This is probably the millionth Star Wars article on the internet about Rey and either how she’s not a “Mary Sue” or how important her character is for a new generation of fans. Why we also decided to write about her is because from a young perspective, we wanted to share the impact Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in particular Rey’s character, has made on us. We were born after the original trilogy was released. We were very young when the prequel trilogy hit the big screen. We knew the iconic phrases and plot twists before we ever watched them. We didn’t have the full experience of Star Wars… until now.
When Rey first pops on screen, tilting her head inquisitively with those huge goggles, it’s hard not to have fallen a little in love right then and there. When she wields a light saber and fiercely battles Kylo Ren at the end, I found it incredibly hard to not stand up and cheer each of the three times I saw it in theaters.
Having a female character lead the biggest movie franchise in the history of cinema is a big step forward, and I asked some of my fellow staff writers to share just how monumental it is for Star Wars to give both fans new and old a character like Rey.
I spent a good portion of my first viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens grinning like an idiot. Every time one of the members of the latest Star Wars trio entered the scene, they proved themselves incredibly endearing — Poe, the best pilot in the galaxy; Finn, the runaway storm trooper; and Rey, the scavenger with a destiny bigger than she ever imagined. However, Rey was the one who truly had my undivided attention; I was enthralled by how her gender is simultaneously completely irrelevant to the story and the most important thing about her. She’s not treated differently than any of the boys, and even ends up being the one wielding the Force on the side of good — something unheard of on screen by a named female character in the previous six movies. She’s incredibly capable, ruthless when she needs to be and incredibly kind. Rey’s journey as a protagonist, as a lady Jedi and a hero serves to let little girls know that they’re just as important and visible as boys in this universe.
I didn’t watch Star Wars growing up (and really only saw the trilogy for the first time in the past two years or so). I was more of a DC Animation type of kid and was drawn to characters such as Hawkgirl, Artemis and Raven. Even then, without being able to put words to contextualize what I was doing, I was being drawn to these powerful, nuanced and female characters, of whom there were few on television, particularly in television geared towards the younger crowd.
All of this is what made Star Wars: The Force Awakens not only fun to watch, but monumental. While there is no need to diminish Princess Leia’s role in the original series, she was, at the end of the day, a supporting character. Rey is our leading lady and the person who the story revolves around. She’s a scrapper, who has taught herself how to fight, how to survive, all the while not losing sight of her untouched basic kindness. She is everything that you want your heroine to be and so rarely get.
Beyond my own excitement of simply getting a character such as Rey onscreen, I am more excited for the young girls around the world, a generation of them who get to grow up with Rey as a role model, in the ways that boys have had the likes of Peter Parker for decades now. Little girls need to see themselves represented, and to have that representation come in the form of arguably one of the biggest films ever released, is amazing (and the same can be said of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac’s casting). Representation matters, having role models matter, especially ones such as Rey that teach you that you can survive and learn and be curious and that those are commendable actions.
Rey isn’t a cure all for popular culture (nerd culture, specifically) and its want to be a “boys club” first, but it’s a hell of a start, and I’m thrilled by the notion that little girls everywhere are going to look up onscreen, see Rey, and think “I can be that.”
I saw my first Star Wars film 13 years ago. I was eight and fascinated, buzzing with that wonder unique to the young and innocent. I wanted to be a Jedi. I wanted to be strong with the Force, take down the Stormtroopers and defend the galaxy. I would often pull my long hair up into a tight bun, leaving down a small section to be braided à la Anakin Skywalker. My brother and I would duel with our toy light sabers — mine was always blue — and claim we were Padawans. For my 13th birthday, I asked for a Star Wars Lego set and built the entire Imperial Star Destroyer in one weekend. My neighborhood friends — mostly boys, as I grew up with my brother — told me, “Star Wars isn’t for girls,” that there was no place in that universe for a saber-swinging heroine, that I wasn’t allowed to be a Jedi like the boys could be. It was their world, and as a child, I was starting to believe I had to take “no girls allowed” as a final answer.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens broke new ground. It was the film I wished I could have seen when I was young. The lovely Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) were fantastic additions, both of whose backstories I want to know more about. But there was something so momentous about Rey (Daisy Ridley) that I found myself beaming while witnessing her moments of triumph. Like the male leads I had seen before, Rey is headstrong, independent, supremely talented and a Force-sensitive fighter. But she’s also compassionate, good-natured and slightly vulnerable. She’s everything I wanted to see in a lead character as a young girl, the hero my eight-year-old self needed and a symbol of new hope for the franchise. Episode VII truly feels like my own, a world in which I could belong.
I wasn’t much of a Star Wars fan in my childhood — I watched some of the original trilogy as a young kid when it was shown on TV, but it didn’t particularly excite me. However, it was impossible not to be caught up in the hype for The Force Awakens and I ended up taking my younger (male) cousin to watch the movie, since he really wanted to go.
When we left the cinema, I think my grin was double the size of his. I loved it. I was so incredibly entertained. It had some glorious banter, great action sequences, plenty of homage to the original films and most importantly, some brilliant new characters.
There’s really not much I can say about Rey in particular that hasn’t already been said. The poor woman has been dissected and discussed every which way across the interwebs.
What I will say is this: Rey is strong, capable, compassionate and competent.
Indeed, her competency throughout the movie has been criticized as “unrealistic.” And I will counter with the fact that we’ve seen countless upon countless movies where the male protagonist has magically been able to acquire new skills and defeat the baddies without breaking a sweat, and somehow his prowess is never the subject of discussion. Also, might I add that the “realism” argument is slightly irrelevant in a film dealing with aliens, interplanetary travel and mystical powers.
But I digress.
Women make up half the world’s population. One hundred years into filmmaking, it’s about damn time that we get to see ourselves represented on the big screen, and not as a damsel in distress, or to further the male protagonist’s story or to be the sexy heroine in spandex, but as a woman on her own mission, as her own person, with her own agency and back story and plot.
I leave you with two quotes that capture the nuances of the situation far better than I can:
“The people who are upset that the faces of fiction are changing are right to worry. It’s a fundamental challenge to a worldview that’s been too comfortable for too long. The part of our cultural imagination that places white Western men at the center of every story is the same part that legitimises racism and sexism. The part of our collective mythos that encourages every girl and brown boy to identify and empathise with white male heroes is the same part that reacts with rage when white boys are asked to imagine themselves in anyone else’s shoes.” [Laurie Penny]
“Science fiction is about possibilities; it’s about imagining alternative futures and envisioning worlds that transcend the constraints of current reality. In many of the futures portrayed in science fiction, film and television people achieve extraordinary feats of accomplishment…maintaining racial diversity in science fiction film and television is about more than just being “politically correct,” it is about showing people of all races shaping and participating in the future in meaningful ways, as important characters, contributing to the advancement and accomplishments of humanity.” [Alexis Charles]