Who's Your Father? Framing Rey As Child in The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi. From second-weekend dropoffs to discussions of theme to accusations of review bombing, controversy has swirled around the newest installment of the revered space western. By now, you all are probably pretty sure which side you stand on with regards to this heavily polarizing film, whether you love it or you hate it. I will make no bones about my opinions about the film: I think it’s a triumph, a masterclass in how to interrogate yourself as a storyteller, a powerful story with real thematic depth and powerful characters, that manages to take Star Wars in a new direction while being undeniably a Star Wars film. One of the reasons I think this is because it’s a downright beautiful film that’s shot with incredible skill, as shown here:

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Specifically, that image in comparison to the more traditional images of Rey we see, like this one:

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The differences should be as obvious as they are striking. In the second image, Rey is coded in every conceivable way as an adult. For one, she’s carrying her weapon of choice, the weapon she appears with in the first shot of The Force Awakens and nearly every shot since. The weapon’s constant presence at her side, and its appearance with her in the above, sends a clear message: this is a grown ass woman who can take care of herself. Her bearing further bears this out: Standing tall and confident, as she’s usually depicted, she strides forward with determined steps toward something she seems focused on (into what seems like a strong wind without faltering at all, just in case we doubted her determination to get there), her desires clear as clear to her as any self-aware and self-actualized adult. Finally, her hair and face mark her as explicitly adult. Her hair, in keeping with Star Wars leading lady tradition and the practice of adult women everywhere, is done up in her own style of her choosing, while her face is shot to highlight, alongside the determination aforementioned, the defined cheekbones and strong jawline that are the hall marks of an adult’s face. From her posture to her equipment to her very face and hair, Rey is presented to us as a grown woman here. 

The first image, on the other hand, presents Rey in a very different light, with almost every element possible of the shot constructed to make Rey appear childlike. The fire that creates light in the shot makes her face more pink than we can see in the second photo, giving her cheeks more of the rosy glow so often associated with children. It also has the effect of making her face seem softer, her cheeks rounder, her chin less powerfully defined. All of these, of course, are elements that separate a child's face from that of an adult's. Indeed, almost every element of her figure in this shot is devoid of sharp angles and tension of any kind, a sign of both youth and youthful, carefree relaxation. While the scene itself is practically dripping in tension, her body language is not, which associates her with a childlike state. Finally, Rey's hair is down in the first image, which in and of itself would not amount to very much, but is a powerful statement when read in context and contrasted with the prior shot. In the shot we're analyzing, her hair is in loose curls, a style both far removed from her normal inimitable style and closely associated with children.

But is this just a chance shot into which I'm reading far too much. As we always must, we now ask about this scene’s place in the story as a whole, to see if such a reading of it is justified. This scene comes directly after Rey’s confronted the place of darkness on Ahch-To in search of information about her parents, during a conversation with Kylo Ren. In it, she discusses her ignorance and desire to know more about her parents, her feelings of being lost in this great tale and her doubts about her mentor and the man she’d hoped to find a father-figure in, Luke Skywalker. She even declares that she needs “someone to show me my place in all this,” an incredibly childlike sentiment. In other words, all the work done to make her look younger or like a child are absolutely intentional and thematically justifies. Rey is confused and ignorant, searching for guidance and desperate to know the identity of her parents, very much a child who has not made the fateful decisions that will propel her into adulthood, and the film bends every ounce of composition it can muster to make her seem like one. We’re lucky it does so with such adroit skill.

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May the force be with you,

Alex 

P.S. All image credits to disney.