Part of the success of The Force Awakens was the way writers used language.
Wow, The Force Awakens is awesome! As we predicted, the newest Star Wars film uses subtle, creative linguistics to tell the story and develop the characters. Here are five moments when The Force Awakens uses language to stir the audience.
WARNING: There are some spoilers below! If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens, you might want to watch the movie before continuing!
1. General Leia Organa’s Tone
Princess Leia was the most sharp-tongued monarch in the galaxy, but after 30 years, she’s calmed down a little. Leia has a couple sarcastic lines, but her tone is softer and often more serious. Decades of war, an as-yet unexplained demotion from royalty, a rocky love story, and a prodigal son have changed her. We hear her pain—her longing. She’s sounds tired. Still, General Leia Organa’s iconic final line to Rey bookends the hardship of episode VII with one of Star Wars’s most central themes: hope.
2. New Languages
There is a lot of dialog on the new desert planet of Jakku. There are new languages too. Interestingly, none of this dialog is subtitled. The exchanges are brief and sometimes emotional, allowing the audience to infer what is going on without the distraction of reading. Creating a new language and imbuing the dialog with recognizable tones is challenging, but we agree that The Force Awakens does an excellent job.
3. Saving BB-8
Rey meets BB-8 as the lovable droid is being abducted. An argument ensues in the language of Jakku, and Rey says something stern that sounds like “No” in English. This cognate, like others in the Star Wars universe, draws audiences even deeper into the moment. We feel Rey’s Jedi-like sense of justice. Finally, Rey rescues the little fella. This brief scene is actually critical. Rey’s character is developed, and the new trilogy’s droid-patron (pet-owner?) relationship is established.
4. Rey’s Name
So we still don’t know if Rey’s last name is Skywalker, Solo, or something else. Fans will debate this question until May 26, 2017, but her first name is significant too.
Rey is a homophone of “ray,” as in a ray of light. Rey’s innate, untrained ability to use the light side of the force even outshines Anakin and Luke in episodes I and IV, respectively. Her name tells us something about her character. This motif is used throughout the Star Wars films. The “Rancor” is a giant monster, Darth “Sidious” is an insidious bad guy, and General “Grievous” leaves mayhem and destruction wherever he goes. Rey’s name reflects who she is.
Incidentally, what does it say about Kylo Ren’s backstory that his given name “Ben” is the same as his possible namesake Ben Kenobi?
5. Why isn’t Finn multilingual?
Throughout the history of Star Wars, most characters are inexplicably multilingual. Han can speak English to Greedo, while Greedo speaks his variant of Quechua to Han. Both understand each other without a translator. When C-3PO translates the dialog between Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia in bounty hunter disguise, he uses English as a common language rather than the language Leia is using. Various characters understand all manner of droid beeps and wookie words. Nevertheless, there are at least two occasions in The Force Awakens when Finn doesn’t understand the other characters.
Is this a result of utilitarian stormtrooper training? Are the writers of The Force Awakens making light of Star Wars’s comical polyglotism? We’re not sure. But these funny cultural encounters humanize Finn. He’s the stormtrooper with a heart. He’s the suit who takes his helmet off. And seeing his vulnerabilities, even in language, makes him relatable. And we sure do like him, don’t we?
Read more about The Language of Star Wars.