My feminist “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” review (with spoilers)
By Barbara Corbellini Duarte
As a brown immigrant woman and a fan of the franchise, I was excited for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” from the moment I saw the three main characters were a woman, a black man and a Latino.
But the trailers, the posters and all of the images released before the movie left me with huge expectations and one fearful question: Will this girl hold a lightsaber? (And if she does, please don’t make it pink.)
Even though it was pretty clear Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, was the main protagonist, there was no image of her holding the iconic Jedi weapon in the trailers, the poster or the promo pictures.
Don’t get me wrong. The franchise has always featured women whom I loved. Princess Leia was strong and fierce. Padmé Amidala was a wise queen/politician willing to battle on the ground next to her soldiers and servants. And yes, we had that blue alien Jedi who never says a word and mostly serves as awkward eye candy for the male audience.
Still, Leia and Padmé often need rescuing, following the standard pop culture ‘damsel in distress’ pattern. And both of them were used as sex symbols (Leia way more than Padmé, of course).
On Episode III, Padmé stays home pregnant waiting for Anakin to come back and by the end, she dies because she “has lost her will to live,” even though she had just had two children. Really? How often do you meet a mother who would give up her newborn children just because their father turned out to be a jerk?
Leia, however, has the Force.
Darth Vader is her father! (I’ll just ignore how irrelevant the mother is in the first three original movies for today.)
But she never learns how to use the Force (or at least not as well as Luke). Doesn’t seem to be very interested in learning it, even though it’s the coolest thing ever. She never holds a lightsaber. And she doesn’t become a Jedi. Yes, she had a gun. But really, “Star War” fans don’t dream of laser guns (mostly). We want lightsabers.
So I wanted Rey to learn to use the Force and hold a lightsaber BADLY.
And the movie went beyond that (here’s when real spoilers come).
Rey is tough and independent from scene one. She speaks her mind and defeats foes with no trouble. She’s brave. She’s not perfect. She’s persistent. She learns to use the Force on her own. She’s emotional and kind too, and that’s okay.
And she does not need rescue.
Instead, she repeatedly rescues the men, solves tech problems, flies the Millennium Falcon and even tells Han Solo how to fix a glitch in his own ship.
As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to want to be her by then, she manages to steal Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber from the new villain Kylo Ren and defeat him in an epic lightsaber battle.
She’s all I ever wanted and more.
The main reason I’m so excited about her is because pop culture matters. Especially when we’re growing up. And it’s so important for children to see pop culture characters who look like them doing all types of things, from fixing science problems to fighting villains to falling in love.
And no “Star Wars” female character has done all of that until now.
There are many other points to be made about the movie and its characters that go beyond Rey. Finn, played by John Boyega, and Poe Dameron, played Oscar Isaac, bring much needed diversity to the cast. Not to mention it’s so exciting to learn Stormtroopers can have thoughts, feelings and an amazing personality.
But I’m focusing on Rey because she’s the one I identified with the most, for now. She doesn’t look like or represent all women. We’ve been seeing more women like Rey in pop culture in movies like “Mad Max” and “Frozen.” Yet it’s important to point out women of color usually get the short end of the stick. We do have Lupita Nyong’o playing Maz Kanata, a CGI character much older than the actress. Although Maz Kanata is pretty cool and resembles a new Yoda, it’s hard to imagine young girls dreaming of being an old wise alien who owns a bar.
Still, it’s hard to deny Rey is a fantastic improvement from Padmé and Leia.
If I had seen more women like her on the big screen when I was a child, maybe I would be a more confident and less apologetic woman today.
The cherry on top of the ice cream comes when Leia says the iconic sentence “May the Force be with you” to Rey. That’s the first time in the franchise a woman uses this line. And she’s saying it to another woman.
P.S.: I am ignoring any extended universe material in this review, including video games, comic books, TV shows, specials, cartoons, etc.