After writing some twenty-odd pieces on and off-again for the past four months on this blog, there was one idea of mine that I have meant to write, but hasn’t materialized until this blog post. And that is the exploration of an aspect of film that I refer to as a “Moment of Wonder”. These “moments” are times that I experience euphoria through the artistry on display in a film. My heart skips; I gasp in awe; I am overwhelmed by joy and marvel at what I am witnessing. They can be caused by a musical cue, a particularly stunning shot, a fully realized scene, and even a simple line of dialogue performed by a master actor. Moments of wonder can be small, and sometimes insignificant to the overall film, but they are constant reminders of how much I adore this art form.
In December, when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time, I was taken aback by one of these moments. I am a life long Star Wars fan, and have greatly enjoyed J.J. Abrams previous work (I will always believe the pilot episode of LOST he directed will remain one of the best pieces of television of all time) so I was very excited to see the new film in this long running saga, and I was not disappointed. As much as I loved the film, there was one scene that particularly struck a chord in me. When Rey is first introduced on Jakku, scrapping for parts on a fallen Star Destroyer, she collects her gear and hops on a sled and slides down a sand dune. As she travels down the slope, “Rey’s Theme”, as composed by the great John Williams, starts to play.
I was floored. A massive grin grew from cheek to cheek and I felt pure elation. I felt like a kid sitting in the theater with my childhood friends ecstatic in anticipation for a new movie, and not some 26 year old geek drinking a beer in a theater with his other beer-drinking friends. I was overcome with how the images and the the score synced so perfectly. Here was a brand new piece of music that, when it starts playing, is not reminiscent of any previous Star Wars theme. It is light, it is playful, and hints of familiar themes only start to form later. This theme fits perfectly with the character of Rey, someone who is new and wonderful, but also familiar.
The shot of Rey sliding down a hill with the sun setting follows a quick sequence of Rey scavenging a fallen Star Destroyer for parts. As she is scavenging, her face is hidden and this character is unknown to the audience. Through her motions and the way she treks around the fallen spaceship, we learn she is acrobatic, strong, resourceful, and we get the feeling she understands her away around a large ship and is comfortable doing so. But outside of those physical traits and some inferences about her intelligence, we don’t learn much about her character, not until her theme starts to play after she reveals her face to the audience.
This gorgeous shot seen above, paired with John Williams score, spoke volumes about the character of Rey to me. I immediately understood her loneliness and isolation represented by a lone tiny figure against this large destroyed object of a bygone generation, I understood her desire for thrills from the visual of the sled through my personal association of sledding with excitement and adventure due to my childhood, I learned that she is efficient and practical by using the tool of a sled to assist her in transporting her goods, and, through the use of flutes and chimes in the music, Rey was a character full of curiosity and fun.
To learn so much about a character in such a short span of time through the use of production design, film score and stunning cinematography is a feat not many films can lay claim to. The beauty of this short scene not only lies in its physical beauty captured through the lenses, but through the emotions and revelations it presents. To make me feel and realize so much so perfectly is wonderful. It is evidence of why I find cinema so marvelous. The artistry displayed in this sequence stunned me and gave me such glee that I still smile when I think about Rey sliding down the sand dune as her theme quietly starts to play.
Many single aspects of film can elicit a particular emotion or idea in an audience, but when multiple aspects coalesce so perfectly, something truly magical can occur. From that one short scene, I was overloaded with ideas of a particular character, I fell in love with a piece of music, I became overly excited to see what surprises and amazing visuals the rest of the movie would incorporate, and I was joyful and thankful for that. The shot of Rey sledding away from a fallen Star Destroyer partnered with her fantastic musical theme, was a Moment of Wonder for me. It was an instant of excitement and beauty that I will find hard to forget.