The Force Awakens Fight Is Bad But…Brilliant? Here’s Why. (Star Wars Fight Analysis)

The Force Awakens Fight Is Bad But…Brilliant? Here’s Why. (Star Wars Fight Analysis)

every single person who picks up a
lightsaber in the force awakens fights
like they’ve never heard of a guard
stance or if they have they’re not
entirely sure about what those are
supposed to achieve. And to be honest
that’s actually kind of brilliant. Let me
tell you why. Since a long time ago in a
galaxy far far away
every time characters in Star Wars have
picked up their laser swords to go into
battle there has been a lot of
comparison criticism and probably some
other things beginning with C
particularly for the prequel trilogy over
how showy they are and over their
lack of realism my name is Jill Bearup
and I recently completed my seventh
advanced level stage combat
qualification in tonfa if you’re
my goal is ten advanced qualifications
before the end of the year because then
you can call yourself an Actor Combatant
and that just sounds awesome. Stage
combat or fight choreography is about
the creation of theatrical violence that
is to say the illusion of violence in
theater or film or TV or opera or ballet
for that matter. The precise requirements
of each medium are different but the
general principles are the same: to
further your story when your characters
decide that words are no longer
sufficient and to do so without actually
harming your performers. Safety in the
workplace kids. Which requires the use of
a number of different techniques we’re
not going to go into today but the point
is to have a series of choreographed
moves that look convincing, tell the
story that you want to tell, are safe for
everyone involved, and preferably can be
repeated ad infinitum for the number of
takes or the number of shows you have to
do. And the creation of those fights is
what you hire your fight choreographer
for. So let’s set the scene the big
lightsaber fight in The Force Awakens is
Kylo Ren versus Finn and then Rey. Kylo
Ren has just killed his dad Han Solo
spoiler for a four-year-old movie and
subsequently been shot in the kind of
left hand torso area so it goes: Rey
tries to shoot Kylo he Force pushes her
into a tree Finn picks up the blue
lightsaber and fights kylo gets
grievously injured the lightsaber flies
off Kylo attempts to get it back
but wait Rey Force pulls it over to her
and the fight is on
until Rey uses the Force properly and
slashes him in the face and then the
ground breaks up our heroes escape the
end. The thing is if you know something
about actual fighting the conclusion you
come to from watching these characters
fight with lightsabers is that none of
them seem to be particularly good at
fighting with lightsabers
specifically and this is underlined by
the fact that as far as I can see nobody
takes a guard stance for basically the
entirety of the fight. What do I mean
okay if you have a sword in your hand or
hands for that matter it is generally
advised let’s go with generally advised
that you take a fighting stance which is
to say you bend your knees you have one
foot forward one foot back but not
directly behind the other one you centre
your weight in the middle you keep
your back straight and in general you
point your sword at your opponent there
are some stances where you don’t do that
so for example these stances for long
sword you’re not actually pointing the
tip of your blade at your opponent but
there’s generally a reason or a
rationale behind that you don’t just
stand there. Why? Because it doesn’t
matter if your sword is relatively heavy
or if it’s light and whippy, it takes
time and momentum to move it from one
position to another so if you have a
sword the first stance you are taught is
the one where you are pointing your
sword at your opponent and in stage
combat when you learn to fight with a
single sword you’re taught to point the
sword at the chest of your partner now
it makes sense for Rey and Finn who only
picked up a lightsaber in the course of
this film not to be au fait with the finer
points of light saber combat but Kylo
Ren should he know better?
Kylo Ren’s big dramatic stance is: well his
feet are apart I guess his legs are sorta bent, yeah?
but his sword is just hanging down
at his side there. rey and finn have blasters
and at least one of them has a
lightsaber you’d think he’d want to be
using his lightsaber to threaten them
