I was far too excited the first time I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I barely caught any details. I was engulfed in the spectacle and novelty of a new Star Wars. But on my second and third viewings I began to notice something interesting. The left and right sides of the screen hold an amazing clue for Episode VIII.
I won’t go through every single scene in The Force Awakens (I’ll let you have fun doing that). Instead I will just be focusing on a few sequences for our three main characters: Finn, Kylo Ren and Rey. Please let me know in the comments if you think I missed anything, or if you think I’m full of crap. You’d be right either way.
Updated Dec. 15, 2018 – Um, never mind. I’m full of crap. But the cinematography in The Force Awakens is very nice and you should still read this blog post. Or don’t. Whatever.
Finn’s RIGHTeous Journey
We first meet Finn on Jakku while he’s wussing out on murdering civilians. After a dying comrade bloodies up his helmet, Finn decides that being a tool of destruction isn’t the right career path for him. His first escape attempt to the right side of the frame (to catch his breath) is cut short by Captain Phasma who is obviously too hopped up on downers to empathize with a colleague suffering from a severe panic attack.
Finn will no longer be a pawn for the left side. Finn sneaks back to the left side, grabs Poe and makes a mad dash to the right. Finn and Poe need to break free of a tether and backtrack a bit to destroy some canons, but ultimately wind up flying (uncontrollably in a wrecked ship) back to Jakku, on the right side.
Finn, however, is not a willing partner in the final destination. Poe (facing right towards Jakku) is flying Finn (facing away from Jakku) against his will. Finn was willing to break free from the left side, but he was not willing to go all the way to the other side. Finn doesn’t learn to embrace the right side until after the events on Takodana.
When Finn is offered an opportunity to go to the right side by Maz Kanata he reacts by running back to the left, like the non-murderous coward he has proven himself to be. Hiding among the stars in the farthest reaches of the galaxy is the life he wants, away from the commitments and responsibilities.
But after the First Order wrecks Maz’s sweet castle and Kylo kidnaps Rey, Finn finally listens to his call to action. We finally get to see Finn commit to a cause that’s greater than himself. He sprints full speed from the left side of the frame to the right. He’s determined to get there, but he doesn’t quite get there, yet.
Finn’s final turning point doesn’t occur until he volunteers for what is probably a suicide mission. As he makes his way to the Millennium Falcon, Poe initiates Finn to the right side of the screen, like a high school graduate turning the tassel on his cap. The camera rotates around Finn and his graduation is complete.
Kylo Ren LEFT His Family Behind
Kylo Ren might be the most interesting character in The Force Awakens. He is a moody, millennial (falcon?) who’s struggling with constant fears of inadequacy. I think he’s a pretty relatable guy.
Kylo was born to the right side of the screen but has made his way to the left. And yet, despite all the atrocities he has committed, there is still a barrier preventing him from fully giving himself to the left. The right side of the screen still beckons to him too, although it’s barely a whisper at this point and a giant blocks his path. The left side appears much more powerful and much brighter to Kylo, and his obstacle is much, much smaller.
Kylo Ren spends very little time on the right side of the screen. There are three specific scenes where he spends any real time on the right. The first two of these scenes show us a Kylo Ren who is either questioning his strength or is having his strength questioned. With this visual cue in mind, the audience is given false hope when Kylo goes to the right side of the screen for a third and final time.
Honestly, we all knew Han was going to die when he went out on that catwalk. But even with the complete expectation of death, The Force Awakens successfully ratcheted up the tension by giving us maybe a tiny, little, itsy-bitsy, sliver of hope. Kylo has always been unsure when he’s on the right side. Why not this time?
But Han’s death was inevitable. While being a bigger path of resistance than Kylo had originally anticipated, Han is just a regular-sized man, and the left side is just too enticing. As Starkiller Base consumes the sun and the blue light fades (Jedi lightsaber color!), all that’s left is darkness and red light (Sith lightsaber color!). By overcoming his final barrier, Kylo can fully embrace the left side.
