Review: In this article we will look at what makes a good female action protagonist and what not to do with your screen play. One of the reasons I picked these two movies was because they are both an episodic movie series. Choosing a movie like ROUGE ONE (2016) for this article just would not due because its only one movie. In this article I will be pointing out what is wrong with The Force Awakens attempt to build a female action protagonist and how the Hunger Games got it right.
Warning Spoilers Ahead!
Rey has the best heroine intro I have ever seen in a film. The scene uses the story telling technique of ‘Show don’t tell’. The musical score and camera work are nothing short of perfect. That’s where I will give J.J. Abrams his due. Unfortunately this is the best quality scene we will see in Star Wars 7. If Rey had stayed a force sensitive, tech savvy, scavenger, the story would have been much more consistent going into Star Wars 8 The Last Jedi. Rey scavenges on the planet Jakku. She trades scavenged parts for food. As of Star Wars episode 7, Rey’s family is unknown and she lives in a make shift home.
Katniss has a basic and very typical introduction in the first Hunger Games movie. Nothing special here. Katniss Everdeen is a huntress who takes care of her family in a land called Panem. This dystopian world of hers has a strict government that is unkind to their people. For both Katniss and Rey, they are the appropriate age to start their journey unlike little Anikin Skywalker in Star Wars episode 1. Its silly to put a child in the situation that the first Star Wars movie did. Lets explore the two women’s special skills.
Katniss is a huntress with limited survival skills. Her skills have changed focus from hunting small game to hunting humans in Hunger Game tournament. She has the ability to recognize what natural foods are poison such as Nightlock berries. She also socializes with other people with her enchanting personality, most of the time. She can be very harsh which is not good for making allies. As we already know Rey is a scavenger who can identify valuable parts. She is not so great with electronic though. Her personality is seriously messed up in the beginning of the Force Awakens movie. She is rude to BB-8 when she first meets the droid and she is even worse with Finn. She in nice to the big name characters of Star Wars such as Chewbacca, Han, and Leia. Isolation no doubt played a significant role in hardening her personality as well as living on Jakku with not so honest people.
Lets remember that social engineering is a very powerful thing and Katniss can convince people into doing what she wants all throughout the whole Hunger Game franchise with out the use of the force. Rey uses the force to escape Kylo Ren by using her abilities to fight off Ren’s mind probe and Jedi mind tricks the Stormtrooper. The problem with this is that in the Star Wars universe, Jedi mind tricks have there limits. Luke and Qui Gon Jinn learned this the hard way. So lets address the major elephant in the room, Rey has all manner of Jedi abilities without any training! Now maybe The Last Jedi can explain this but her abilities are over kill. She behaves like a fully trained Jedi in the Force Awakens. That’s way too much, too fast and that definitely affects the pacing of the new trilogy story.
Stakes and motivations:
For Katniss, her little sister Primrose’s survival is paramount. Primrose is chosen for the annual Hunger Games tournament. She is little and very young. The likelihood that she would survive against trained killers is virtually nonexistent. So Katniss take her place in the tournament. Using family as a motivator for the main protagonist’s motivation is common in movies and very typical. The one saving grace for using this as a story telling technique is that it is convincing.
Rey is strange with her motivations. This is unfortunately due to just plain old bad writing. She is offered a position on Han Solo’s ship as a shipmate, but she refuses due to her wanting to stay on Jakku. So when Han Solo dies, she is crying and is distraught. I can understand her seeing this kind of violence maybe for the first time, but she does not really have a connection to Han solo. If the story went a deferent direction such as, Rey accepted Han Solo’s offer and she is now becoming emotionally attached to the crew, the ship, and wanting for a new life among the stars, I could see how Han’s death was like seeing that hope die as well. Bottom line is that in order to write a good protagonist, make sure the character’s motivations are clear. Its so frustrating watching a good character being ruined by bad writing. Its so silly that I even have to write that down, its suppose to be common sense in telling a story but they messed that up in The Force Awakens.
The great thing about Katniss is that the writers knew not to make her too powerful, too fast. She doesn’t get the bow and arrow in the Hunger Games tournament until later in the first movie in order to show the audience what she is capable of with her other abilities. Rey on the other hand is too powerful way too fast. There is no real risks or stakes for a character as powerful as Rey and because she wants to go back to Jakku, she does not have any real attachments to the other characters or their existence to be at stake for her. Rey gets a lot of flak for being so powerful, usually she is called a derogatory name, but its really the creators of the movie that needed to address the pacing of the franchise as a whole in order to understand how Rey is supposed to be used in the Star Wars universe. The Force Awakens is part of an episodic movie series after all. In screen writing, the characters are suppose to serve the plot and not the other way around. In this fashion a story can always push forward from beginning, middle, and end.
An example of a useless scene that needs to be cut out of the movie in order to make the whole movie much more consistent and a stronger story over all is every time Rey says she wants to go back to Jakku. When you force the plot to serve the characters, you have unnecessary time wasted on trivial scenes that make the audience wonder what the scene is about and what did it have to do with anything. All throughout the Star Wars franchise, some people have wondered why singing CGI monsters have been added to re-releases of edited Star Wars movies, such as DVD and Blue Rays for example. These kind of scenes drives the films rating down by critics. Usually these useless scenes wastes valuable time that could have been used for developing other characters in the film, making for a much stronger story. Maybe The Last Jedi could ‘salvage’ this little side plot of Rey wanting to back to Jakku but this kind of exposition doesn’t leave the best impression on the audience.
