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The Force Awakened. And look what it did!

I am not a ninja. I am not a knight. I am a Jedi. In 2006 I taught a long sword and lightsaber seminar at LucasFilm Singapore to a group of animators working on the Clone Wars series, which, if you think about it in just the right way, makes me a Jedi Master. Hah!

I mention this to make the point that we all come to historical swordsmanship from different backgrounds and for different reasons, aspiring towards different archetypes, and this can affect how we train. It has often puzzled my medievalist friends that I'm not more interested in armour. Medieval knightly combat is armoured combat. Armour is ok; I have a lovely harness, and I take it out and fight in it every now and then. But I'm not, and probably never will be, really into it. The knight in shining armour is cool and all, but the archetype that imprinted itself in my soul at that formative age wasn't Sir Lancelot, or William the Marshall; it was Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. And the only armour in the Star Wars universe seems to be worn by the villains. Plus, it’s completely useless anyway, as teddy bears with slingshots can get through it.

Since watching the original movies (the first one I was old enough to see in the cinema was Return of the Jedi; the rest I only saw on grainy Betamax until they were re-released and digitally remastered in the nineties), the central mythos of my martial arts aspirations was set. Yoda is the ultimate martial arts master, settled in a remote location, concealing his true nature until the disciple appears. Han Solo is the competent older warrior, skilled but not gifted, who mentors the acolyte but must be outgrown; Obi-Wan is the gatekeeper to the tradition; it's all there. It's just a shame that Luke is such a whiny little brat. I always wanted to be a Jedi, but never wanted to be a Jedi like Luke! Except for the amazing bit on Jabba's barge, of course. I mean, talk about super-cool. Walking the plank, about to get eaten, and suddenly with a couple of back-flips and a lightsaber, you win. Wow.

The only way to train a student. Especially a whiny one.

This of course has deeply influenced my training interests; I’m especially drawn to anything Jedi-like: meditation, for instance. Breathing exercises for another. Don’t worry, folks. I am actually a grown-up, and I do know that you can’t really force-choke people without actually, you know, choking them with something. But it’s as well for you to know where I’m coming from: this underlying archetypal aspiration has guided me more than I had imagined.

My desk: Yoda gives me sage advice: R2 scolds me when I'm doing something stupid.

I have only one real objection to the Star Wars universe (other than the unassailable fact that in any sane version of the story, the Jedi would be the villains (see here, or here)): the ancient and now discredited notion of heredity and talent. I’m sorry, but Jedi’s should be made, not born. The idea of there being only one bloodline in the entire galaxy that can produce decent Jedi is silly. Not least because of the sheer number of non-Skywalker-gened Jedi we saw in the prequels. And yet a central concern in the original movies was Luke being the only Jedi that could take on Darth Vader. Silly! My regular readers know how I feel about talent, so I won’t belabour the point here, but I am philosophically opposed to any system that requires a specific abnormal genetic inheritance for excellence. This aspect of the mythos comes straight from a thousand ancient tales in which the Chosen One, the Heir to the Kingdom, or whatever else, imbued by his (and it is almost always his) parentage with special specialness, goes off and does stuff only he can do. Bugger that. Lucas, you could have done better.

The best and the wisest character in the universe.

As with the rest of my generation, I waited with baited breath for the prequels, and, like the rest of my generation, was appalled. I saw each one once, but only once, and have tried not to think about them since. Even so, I was horrified when Disney bought the franchise. Because in my house of little girls, Disney = sickly-sweet pink films. Bleagh. I was all ready to miss the new film, until the interwebs blew up with people my age raving about it. And so, I went.

I practically wet myself with glee for two hours straight. It was absolutely everything everybody said it was. Disney, I apologise.


As soon as my readers heard I'd seen the film, I got a bunch of requests to comment on it, especially with regards to the lightsaber fighting.

OK, here goes.

There are no real plot twists or surprises in the film. It's a myth; an epic re-telling of an ancient story. As soon as Han steps onto that bridge, you know his son will kill him. It's necessary. As soon as Rey finds the sword in the stone light saber in the box, or it finds her, she is clearly going to go and find Luke. But that’s ok; a myth well told is never surprising. How many viewers didn’t know whether Frodo would make it to Mount Doom?

There are plot-holes aplenty. Of course. The idea of Luke being somehow hidden, and the star-map that shows his location having a long orange trail marked on it, is just silly. Luke went to find the original Jedi temple; he couldn't have known where he was going, so he couldn't have left a map in R2D2, nor could he have chopped the important bit out and put it on a thumb drive and given it to the old man in that village on (yet another) desert planet. And how did Poe know to find him there? And how did Maz Kanata end up with Luke's lightsaber, the one that Obi-Wan gave him and he lost when Daddy chopped off his hand? I'm not the only one to wonder.

And why does the Empire (sorry, First Order) care where some old Jedi is, in hiding, in isolation, affecting nothing?

Because it's a myth. And myths aren't about making perfect linear sense; they instead bring out deeper truths of human nature and cast them in story form.

The plot is fine.

