Monday, September 7, 2020

Backstory Affects Character

Another Star Wars oriented writing post this week. 😊

I've been watching Rebels with my family here lately, and before I get into the main point of the post, I just want to say how much I love this show. I mostly wanted to watch it because Ahsoka is in it, and so are Rex and Thrawn, but I didn't expect to love my space family so much. Seriously. I love all the Spectres 1-6 (haven't met Spectre-7 yet) so much...well, except maybe Spectre-3, AKA Chopper. Okay, I like Chopper in his own way, but he's certainly no Artoo. 😆 It's just a really great show with great characters, and Ezra sassing Darth Vader is just about the best thing ever.

Today I want to talk about one particular member of the Ghost crew: Kanan Jarrus. More specifically, I want to contrast him with Rey and talk about how backstory does (or doesn't) affect character. (Kanan is awesome and he and Hera are so cute together, and I really need to get to the point of this post because I feel like I'm starting to go full on fangirl.)

Kanan is a Jedi who survived Order 66. He was raised and trained at the Jedi Temple, taken as a padawan by Depa Billaba after the Temple bombing, and escaped death in Order 66 on Kaller thanks to Master Billaba's sacrifice. He then had to learn to survive on his own as a young teenager in a new Empire where literally everyone and everything he's ever known is gone. He apparently (I'm getting this bit from Wookieepedia because literally the only comic I've ever read is "Union" [Luke and Mara's wedding, duh, of course I dug up that one] and I haven't read A New Dawn either) teamed up with a smuggler for awhile until he met Hera on Gorse and joined her on the Ghost, fighting against the Empire.

There have been multiple times throughout Rebels where I'm like "You can tell Kanan didn't finish his training." And just so many little things that show how his backstory has an effect on who he is as a character. I'm going to go through a couple things about Kanan that show that his backstory really had an effect on the way they wrote his character and the things he does throughout the series. (Well, part of the series. I'm only in season 3.)

Lightsaber skills. Kanan knows how to handle a lightsaber. But...he's certainly no Master Yoda. In fact, he's no Ahsoka, even. Ahsoka held up against an Inquisitor much better than Kanan did. Because Ahsoka had spent several years as a padawan, at the "Skywalker Academy" 😉 and actually had quite a bit of combat experience. Kanan was only a padawan for a few months, and so had much less training and much less experience.

Early on, Kanan experiences much self-doubt in regards to teaching Ezra and tries to find another teacher for him. He never completed his training, and so he feels inadequate. But in the words of Ezra, "I don't want the best teacher. I want you."

Kanan's Force skills sometimes—to me, anyway—feel less refined than what we see out of the Knights and Masters. Like when he and Ezra overshot and threw Sabine over the edge of a cliff. Oops. Kanan's powerful, and he clearly has been trained, but it's not the same as a full-fledged Jedi Knight.

One of the things that stuck out the most to me about Kanan and his backstory is meeting Rex. Kanan has PTSD from Order 66. And Ahsoka knows it. I mean, duh. How could he not? But she's very adamant that Kanan trust her friend, and when Kanan meets Rex, he finds out why. Kanan has trouble interacting with and accepting clones after what he went through. He and Rex have a rather testy relationship for quite a few episodes. (I loved how Kanan called Hera to talk about how hard it was being around Rex.) And while I wanted Kanan and Rex to get along, I really appreciated the way it was handled. With Kanan's past, it shouldn't be easy for him to get used to being around a clone, and it's not.

This is still a season away for me.
I don't care. I'm putting it in anyway.

Finally, there are many little things about his personality and beliefs and the way he handles things that show how he was raised with Jedi ideals and he still believes in them, but he's been away from the Jedi, out in the world for a long time. Again, lacking the refinement you see in a Jedi Master like Obi-Wan or Yoda, but the core is still there. He knows the teachings, and he's got that selfless nature, but he's not as anti-attachment as the Jedi are supposed to be, and while he's not a volatile character by any means, he isn't as generally calm and composed as the aforesaid Jedi Masters. It's a lot of things in the nuances of his personality. And I really love how you can tell watching him that he was raised as a Jedi and is no longer a part of the Order.