since the whole point of him being there
is to stop them from escaping hmm well
yes and no but hold that thought
Finn picks up Luke’s lightsaber big
character moment dramatically ignites it
we’re gonna have to zoom out… and this is
also not a very useful stance first
because it’s a laser sword near your
face which I don’t know if they’re hot
but they’re certainly bright so are you
not obscuring your own vision there? And
second the blade is perpendicular so
it’s not particularly useful to set you
up to do an easy cut it’s also not
nearer your opponent than you are so
it’s not threatening them and it’s not
doing anything to keep them away and
when Rey picks up the lightsaber? exactly
the same thing. if this were real life
here are a couple of stances
which might work better better if this
were real life and not space fantasy but
for a movie and particularly for a Star
Wars movie this is the perfect stance
and similarly that stance kylo Ren
takes at the start of the fight
beautiful wonderful because the fact
that it’s not technically correct is
much much less important than the story
it tells. why these characters are
fighting has been set up already we know
what’s going on we know the stakes the
point of the fight is not just to
resolve that tension it’s also to tell
us things about the characters we want
it to move the plot forward but we also
want to learn things about these people
that we’re gonna be spending another
two movies with also it sells us the
goods but I’ll get back to that. so let’s
take the hero stance to begin with first
it gets you close into the characters
face it sells you what you came here to
see it gets you right into that medium
shot and then that close-up you can see
their eyes their expressions their
emotions all that good stuff. because the
blade is vertical you don’t have to
worry about stabbing the camera or the
cameraman with a big tube of
polycarbonate or whatever it is they’re
using nowadays you can push right in.
second it gets the blade close enough to
their face that you can have that
dramatic lighting and this is
particularly true in the new movies
where they have the self-lighting blades
sidenote love the self-lighting blades
and they must make rotoscoping and
lighting the scene so much easier third
it looks fighty but defensive it’s back
it’s not threatening the other person
but you’re clear again because you can
see their eyes and their expression that
they are not mucking around anymore and
of course in the medium shot you can see
the hilt of the lightsaber
remember I said it sells you the goods
okay this is what I mean: this is the
hero shot this is on the movie poster
this is that shot that makes every kid
in the playground want to be them when
they’re playing at lunchtime and for
that hero shot you need the actors face
as large as you can make it in the frame
while also getting in the blade to
provide that dramatic lighting effect
but also hey laser sword and preferably
the hilt the hilt is important for plot
reasons because you know it’s the
lightsaber of Luke Skywalker and yada
we’ve been carrying it around for most
of this movie and Kylo Ren really wants
it and all of that jazz but it’s not
just that. It’s not just Luke’s saber, for
anybody who’s seen any of the earlier
movies it’s also Anakin’s saber. It is
the most recognizable piece of kit in
the entire Star Wars universe and when
you see it you know this is the person
you are supposed to be paying attention
to. also you can buy one for $39.99 and
it lights up and makes whooshing noises
sells you the goods so that’s the hero
stance but the villain stance is equally
brilliant from a character point of view
it is sloppy his lightsaber is just
hanging there by his side he is a hot
mess. that’s perfect that is exactly what
the movie needs you to know about kylo
Ren. why doesn’t he take a stance he
trained with Luke he knows how to use a
lightsaber. he’s not a scrapper who’s
self-taught on the quarterstaff like Rey
or a press-ganged former stormtrooper
like Finn he knows what a lightsaber
isn’t how to use one yeah but that fact
is less important than what the movie
really wants you to know about kylo Ren
and I know they really want you to know
because they emphasize it with the chest
beating and the blood on the ground and
the fact that he breaks off in the
middle of a fight when he could have had
the kill: Kylo Ren is much more badly