A female lead character? About time. I want my daughters to have Jedi they can identify with. Lead Jedi. Badass Jedi. Jedi that don't need rescuing like a dopey Princess. OK, Rey ain't a Jedi yet, but again it's obvious that she will be one day. Also, a female storm trooper captain? Yay! I'd take orders from Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) any day (if my wife said it was ok) 🙂 A black lead character? Also about time. The casting of Finn goes some way to atoning for the blatant Jim Crow racism inherent in Jar Jar fucking Binks. Lando was cool, but peripheral. Finn is a major character. Incidentally, the way he refuses to fire his weapon during the massacre of the villagers has many real-life examples. It was perhaps the most realistic bit of the whole film. [approx 18 “fucks” deleted from this paragraph. I got quite cross. If you have a problem with black leads or female leads, then get off my blog and don't come back.]

Now to the bit you've all been waiting for: the lightsaber fights at the end. Because you can’t have a Star Wars movie without a duel at the end. It wouldn’t be right. Somehow, armed with Luke's old lightsaber, both Finn (an ex-storm trooper) and Rey (an untrained person) stand up to Kylo Ren, supposedly a highly-trained Jedi turned to the Dark Side.

Let's examine Kylo Ren for a moment. He was trained first by Luke himself; turned to the Dark Side, and then was taken on by Gollum Supreme Leader Snoke. He has serious anger-management issues (smashing up parts of a space-ship with his lightsaber, while it's in space! No space-navy could allow it. But I digress), but is extremely good at stopping blaster bolts, force-choking people, that sort of thing. He has a lot of the Luke-style whiny-brat about him, especially when he takes off his helmet, but he is at least supposed to be the arch-baddy, Darth Vader-type villain. Granted at the time of the duels he is badly wounded with a blaster bolt to the side (the sort of hit that would kill any fully-armoured stormtrooper, of course), but really, he should be doing a lot better.

Finn is a) motivated b) a trained warrior and c) has never used a lightsaber or anything like it before. He ought to be dead in a single move. Maybe Kylo would toy with him a bit first, but Finn should be dead in seconds, not injured in minutes. That was pretty unrealistic.

Rey though, is a somewhat different story. Throughout the movie she has carried a deeply impractical quarterstaff, and she is shown using it to good effect against (for instance) the robbers sent by Unkar Plutt to steal the BB-8 droid. She is clearly experienced at fighting with a staff, and has survived without help for a long time. Also, and more critically, when Ren tried to use the Force to open up her mind to him, she beat him back, which was clearly a surprise to them both. In the fight scene then, Ren has been beaten by her once already, and then been shot, so it is not quite so unrealistic to think that she could beat him again.

But still: trained knight v gifted amateur? It should be no contest at all.

Now, about Ren’s lightsaber with the mini-sabers crossguard. It is very silly. He is far more likely to hurt himself than anyone else, because when you swing a longsword, the crossguard always gets very close to your forearm; indeed, beginners usually develop the “beginners’ bruise”, in the middle of the forearm of their dominant hand. Ok, he’s not a beginner, but really, it’s a silly design. Some kind of lightsaber-proof crossguard would be a good idea, but not one that you can’t touch.

But that’s all I really have to say on the subject. There is no such thing as authentic, historically accurate, lightsaber technique. IT'S FICTION! Would I fight with a lightsaber the way they do in the movies? Hell no. But that’s not the point, now, is it? [I have threatened before to write a book on how to fight with a lightsaber. Should I do it? Let me know…]

The point is that this movie delivers the heart and soul of the Star Wars universe, and does it without trampling too hard on logic, plot, or realism.

Am I over-thinking this? Possibly. But you must understand, as the last surviving Jedi knight, I have to take this seriously.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

22 Responses

  1. Somebody pointed out that Darth Emo had taken a hit from Chewie’s bowcaster – a weapon we saw earlier being about as devastating combat shotgun. So do you think the injury would account for nor finishing Finn off in one or two blows?

  2. ” [I have threatened before to write a book on how to fight with a lightsaber. Should I do it? Let me know…]”

    Yup yup and yup, meesah would luuuve to seeah book like that daddy-o!

    And it would be great if you have the time to review all the Jedi sabre forms and comment on them in ze book…

    Just a comment on the end fight scene of the movie. I think Ren was hurt a lot more than ppl realise. The bowcaster is shown throughout the movie, with Han going on and on and on about how he loves it, shooting the heck out of troopers everywhere and then Ren takes a direct hit. Yet he keeps on walking.
    Also, having just offed his daddy, he might be mildly unsettled and unhinged as well, so focus might be a bit hard to come by. Imho they should have laid it on a bit thicker that he was badly injured, not just having the blood drip on the snow but having him stumble a bit and such…

    Might also be worth mentioning that it seems that Finn did have riot control training, so he knew how to handle a shock mace/stick type of weapon, which might have been part of the reason why he stayed alive as long as he did against Ren.
    (also why the shock stick trooper was so aggressive against Finn, personal history between the two. and

    Might find this review/commentary of interest as well 🙂

      1. Excellent. You said everything I hoped you’d say and a lot more I hoped someone would say. Really enjoyed your take, so I would definitely encourage you to write up an inauthentic, historically fictional, lightsaber technique manual – if you can get it past the Disney-droids, of course.

