Back in October, an entire basket of Twitter eggs took a break from nibbling on Hot Pockets in their mothers’ basements and fapping to Donald Trump in order to spread the #BoycottStarWarsVII. These troglodytes believed that, because director J.J. Abrams cast the black actor John Boyega as one of the leads in his Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the new film constituted “anti-white propaganda.” After all, George Lucas’s original Star Wars film was so overwhelmingly monochromatic it prompted his pal John Landis to pose the following question after its first screening: “George, is everybody in outer space white?”
So yes, having a person of color as a lead—instead of relegated to the periphery, a la Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, et al.—did represent a corrective to the original films. It’s been the hot Hollywood trend of late, to atone for past sins via the “reboot.” Take Mad Max: Fury Road and its one-armed war machine Furiosa, a far cry from The Road Warrior’s plethora of female rape and murder victims; or Creed, which offers a noble black hero at the center of the Rocky universe in lieu of caricatures like Apollo Creed or Mr. T.
The original Star Wars films were also paternalistic—an exploration of masculinity, of fathers and sons. Mothers are barely worthy of mention. And the only female character of substance in the first trilogy is Princess Leia Organa, played by the indomitable Carrie Fisher.
“I had a really great time on the first one but I was the only girl,” Fisher recently told me, “except for the continuity, hair, makeup, and wardrobe teams. It was definitely a boys’ club.”
To make matters worse, on Return of the Jedi, director Richard Marquand seemed to buy in to the Star Wars man show ethos, treating the leading men with kid gloves while torturing poor Fisher. The slave bikini was just the tip of the iceberg; Marquand would regularly yell at and belittle Fisher for the most trivial perceived infractions.
“I hated him,” Fisher said. “He fell all over Harrison [Ford], but he would yell at me constantly. He yelled at me one day and I burst into tears, and it felt great because it fucked up the makeup. I thought, ‘Oh, I fucked up your shot? Now you see who really fucked up.’ It took an hour for them to do my makeup again.”
And so it is that in The Force Awakens, the lead of the film is not Boyega, but Daisy Ridley, an unknown with a handful of TV credits to her name. Ridley was working a minimum wage job as a bartender at a local pub in the U.K. when she was cast as Rey.
Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence that Ridley is, with her dimples and charmingly toothy smile, a dead ringer for Keira Knightley, who played Queen Amidala’s handmaiden/decoy Sabé in The Phantom Menace. But she is undeniably the hero to Boyega’s damsel in distress, saving his rogue stormtrooper Finn at every turn.
In The Force Awakens the Empire has fallen, but it’s been replaced by the First Order, ruled by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, CGI) and his henchman Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). They’re hell-bent on wiping out the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Fisher). The Resistance has been scouring the galaxy for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last remaining Jedi, who’s vanished. A map that may contain the whereabouts of Skywalker has been placed inside the robot BB-8, which finds its way into the hands of Rey, a scavenger. She lives alone on a desert planet very similar to Skywalker’s home of Tatooine—and even rides around on an updated landspeeder.
Early on, Finn sees a few thieves attack Rey in an attempt to steal her newly acquired BB-8. He runs toward her yelling “Stop!”, ready to save the day, only to stop dead in his tracks when he sees her lay waste to the men with her staff. Moments later, as TIE fighters rain lasers down on them, Finn, very much a programmed male, keeps attempting to grab her hand as they’re running away. “Stop doing that!” she screams in defiance.
Even Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is quick to recognize her power. In a shared moment, he hands Rey a blaster pistol. “Take this,” he says, to which she replies, “I think I can handle myself.” Han grins. “That’s why I’m givin’ it to ya.” Then, after witnessing her impressive chops piloting the Millennium Falcon, he offers her a job as a space swindler opposite himself and Chewie, which she turns down flat. The rest you can witness for yourself.
“I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure,” said Ridley during a recent press conference for the film. “She will have some impact in a girl power-y way. She’s brave and she’s vulnerable and she’s so nuanced... She doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in a film. It just so happens she’s a woman but she transcends gender. She’s going to speak to men and women.”
The philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Here, Abrams acknowledges the past while fashioning his own pluralistic future filled with a female hero, female generals, and even Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the galaxy’s first female villain. In this Star Wars, the Force that awakens is woman.