Pacing and Learning:
So in the first Hunger Games movie Katniss is stuck up in a tree trying to hide from her attackers. Rue helps Katniss by pointing to a nest of tracker jacker wasps. Katniss cuts down the branch that was holding the nest of tracker jacker wasps with the saw tooth edge of her knife. The nests falls on her enemies and they scatter away leaving one dead. This is just one example of Katniss learning about her environment and adapting as a character. She earns her victory, its not just handed to her. Even if Rue showed her where the nest was, Katniss still have to do all the work in order to kill one enemy, scatter the rest, and acquire the bow and arrow. This is an example of Katniss being captured, or something of the sort. When Rey is captured by Kylo Ren, she just gets force abilities with out earning them. Where is the fun in watching that? If she was capable of just small force abilities at a very low level, it would show the audience that she was force sensitive at the very least, so maybe she could one day be a Jedi. The major problem is that she fights off a powerful enemy without any guidance, which is necessary in the Star Wars universe. Rey’s powers are handed to her while Katniss is guided in her abilities and earns them. Even Luke had to be trained in his abilities before he could take on a powerful enemy. On Hoth Luke was captured by a wampa ( silly looking monster ). The very short training session Luke had with Obi Wan on the millennium falcon in the movie A New Hope was the only reason why he could force pull the light saber to his hand, free himself, and chop off the wampa’s arm in The Empire Strikes Back, allowing Luke to escape, but that required some training!
That’s an example of good writing. Here is an example of bad writing. Little Anakin gets in a Naboo fighter and wreaks all manner of havoc on the Trade Federation star base without any kind of training what so ever. Again, what’s the fun in watching something like that? What are the stakes? At the very least Luke Skywalker new how to fly a star ship before the battle of Yavin. He would have even been accepted into a flight academy if it went for his uncle Owen. One pilot even vouched for him. In real life people learn from each other and develop relationships. This helps with character building. Katniss leverages her ability to sit down and talk to a person and gets to know them, like her interaction with Rue. Arya Stark in Game of thrones learns so much from others in order to become as good as she is. This is fun to watch as she gains more and more skill. It gives the audience something to watch and the writers have something to write about. The Force Awakens, not so much. Rey is already a trained Jedi without the training. This waters down the next movie The Last Jedi. Hopefully not.
The Hunger Games works because the creators understood the pacing of the movie and the series as a whole. Katniss starts out as a young woman who has something she is good at, a specialty. She is then motivated to protect her family members. She learns from the other characters around her while making new friends. She wants to keep herself and her friends alive. Her social skills and personality improves. Through team work and her special skills she completes most of her objectives in the first film. The first hunger Games movie displays character growth by keeping the story telling elements simple and well balanced. This allows a consistent story to be told. In the later Hunger Games films Katniss in suppose to take on the role of the Mockingjay and lead the charge against the capital. Katniss does not know how to do this so her team shows her how by couching her and showing her the damage on district twelve.
Conversely Rey is looking for Luke Skywalker. She then trains to be a Jedi in the film The Last Jedi. The problem is that Rey is already at Jedi level from movie standards. Imagine that you have never seen the movie The Force Awakens before. You walk in on a friend or coworker who is watching the movie. You look at the wide screen TV and see that Kylo Ren has just defeated Finn in a lightsaber duel. Kylo Ren stretches out his hand to force pull the lightsaber to his hand but Rey calls the saber to her own hand and activates the weapon and the two start fighting. Rey parrys Kylo Ren’s strike, then blocks and thrusts with her saber. Kylo Ren knocks Rey’s saber blade away and then attacks with his saber and Rey blocks. A person would think Rey was a Jedi in this movie if they have never seen this movie before. They might even think she was a padawan learner who , like Obi wan in episode one was ready for the Jedi trails. She fights so well that any one would think that she has already been trained in light saber combat. So what’s the problem? This waters down the next movies impact on the audience since she already has Jedi abilities with out training. We lose the journey, the story, the adventure, the experience of seeing something take place from beginning, middle, and end. This is what most movie goers want, a consistent story. I can understand a film maker wanting to try something deferent but they have to do it well or the movie will fall apart.
There are clearly ways to make a better protagonist in film. This is usually a way to see if a movie maker is paying attention to the quality of a film. Is the film well though out or is the movie nothing more than a money grab? Focusing on the quality of the story helps the movie age well. Regardless of all the film making techniques, motion picture film is an art and art is subjective. Some people will love a movie while others will hate it. Enjoy what you enjoy. A movie is always better when the creators pour their heart and soul into the film. Unlike a certain Spider-Man remake that led to remakes of remakes. Marvel had to save the character because quantity was the focus instead of quality by a certain studio. Of course these character building techniques could be used for any character regardless of gander but this blog is primarily focuses on the British actress as much as possible ( in this case Daisy Ridley ). This is the end of part one of how to write a female action protagonist.
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