hurt than he would like to let on to our
heroes. Kylo Ren may know how you’re
supposed to stand with a lightsaber but
that would hurt and also he’d rather do
his own thing because he’s a maverick
dangit and this carries over into his
fight style which is aggressive but it’s
also inconsistent impulsive sadistic
even and communicating this to the
audience is much more important than him
using proper guards. if the story
requires it or would be made better by
it: character over technique every time
that is not to say that I’m in favor of
people improvising their fight sequences
but that’s a whole other story
Kylo seems to ignore excellent
opportunities to end the fight quickly
despite the fact that he’s really
injured and probably in need of a lie down.
Because of his injury because he’s
toying with Finn who’s only picked up a
lightsaber once? Bit of both? and after he
incapacitates Finn by stabbing him in the
he doesn’t just kill him he punches him
and then he slices him up the back: a
move that could have been immediately
fatal but isn’t and so from Kylo Ren’s
perspective Finn is just gonna bleed out
paralyzed on the snow
like the good-for-nothing traitor he is
this is what the fight is trying to
emphasize for Kylo Ren he is a bad
person a malicious demented sadist if
you can take the opportunity to
underline that then you should because
if he wasn’t such an awful person then
there would be no need to redeem him now
would there? honestly I’m just getting
warmed up
consider the weird ways in which Rey and
Finn fight and what this tells us about
their characters note for a start the
Finn is not terrible with a lightsaber
he’s no match for someone traind in it
even if that person is injured and for
example here you can see he hasn’t quite
figured out how you’re supposed to parry
with it but for someone who canonically, see the
before the awakening novel learned to
fight with a resonator mace on shield
which basically a one handed club for the
uninitiated doesn’t do too badly. true
story i was hilariously bad the first
time I tried Hema which was last year
at a Lithuanian fan convention they
handed me this long sword which is a 2 handed
weapon and I’ve never done basically
anything with 2 handed weapons before and so
I stood there going I know where it
needs to to get to but I’m not sure how
to get it there efficiently it was a
bruising afternoon let’s put it like
that and it’s kind of the same here he
has a general idea but mostly it’s just
overhead strike try to parry try to
parry ahhhh overhead strike parry a bit
more effectively but still ahhhh and that
helps establish kylo Ren as formidable
as well as crazy and helps to establish
Finn as someone who’s brave and
resourceful just completely out of his
depth. then look at Rey. Rey we know from
earlier in the film is used to fighting
with what is basically a quarterstaff
so no cutting edges but you can do a lot
of damage with it if you put enough
force behind it no pun intended
and you can also see that obviously she
does not immediately grasp all of the
possibilities of a weapon which is
basically entirely made of cutting edge.
so during the fight there is a move
she does at least three times which is
this very kind of effortful stab like
she’s expecting it to be disabling but
she’s also expecting to have to provide
power behind it to make it so maybe
because having fought with a quarter
staff her entire life her reflex in this
situation is to try and open out the
distance by moving them back by stabbing
at them with the end of the staff and
getting them to move back ideally
disabling them at the same time
character through fighting don’t you
love it? basically what I’m saying is I
like realistic movie fights as much as
the next person but the desire for
realism or practicality or even looking
really really cool for me comes way way
below the desire to have this fight tell
me things about the characters their
past experiences their current
preoccupations how they’re feeling right
now anything really because if you’re
not taking the opportunity to convey
that then just feel like it’s a waste of
potential. If you enjoyed this video and
you would like to listen to me talking
some more about stage combat then there
will be videos on my face probably and
of course if you like this kind of
content you should definitely subscribe
for more thank you to my patrons who
make this show possible and I’ll see you
next time!