"Do or do not, there is no try."
"What does that even mean? How can I do something if I don't try to do it?"
"Well, see...actually, that one always confused me too, but Master Yoda sure used to say it a lot."

Now to talk about Rey.

Rey actually has a really good characteristic moment/introduction. Scavenging the old star destroyer, going to Unkar Plutt for her portions, going back to her home in the old AT-AT, scratching another mark into the wall. It shows how alone she is, how she has no one, no friends, she's been abandoned, but she's counting the days expecting her parents to return. It sets her up as a loner who trusts no one and has no friends, who relies on herself to survive. It sets her up to be an interesting, complex character.

The problem with Rey is follow through. The only real follow through we get on this impression we get from her introduction is her desire to go back to Jakku...until Maz tells her "they're not coming back." This loner whose sum purpose in life is to survive on Jakku until her parents come back for her befriends multiple people, joins the Resistance, develops Jedi skills, and devotes herself to the selfless cause of saving the galaxy from Snoke/Kylo Ren/Palpatine with little apparent motivation.

Let's look at some of the particulars. Rey's been alone on Jakku since she was a little girl. She's not unaware of the other beings around her, but she has no relationships with any of them. But then it takes very little convincing for her to take in BB-8. Sure, she and Finn escape the stormtroopers together, but there's not really any reason for them to become attached to each other the way they do so quickly. And this is coming from a Finn/Rey shipper. She just met this guy. It doesn't take much for her to start seeing Han as a father figure, and because why? In-universe all I can come up with is that she admires his smuggling exploits. But I highly suspect it's simply because he's the main one of the Big Three in TFA and she's the protagonist. She appears to fairly quickly develop a connection with Leia and Chewie, some sort of strange connection with Kylo Ren where she's determined to bring him back to the light, she stubbornly refuses to give up on Luke, she's friends with Poe...and we're supposed to think she's always been a loner? If she struggled to accept being a part of this Resistance family, it would make sense with her backstory and be more earned. Or if we saw that she was the kind of person who befriended people/helped people regularly. Or if she was Luke or Leia's kid. But it doesn't match up.

Then there's her powers and abilities. Literally every other Force user we've ever seen in Star Wars had to be trained. Light side and dark side, Jedi, Sith, Sith Assassin, you name it. They trained. Rey doesn't get any training until Leia trains her at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker. (Luke's "three lessons" aren't real Jedi training.) Yet Rey is able to figure out how to do a Jedi mind trick without ever even having the skill modeled for her. How does she know what that is? How does she know how to levitate rocks, something Luke struggled to do with training? The most Ezra did without training was a reflexive Force push in a moment of strong emotion. And honestly, Rey can do whatever Force power the plot requires. With no training. It could have been explained if we found out she'd trained at Luke's Jedi academy before she was taken to Jakku or something like that. But instead she has magical powers that come out of nowhere.

When I'm working with a kid I'm tutoring in creative writing, the question I ask her most about her story is "why?" Why did this plot element happen? Why did this character do this thing? Why is the character invested in the story? The characters have to have motivation for the things they do, and said actions should be integral to the plot. Character arc and plot should be so closely interwoven that you can't determine which is influencing which. Rey (and nearly all the characters in the Sequel Trilogy, TBH) just feel like chess pieces being moved through a predetermined plot. Especially in TROS.

Why does Rey join the Resistance? I guess she has nothing better to do now that she's accepted her parents aren't coming back? And she's the protagonist, so she has to, I guess. Why does Rey want to become a Jedi? Because she's the protagonist and she's Force sensitive? Why does she want to bring Kylo Ren back to the light? Because they're trying to mirror the Original Trilogy? Why is she putting her life on the line constantly to save the galaxy when all she ever wanted was to survive on her own until her parents come back? We're not even given a "because I'm one of the idiots who lives in it" answer, which is, btw, my favorite answer to that type of question. 😆 She doesn't grow from being someone who only looks out for herself into someone self-sacrificing. She just suddenly changes once she discovers she has information the Resistance needs.

