When Exactly Does The Awakening Happen In 'The Force Awakens'?

It was not until my fourth screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I asked myself the following question: when exactly does the Force awaken in the movie? The answer may seem obvious to anyone who has seen the movie, but it's not really as obvious as you may believe. Join me in an examination of this question.

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A “Rey” of Light Shines Through the Darkness

You might think that the Force awakens as Rey discovers her Force abilities late in the story, but Supreme Leader  Snoke feels an awakening much earlier in the story.

Remember that Snoke tells Kylo Ren "there's been an awakening," before asking "have you felt it?" early in the film. This scene takes place right after Finn and Rey help Han Solo and Chewbacca escape from the two gangs on the freighter.

This line occurs many scenes before the interrogation scene where Rey appears to discover her powers while being probed by Kylo Ren — which is several scenes before Rey uses the Jedi Mind Trick to convince James Bond in a stormtrooper costume to let her escape. It's also a few scenes before they arrive at Maz Kanata's castle, where Rey has a vision after touching Luke Skywalker's lightsaber.

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If Not Rey, Who Else?

Aside from Kylo Ren, Rey is the only new character in the film that appears to have Force sensitivity. So when Snoke brings up the awakening to Kylo, you must assume it's about her, right? But why did we not see it happen? When exactly did this awakening occur?

Snoke's line in the movie strikes me as weird because it doesn't appear to match the order of events we are participating with on screen. On one hand, the line could be a remnant of an earlier draft when the Force awakened earlier in the story. But I feel like if you are going to base the entire title of the film on this line, it must be more calculated. Abrams could have easily edited the line into a later scene with Snoke, like the one after the interrogation scene. So let me try to make sense of it as presented in the story, and within the construct of the Star Wars universe.

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Finn's Awakening

Another possibility is that the Force awakened within Finn when he decided not to participate in the massacre on Jakku. But again, aside from wielding the lightsaber, we see no evidence of Force sensitivity from that character. Could the Force exist within Finn? Its unclear.

In the opening sequence, Kylo Ren looks over to FN-2187 because he senses something but doesn't take action. Did he feel a change in the Force? Or did Kylo just notice the only First Order Stormtrooper with an easily identifiable mark standing there doing nothing?

In the original script and original edit of the film, a longer version of the scene where Kylo Ren consults Darth Vader's helmet followed Finn and Poe's escape from the Star Destroyer. Kylo Ren originally berated himself for having seen that Finn was a traitor on the battlefield and not have done anything about it. But the editors realized Finn's awakening wasn't a big enough event to earn Kylo's disappointment, and they moved it much later in the film.

Chewbacca Actor

Playing to the Meta

Lets step away from Snoke's line of dialogue for a moment and look at the film's title.

And there is the possibility that the title of the film also serves as a meta reference, just in the way that the marketing for the film seemed to mirror the way Star Wars came back into our lives. The first teaser promised an awakening and hit full force, and the second teaser ended with Han Solo telling Chewie "We're home," which lands very differently than it does in the final film. And the third and final theatrical trailer speaks to the myth of Star Wars in our lives. It's possible that the title "The Force Awakens" is a meta comment on the franchise and myth returning to our lives after many years of being dormant. But the line in the movie definitely feels more story-based.

It has been previously revealed that J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy were among a small group of people to come up with the title, which was taken from a line of dialogue in the script. For a long time the movie was almost going to be titled Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire (which was too close to a title of an expanded universe novel), to reference the new darkness emerging from the remains of the Empire. A dark side-positive title ultimately would've fit the franchise's up-down-up-down pattern more than the final concept, but I think everyone agrees it was for the best.

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The Screenplay

For my fourth viewing of the film, I went to the historic Vista Theatre, which was showing one of the only 35mm prints of The Force Awakens that I know about. Seeing the film projected on actual film just felt right — it certainly wasn't as crisp as the IMAX later presentation I had seen at TCL Chinese Theatre, but something about the extra grain and sometimes darkness, made the movie feel that much more like a Star Wars movie. Also, film tends to hide some of the faults of CG effects.

After the screening I asked my friends the same question that this article poses, and some of the above answers came up, but it still felt unclear which story moment Snoke refers to as "the awakening." I looked through all the books to see if there was an answer. Here is the line from the final script, as it is reflected in the movie:

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Novelization

The line appears slightly differently in the official novelization:

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The book adds "the Force" to the line in the movie, and very well could have been one of the lines shot for the film as the novelization was based on the shooting script before the film was fully edited. It's interesting that this line comes in between talk about Darth Vader, Kylo Ren's grandfather, and Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren's uncle. Could it be that the awakening has happened off screen?

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Luke Skywalker

Or could the "awakening" Snoke speaks of be a moment we don't see? Maybe it is Luke Skywalker, after feeling a great disturbance in the Force with the rise of the First Order and the creation of a new mega weapon. Maybe Luke's meditations at the island temple were a cry for help into a galaxy that had all but forgotten about the power within us. Maybe Luke Skywalker awakened the Force?