34 thoughts on “The Force Awakens Fight Is Bad But…Brilliant? Here’s Why. (Star Wars Fight Analysis)”

  1. I was actually talking about this with a friend a couple of days ago, specifically the Finn/stormtrooper fight. Finn, finding himself using an unfamiliar weapon in a crisis, acts like someone using an unfamiliar weapon in a crisis. He doesn't try anything fancy when he kills that stormtrooper, he just runs straight up to the guy while he's distracted and shivs him. And when he fights TR-8R, he's constantly moving backwards and just trying to defend himself for most of the fight rather than going in hard with the offence. Again, he has no training with a sword, so this makes total sense.

  2. I feel it's also important to remember that the "blade" of a lightsaber is weightless.
    If you hold the hilt in two hands, the center of weight is between them.
    Momentum is not usually a part of lightsaber combat.

  3. I assumed he didn’t guard at all mostly because he considers them small fry and not worth seriously guarding against; Rey and FN2187 are nothing near a threat in their sparing match in Ben’s opinion.

  4. I agree with the main message of the video wholeheartedly: character over realism any day. But I don’t think Kylo’s treatment of Finn showed his sadism. I think he was trying to get rid of Finn to get to Rey because he was interested in her, and because he was hurting so badly he didn’t want to spend all that energy killing Finn. Kylo didn’t care enough about Finn’s betrayal to try and kill him or get revenge or whatever, so he opted for incapacitating him as energy-saving-ly as possible to move on to Rey. And with Rey, he obviously didn’t want to kill her which is why it’s no surprise he fought badly against her. (Just in case some people are still wondering how a woman who’d never held a lightsaber before managed to hold her own against Kylo Ren. Hint: it’s not because she’s a Mary Sue.)

  5. Great analysis. Very interesting perspective you’ve brought to what the fight sequences say about the characters. I also like the way the red and blue lightsabers cast a purple light onto Rey and Kylo. Purple (besides being just what Samuel L Jackson wanted) indicate someone balanced in the force. It foreshadows their dyad in the force- two halves perfectly balanced

  6. Rey and Finn hold the light saber kind of like they’re at bat playing baseball which does suggest they’re about to take a swing at someone. To Jill’s point, that may be a decent stance for baseball but I believe her when she says that it’s a lousy stance for fighting.

  7. …yes, but that is kind of the problem.

    It shows that Kylo Ren is a weak villain (not just because of his injury) who can't beat a couple of noobs, and that beating him isn't too big a deal. That might not have been a problem if the rest of the First Order were more competent, but they prove themselves to be amateurish, which makes the losses of the Resistance and ESPECIALLY the New Republic embarrassing.

    Rey and Finn not being terribly competent wouldn't be a problem, but the sequels make it one since TLJ takes place mere days after this so she shouldn't have improved so dramatically (granted, maybe Snoke just hired terrible guards). Finn also recovers from his back slashed by a plasma blade offscreen and it's treated as a gag.

    I'd also argue that you could figure out most of this about these characters without seeing this fight scene- I already know Kylo is injured and stubborn and prone to murderous temper tantrums at the expense of competency; I already know that Rey and Finn don't know how to use a lightsaber but will fight anyway.

    Take the fight out, it doesn't really change all that much. It DOES tell a story…but not an especially satisfying or necessary one.

    Even JJ Abrams admits that the script for The Force Awakens isn't actually that good. The fight "makes sense", but it leaves many people unsatisfied for a reason.

  8. The "hero stance" does resemble kendo's hassō. I wonder if it's partly derived from the "Jedi are space wizard samurai" aesthetic.

    My first impression from watching the movie was that Finn fought like he was trying to have a lightsaber fight – swinging it around, blocking and parrying. Rey picks it up and fights like she's trying to kill Kylo Ren by stabbing him vigorously in his face. The analysis where they're falling back on their habitual fighting styles with different, incompatible weapons makes a lot of sense – but emotionally I still feel like there's an element of Finn trying to play the role of the hero, while Rey's just trying to get the job done.

  9. Ben learned his lightsaber skills from Luke "literally holds and swings his sword like a baseball bat" Skywalker, so who knows how much actual sword technique he's ever learned…

  10. I’ve given up on the franchise. Kylo Ren just comes off as a spoiled whiny tech bro, probably capable of self harm and sulking, not a dark lord.

    Star Wars IX – Nobody Cares Anymore

  11. I always like how you were able to tell that Kylo was out of Rey's and Finn's depth in fighting but because he was injured and wanted Rey to join the First Order, he wasn't fighting at his best.

  12. Interesting video.
    I wonder if the lack of weight and the way they "always cut" should mean that lightsabre duels might possibly take a more knife-fight approach of lots of quick light attacks rather than heavier bastard-sword moves.

    When I first saw the movie I assumed that Kylo was hitting himself to try to numb the pain from the injury he got from being shot with a bowcaster earlier.

  13. So – assuming the blade skills exhibited by Kylo was Kylo at his best (and no cheap 'force' moves), would you be capable of defeating Kylo in combat with the training you've had ?