Why did Luke want to be a Jedi? Because he wanted to be like his father. (Not his fault he didn't know his dad was actually sad murder dad Darth Vader.) Why does Kanan want to fight the Empire? They destroyed everything about his life. And actually, he doesn't want to be a part of a real war because he did that as a kid in the Clone Wars, and it was traumatizing. He agrees to join the Rebellion rather than just independently being a troublemaker because it's what Hera wants and they're "very close friends." Hera wants to fight the Empire because of what they did to her homeworld of Ryloth, and it's not enough for her to just gain freedom for Ryloth. Why did Anakin turn to the dark side? Because he kept having visions of Padmé dying and his trusted mentor Palpatine convinced him that turning to the dark side was the only way he could become powerful enough to save her. Though we all know how that turned out. Why did Ahsoka help out Trace and Rafa? Because as a Jedi she was raised to be compassionate and selfless and to give aid to all who needed it. It was trained into her since she was three years old.

I really could keep on going, and maybe at some point I will write a post on how character and plot work hand in hand, but I think I'll stop now.

Let's leave it at this: Backstory should always affect character. And in plot, character, motivation, etc. you must always ask why.

Have another Kanera gif. 😍


  1. Another thought-provoking post!

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt Rey just...instinctively knew how to use the Force. Everything you pointed out about her story-arc makes sense, I totally agree, and it reminds me why I was so frustrated with the Sequel Trilogy (shoot, we didn't even bother with TROS).

    Also, shake hands with a fellow FinRey shipper! <3

    Thanks for sharing, Morgan!
    ~R.R. Goodwill~

    1. Oh, you're definitely not the only one who feels that way about Rey's powers. There are lots of YouTube videos detailing why Rey's a Mary Sue. I feel like the Sequel Trilogy had a lot of elements that could have been good, but they were executed so poorly and inconsistently that all it resulted in was a mess. Legends isn't perfect by any means, but the books I've read do a much better job with character development and original storytelling than what we got in the ST.

      Finn/Rey! And, ugh, the Reylo kiss in TROS was so gross to me I can't even watch it.

  2. YESSSS. You covered all of my feelings perfectly. :D Rey magically being able to use the Force with no training was one of the most annoying things about the new trilogy. Not even Anakin the "Chosen One" could do that. *goes back to sighing dreamily over Kanan and Hera*

    1. Oh, goodness, it's SOOOOO annoying. Literally everyone else has to train, what makes Rey so special? *sighs dreamily with you over Kanan and Hera ;)*

  3. Ooooh. Hard - HARD disagree on this one. Rey’s backstory is critical to her as a character. Moreover, to imply that Rey’s motivations are unclear and her arc doesn’t determine the plot (or that she doesn’t even have an arc!) is incredibly disingenuous.
    Rey’s backstory effects her character way more than is does Kanan. Why? Because Rey’s backstory is not her living on Jakku. It’s her parental abandonment. Character arcs (as I’m sure you know) are about overcoming core beliefs the characters unconsciously hold. Rey’s core belief is “I am worthless” and where does this belief come from? You guessed it - her parental abandonment. Think about it. If a 5 year old child gets left behind from their parents, the only thing they can think is “Woah, I must be worthless if my parents don’t even want me.”. Rey shows clear signs of dealing with this core belief and suffering from its influence over her. From her coping mechanisms of denial (denies her parents are gone and not coming back) and validation seeking (Rey constantly seeks out approval from mentor figures, from Han, to Luke, to Kylo even. Ren even says this in TLH), to the emotional fragility and pain it causes her - causing Rey to feel empty, lonely and worthless.

    Rey deals with the Core Belief, “I am worthless”, when she enters Exegol and confronts Palpatine. Palpatine is the personification of Rey’s core belief of self-worthlessness, whilst Exegol itself is representative of Rey’s unconscious mind (where Core Beliefs fester within the psyche). Rey’s defeat over Palpatine by LITERALLY rejecting his statement “You are nothing”, whilst he blasts lethal Force lightning at her, is Rey’s mental rejection of this core belief, whilst her own statement “I... am all the Jedi.” is Rey mentally, consciously forming a new belief - that she isn’t worthless and is - in fact - worthy of being a Jedi after all.

    Rey’s backstory is integral to her having such a profound and complex arc. Without the backstory of Rey being abandoned as a child and, then, living alone - left to believe the only thing a young and naive child could believe, that she is worthless and to have that belief become internalised until it’s a core belief, within her unconscious, Rey couldn’t have the arc.

