After all the holiday frenzy, I finally managed to watch Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It was all it promised to be and much, much more in many aspects, but it especially exceeded my expectations when it came to feminism.
I am a Star Wars fan. I have been since childhood when I went to the cinema with my mum and dad to watch Episode I at the age of eight. Years before I even knew the meaning of feminism, I knew that I wanted to be like Queen Amidala. The hairstyles and the make-up were cool, but it went beyond that. She was a strong-willed leader who would not budge under pressure and who was not afraid to speak her mind or engage in ‘aggressive negotiations’.
After being Queen, she becomes a senator and continues being badass — at least until she falls in love with Anakin Skywalker. Padme Amidala is quickly transformed from a diplomat to little more than a pretty face. Yes, she is in love, but her personality is completely changed. When Episode III came out, I felt that Padme’s character had been killed off long before her on-screen death. From Episode I through to Episode III we see the destruction of her character. The big screen showed us all how a strong, powerful and independent leader could turn into a sobbing mess who dies of grief.
The original movies (which I watched after episodes I-III) brought Leia to us, who is badass, kidnapped, badass, and kidnapped again, by the adorable Ewoks of all, um, ‘people’. She is pigeonholed into the traditional female role and stripped of her agency. After she is rescued (by men), she fights in the battle at the end of Episode VI, gaining some of the agency she had previously lost. In a way, she is a better female character than her poor mother, Padme, especially when we consider the latter’s diminishing strength of character.
Overall, it seemed that the Star Wars franchise lacked positive or even decent female characters.
Then came Rey.
Rey is not only an amazing character — she is the personification of the changes women have struggled to make over the years since the first Star Wars film came out in 1977. She is loyal and caring, but she is also strong and independent. She is a leader from the very beginning of the film and transitions from orphan, to awesome pilot, to fighter and finally to wielder of the Force. Rey is the feminist hero science fiction lovers have been asking for for decades.
Rey neither needs nor asks for anyone’s permission, and she does not need help either. I almost clapped at the beginning of a fight scene when Han Solo, saying ‘you might need this’, hands Rey a weapon. She replies: ‘I think I can handle myself’ and then he answers ‘that’s why I’m giving it to you’. This was a true fists-in-the-air moment for feminist sci-fi lovers and for pop culture as a whole. It is just an example of multiple moments in which the dialogues between Rey and Han Solo left me open-mouthed in my seat, proving that common sense could be and is, part of some Hollywood blockbusters.
We all loved (and hated) Padme and Leia, but they were not protagonists: they lacked authority and, in the case of Padme, were completely obliterated. Rey is not only front and centre in the latest film but she is also strong, independent and unapologetic. Moreover, not only does the new Star Wars film give us Rey, but we also see a stronger, matriarchal Leia. We are also introduced to Maz Kanata, a wise new Yoda-like figure, and Captain Phasma, who pulverizes gender standards being a ‘kickass’ warrior who is presented in a traditional stormtrooper silver outfit for the whole movie. No cleavage necessary, thank you very much.
There are still four more Star Wars films to come (at least). I sincerely hope that we see many more strong and inclusive female roles which will have us all glued to our seats and will provide many more fist-pump moments.