The entire Star Wars saga is based on the idea of power imbalances. In fact, seemingly every tension within these films is based in the concept of seeking or having power. This thematic throughline has continued with The Force Awakens. This time around, however, the way this concept plays out has a different look than we've seen before.

For its first six installments, the power imbalances within the Star Wars films have actually been about masculinity in one way or another, and with The Force Awakens, that is still true in many regards. In fact, if you were asked to boil down each film and say what the overarching theme, and what propels the plot forward in each, it would be hard to say anything except fatherhood and fatherly relationships (with a good bit of patricide thrown in). What these relationships have always boiled down to has been the crusade for the son to overcome the shortcomings of their father, or father figure--to be a better, more complete man than him.





The Force Awakens revisits many of these familiar thematic ideas. However, there are also new aspects to this dynamic present in this latest installment in the series that, to me at least, are incredibly promising, and hold some of the greatest potential for the series moving forward. Specifically, the way that the film has moved the issue of power dynamics into a more global territory is especially refreshing to me.

Possibly The Force Awakens' greatest victory thematically is how it manages to demonstrate the importance of power across a wide range of levels and settings in truly relatable ways. On a larger scale, the film touches on the status of industrial automation and mass production within our society. While the film never says that these are inherently evil, it does show the nefarious ends to which they can be used. While the original films definitely showed the contrast between The Empire's industrial strength and the scrappiness of The Rebel Alliance, The Force Awakens shows the personal toll this takes through the Finn. It shows that, under The First Order's dominating rule, individuals are reduced to manufactured products.

In the end, this is what the power dynamic between Kylo and Rey is, as well, and why it is so powerful. As soon as Kylo Ren glimpses Rey's connection to The Force and, therefore, her power, she becomes objectified by him. Though this objectification is not sexual, as it typically is for women on a daily basis, it is rooted in the same type of misogynistic lust for power over someone else.

While, yes, the Kylo Ren/Han Solo relationship is incredibly powerful and important in the film, and fulfills the father/son archetype that we are expecting from this universe, we are now shown that this kind of conquest has the power to corrupt. More than that, we have the introduction of a new type of power dynamic, Rey, and the female struggle against objectification at the hands of men and society.

Frequently, these power dynamics do not even have to be stated explicitly, and are conveyed simply by the way a scene is composed and shot. Where this is most evident is in the scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. The scenes between these characters are all entirely based on the imbalance of power between them, and it seems fitting that almost all of them display this in their composition, which very strictly follow the rule of thirds. By following this principle, director J.J. Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel emphasize Kylo's power over Rey.

When the film turns this imbalance in Rey's favor, then, it is also reflected with the same compositional principles. During these moments are when we see its boldest statement against both Star Wars' own past of undercutting female power, and the gross societal norms it took part in by doing so.

 


In the original trilogy, Leia, as empowered as she is through her attitude and worldview, is still constantly put in a place of needing to be rescued. Even when she uses the very instrument of her own oppression against her captor by killing Jabba with the chain used to imprison her in Return of the Jedi, she is still ultimately rescued by Luke, and is only imprisoned in the first place after failing to rescue Han. In this way, even when Leia was given empowering moments, her agency was still taken away (not to mention the myriad of other issues with so-called "Slave" Leia).

Rey, however, needs no rescuing, and is actually the one who rescues Finn (yes, Chewbacca is the one who ultimately flies in and saves them both with The Millennium Falcon, but that would have been entirely inconsequential without Rey holding off Kylo). By giving power to Rey in this way, The Force Awakens has used the most familiar element of the series, the struggle for power, and has made it not only more inclusive for a larger audience, but made it substantially more interesting.