  14. Reminds me of Shad (of Shadiversity) having fits over how poorly these characters are stanced and fighting- Jill Bearup comes in saying 'that's the point'

  15. Hi! Ola the fight coordinator here! So glad someone is talking about the use of story-telling in these scenes! I've just about had it up to my eyeballs with hot-takes about how unrealistic sword-fights in movies are.
    ("Realistic" is not a very helpful term for choreographers)

    Here's a detail in The Last Jedi that I really appreciate that often goes overlooked, and this seems like the forum to talk about it:

    There's a scene where Rey practices with Luke's lightsaber, and she's swinging it at that rock. Luke looks on from afar, and it's a kind of… "Hero explores her power" kinda moment.
    The strikes Rey throws at the rock, are move for move the same as Kylo Ren throws at Luke during their showdown. Exact same choreography.
    Because there's a connection between them!! *Waves hands all spooky-like

  16. first in the prequels there are 7 different combat styles.One of the most used styles is form 4 ataru, which involves alot of jumps and involves using the whole body as a weapon. this is why Episodes 1 to 3 are so flashy
    I am assuming that rey some how knows the three circles of defense and kylo is using form 5 djem so, which involves using defence and then retaliating. this is the same form anakin uses against count dooku
    knowing this kylo ren would have about 8 years of training to be able to use this form effectively
    the only problem i have with the dual is at the end. what should have happened is a ether a decapitation [sai cha] to the head or a kylo could use [mou kei] to cut off reys limps]. if kylo wanted to keep rey alive he could finish the fight with a non lethal mark of combat
    great video anyways

  17. Yes! This is the most unpretentious swordplay analysis video on YouTube. Perfectly nerdy without being condescending 😀 Love it

  18. Nobody's mentioned the fact that there is one other character in the entire Star Wars franchise who does exactly the same weird shoulder-charge move with his lightsabre that Rey does:
    her grandfather.

  19. There’s a huge disconnect between stage fighting that looks great on film, and actual sword techniques that work in real life. A brilliant stage fighter looks terrific in action, but in a fight against a trained combatant, their techniques would typically lead to being swiftly disarmed and/or incapacitated – especially if they employed flashy choreography staples like twirling in a circle, switching hands with their weapon, or heaving their sword back like a lumberjack about to attack a log.

    Lightsabre fights are especially rooted in fantasy, but those duels in ‘The Force Awakens’ actually employ a handful of techniques that hold up in reality: The “hero pose” is a good example. It resembles a very common, and effective, longsword ward. In German longsword especially, there’s no such thing as “an attack” and “a parry” most of the time. Attacking and parrying are the same motion, achieved by transitioning from one ward to another. Your own sword becomes a threat to your opponent, while blocking off a particular line of attack, and ending in another ward. The “hero pose” is well-poised to counter a wide variety of incoming strikes, while launching effective attacks of its own.

    An attacker’s sword should begin moving before they’re within range of their target, so there’s no need to stand with your sword held out at arm’s length, pointing directly at your opponent the whole time. That just allows your opponent to attack and bind your blade, gaining control of your weapon, without putting themselves in harm’s way. The ‘Tower Manuscript’, a 14th century sword-and-buckler manual, includes lengthy explanations on how to easily overpower an “ordinary fencer” – a common fighter with no real training – who instinctively holds their weapon in front of them like that. Some of this starts to change as you move forward in time and the rapier, then the sabre, become more prevalent, but a lot of the core principles remain the same, and the various stances are designed not to allow your opponent to gain an advantage that can’t be countered.

    As a bit of background, I spent several years training in range of single-handed sword and longsword systems from 14th to 17th century Europe. You almost never see realistic western sword techniques in film – but then again, most unarmed martial arts have the same issue when comparing their on-screen and real-life use. But weapons or no, a well-choreographed fight scene can look can look rad as all heck regardless of how “realistic” it might be 🙂 It's just another part of the visual language of cinema, and as you note here, it can even be used to help build character and show motivation.

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