (and the destruction of the base) back to the Millenium Falcon. Kylo Ren, wounded and bleeding on the snow, intercepts them. Ren is clearly wounded, and pounds on his wound. This probably serves as two reasons. The first is the practical. He’s losing blood in a cold terrain. He’s using the shock of pain to keep himself going. The other reason is that Kylo is the next best thing to a Sith we have in this movie. He’s probably using the pain to tap in to the powers of the Dark Side as well.
Also keep in mind, Ren is not emotionally stable at this point. He has just murdered his father in cold blood. The look on his face shows that he is not without remorse. He is emotionally compromised.
The fight itself begins with Rey drawing her rifle on to Ren. He in turn Force Pushes her in to a near by tree. The impact of which knocks her out for several minutes. Note that he is carrying a lightsaber and he is fairly adept at deflecting blaster bolts. This action is a bid to keep Rey alive but to remove her from the fight. He doesn’t immediately follow up by attacking Finn. He took out the bigger threat in the conflict, as far as he is concerned.
Ren then calls out Finn, the traitor to the First Order. Finn, who had previously been ready to cut tail and run, steels himself in front of his friend’s prone body and faces his accuser. At the beginning of the movie, when Finn refuses to fire on a village and kickstarting his turn away from the Order, Kylo Ren stares at him. It can be simply that Ren notices the stormtrooper not obeying his orders, some would argue that Ren acknowledges something about the young would be defector.
Finn confronts the face of the First Order and raises the Skywalker Saber. Ren demands the saber be returned to him, being as that is the weapon of his uncle and his grandfather. Finn ignites the saber and charges at the Master of the Knights of Ren. Finns moves are wild, full of fear and rage. While it’s clear he’s had melee combat training (as his fight with the Riot Trooper before proved) he clearly does not have the experience with the lightsaber. It’s not even Shii Cho, he’s just angrily swinging it.
Ren, on the other hand, has had extensive training, at least enough to wield it competently (I’ll get back to this in a moment). While Finn is the aggressor, Ren is handling his attacks with a higher degree of control and finesse. He dodges several of his swings and deflects most of them, no difficult task with his cross hilt saber.
In a matter of moments, Ren has overpowered Finn, knocking him to the ground. He then turns to again beat at his wound, trying to build up his energy again. It also allows us, the audience, to process the sequence. This is the first live action lightsaber duel we’ve seen on screen in ten years. And the brutal fight in this snowy forest set is a marked difference from the choreographed set pieces of the previous trilogy. This was needed to allow the viewers to process and add tension. How is the wound going to factor in, when will Rey get up?
Finn gets up and charges again, but Ren clearly moves on to the attack. He does a move that is a full body wind up that pushes Finn back against a tree. During the clash, Ren takes the energy coming from the sabers vents and digs it in to Finn’s right shoulder. The slowness of the coming scream gives you the impression Finn is aware of every part of that blade in him and would rather not.
Finn’s scream is what wakes Rey up, as she blearily sees the carnage in front of her. Ren pulls out of the clash to swipe at Finn’s head. Finn ducks, and Ren takes the tree instead. We’re treated to a wide view inside the forest as the tree falls. Ren thrusts at Finn, who deflects it and strikes Ren’s right shoulder. The strike brings us back to a close up of Ren, who is clutching his arm in what seems to be both pain AND surprise.
Finn closes the gap between them, again charging in. Ren catches him and deflects his blade away. Finn, untrained and overpowered, loses his grip on the saber which lands in a snow drift. Ren hits Finn, making him turn. He then takes his saber and slashes the traitor across the back, almost along the spine from what we can tell. Finn drops, and for many of us he is presumed dead.
Tired, and now wounded in the gut and shoulder, Kylo Ren reaches out with the Force to retrieve his family’s lightsaber. The saber moves…and keeps going…until it reaches the hand of a revived Rey. She is standing fully, her arms outstretched. This means that her Force powers are growing and she intended to grab it, as opposed to a lucky grab.
