MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD
Star Wars has been "rebooted twice" - the original cast of the late 70s-early 80s was replaced for a new trilogy in the late 1990s, and the Disney corporation extended the franchise story further forward in 2015, setting up the events between Return of the Jedi and now with a now-familiar opening crawl.
But with any kind of change comes criticism, and there have been a lot of angry words written by some self described "men's rights activists" complaining about the "feminism" in the new series. In fact, the execrable presence of noted rape apologist Roosh V bragged that their movement had cost the franchise in the millions of dollars by organizing a boycott based on their dislike of its "feminism".
At first, as I said before, I was concerned that the animus would be against the so-called effortless powers of Rei - after all the boys need training, but the Force is kind of a "woman's intuition" that she can turn on at will and of course, she's far better at it than any man, because girls rule, boys drool. And to no degree was that even true, which led me to believe that this "manosphere" is even more delusional than previously thought.
As a professing man of faith, I like the Star Wars franchise for extending the "swords and sorcery" genre into the 21st century. Sure, there's technology, androids with personality ("Oh hello! I'm the shiny effeminate butler!"), laser blasters, and spacecraft - but there's also hooded mystics who can move tons of metal with their force of will. And along with the "supernatural" aspect of the franchise, religious questions are asked. To someone looking at it from a faith perspective, the story of Darth Vader is about loss and redemption, redemption in this case with a capital R.
And you wouldn't have known that women were central to Bible stories and the faith journey of those who follow Abrahamic religions based on some of its followers. Some parts of Judaism wouldn't teach the religion to women, Islam is notorious for some seemingly misogynistic attitudes and customs towards women, and Christianity has seen people leave churches and denominations because of female clerics - because in their mind, imago Christi cannot be achieved by someone with breasts. So hearing, in essence - "Luke Skywalker can't be a chick" is heart-droppingly familiar. But they forget that the witnesses to the resurrection were women, the heroes of the parables Jesus told were women, his best friends were women, and so forth.
I love the character of Rei. She's strong, independent, a survivor - and a sensitive, caring, empathic person as well. She's been shaped by events but has been drawn as a fully three-dimensional character. The mangry whiny manchildren of the he man women's hater club are dead wrong in their maligning of the script or the character involved. And if they think a character like her is something new, they conveiently ignore that Leia Organa was not the damsel-in-distress trope that the first movie started to hint at - she was a feisty woman of action, a rebel spy and the only one to think enough to drop the cast into a trash compactor, saving their collective lives. When she made a call for help, it wasn't to a bunch of rock-jawed muscled he-men to come get her, it was to get the plans she was carrying to a hooded monk who'd be able to use stealth and mind control to slip past a cordon of storm troopers to get the plans to fellow resistence fighters.
But there's something off in the new movie, and there's something to be pretty concerned about - but as usual the MRAs have taken their frustration and ignorance and levelled it at the wrong people.
The problem is Kylo Ren.
In the first series of movies (A New Hope, etc.) Darth Vader was the epitome of the Black Knight. Tall, physically imposing - but more than that, a genuine threat - he will simply force choke someone who failed him and move on, dispassionately. In fact, when he silences a mocking opponent by closing off his throat, and the Grand Moff Tarkin says "knock it off" - and Vader simply shrugs and complies. He's the kind of guy you don't want to mess with in a bar - he's very very dangerous, and slow to anger, but when he gets up and moves the bar stool out of the way, there's a problem.
Kylo Ren, on the other hand, is the sort of man who responds to frustration by smashing up the place, and they even blunt that by having a sight gag of watching two storm troopers witnessing a literal tantrum and turning around and walking the other way. Never mind that he's slight and gawky looking - and when he takes his helmet off he looks like a cross between Andy Samberg of Brooklyn Nine Nine and someone impersonating Severus Snape. He's not a threat in any way - he's a loose cannon. The Dark Side is about hatred and negative energy, not the hyperkinetic smashing up of a rock show. He's so unfocussed and undisciplined the initial imposing shadow he casts is completely lost in what looks like adolescent angst.
It was a good idea in theory - a young man, driftless and aimless falling in with the bad crowd and making himself be corrupt, but it's a terrible story. At first, Darth Vader was an utterly corrupt man but you didn't know why. Then it turns out he made a Faustian bargain and came out the other side physically and morally broken. For all the awful mis-steps of Jar Jar Binks and Yub Yub, at least that series got the descent and redemption right.
And you can start to see some kind of point to the ranting and raving of the Roosh V set. Time and time again young men see images of themselves as bumbling, stupid, immature, hectored by female characters, and so forth. And Kylo Ren is practically a complete send-up of the young modern man looking for masculinity in the 21st century. "Oh look, here's a tantrum throwing millennial who can't get his own way so he's going to sell his soul to Satan." For reasons of story structure, he couldn't kill Rei but by making him blow it by basically crying his way through a half-assed fight, he cannot be taken seriously as a villain. You can practically hear him whining "LEEEEEAVE BRITNEY ALLONNNNEEEEEE!"
There's a scene which was blown as well. The huge spoilered scene in which Kylo Ren kills a major character represents what some call a moral event horizon - an act or impulse that demonstrates that the decline towards something is inevitable and total. The line was something to the effect of "I don't know if I am capable of this" - and it was delivered with him sobbing and looking like the snivelling little git he is. A truly better, more accurate, scarier and meaningful choice would have been to have the line delivered in an anhedonic, "I don't know what I'm capable of" - as if the character is staring into an abyss with no bottom, and not caring about it. And having that misunderstood as "I can be saved" whereas it means "I could be even worse than the person who is tempting me."
But rather than go to J.J Abrams and say "you blew it. You had a chance to tell a compelling story about an aimless man falling in with a bad crowd, and you made him look like an emo teenager" they went and attacked feminism, as if it's in any woman's best interest in any way to go around provoking a gender that already takes out its frustrations by using rapes and fists on them. Their beef is not in any way with a woman finally getting a starring central role in a Star Wars film that wasn't someone to rescue, why say as much, and why get laughed at as such?
If anything, what these men are complaining about is another tired, stupid gender trope against men being thrown in their faces. And guess which movement is trying to do away with these gender roles and gender tropes - which hurt BOTH genders. Perhaps these men might want to rant less and listen more - because they stand a lot to gain by feminism winning in that regard.
There was a lot of good in the Star Wars reboot, but they're going to have to do something to salvage this story. Either they're going to have to seriously beef up the villain, or they're going to have a franchise with no real antagonist, which will hurt the character development of the hero's journey. And that serves nobody at all - especially now that they're so close to that achievement with a woman at the helm.
May the force be with them.