The following article contains massive spoilers for Netflix’s Cursed. If you haven’t watched but plan to, proceed with caution. If you are not going to watch the show, important plot points are explained for your benefit. Happy reading!
Star Wars is the myth of our modern age, but it pulls from many stories of the past, including one of the most legendary and retold stories of all time: King Arthur. Arthurian legend inspired the Skywalker lightsaber being passed down to Luke as his Excalibur. Arthurian legend is so compelling is that it can be, and has been, interpreted and retold in a vast variety of ways, both with regard to the plot and the medium in which the story is told. Sounds a lot like Star Wars, huh?
Of late, a new addition to the Arthurian legend has been added, a prequel entitled Cursed, which is available to stream on Netflix (and is well worth the 10 hours of your quarantine time). A prequel to Arthur’s adventures with the Knights of the Round Table, Cursed introduces a character named Nimue, who is part of the near-human race called the Fey. Nimue has been outcast and ridiculed her whole life because she has magical powers that come from “The Hidden.” When Nimue’s mother is killed by the Red Paladins, a sect of crusaders that are trying to eradicate the Fey in the name of the Church, she gives Nimue the “Sword of Power” and tells her to get it to Merlin. The sword goes by many other names in the series, but for viewing audiences it is best known as Excalibur.
Nimue provides Cursed viewers what Star Wars fans have been blessed with since The Force Awakens introduced Rey. Both characters are put right next to legends, but neither needs those legends to make their story worth being told, as they connect with our collective unconscious.
Both start as outcasts due to their power, albeit Rey might not be aware of that. Rey tells Luke, “Something inside of me has always been there. And now it’s awake. And I’m afraid. I do not know what it is, or what to do with it.” Nimue knows what that something is but, like Rey, she doesn’t know what to do with it or how to control it.
Nimue’s adventure begins when she is given the sword from her dying mother and told to take it to a legendary wizard who may or may not still have the mythic power that stories have spoken of. Rey’s story likewise starts with the death of her parents, although her “Call to Adventure” does not come as swiftly. It could be debated as to what the exact moment of that call is, but as far as the Force is concerned it is when she touches the Skywalker lightsaber. She then tries to take that sword to its previous owner, a legendary space wizard who may or may not still have the mythic power that stories have spoken of.
Eventually, Nimue finds the wizard she was looking for, the legendary Merlin, although he is not at all who or what the stories have made him out to be. Merlin has not only lost his power, he has no interest in taking the sword from Nimue. Merlin owned Excalibur before, but it brought out the darkest and most dangerous parts of himself (as it will for Nimue). Like Merlin, Luke Skywalker has zero intent of taking the lightsaber from Rey because he has seen the darkness within himself. It was present on the Second Death Star, and it was present in Ben Solo’s hut. Luke declines to take his weapon up again, but he does agree (eventually) to help Rey understand the power that is inside her. Merlin does the same for Nimue, and both protagonists are opened up to their abilities and the hope those abilities can provide for others.
That hope is what gets the other characters to follow Rey and Nimue as their defacto leaders. In The Rise of Skywalker, Poe expresses to Rey, “You’re the best fighter we have. We need you. Out there. Not here.” By “fighter” Poe doesn’t just mean her ability to swing a laser sword and lift rocks. Rey is an image, a symbol like Katniss in The Hunger Games. She’s the last of the Jedi, and that means something to the downtrodden and oppressed across the galaxy. Nimue also becomes the best fighter around thanks to Excalibur, but once more it is bigger than that. Having the sword, which many thought had been lost (a la the legacy lightsaber), makes her symbol for the Fey. The Church and government are both trying to stomp out any opposition, with Wolf-Blood Witch being chief among them. Replace Church with First Order and Wolf-Blood Witch with Jedi and you get….
Still, it is not all about the sword. A major element of the Hero’s Journey is “Confronting the Father,” with Star Wars’s most obvious example being Luke confronting Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. In a similar twist to Vader revealing he is Luke’s father, in episode five “The Joining,” (interestingly the halfway mark of the season and also the fifth “episode” of the series) Nimue reveals that Merlin is in fact her father. She then goes to meet with him as a means of learning about her history, her power, the sword, and why she is at the forefront of everything that is happening.
Rey cannot confront her literal father, but she does go through the “Confronting the Father” stage. Rey’s searches for fathers everywhere, as Kylo Ren points out in The Last Jedi, “You can’t stop needing them [her parents]. It’s your greatest weakness. Looking for them everywhere… in Han Solo, now in Skywalker.” Nimue likewise has been separated from her father, or at least who she thought was her father, as he abandons the family due to Nimue being a witch. It is brought to light in episode six, “Festa and Moreii”, that Merlin, who is seen most often in Arthurian legend as a hero, was in fact a dark magician who used his abilities to kill, damn, and destroy anyone who was in the way of his goals. Sound like someone you know?
Nimue has to face the fact that this darkness is inside of her, and that using her abilities as a witch will naturally cause that darkness to come out more. Throughout Rise of Skywalker, Rey is struggling with. While her lightsaber may not directly infest her with darkness as Nimue’s sword does, the film shows Rey getting more and more aggressive. She is always the first to pull her weapon and fight Kylo. She even loses control of her abilities and destroys a transport using Force lightning, which harkens to Nimue slaughtering the Red Paladins for revenge. Both let their darker angels get the better of them.
The mark of a hero is the ability to overcome these types of struggles, both without and within. Rey goes to Exegol to confront both in the form of Palpatine, willingly knowing that she may never make it out again. She knows that it must be done to protect her people, her found family. Similarly, Nimue turns herself over to the king with the agreement that the Fey will be allowed to leave but demands that her closest friend, Gawain, be released from custody. When Gawain is brought to her tent, he is essentially dead from the torture inflicted by his captors. Nimue is obviously fraught by this and uses her power, connecting with The Hidden, to send a shockwave that destroys the army’s camp. When Rey uses the full capacity of her power, taking both Luke and Leia’s lightsabers and accepting the heritage of the Jedi, the Sith temple is obliterated.
Let’s look to the conclusion of both hero’s stories as they stand. After Nimue escapes the camp, she is killed while trying to defend the people she loves, in her case Merlin and her close friend Morgana. Nimue falls into water, a symbol of life, clearly telling the audience that we have not seen the last of her journey. When Rey dies it would seem as if this is her end, but like Nimue, there is someone who cares for her that refuses to give up the fight. In Nimue’s case it is her father, Merlin, a character who as struggled with his own darkness but finally found something, or rather someone, he loves and whom to fight for. Ben Solo is Merlin in many regards, as he has struggled with the darkness within him for his entire life, but they handle the death of their respective heroes differently. Merlin picks up the Sword of Power to yield lightning and massacre the Red Paladins, whereas Ben finds a path of peace, giving his life Force to Rey, bringing her back from the dead. She gave everything for the galaxy, and he gave everything for her.
That is what truly defines a hero. It is not battles won, nor kills, nor power. It is sacrifice. The willingness to give everything for those you care for while making those people heroes themselves. These stories, be they in the Middle Ages or a galaxy far, far away, are a guide to how we can likewise become heroes in our own world. Look to Nimue. Look to Rey. But most importantly, look to the ones you love and ask yourself, “Am I willing to give it all?”