Morning Coffee

February 13, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been taking an extended look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Last week we talked about the unlikely friendship that develops between Finn and Poe in just a few short minutes of onscreen interaction. Friendships like that usually take years to form, and yet the film’s creative team managed to sell it impressively well.

We also analyzed the role that friendship as a general concept plays in the Star Wars universe, and how it is actually central to the entire story.

This week I want to talk to you about how The Force Awakens makes a refreshing effort to subvert some of the most damning tropes we’ve come to expect from big Hollywood movies, and why that is great news for Star Wars fans, and the industry as a whole.

Of course, before we begin, a fair spoiler warning is due.


Issue #33: Stop taking my hand

Last we saw of him, Finn had gotten stranded in the Jakku desert following his more-or-less successful escape from the First Order. Dehydrated and exhausted, he eventually walks into Rey’s village, and soon after he meets both her and BB-8, although not in the most graceful way.

As soon as Finn is able to find some water to quench his thirst, he sees Rey being assaulted by two very unsavory characters in an attempt to steal the droid for themselves. Without giving it a second thought, Finn immediately springs into action and comes rushing to Rey’s rescue.

However, in a delightfully surprising move and before Finn can do anything about it, Rey swiftly dispatches her two assailants, deftly kicking their asses with her staff and freeing BB-8 once again.

This is such a funny moment, but also an incredibly refreshing scene for us, the audience: here we have, finally, a non-sexualized female character in a huge Hollywood movie who can not only hold her own in a dangerous world, she can actually kick as much ass out there as the best of them.

Still trying to assimilate what he’s just witnessed, Finn can’t do anything but stare at her in disbelief. In another brilliant directing move, Finn’s incredulity is supposed to represent the traditional filmmaking trope that a lady shouldn’t be able to do those things. Furthermore, Finn’s education as the film goes on — how his incredulity turns into respect and eventually admiration for Rey — is also ours.

But Finn still has a ways to go before he’s ready to learn those things, as are we. In the meantime, he’s about to experience Rey’s fighting prowess first-hand.

Indeed, just after the assailants are dispatched, Finn immediately recognizes BB-8 as the droid Poe was talking about — orange and white, one of a kind, he said. However, BB-8 also spots Finn, and for some reason it immediately goes into a high-pitched frenzy, prompting Rey to kick his ass with her staff, much to his surprise.

It all has a logical explanation, of course. Finn is, after all, wearing Poe’s jacket, the one he recovered from the sinking TIE Fighter ship they both used to escape. Now, if you’ve seen the previous movies in the franchise, you know it’s very likely that Poe somehow managed to get out of the wreckage alive, but as far as Finn’s concerned, he is surely dead and gone.

At this point, Finn makes what can only be described as an apparently foolish choice: when Rey assumes him to be with the Resistance, he plays along with the idea, trying to act tough in the process.

This is an incredibly stupid lie to tell, but probably his best choice, all things considered: it’s definitely better to say you’re one of the good guys, than to explain you used to be a soldier for the bad guys — you know, those who slaughtered an entire village yesterday — and you’ve just had a change of heart. The way I read that scene, it’s not so much that Finn wants to play the hero to impress Rey, it is that he’s afraid to admit who he really is for fear of getting his ass kicked once again, or worse.

In any case, Rey is thoroughly amused and unimpressed by his tough-boy act, but she believes him, and is totally fascinated after learning BB-8 is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker, who she believed to be a myth.

These little droplets of knowledge are important, because they tell us more about the status of the Force in this new society. Once the keepers of the peace and perhaps the most powerful and influential group in the galaxy, it appears the Jedi have now been relegated to lore status.

However, before Finn can explain anymore about Skywalker and the map, BB-8 bursts in, warning them of an impending attack: the First Order is there, looking for the droid, Finn, or both, and it’s time to run.

Still foolish and still underestimating Rey, Finn tries to hold her hand while they run, to which she responds in the only reasonable way: by telling him, “I know how to run without you holding my hand!” Not the subtlest of ways, but it’ll certainly do. At this point Finn is acting out of pure survival instinct, so Rey’s words don’t really register, and he tries to hold her hand again, only to be scolded by her again.

“I know how to run without you holding my hand!” Yes she does.

When a blast from a TIE Fighter sends them both flying, Finn is briefly knocked out. Suddenly the tables are turned, and it is now Rey who offers her hand to him and helps him up. The shot of Finn’s face that follows only lasts a split second, but it’s all we need to realize he’s a stubborn one: even after she’s the one helping him, he still asks “are you ok?”

If this was a typical Hollywood film, Finn’s actions would be interpreted as chivalrous, and would be a way for him to become the hero and win the girl’s heart. Here’s the man worrying about the lady even after being knocked out, what a darling, isn’t he? Surely she must come to appreciate his selflessness and fall for him eventually.

Instead, we get a Rey that is almost annoyed by this guy who continues to underestimate her, and just decides to humor him because it’s the easiest and, crucially, fastest way to get the hell out of there. This is such a great way to subvert the typical “damsel in distress” trope that I really hope directors and screenwriters everywhere are paying attention.