Star Wars The Force Awakens visual dictionary

The Visual Dictionary: "A Turbulence in the Cosmic Force"

Another hugely helpful piece of text about The Force Awakens is the The Visual Dictionary by Pablo Hildago. The book has clarified many fan questions, so I wondered if it had any answer for my query. The awakening is mentioned on Rey's page. Here is the passage:

Since the disappearance of Luke Skywalker and the shattering of his fledging Jedi following, the cosmic Force has lain dormant, seemingly quieted to those able to sense its presence. The adventures of Rey and Finn on Jakku coincide with a turbulence in the cosmic Force, sudden ripple indicating the awakening of newfound ability. With the Jedi and their records vanished, few — other than Kylo Ren and his mysterious master — are able to appreciate this occurrence.

There are a couple of interesting things about this paragraph, but foremost is that it references both Rey and Finn's adventures on Jakku as the inciting incident. So what happened on Jakku that caused the awakening?

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The Millennium Falcon Escape

Something I may have discounted in my viewings is Finn and Rey's escape in the Millennium Falcon. Rey tells Finn she's a pilot, and we've learned from the various books that she's studied on flight simulators in her spare time on Jakku. So I never thought this moment served a particular purpose, other than allowing the fans to vicariously live through our heroes on screen.

Both Finn and Rey meet up after the escape to share their excitement. Finn says "Now that was some flying! How did you do that?! No one trained you? No one? That was amazing! You set me up for it! That was pretty good." While Rey says "Good shooting! Thanks! I– I don't know! — I've flown some ships but I've never left the planet! Your last shot was dead on. You got him with one blast! It was perfect!" They seem to have performed maneuvers that they themselves could not believe were possible.

What if this is the moment that the Force awakens in Rey? I've always assumed the following to be true:

  • Rey trained as a young Padawan at Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy before it was destroyed, evidenced by young Rey's clothes in the flashback vision.
  • Rey must have had these early memories and teachings suppressed. She doesn't appear to use any Force abilities until late in the film, and she doesn't even think Luke Skywalker is a real person when Finn mentions his name.
  • And I assumed that her memories and training began to "awaken" when Kylo Ren interrogated her using the Force. This would explain how she knows how to use a Jedi Mind Trick and is able to Force-grab the lightsaber, and also how she knows how to fight with a lightsaber.

But what if it's not the Kylo Ren interrogation scene that awakens the Force in Rey? What if it was actually the Millennium Falcon escape? While she's trained on flight simulators, she hasn't really pushed herself in a real spacecraft. What if the extraordinary piloting ability came out of the Force?

When I talked to director J.J. Abrams before the film's release, we had a very interesting discussion about the Force and how Abrams believes it's more inclusive than bloodlines and midi-chlorian counts. I want to pull a key quote from that interview:

We would like to believe that when s*** gets serious, that you could harness that Force I was told surrounds not just some of us but every living thing.

Is the Falcon chase the moment when "s*** got serious" and the Force awakened within Rey, if not Finn?

Pablo Hidalgo and Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson and Pablo Hildago

So I took to Twitter to ask Pablo Hildago, the only Lucasfilm story executive who regularly engages with fans on social media. I asked him, and the question went strangely unanswered. He usually responds to most queries, if only to say he can't talk about future reveals... etc. So later in the day I asked the question again, because maybe he had missed it. Hildago didn't answer, but the writer/director of the next installment of the Star Wars franchise did:

And of course, Pablo quickly agrees:

While Rian's answer was certainly worth a laugh, I was still a little confused about why they were (literally) dancing around a story point question.

Let's talk about the multiple possible meanings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens...

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Double Entendre and Multiple Interpretations

Of course, George Lucas has been known to love the use of the double entendre, a word or phrase open to two interpretations. Return of the Jedi was a great title because it could mean a couple different interpretations. Is Luke Skywalker the titular Jedi, returning after the Empire struck back? Or is Anakin Skywalker the titular Jedi? His redemption is the climax of this film and the six-film series as envisioned by Lucas. I also used to love how Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade had dual meanings, but Crystal Skull devalued that title.

Could the title The Force Awakens have multiple meanings and interpretations? I think this is definitely the case. While the awakening in the Force in Rey is definitely the most obvious, the film is full of awakenings — Finn deciding he wants no part in the First Order and later sacrificing himself to save a friend, R2-D2 awakening from over a decade in low power mode to provide the key the Resistance sorely needed, or the end of the film which involves Rey metaphorically presenting a lightsaber to a long-in-exile Luke Skywalker.

All of these events are an awakening, and all of the events add up to a larger movement within the Force which I believe the title is referring to.

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The Force Set the Events in Motion?

But maybe the title is not about a reference to the Force waking up within these people. Maybe it's that the Force is the one waking up these things, grammatically analogous with "power corrupts." Maybe the awakening that both the title and Snoke reference is a series of events orchestrated by the energy force that surrounds and binds the whole galaxy? That's an interesting thought, right?

And it's not the first time we would have seen this in the Star Wars films. Remember in The Phantom Menace that the will of the Force brings Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Queen Amidala to Tatooine in the need of parts, which was a way to push them to find Anakin.

I think the best answer is that Snoke can feel the tide incoming, a vision of a set of events that has been put into motion by the Force but has yet to fully happen yet.