Rey’s First Steps
And now we’re left with Rey. What’s her deal? Plot-wise, Rey seems like the perfect, clean-cut hero who can do no wrong. Rey is the only one of our three main characters not to be introduced on the left side of the screen. She’s introduced dead center. She’s neutral. And while she spends a lot of time on the right side, she spends an awful lot of time on the left.
Since Rey does starts in the center, both sides are trying to sway her. The right side of the screen calls to Rey on multiple occasions (literally if you you’re watching in surround sound). Rey hears BB-8’s cries for help on Jakku and she springs into action. She can’t get to the right side fast enough, cause she’s good. Right?
The right side of the screen literally calls to Rey again while inside Maz Kanata’s cantina. Once again Rey is more than happy to investigate that side of the screen. But after an unwanted acid trip, Rey decides she wants nothing to do with this side of the screen and leaves through the left side of the basement.
Kylo Ren is a poor influence on Rey. Kylo doesn’t know it, but by using the dark side of the Force on Rey he is teaching her the dark side. When they first meet she is force to look left. When Kylo is interrogating her she is forced to look left. Kylo is going to show Rey the left side whether she wants to or not.
All of Rey’s interactions with the Force, and everything she knows how to do with it, comes from the dark side. That doesn’t make her inherently bad; a sword can be used for good and evil purposes. But as Rey progresses through the new episodes, I think her first experiences will come into play.
But Rey is the hero of The Force Awakens and there’s no way Disney is going to let the first new Star Wars movie end on a dour note (that’s DC Comics’ job). So while Rey is taught how to use the left side, and doesn’t really want to accept the right side, she still ends up fighting for the right side of the screen.
When it comes time for Rey to battle Kylo with a lightsaber, she is initially in constant retreat. The left side of the screen is taking control. The right side runs away until there is no where left to run (thanks to a super convenient chasm).
Kylo has full control of the screen and Rey has nowhere left to go. She’s a goner. But Kylo, in his infinite wisdom, decides to mention the Force again, even though Rey had already proven she can overpower him. It’s a bold strategy. Let’s see if it pays off for him.
Rey finally accepts the right side and the right side quickly dominates the screen. Kylo is forced to retreat back to the left side from whence he came. Kylo is no match for Rey and he gets a nice scar across the right side of his face as a souvenir. But before Rey is able to end Kylo, another super convenient chasm appears and we’re forced to call it a draw. Neither side wins.
Okay! I get it! Left is bad. Right is good. How does any of this prove Rey will turn bad? She finishes on the right side of the battle!
While Rey ends the main conflict of The Force Awakens on the right side of the screen, Rey’s journey to Luke holds all the clues for Episode VIII.
Rey begins her climb to Luke on the right side of the screen. As she ascends the mountain she slowly makes her way towards the center of the frame. When Rey finally reaches Luke and offers him the saber, she is still in the right third. This would have been good place to end the movie.
But we get one more shot.
I found the final shot particularly jarring when I first saw it. The motion was raw and shakier than anything that come before it. Filmmakers would normally use rigs and big equipment to pull of this shot in a smooth manner but getting that setup on a protected Irish island probably wasn’t feasible.
So why didn’t they just end with the close up of Rey on the right side? You don’t break the visual tone of the your movie and use a helicopter shot just for the sake of it. The filmmakers obviously wanted a turning point for Rey.
The dark side wants Rey. She is more powerful than she knows. With no knowledge of the Force she was able to dominate Kylo Ren. What happens when Luke unlocks all the knowledge of the Force? She’s going to be a ticking time bomb.
Luke has proven that he in’t the best teacher in the world (Han can attest). Luke knows he failed the universe when he failed to keep Kylo from the dark side. Maybe he’ll try and redeem himself and train Rey. If so, Luke is bound to fall victim to his past mistakes. History is going to repeat itself in Episode VIII.
Once Rey experiences the true nature of the Force, she will be tempted. She will be drawn to the dark side and she will dabble. Kylo has already given her a taste. Mind control was her gateway drug and Luke is about to teach her everything. She’s gonna get hooked and Rey will break bad in Episode VIII.
Why else would Disney hire Rian Johnson to direct?