In the old days epic movies had a standardized accent system — American accents for the good guys, cultured British or mid-Atlantic accents for the bad guys. This was how it worked in many ’50s and ’60s sword-and-sandal epics (Spartacus being one, except when it came to John Gavin‘s Julius Caesar). It was also how it worked in 1977’s Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Uncle Owen all sounded like they’d grown up in Montana or Oregon or Southern California, and Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, Peter Cushing‘s Grand Moff Tarkin and other officers of the Empire all spoke with Cambridge accents or…you know, some kind of crisp upper-crusty diction.
Audiences accepted this symbolic system without complaint because it was more or less uniform. Everyone understood that the accents meant something in terms of character and allegiance, and that was fine.
But in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the system is no longer in place. It sounds like a crazy accent salad. Daisy Ridley‘s Rey speaks with an English accent that’s part university and part Soho retail (and most definitely not Cary Grant-ish), and John Boyega‘s Finn, a south-of-the-river guy, speaks with an “acted” American accent. And yet Adam Driver‘s Kylo Ren has an American accent so what the eff?
I’ll tell you what the eff. There’s no more “system” and no more symbolism — good guys and bad guys have American or British accents or whatever. Which means that we’re left to sort things out on our own dime. And the first question is, where the hell did Rey get that accent on the desert planet of Jakku? From what culture in particular? Is there some kind of Jakkuvian British community that Rey grew up in? Did her mother sound like Vanessa Redgrave or Maggie Smith?
See what I mean? Obviously I haven’t seen the film but you have to think this stuff through. We’ll know soon enough.