    1. You would have a really good point on the feeling of worthlessness if that's how they set her up from the beginning. It makes LOTS of sense for that to be a core belief that she struggles with...if that's how they set her up from the beginning. They set her up to be a resourceful survivor and loner who stubbornly believed her parents were coming back when she was first introduced, and then didn't follow through on that. The "you're worthless" themes don't even really come up until TLJ. They had the elements to make a really powerful arc for Rey, but unfortunately the Sequel Trilogy was so disjointed and inconsistent it didn't work as well as it should have.

      Just like, as much as I love the prequels, Anakin's negative character arc had the elements to be good, but they relegated it to a subplot for most of the trilogy (particularly in AotC, Obi-Wan's storyline is what actually drives the plot forward), and so, bad dialogue aside, it's not as powerful as it should have been.

      And unfortunately, even if they'd consistently played on those feelings of worthlessness for Rey from the start, it doesn't explain her ability to use the Force so well without training.

      *shrugs* But I'm really not interested in arguing about it. We're both entitled to our opinions and can agree to disagree.

  4. Again, I have to disagree completely. Rey being a resourceful scavenger does not mean she cannot have this core belief of worthlessness. Moreover, character arcs are organic and flexible things. They don’t need to be planned out and set in stone for them to work, as Rey’s arc proves. I agree that the “Worthless” theme doesn’t come up until TLJ but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t within Rey in TFA. Denial of her parents abandonment is a clear coping mechanism for someone who is repressing memories and beliefs.

    Do I believe Rey’s character arc is as good and powerful as it could’ve been? No. Do I still believe Rey has an incredibly powerful and successful arc? Absolutely.

    I don’t believe Rey’s use of the Force needs any explanation as it’s clear in Star Wars rhat training is not necessary to using it. Yes, training can increase your ability and strength in the Force but people can be naturally strong with the Force and use it as long as they believe in it.

    Rey’s arc is less about external growth and more about internal growth, overcoming her core belief “I am worthless”. Yes, it’s not explicitly stated but that’s the true nature of core beliefs. They’re unconscious and shown through actions, rather than told through words.

    Regardless though, I agree with your last part. Not trying to argue, just discuss. I believe Rey is hugely underrated and misunderstood as a character, especially when people say she “has no arc”. But we’ll agree to disagree.

  5. I LOVE Kanera and their space family! I, um, also like Reylo but I completely understand where you're coming from.

    1. The space family is so great. :) Eh, a lot of people do like Reylo. I just never saw any romantic attraction between them, plus the fact that he literally tortured her makes it a hard no for me. He didn't exactly treat her kindly. But probably the biggest ew factor for me was that I was convinced after TFA that Rey was Luke's daughter, so in my mind, I still tend to think of them as cousins, even though technically they're not. (though if you think about the fact that it was strongly implied that Palpatine was involved in Anakin's conception, and according to my sister in one draft was explicitly stated to be the case, then they sort of are related, if not genetically...) But then, I'll never understand what's so attractive about Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre either. He scares me, tbh. And I don't understand girls liking the Phantom either.

  6. Yeah, Reylo didn't exactly have the best setup for a romantic relationship. It made me wonder if the directors knew who she was going to be in a relationship with when they started. At first it looks like Finn, then I thought it would be Poe once Rose came along, it was all pretty confusing.

    Huh, I hadn't heard of Palpatine being involved with Anakin's conception before, if it was in the movies I must have missed it. I really need to read more Star Wars books...

    Mr. Rochester kind of scares me too but I always thought of it like a Beauty and the Beast story. About the Phantom, I sympathize with his horrible life but I do NOT excuse him murdering people and manipulating Christine because of it. Chistine ended up with the right man, in my opinion. Honestly, I only liked him because Gerard Butler played him and he has a great voice, otherwise, no thank you.

    1. Honestly, nothing about the sequels was very well setup. :P It's all pretty confusing. Daisy Ridley's even said recently that Rey's parentage wasn't even set in stone when they started filming The Rise of Skywalker, so...

