Facing Their Fathers

When patterns appear in films, especially as a series of specific actions taken by characters, it’s not accidental. Directors carefully choose everything about how shots are set up, the lighting, the body language, actions and line delivery of the actors to tell a compelling story.

J. J. Abrams’ favorite Star Wars film is the Empire Strikes Back and he pays homage to it in The Force Awakens by having the Bridge Scene in The Force Awakens parallel the “I am your father” scene in the Empire Strikes Back in many ways. But then at the end of the film he does something interesting, he mirrors the encounter between Kylo and Han in the Bridge Scene with the encounter between Luke and Rey on Ahch-To. From the behind the scene reel, Rian Johnson appears to be continuing this mirroring. J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, in interviews leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, talked a lot about the importance of visual storytelling in The Force Awakens. That the audience didn’t need to have everything told to them with dialog, instead it could be shown. The mirroring between the three scenes: “I am your father”, the Bridge Scene, and Ahch-To are meant to underscore that the three scenes cover the same topic, the reunion of a parent and child.

Let me show you what I mean.

There are similarities in how the three scenes were shot. All three feature back and forth close ups of the two characters as well as wide shots from the side and looking down where the father is on the left and the child is on the right separated by a distance. From the behind the scenes reel both The Force Awakens and TLJ will feature a close up on the character’s hands as the lightsaber is being handed over.

Setting

the Empire Strikes Back: Man made, inside, in a chasm

The Bridge Scene: Man made, inside, in a chasm, dark but with a ray of light

Ahch-To: Natural, outside, at the top of a peak, light but overcast

the Empire Strikes Back: Vader had to go down to get to same level as Luke (after Luke fell out the window)

The Bridge Scene: Han had to go down a set of stairs to get to the same level as Ben

Ahch-To: Rey had to climb up a series of stairs to get to the same level as Luke

the Empire Strikes Back: Vader approaches Luke moving left to right across the screen

The Bridge Scene: Han approaches Ben moving left to right across the screen

Ahch-To: Rey approaches Luke moving right to left across the screen

The objectives of the characters parallel and contrast each other:

the Empire Strikes Back: a father is trying to convince a son to join him

The Bridge Scene: a father is trying to convince a son to join him

Ahch-To: a daughter is trying to convince a father to let her join him

In all three scenes the person to be convinced is standing in a precarious place (Luke in the Empire Strikes Back on the edge of the pylon, Ben on a narrow bridge with no railing, and Luke in The Force Awakens, this time in the father role, at the edge of a cliff). Where they are standing is symbolic of the fact that these characters are also experiencing tremendous emotional turmoil, almost to the point of tears. The characters trying to convince them are more resolute and (initially in Han’s case) standing in a much more secure place.

The Bridge Scene: Ben’s back is initially to Han and his head is covered. When he realizes Han is behind him he turns quickly to the right to face Han and then uncovers his head.

Ahch-To: Luke’s back is initially to Rey and his head is covered. When he realizes Rey is behind him he turns slowly to the left to face Rey and then uncovers his head.

 

the Empire Strikes Back: Vader forcefully takes a lightsaber away from Luke (to put it mildly) who doesn’t want to give it up

The Bridge Scene: Ben offers a lightsaber to Han, Han tries to take it away but Ben won’t give it up, Ben offers it with two hands and underhanded (heh pun), Han tries to take it with one hand and overhanded

Ahch-To: Rey offers a lightsaber to Luke, from the behind the scenes reel: Rey offers it to Luke with one hand and overhanded while he accepts it underhanded with two hands (speculation: if the reversal of the bridge scene continues Luke will either gently take the lightsaber from her and subsequently give it back as a reversal of Kylo not being willing to give his up while Rey is, or Luke will push it back towards her and tell her to keep it as a reversal of both Han and Ben pulling on Ben’s saber.)

the Empire Strikes Back: Luke believes his father is dead, Vader delivers his infamous line to prove otherwise

The Bridge Scene: Kylo claims that Han’s son is dead, Han argues that his son is alive

Ahch-To (speculation): Luke believed Rey was dead but her presence proves otherwise

the Empire Strikes Back: Luke rejects Vader’s offer to join him and falls into the pit

The Bridge Scene: Ben rejects Han’s offer to join him and Han falls into the pit

Ahch-To: (assumed) Luke accepts Rey’s request to join him and (speculation) she helps him rise out the pit of despair he’s been in

the Empire Strikes Back: Results in increased emotional turmoil for Luke

The Bridge Scene: Results in increased emotional turmoil for Ben

Ahch-To (Speculation): Results in decreased emotional turmoil for Luke (at least in the long run)

Random Speculation:

The first time we heard Ben’s true name was from Han. It’s possible that the first time we hear Rey’s true name will be from Luke, but spoken quietly to contrast with Han’s shout. Han is shown to be right handed throughout the series yet he uses his left hand to touch Ben’s cheek. I think we might see this gesture repeated with Luke and Rey where Luke would naturally prefer to use his real left hand to touch Rey’s cheek.

Luke lost the Skywalker saber when he found his father, he finds it when Rey finds him.

Additionally:

John Williams likes to write concert versions of the music he has written for various films. It gives him a chance to experiment with different arrangements of his themes and let audiences hear ideas he has come up with that didn’t end up being used in the films.

This is the Concert Version of Jedi Steps:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZFkktFqi4M

The music starts off with Jedi Steps as we heard it in the film up to when Rey first sees Luke. At the 1:29 mark the music does something interesting though, it briefly transitions into Torn Apart the music that plays during the Bridge Scene. It would appear as though John Williams also feels that the two scenes are deeply connected and decided to showcase that.

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