“Are you ok?” Pretty much, dude.

These instances keep repeating themselves throughout the rest of the movie. Finn keeps believing Rey needs his help, and Rey keeps proving him — and by association, us — wrong. Every time Finn goes to her rescue, he not only finds she has already rescued herself, but she actually helps save him, too. Even in the final climactic battle, when Finn gets into a fight where he’s hopelessly outmatched, he still does so with the hope of protecting Rey, despite her being a much more skilled fighter herself.

What makes Rey so awesome as a character, however, is that despite being incredibly skilled at pretty much everything, she’s still gracious enough to genuinely appreciate Finn’s efforts. She’s moved when she learns that it was Finn’s idea to go to Starkiller base to rescue her, and she’s even considerate enough to protect his fragile ego when she saves him from the Rathtars. She’s a complex, nuanced character, and the most exciting thing to happen to the Star Wars universe in a long, long time.

Finn, on the other hand, has much to grow and learn, but he’s getting there. He does have two key traits that redeem him, despite his stubbornness: his selflessness, and his willingness to keep an open mind about anything. The good guys are not always who they seem to be, and there’s always more to people than meets the eye. Finn knows that, perhaps better than any other character in the film, so there’s definitely hope for him, and maybe for us, too.

Now let’s take a look at some of the week’s most interesting pieces of writing.

Top Five: Detecting gravitational waves, figuring out time travel, and the Leica Q

In case you haven’t heard, gravitational waves were detected for the first time ever. We then try to make sense of how time travel works in the Star Trek universe. We also learn what it is like to spend a year talking to strangers, and witness the fall of the biggest polygamist cult in America. And finally, we take a look at an incredibly gorgeous review of the Leica Q six months in the making.


Gravitational waves exist: the inside story of how scientists finally found them | Nicola Twilley →

Fascinating article on what is arguably science’s biggest discovery of the decade:

The collaborators began the arduous process of double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking their data. “We’re saying that we made a measurement that is about a thousandth the diameter of a proton, that tells us about two black holes that merged over a billion years ago,” Reitze said. “That is a pretty extraordinary claim and it needs extraordinary evidence.”

No kidding.

Trek at 50: The quest for a unifying theory of time travel in Star Trek | Xaq Rzetelny →

I’m a sucker for time travel theories, and there’s enough of those here to keep you entertained until you really need to pee or your sanity goes, whichever comes first.

I spent a year listening to strangers tell stories they can’t share with anyone else | Helena Bala →

Great piece. Via Jorge Quinteros:

For a little over a year now, I’ve listened to strangers I meet on Craigslist tell me stories they’ve never told anyone before. I’ve interviewed someone who went through gender reassignment surgery and was falling in love for the very first time, as his true self. I’ve spoken with a man who had lost his wife to alcoholism and was struggling to rebuild his life without her. I cried when I spoke to a veteran who had lost both of his legs after serving two tours of combat abroad. My body shook with anger as I heard the confession of a father who had sexually abused his two daughters when they were young girls. I’ve heard stories about sexual abuse and mental illness, divorce and death, addiction and disability—stories that have left me in awe at the breadth and depth of humanity.

Read this one through to the end.

A polygamist cult’s last stand: the rise and fall of Warren Jeffs | Jesse Hyde →

This whole story is so surreal I can’t even begin to describe it:

But the FLDS isn’t expected to go without a fight. Once a fringe religious community seemingly stuck in time, Short Creek has fallen into a spell under its prophet, Warren Jeffs – a spindly, hollow-eyed man who allegedly runs the town despite serving a life sentence in Texas for multiple convictions of child rape. Jeffs has banned all TV and the Internet in Short Creek. His private security force roams the streets in SUVs with blacked-out windows, enforcing church discipline and tailing anyone who passes through town. FLDS members who disobey his word are banished.

The Leica Q: a six month field test | Craig Mod →

To end things on a decidedly happier mood, check out this beautifully photographed and incredibly well-written review of the Leica Q:

I believe that in hindsight — and I realize this sounds kind of crazy, as if I’ve binge-inhaled all of the Leica Kool-Aid at once — the Leica Q will be seen as one of the greatest fixed-prime-lens travel photography kits of all time.

Fire up the percolator, pour over another single-origin, steep some English Breakfast, or just grab a flask of rye and your pitchforks and let’s deconstruct this beautiful thing.

Let’s indeed.

Now, I’m not a fan of the Q, by any means, but even I have to admit it is one good-looking camera indeed. If only it had a 35mm lens and I had a few thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I might even be tempted to buy it.

Actually, nope, probably not even then. But damn, is it beautiful.


Another week has gone by, one that was mostly spent taking care of things outside this Internet realm of ours.

Besides that, my next review for Tools & Toys is already in the final stage, so I’ll probably spend the remainder of the weekend tweaking the last few details. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 lens. No matter how you slice it, it’s an incredibly impressive piece of glass.

I’ve also been working on a special project I’m really excited about, and I do hope to have some more news for you very soon. I do apologize for being so cryptic, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Until then, have a fantastic weekend, and thank you for reading.