December 24, 2015.
Not a Mary Sue. A Knight of the Round Table: Rey (Daisy Ridley) begins what I hope will turn out to be her quest to heal the Fisher King in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Saw it tonight and my first thought was that the sequels are going to need prequels.
My second thought was how fun it was to get one more good Harrison Ford action-adventure movie. J.J. Abrams understands the story of Han Solo better than Lucas and Spielberg understand the story of Indiana Jones.
But that's another post. Back to The Force Awakens.
Episode VII is all fallout from a plotline that’s going to have to be explained in Episode VIII in order for the story to move on to Episode IX and the original saga’s proper conclusion. Most of what happens is a matter of raising questions that can only be answered by looking backwards. Where are we and how did we get here? Who are these people and why should we care about them? And I expect Abrams knows he can’t just exposition them away in a couple of speeches. It will have to be dealt with in an extended flashback. That is, I hope so. I hope that Abrams has set up the new trilogy as its own Machete version.
Not that I really care.
I’ve never really cared.
I’m too old.
And I don’t mean that like Obi-wan I’m getting too old for this sort of thing. I mean that when the original Star Wars came out in 1977 I wasn’t a little kid so it couldn’t become a constellating myth of my childhood. I enjoyed it immensely. I didn’t think of it as a kids’ movie. But it wasn’t new or revelatory to me. I’d heard that story---those stories. Lucas borrowed from multiple myths, legends, and adventure yarns---before, many times, in different versions, and those were the stories around which my imagination had cohered. Star Wars mattered to me because it reminded me of those stories and called up the feelings and dreams they had always inspired. What I loved about it was how it made me love those stories again---stories that included Treasure Island, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, and especially The Knights of the Round Table---stories I knew and loved from books, by the way, before I ever saw them adapted into movies, and books have always been more important to me than movies. And that’s all Star Wars was to me, a movie that captured some of the fun and excitement of those books.
In no way is this meant as a dismissal of Star Wars. Like I said, I enjoyed it and I enjoyed The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. I was impressed with them as moviemaking achievements. I was impressed and (moderately) thrilled that Lucas had managed to pull off setting a traditional swashbuckling adventure yarn in outer space, although I was aware that the old Flash Gordon serials he was paying homage to had already done that. The point is, though, that The Force Awakens was only going to matter to me to the degree it was able to do what the original had done, invoke those old stories in a heartfelt way. And to a degree, it succeeded.
But at more of a remove.
I think it's pretty well generally agreed that as a villain Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. That even seems to be the point of the character. But as a villain in his own right he’s not particularly formidable. That also seems to be the point. He’s not the villain. He’s a representative. He’s not what caused the problem Rey has to solve. He is, like her, what’s left over. They are both effects.
Presumably, over the next two movies, they will both grow. But as things stand, neither is as important as whoever brought about their current situations, and none of whoever they were plays a significant part in The Force Awakens.
What I’m hoping is that some of them aren’t even mentioned in The Force Awakens.
What I’m hoping is that they’ll be introduced in flashbacks in Episode VIII and we’ll get the story of their downfalls. And I’m further hoping that that story isn’t simply a retelling of Anakin Skywalker’s downfall. I’m hoping it’s a retelling of the story of the breaking of the Round Table.
And I’m really hoping the Force doesn’t have much to do with it.
In the story I’m hoping to see told, Kylo Ren is not a leading character. He’s not Mordred. He’s Agravaine, Gawaine’s other anti-heroic brother, the one who sides with Mordred out of jealousy of Gawain and of Lancelot because of their place in Arthur’s affections. (Luke, of course, is Arthur.) This would mean that in the story I want to see told, there are at least three more important characters to be introduced---possibly, four: a Launcelot, a Gawaine, a Mordred, and a Guinevere. (Probably too much to expect a fifth and the movie gets truly adult by including a Morgause.) And in the story I’m hoping to see told, the breaking of the Round Table---the dissolution of the new Jedi order Luke tried to establish---would be brought about by a falling out between Luke’s two favorites, his Gawaine and Lancelot, manipulated and exploited by his Mordred (not necessarily his son but that would be interesting) but caused by ordinary human needs and desires that aren’t in themselves wrong or result in either hero going over to the Dark Side. What I’m hoping for, basically, is a real tragedy arising from the conflict between two heroic characters who both have right on their side but who handle it badly, that is, humanly.
It would be up to Luke, then, to settle things but that would require him to take sides against one or the other of his best friends. Which would break his heart.
That’s a wound that won’t heal on its own and that would send him into self-imposed exile.
And in that story, Rey would be Percival.
Percival, you probably recall, is Arthur’s greatest knight. Well, technically, he’s the second greatest. Galahad is the greatest, but he barely counts because he only shows up for the Grail quest and almost immediately becomes one with the Force---he dies and goes right to heaven---when he finds it. So for all intents and purposes, Percival is number one. (Lancelot is third and Gawain is fourth.) But he comes late to the Round Table, when Arthur and the others are nearing old age. He is a knight’s son---in some versions a king’s son---but when he was a baby his mother took him into the woods far from Camelot where she raised him with no knowledge of his father or of knights in general because she was afraid of what would happen to him if he joined the Round Table. He grows up a rude and ignorant bumpkin but strong, clever, resourceful, and brave. Then one day some knights on a quest ride through the woods and as soon as he sees them, Percival becomes aware of the Force flowing through him---that is, he knows himself to be a true knight and is instantly not only capable but the most capable with sword and lance.
Sounds like a bit of a male Mary Sue, doesn’t he?
Sounds like somebody else who’s being called a Mary Sue, too.
There’s something else about Percival that might sound familiar if you’ve seen The Force Awakens.
In some retellings, he’s the one who finds the Grail and uses it to heal the Fisher King.
Maybe J.J. Abrams understands those old stories as well as he understands Han Solo's...or maybe it’s that he understands Star Wars.