At this moment, we hear a track we haven’t heard much of this movie. The Binary Stars theme, also known as the Force theme. This is the first time Rey has been in touch with the saber since her visions in the second act of the movie. For the theme where Luke’s iconic look in to the tattoine sunset to be playing at that time tells you several things. The clearest one of these is that Rey, at that moment, is the right person to be handling that lightsaber, to be handling that legacy.
The fight now begins in full. Rey’s attacks are not clean, and she tries to lunge and stab at a lot of points in the fight. It would make sense since the first weapon we see her use, and presumably she used for a while, is a staff. She’s used to keeping her opponents at a distance. She’s a slender girl and while she can hold her own, she realizes that she can become overpowered.
And that’s precisely what starts happening. Kylo is still the more accomplished swordsmen of the two, and while he is still wounded he easily uses his strength to barrel through towards her. Rey begins to resort more to utilizing the environment, gaining distance by sprinting up the rocks and slashing at trees to stall Ren.
The tipping point of the fight happens with Rey getting backed up against a chasm. Where Kylo had no qualms about dealing a fatal blow to Finn, he purposefully stops to entreat Rey. He wants to teach her, train her.
Now, the moment that I started to lose the fight was where Rey, now reminded of the Force in the fight, goes in to a battle meditation. This stretched plausibility for me, because if I was Kylo I would have done SOMETHING the moment she closed her eyes.
Now tapping in to the Force, Rey takes the upperhand, striking at Kylo with a series of overhanded blows. Rey even begins changing her grip to keep the momentum going at various points. Kylo’s robes are slashed and he is stabbed in the shoulder. Rey kicks him to the ground, and the scene is played clearly showing her the aggressor and dominant in the scene.
Rey allows him to get up. As she strikes, he grabs her saber, and she grabs his. This now becomes a contest of strength. Rey, who has the momentum of the fight, and Kylo, who is now thrice wounded-one of them serious enough to leave blood trails-and has been uneven the entire time. This moment is beautifully drawn out in this dark winter forest with the two sabers glowing in the night. Kylo’s saber hisses in the snow. Whether this is symbolic enough, its clear that Kylo is losing steam.
In that last second, Rey brings her saber down. She destroys the red saber and brings the saber back up in a arcing swing that catches Kylo in the face. I’ll admit, from the angle of the shot, I had initially believed that she had taken his head in that move. We soon find out that his face his scarred–now he’s going to need that mask–and she is standing tall. The destruction of the planet (and possibly the Force itself) splits the two apart. Rey being the nominal winner.
As far as outcomes go, we only have one clear one for the three combatants. Finn is alive, but his condition by the end of the movie has him comatose. Kylo Ren is not seen again, but his master, Snoke, orders that Ren be taken to him to complete his training. Kylo Ren, who we’ve seen terrorizing the spaceways all movie, has incomplete training. With the rise of Rey, Kylo’s next steps will be to advance further towards the dark side.
Rey has the clearest of all the outcomes. Victorious, she returns to the Resistance base. She grieves for Han, and wishes a comatose Finn well and promises to see him again. She then boards the falcon to the hidden planet, Aach-To. There, she finds the Jedi who wielded her lightsaber before her. Luke Skywalker, who looks upon her and the lightsaber with several emotions at once. Without the fight, without Finn’s defiance and Rey’s accepting of her role and her power, this scene never happens and Episode VIII and IX are pipedreams.
Overall, this fight is a refreshing change from the prequel fights, while still feeling like an evolution of the fights from the Original Trilogy. It was dynamic while also telling the story of these three characters. Finn confronting the face of his former life. Ren putting the final nail in his fall from grace. Rey accepting her destiny as part of a lineage (whether familial or instructional) of Jedi.
Of all of the lightsaber duels we’ve seen in the series, this one feels more organic. The original trilogy based a lot of their movements on stage fighting, and the movement there is minimal. The Prequels hyper-choreographed make it very easy to tell “THIS IS A CHOREOGRAPHED FIGHT”. The Rey-Finn/Kylo fight feels like a natural progression where these people are using what they have in hand.
This gives me a lot of hope for the next movies in this film, and I look forward to the rematch between these two parties. It could be a beautifully minimalistic fight, but it could just as easily be a knock down, drag out brawl. Either is possible, and both sound like good ideas to me.
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