        I was told by a very enthusiastic Disney employee that the ‘cross guards’ on Ren’s lightsaber were actually just vents to stop his home made lightsaber from exploding – which is why his saber sounds awful and looks all crackly. Also that he had been guided by Snokes but never got to be trained by Luke. All of which adds to his lack of skill being a plausible character trait.

        With that final duel I noted that there seemed to be much more use of thrusts. I don’t recall thrusts being used in any of the preceding films, though I may be wrong.

        1. Well, the movie implies that Ren was responsible for destroying Luke’s effort of training the new generation of Jedi, seemingly ending up with all the would-be jedi dead (since they’re nowhere around it seems) and Luke gone AWOL… so he can’t have been exactly untrained to pull that off under Luke’s nose.

  3. I’ve seen people like Kylo and Rey at tournaments: The guy who’s got so much emotional baggage, who’s trying so hard to impress himself or his coach that he gets in his own way and locks up when he starts fighting. The novice who’s got enough physical agility and strength to be truly dangerous, because the experienced fighter can’t predict what they’ll do and they’ll do it quickly and with intent. I don’t find that final fight entirely unrealistic.

  4. I was somewhat middling about the movie (felt too derivative of the very first Star Wars movie) but I feel better about it after reading your enthusiastic review, Guy. And yes, please do write the light saber book 🙂

  5. Love your TFA review Guy – thanks for taking the time to post it. Not surprisingly, I, too, have a strong interest in the lore of the Jedi. For many people in today’s culture, it’s characters like Yoda and Obi-Wan, not Merlin and Arthur, who introduce them to the concept of an “order of knighthood.” And while I’ve taken some flak from some among my audience for putting a bit too much focus on the Star Wars lore, I do think it’s important to examine what Jedi knights have to teach us about the code of chivalry.
    You (and your readers) might be interested in a past episode of my podcast that features an interview with Daniel Wallace, who, a few years ago, wrote a book called The Jedi Path. It’s a sort of Jedi handbook, and it does include some advice on how to fight with a lightsaber – though that advice is much more “video game” than “HEMA.” But it is fun – and Mr. Wallace has some interesting observations on how the knights of Star Wars carry on the tradition of chivalry established by the Knights of the Round Table. Have a listen if you (and your readers) are interested:

  6. For so many good reasons you should write the lightsabre book (& time the release for before the next film) would you use a Jedi master pseudonym?

  7. I always thought the in the last duel Rey shows signs of her quarterstaff technique a lot, even with the lightsaber, her main attack seems to be a lunge that would be followed with the other end of the staff coming around, but since it only has “one” end she always has to give ground after her attacks. I thought it looked nice because of details like that 🙂

  8. Wow! Y’all really want a lightsaber manual? Hmm, ok…
    It will have to be two things; how I would actually kill someone with a real lightsaber, and also how to fight your friends with the excellent bashable ones.
    I’ll start thinking about it more seriously. No guarantees though, I have at least two books to write first: Sent, and How to Live Long and Prosper.

  9. Wouldn’t the problem with a real lightsaber centre around lopping off parts of one’s self? I would imagine that if rapier dualists would creep towards each other with great care then it would be even more careful when it came to lowly, non-force wielding, humans and a stick of laser. Obviously no blade grabs, no stepping on the blade, no half sword, limited use of the pommel. What on earth did you tell the Clone Wars guys? … I’ll just let you get to that in your own time.

  10. Ironically enough, though King Arthur and Excalibur had a very serious influence on my love of the sword, I never thought about the armor aspect in all my dreaming about swordplay. That could be because of the OTHER major influence in my love of swords: Thundercats. The Sword of Omens is probably why I love medieval longswords more than katanas. But yes, magic blades that allowed one to be able to be a match for modern weaponry was the dream. He-Man, Conan, X-Men (specifically Wolverine and his claws), Blade, and more only helped cement it in my head that my ideal wasn’t a knight in armor, but a sword wielding badass whose skill was so great he couldn’t be touched. I wasn’t introduced to Star Wars until my late teens.

    Enjoyed reading your take on TFA. I have my own hypothesis as to why Finn was able to last so long, and even wound him, before being carved like a Christmas turkey: he’s also gonna be a Jedi. Nowhere near Rey’s level, of course, but I’m seriously hoping he will be just because I don’t want it to basically come down to another “the fate of the world rests between two superpowerful beings” again. It’s been done to death. And oddly enough, I don’t want Rey to use a lightsaber–she’s a bamf with her staff, let her use that–only, y’know, with materials capable of repelling a lightsaber.

    …oh, and in case you were wondering the relevance of Finn being a Jedi for lasting so long. The Force. It’s implied throughout the SW universe that it gives them an almost precognitive ability and makes them fare better where normal mortals wouldn’t. And, of course, the more powerful, the better they fare. So yeah, it gave him enough juice to not immediately be carved duck, and Rey enough umph to come out on top. That last fight STILL bugged me, though. He should’ve fought better than that! But overall, it was well done (well, I’m not a sword expert or anything, though, so…) XDD

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