Characterization Is Thicker than Blood

Star Wars VII ReyHere’s my impossible theory for the secret untold origin of the rookie hero in the Star Wars universe (no spoilers for the film), Rey is related to…this is going to blow your minds…wait for it….I don’t think anyone has said this yet…no one we have ever heard of before.

Does that sound like a letdown? It shouldn’t – Rey is a strong, charismatic character who will be a solid foundation for the series going forward and her backstory doesn’t increase the enjoyment of The Force Awakens. The reason audiences like Rey is because she is a well-crafted character, if you disagree just think of a character you do like for the purposes of this post. Who her father, brother or grandfather is doesn’t impact her actions on screen or relationships with the cast.

Forcing a relationship on characters that isn’t a necessary part of the narrative is an overused trope to hide poor writing.

Scanners, The Man in the Iron Mask, Desperado, Star Trek, Boondock Saints and other films incorporate a third act reveal to increase the drama of the situation. The antagonist is actually my long lost brother? My mentor was my father all along? The final boss is actually a cloned version of myself? These are connections the audience can relate to (well…maybe not the last one) and by revealing characters are family we project our own family bonds onto the characters. It creates an instant bond that might not have been there previously. The filmmakers are borrowing from your own emotional ties to give weight to the situation they are trying to create.

The odd part of the examples mentioned is the connection is completely superfluous. The heroes are and villains were already defined by their actions – the ‘revelation’ was just thrown in to shock the audience.

Family isn’t the only bond which can strengthen characterization. Riggs and Murtaugh, of Lethal Weapon fame, or any buddy-cop duo end up treating each other like brothers during their wacky adventures. They’re family…without actually being related. This is portrayed through actions and their willingness to do anything for each other –another emotion the audience can relate to (hopefully, everyone has a best friend).

There is an old adage in writing, “show, don’t tell.” When characters are randomly related the film is telling the audience this situation is dramatic/ironic/strange instead of actually taking the time to build the characters and scene. It’s sloppy. And filmmakers have proven they can do better from simple animated plots to complex dramas.

Darth VaderUsing Star Wars as an example (because, hey everyone likes good SEO terms) the Leia is Luke’s sister exposure is a completely meaningless connection. Han/Luke/Leia were already connected and proved they’d go to the ends of the galaxy for each other, Leia already chose Han and would Luke been any less upset if Darth Vader threatened to corrupt Leia if she wasn’t his sister? I would hope the answer is no but there is an artificial weight added by throwing out the characters on twins. The connection thrown in didn’t enhance the characters or the relationship – in fact it just made all of the Luke/Leia kiss scenes really awkward.

On the other side (the light side?) there are instances where characters being related is integral to the plot. Oedipus’ wife was always going to be his mother. In Wanted, Wesley was handpicked to defeat his father and even Darth Vader being Luke’s dad changed the motivations of his character to a more complex spectrum. However, one could argue that it actually made Luke a weaker character – would he not have tried to save the soul of Vader if it wasn’t his father?

With all the theories of Rey floating around, I hope the creators continue to build her as a strong protagonist and don’t fall into the trap of connecting her to an existing character. There is nothing to be gained at this point to repeat history and capture that moment at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Rey deserves the chance to stand (or fall) on her own merits.

The Prequels showcase the danger of interconnecting every aspect of the universe (looking at you Jango Fett). Good characters are created by their actions, not by who they are related to.

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