Two fan films released in the same year covered the topic of a young female Jedi who gets blinded in an accident, spends some time in the woods without her bearded male master, and has to fight someone right at the end. Because I don't know how long each took to make, it's difficult to say whether or not one influenced the other. I don't care either way. They may both have been influenced by Kanan Jarrus getting blinded in the "Rebels" season finale earlier that same year, or Rahm Kota getting blinded in the non-canon video game "The Force Unleashed" a few years prior. And of course, in December "Rogue One" gave us Chirrut Îmwe, who may or may not have been Force-sensitive and may or may not have been born blind. So in summary, 2016 was a big year for that sort of thing.
At least in the cases where the character was shown or implied to remain blind for a long time, even for life, I can only assume it was by choice. There's no way the Star Wars galaxy doesn't have the technology to fix or replace their eyes for very cheap. But those with some connection to the Force may end up deciding that blindness is a blessing. As Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them." Look, it's a franchise about space wizards with laser swords. It doesn't have to make sense.
Filmed in the Provo/Payson area of Utah, "Emergence" is possibly the first good thing to ever come out of there. (Kidding, kidding.) Between that and several of the surnames in the credits, I'd bet my life that most or all of the people who made it are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'd also speculate that the really cool-looking and criminally underused alien villain is a metaphor for Satan, but maybe that's going too far. What is clear (especially after it gets more or less spelled out in the credits) is the metaphor for depression and anxiety running throughout, and Aleena's battle with and triumph over them. It's perhaps even a bit heavy-handed, but there are worse messages to be heavy-handed about.
The second and slightly better of the two, "Hoshino" is similarly a tale of personal growth forced by the newly incurred disability. The title character starts out as kind of a brat. While "Emergence", from what I can tell, takes place in a day or so, a longer and more realistic passage of time is implied here as Ko's story up to and including the accident is told through flashbacks intercut with her prematurely aged, more stoic self. We don't see as much of her actually coming to terms with or learning to live with her blindness, and it's unclear how long that process took, but presumably more than a day given that the past and present portions seem to take place on opposite sides of Order 66 (if the TIE fighters and her master's absence are any indication).
If I may be so bold (though I'm hardly the first to point this out), both of these protagonists are superior characters to Rey. In very brief windows of time we see that they have obvious weaknesses and/or character flaws, and this makes them relatable and it gives us a reason to root for them. It doesn't make them any less awesome at the end of their respective arcs. Disney seems afraid to write female characters like that because it doesn't want to be sexist, so we get Rey who rarely fails at anything, never needs help, comes prepackaged with the skills to do whatever the plot requires, and undergoes virtually no trial or tribulation to earn her awesomeness. I think that's a huge wasted opportunity. Having more female leads is great. Having strong role models for little girls is great. But it shouldn't take priority over making actually good characters. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.