During the months of November and December, leading up to the release of The Rise of Skywalker and the end of the Skywalker Saga, I’ll be highlighting my favorite scene from each of the ten Star Wars movies.
Today, we’re talking about the first Star Wars Movie in a decade; Episode VII, The Force Awakens.
Star Wars, in many ways, isn’t subtle; we all know that. And that’s okay, because not everything needs to be subtle. There’s something to be said for cinematic language that is easy for viewers to understand. Everything points to pretty clear good guys and bad guys, and each side has colors associated with it; red and black, blue and beige. I think that Rise of Skywalker might change this, but the series has always had a fairly simplistic view of morality. It’s a good-versus-evil story; all the good guys use blue lightsabers and all the bad guys use red. Easy, simple, visual language.
You’d think that that wouldn’t leave much room for creative storytelling decisions in a visual medium, but one scene in Force Awakens used this visual language perfectly. This is the confrontation on the bridge, between Han Solo and his son, Kylo Ren – Ben Solo.
Han: Snoke is using you for his power, when he gets what he wants, he’ll crush you. You know it’s true.
Kylo Ren: It’s too late.
Han: No, it’s not. Leave here with me, come home. We miss you.
Kylo Ren: I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?
Han: Yes, anything.
[Kylo Ren presents his lightsaber to Han, who grabs onto it. The sunlight is obscured, and the room grows dark. Kylo Ren ignites his lightsaber, killing Han. Finn flinches, Rey screams, Chewbacca howls.]
Kylo Ren: …Thank you…
This scene is all about the conflict that Kylo Ren feels, and is the conclusion of his arc as the main antagonist of the movie. That arc is overcoming the conflict that he feels and does one incredibly sinister deed to solidify his evil, and prove his devotion to the Dark Side. So this scene is all about Kylo Ren feeling the call to both the Light and the Dark, but ultimately choosing the Dark. And, without any particular need for it, J.J. Abrams found an interesting way to represent this conflict.
Here, they use the red light from
the Death Star Starkiller Base and the blue light from the sky above. Ben’s face is covered half in red and half in blue – the colors of the Sith and the Jedi. The conflict is literally shown on his face. And I think there’s something beautiful in easy-to-understand cinematography; it’s symbolism, but straightforward. It doesn’t take an MFA in film to understand what Abrams is trying to indicate here.
Force Awakens, both as praise and criticism, is said to be highly derivative of A New Hope. But this confrontation shows that you can still take things that are highly familiar and reorder them in a way that can feel clever and unique. A New Hope, for all its innumerable strengths, didn’t have anything quite like this scene.
Additionally, there are things to praise about this scene outside of the cinematography. The acting is great on both sides, which is no surprise when you have two world-class actors working together. Also, it’s a great reveal to have Han shout “BEN!” to get his son’s attention, because prior to this, as far as we knew, Kylo Ren’s first name was Kylo.
(One thing that was neat about this scene prior to the release of Last Jedi was that people read it as a subtle indication that Kylo Ren was a double-agent for the Resistance. In this theory, Kylo Ren would be telling Han that he needs to kill Han in order to maintain his cover and gain the First Order’s trust. If you look at the way Kylo Ren’s lines are worded, it can be interpreted that way. While I think Last Jedi didn’t do anything to further this theory, it was cool to think about.)
But anyway, I like this scene because it’s symbolic, subtle, and understandable. It gives Han a chance to make a noble sacrifice, and it shows how devoted Kylo Ren is to the Dark Side. This is a real watershed moment in this first movie, and I hope that when this trilogy is said and done, it’s remembered as one of the best moments from the Force Awakens.