A long time in the future, in a galaxy far far away, casting a woman as the lead in an action film won’t be abnormal – and hopefully that future is right around the corner. Although complete gender equality will take a few more light years, there are times when sparks of hope flash before my eyes. This time, I found hope in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Released in December of 2015, Episode VII of the phenomena challenged many people’s conception of female leads.
Fifteen light years ago, when all movies were still on VCR, I became infatuated with the first Star Wars trilogy. I loved being transported to the Death Star, Alderaan, and Naboo. I’m not alone with my love for this fictional galaxy. It’s been more than 30 years since Star Wars first blew up the box offices, but the cultural impact that George Lucas’s films had on society have been everlasting. Star Wars has a legacy unlike any other. The loyal fan base for Star Wars is galactically nerdy. When the second movie of the first trilogy (The Empire Strikes Back) was released in 1980, the worldwide box office reigned in $534,058,751 over opening weekend. Some may think that the first generation of Star Wars-lovers have passed, or don’t care enough about yet another sci-fi movie – but they’re wrong. The fans are as alive as ever. As proof: over the opening weekend for The Force Awakens the worldwide box office made $1,975,103,162.
I had a problem relating to the first trilogy back when I was five-years-old, because there were no female protagonists – only sidekicks and love interests. I wanted so badly to be Luke Skywalker, but it just didn’t seem to fit with who I was. I didn’t want to be like Leia – although she did have some moments of action, she was always an afterthought. I didn’t want to be like Padme and lose all my power once romantically involved with a man. Padme started out in Episode I demanding and receiving respect from Anakin (more famously known as Darth Vader) but by the end of Episode III she was beckoning to his every call, like many other supporting actresses do in action films to this day. The past women of Star Wars have lacked authority and leadership because they were marginalized and objectified. I clearly remember wishing that there were stronger and more relatable females in Star Wars – but I had to wait until 2015 for this wish to come true.
Rey, the protagonist of The Force Awakens, has changed the game for girls around the world, and I’m ecstatic to know that there are little girls out in the world who are being exposed to Star Wars for the first time with Rey as the main character.
Rey is incredible. She follows the same lonely orphan, badass pilot storyline as Luke did. Director JJ Abrams did an unbelievable job in making Rey’s role seem natural and normal. There are many movies and television shows that have female leads, but when I watch them I feel like the producers and directors forced the woman to be in charge. Rey demonstrated that she has the right to be the leader. Throughout the movie she shows this by never doubting herself, never giving up, and being independently strong. Many female leads are also scripted to have a moment of weakness through their journeys, but Rey never batted an eye to being anything but the best. She’s also better than the male sidekicks – her power is driven by merit. She’s the best fighter, the best pilot, and the best natural leader.
However, it’s not just Rey who makes The Force Awakens a worldwide feminist phenomenon. The other female characters make this movie even more inclusive and emphasize the normalcy of women in powerful roles. Princess Leia is back in full force in The Force Awakens, as a strong and badass general. Not only is her character strong and independent, but so is the actress who portrays her–Carrie Fisher. When faced with backlash online that Leia hadn’t “aged well,” Fisher wasted no time in defending herself and women everywhere.
Another female character, Maz Kanta, the ancient alien that awakens the force in Rey, is another great female character that takes on new role as a sort of Yoda — a character who symbolizes power and wisdom. The beautiful and Oscar winning actress, Lupita Nyongo, plays Maz Kanta – and although I wish she could’ve been a human Jedi to create an even more diverse cast, having a female play the new Yoda is a great step in depicting women in cinematography.
Lastly, Gwendoline Christie, who you’ll know from her role as Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, portrayed Captain Phasma,the head storm trooper on the new Death Star. And even though she is on the Dark Side, I was still rooting for her.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I am sick of princess, “damsel-in-distress” tales, nor am I interested in rigid gender roles. Instead, I’m interested in Jedi fighter pilots. I’m interested in female superhero roles, female survivors, and female warriors. Rey is believable but isn’t trendy – she’s genuine, and the fact that JJ Abrams saw that the actress Daisy Ridley was capable of carrying the most beloved space opera odyssey on her back means a lot. They saw, in today’s society, a demand for female film heroes.
Rey’s famous line, “I know how to run without you holding my hand” speaks to so much more than her male sidekick Finn. It speaks to the whole Disney universe that Star Wars now occupies – let the women rule the world too.