A few days ago I was rewatching my favorite movie Return of the Jedi.
This is a magical film and such a wonderful finale to the original Star Wars trilogy. But as I was getting to the end, something struck me regarding the Sequel Trilogy.
I am not someone who completely trashes the Disney Sequels. I think The Force Awakens is absolutely a worthy successor to the Saga. And while I think that The Last Jedi was made by a man who fundamentally did not understand Star Wars, it does have some very good moments. And if the The Rise of Skywalker did not have to clean up a lot of the mess from the previous movie, it could have landed much stronger.
But in thinking about the hero's journey that the main character takes in each of the trilogies, I noticed a subtle but important difference.
Rey has no scars.
In The Empire Strikes Back, the fresh-faced Luke is badly beaten. He is scarred at the beginning of the film and then he is pummeled bloody by Vader.
At the end of Attack of the Clones, Anakin is maimed by Dooku. When Revenge of the Sith begins, he is even more scarred and then is horribly burned by the finale.
In both cases, the heroes carry on their bodies the physical reminders of their choices. It struck me the most in Return of the Jedi when Luke removes Vader's helmet and you see all of the scars on Anakin's face as he looks at his son's scarred face and deformed hand. You can see in all of this the pain and vulnerability between these two men. The scars remind you of the crucible that they endured to get to the end of their journey.
But Rey has no scars.
Many people argue that her character is a Mary Sue, but I am not here to debate that point. My point is that a big mistake was made in not giving Rey any scars.
Her character is heroic to the point where she sacrifices her life in her battle with Palpatine. But the scars of the battle matter. You could argue that she has emotional scars over what she has lost and endured, but that misses part of the point.
Movies are visual in nature. That is the primary way they convey story and character. In Anakin, you can see how his anger has both emotionally and physically sent him through hell. Luke has had part of his innocence taken away and broken. There is something sad, even in the victory.
This touches on that mythic element of all of our lives. We grow and we learn and hopefully we overcome. But we are scarred in the process. If we are not, it feels like our victories have less significance. That isn't to say that the pain is what makes the victory good, but in order for something to be heroic the challenge has to be real and almost insurmountable. That is what makes heroes admirable.
The scar is also a perpetual reminder of the cost. I remember when I first saw How To Train Your Dragon, I enjoyed it very much. But I actually gasped when I saw that Hiccup has been maimed in the end. It made me feel a much deeper emotional connection to him for what he gave up. Frodo lost his finger and ultimately his health in order to get the ring to Mordor. Harry Potter carries his scar from infancy through to the end.
But Rey never experiences that same kind of pain. She endures a great deal, but it isn't quite the same. It's intersting that it is her antagonist that receives a scar from her. And in that way, Ben Solo is a bit more interesting of a character. He has a more dramatic arc. Like Anakin and Luke, he is scared by his choices, both internally and externally. When he has to face his father in the end, he appears no longer as his fresh-faced son, but as a scarred sinner. The shame and pain are all present in that moment.
Scars not only show injury, but they also show healing. It shows us where someone has been wounded, but how they have endured. Rey doesn't have that. She looks exactly the same at the beginning of the Sequel Trilogy as she does in the end. Perhaps if we could see her scars we could feel a deeper connection to her journey.