The escape from Jakku sequence in The Force Awakens serves, regardless of your opinion of the rest of the film, as a perfect example of what Star Wars was meant to be. This sequence, taken in isolation, earns this movie a well deserved place in the Star Wars saga. Take a moment. Think back to A New Hope, whether you saw it as a kid in the 70’s or in the 00’s. Think about how that movie made you feel. OK, stop smiling. So, how does this one sequence fit?
Let’s start on a small note. Just after BB-8 informs Rey that there are stormtroopers looking for her and Finn, we get a wide shot of some locals clearly informing the troopers on where to go.
In this shot, I’m not referring to the troopers themselves, which are Star Wars enough, or the desert environment, but rather the droid with its upside down salad bowl and mini tank treads rolling through the frame. How perfect is that? It is so A New Hope. I know, I know, just a retread. But not really. I think some forget that The Force Awakens takes place in the Star Wars universe. So, on occasion, there will be Star Wars things in it. And this little droid rolling along is just a little detail to remind you of where you are.
Not sold yet? There’s more.
Something inherent to Star Wars is the sense of adventure, which is part of the Star Wars DNA. Every Star Wars movie has it. The Force Awakens certainly has its share. It begins with Rey and Finn’s escape from Jakku, which moves us from the tragedy of the First Order attack on the village to the the hope of Rey and Finn’s escape. It gives us that feeling of fun and danger–of excitement. That a journey is just beginning. This whole sequence makes us want to cheer and twist and turn in our chair with every shift in action. Finn and Rey run and fly their way to the beginning of what will be two and half more movies filled with edge-of-your-seat moments. Not just Rey and Finn, but BB-8 too. He’s in on this as much as they are. He has a mission to fulfill, and he sets the sequence in motion with his warning. Moreover, in addition to the Star Wars sense of adventure, there is the refusal of adventure. Finn can’t wait to leave. BB-8 needs to make a delivery. Only Rey, with her abandonment issues, wants nothing to do with it. Like Luke, she’s got shit to do. She can’t be running off with folks to strange places. But circumstances change and she accepts the call.
Then there is the hand holding. Not walking on the beach hand holding. But a new era of Star Wars hand holding. The interaction of Rey and Finn at the beginning of the sequence introduces a couple of key themes, one which needs some work and another one that is well established, for a new generation of fans. It is a simple device, but those are often the best. It’s played as a joke, but the meaning reveals that Star Wars is ready to embrace a new sensibility that is long overdue. As danger approaches, Finn reaches down and grabs Rey’s hand and prepares to run. At this, she rebuffs him, almost horrified at the thought. Then they dodge blaster fire and reach a brief moment of safety and rest. Then they hear a sound Finn knows so well. More danger. He grabs Rey’s hand again. At this, she grunts, “Stop taking my hand!” More running. But not blaster fire this time, but TIE fighter shots. Then an explosion and they are hurled forward. Rey rises and approaches the unconscious man. She kneels in front of him in concern and rouses him. He sits up, shaking off the fog in his head, and asks if she is OK. She is puzzled and confused. I love this moment. Rey has been independent her whole life. She has survived. She can take care of herself. Twice she shouts down his attempts to “save” her, preferring to kick ass all on her own. But this stranger, who is nearly killed, still asked about her. I really don’t think she knows how to react. But the eminent danger leaves little time to consider it and she reaches out her hand to help him up and together they run. J.J. Abrams gives us a close up of this. This moment when the the refusal starts to shift to acceptance. This moment where friendship starts to dictate actions.
In this we have an emerging theme and one established one. Rey’s refusal to be saved shows us strength and independence–a hero rising. Especially in a female character. This theme isn’t entirely new. While Leia was rescued by men, she ended up taking charge when her rescuers weren’t up to the task. Leia was starting to break the mold for what you would expect in a space fairy tale. Padme’s expression of this theme was strong at the beginning, but seemed to get set aside for Anikan’s story. Rey takes that seed and runs with it and extends her hand to help Finn. She has asserted her independence and now embraces a well established theme: friendship (that could be its own post, so I won’t detail it here). Their relationship may be new, and based on false pretenses (“I’m with the resistance”), but it is forged out of the necessity of their circumstances and is valid (Finn’s dishonesty isn’t villainous). Rey literally offers her hand to help a friend. Now, as friends, they will have to survive the rest of the sequence.
Before moving on, I have to briefly mention the music. “The Falcon” cue that plays throughout this sequence is so engaging and pleasing. And it is mixed so well with the action. It rests when the action does then kicks into gear when needed. It expertly pulls you along with the action and makes you move in your seat, expectantly. Music is not my strong suit so I’ll leave at that (if you are not listening to Star Wars Oxygen, you should be). All we need to take away from it is that John Williams helps establish the scene perfectly and strengthens the idea that this scene, in this movie, belong.
Speaking of the “The Falcon” the sequence shifts from the ground to the air. But that doesn’t just happen. It does so with trademark Star Wars humor and probably the biggest fan moment of the whole movie. We don’t know if the Falcon being on Jakku is coincidence or if there is more too it (some say Ray’s dad made sure it would be there, but that’s just a theory), but who really cares? It’s the Falcon, and it’s about to have a dogfight with TIE fighters, in atmosphere, while flying through the structure of a crashed Star Destroyer. Even if you are not a fan of the movie as a whole, you can’t deny this scene’s relevance to the the saga as a whole. The flight in the Falcon is quickly edited so that it rarely even breaths (most defiantly faster and more intense). It is filled with humor, excitement and relief–all of which build the bond between Rey and Finn and demonstrate Rey’s singular abilities. I think the only way to make the escape from Jakku more Star Wars would be if Luke and Kylo had a lightsaber duel on top of the Falcon while it was being chased. With Yoda’s force ghost watching.
In all of the movies, including this one, there may be other moments that are more obviously Star Wars, such as the Anakin and Obi-Wan duel or Luke helping Vader take his mask off. Those scenes tell you what Star Wars is about. However, this piece gives you a sense of how Star Wars feels. Specifically, how Star Wars felt when it started, way back before George thought about twin sisters and evil fathers and the roots of the Empire. Not that those scenes don’t make you feel emotions, it is just that this one sequence focuses in on and reveals the overall essence of Star Wars, in a way that few single scenes could, and helps establish that The Force Awakens should be praised, and not criticized, for being too Star Wars.