One of the most important moments for any character is their first one. A stellar introduction can immediately cement a character as someone we should be interested in and convince us to be invested in their story, which is especially important in the case of the main character. Of all the things I enjoyed about [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158), the introduction of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is one of my favorites.
The old storytelling mantra has always been: Show, don't tell. It can be so easy to get lost in exposition, the storyteller forgets that the audience doesn't know what they know. It might seem sufficient to say: This character is amazing because she can do [cool thing A] and [cool thing B], but she's also complex because she's [character flaw], too,” because you don't need convincing. It's your character, you came up with the things that make them so interesting. It's an easy mistake to wander into and something all writers and storytellers can struggle with.
Over the course of roughly five minutes, director J.J. Abrams does a tremendous amount of storytelling with barely a hint of dialogue. In fact, for the first four of those minutes, the only line belongs to a minor antagonistic character. (Note: This doesn't necessarily mean to not use dialogue, but sometimes something different can be striking.)
By the end of this introduction, we already know plenty about Rey as a character and, at least in my case, are willing to invest in her. The first thing we immediately notice is that she is physically capable, able to explore the cavernous interiors of a downed Star Destroyer and surf the desert dunes with her loot in tow.
She's also made a home in the middle of the wasteland inside the remains of an old AT-AT. It's not the most important part of the character, but it sells her as someone tough enough to survive in this desolate world and promises she'll be able to handle herself when the shit hits the fan.
However, it's the moments that follow that really give this character immediate depth, without her having to utter a word. When she finds herself opposite the elderly scavenger, we and Rey both see what future lies for her on this world. It's a sad truth and one that sits with us as the scene continues. She doesn't complain as she diligently scrubs clean all her scavenged scrap and is offered what is clearly a tiny compensation. She's obviously displeased, casting a glance at Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg) but saying nothing.
Rey's silence speaks volumes; despite the flicker of defiance, she is resigned to this life, to working so hard for so little. This might just be her future and though she might not like it, she'll keep on keeping on.
But when she returns to the comforts of her AT-AT, we see a different side to Rey. It's the little touches of home, like the blooming flower or the simple doll (which may or may not look like a certain X-wing pilot) that hint at a little more. It's probably not the best life, but she's made the most of it. There's hope. She's been counting, presumably, the time she's been there, which implies she expects there to be an end to it. As she's eating her meager portion outside, she spots a ship taking off in the distance. It's not a subtle message, but when she empties the sand out of her pilot's helmet and puts it on herself, it's a tender moment of optimism, the hope that one day she'll be on a ship just like that one to leave this world behind.
When she finally gets to talk, it's to start her story, as she rescues BB-8 from another scavenger. It's a nice little scene because it hits a lot of similar beats to the Hero's Journey archetype but in very short amount of time, before they can become frustrating tropes. Starting in the ordinary world that we have just seen, she saves BB-8 (the call to action), tries to send him on his way (the refusal) but then relents and lets him tag along. We've seen the journey enough times now that we don't need to see it play out every time, but it's nice to see a quick acknowledgement (especially considering its role in Luke Skywalker's story). Importantly, the whole exchange allows Ridley to show a few different aspects to Rey that humanize her. Yes she immediately leaps to help and in the end does the right thing, but she's also a bit rude, a bit cheeky and sarcastic. It anchors her as a person, not just a part of the plot.
That's not to say that this is the best introduction ever committed to film and that everything should be like this. That would be plain boring. Just because it works here, doesn't make it work elsewhere. But it's a little different to some of the more usual ways we meet our heroes and I like it for how simple it is. It doesn't need to tell us everything about Rey and instead just allows her character to breathe for a few minutes.
We all have those scenes that immediately make us say: This person I like. I want to see more of them. This just happens to be one of mine.