      It's a part of the Darth Plagueis the Wise conversation in Revenge of the Sith. "He could influence the midichlorians to create *evil head turn* life." And then "He taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then his apprentice killed him in his sleep." (And Plagueis was Palpatine's master.) But you have to then put it together with Shmi's "There was no father" comment from The Phantom Menace and Anakin's midichlorian count being even higher than Yoda's to get the full picture. I'm not sure where my sister got the info, but she said there was a version where Palpatine straight up told Anakin he was responsible for his conception, but George took it out in favor of a more subtle implication. (My sisters and I joke about how much George liked dropping bits of important information in offhand dialogue, like the mention of the Emperor in A New Hope that a lot of people apparently missed.) And in the now-considered-Legends book Darth Plagueis by James Luceno, Plagueis and Palpatine were doing Force experiments to try to create life at the time of Anakin's conception, but they didn't think it had worked at all until Palpatine met Anakin and did the math. But it's somewhat ambiguous whether it was the experiments themselves or the Force's response to the experiments that created Anakin, though Wookieepedia's summary leans toward the latter. And I'm revealing just how much of a Star Wars nerd I am, but Darth Plagueis was a very interesting book. Sith are so weird. (And if you want a list of the SW books I've really liked and would recommend, I'd be more than happy to give you a list. ;) )

      It's been forever since I read Jane Eyre, I just remember never understanding what was so attractive about him when he could be so scary. 100% agree on Phantom, though I prefer the 25th anniversary performance to the movie. Ramin Karimloo has a fabulous voice and he's very expressive, but Christine definitely belongs with Raoul. "All I Ask of You" is my favorite. :)

    2. And sheesh, that's such a long comment. I'm SUCH a nerd.

    3. My sister told me the same thing about Rey just a few days ago! I personally think they were trying to get these movies out too quickly and that messed with plotting out important things, even though I enjoyed the movies for the most part.

      Ooh, it was that conversation. I didn't quite realize that's what he meant. Thanks for the explanation! My brother is also a Star Wars nerd, though he prefers the term 'SWeek' Star Wars Geek. ;)

      I would LOVE a list of Star Wars books! Thank you! You can email it to me if you want, just use the same one you sent the cover reveal info to. I'm a little paranoid about sharing my email through the comments, eheh...

      'All I Ask of You' is my favorite too! My sister was the one who introduced me to the movie and it's one of our favorite things to watch for sisterly-bonding time, (except for certain things, like the statues or Past the Point of No Return, I mean, were those REALLY necessary?)

      No worries about the long comment. I learned quite a bit from it! :D

    4. They were definitely going for quantity over quality there for awhile. I think they've realized now that they can't do that, but at this point, the damage has been done. Even Rogue One, which seems to be the best liked Disney SW movie at this point, could have done better in the character development department. Most of them were kind of one-dimensional. K-2SO honestly has more personality than most of the human characters. (I do love K-2SO.)

      Yup. It was a popular fan theory for awhile based on that conversation, from what I can tell (though my sisters and I put it together ourselves long before we spent any time on the internet), but it was fairly well confirmed in 2012 by the Darth Plagueis book that the Sith were involved. Of course, now that Disney has made it non-canon along with the rest of the old EU, who knows, but tbh, unless it's Dave Filoni, I care very little about Disney canon at this point. I much prefer Legends.

      I'll definitely do that! ;) I wouldn't want to put my email in the comments if I were you either.

      It's such a great song! I hear you on the statues and Point of No Return, though. Definitely not necessary. From what I remember, the book is cleaner than the musical, though of course, we don't get the songs.

  7. My sisters refuse to talk of Rogue One because of its sad ending. K-2SO was GREAT! One of my favorite parts of the movie was when they put the sack over the blind character's head. XD I liked him, though I can't recall his name at the moment...

    That's really cool you and your sisters put the theory together before finding it online!

    My brother is a little mad over how much Disney has made non-canon. He will talk your ear off over who was actually supposed to be Luke's and Leia's kids! I'm a little more easygoing when it comes to what the movies did, though. I'm the kind of person where if I liked the characters or story, I'll forgive most anything.

    Thanks! I look forward to your recommendations!!!

    I actually haven't read the book. I'll have to add it to my TBR list, and read it while listening to the soundtrack. ;)


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