The Feminist Force Awakens
On December 17, I joined millions of people around the world in a line. Now this was no ordinary line. In front of me stood Chewbacca, and behind me several Stormtroopers waited patiently. This was the line to see the latest and possibly greatest movie in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens. That evening, I joined fans both young and old in delighting in the marvels of another world. I lost myself in the journey of Rey and Finn, cheering for their victories and crying at their defeats.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes a familiar concept and reinvents it with a storyline featuring new characters intertwined with familiar faces. These new characters are completely different from those who followed the infamous scrolling credits in the past. Rey, a young woman who is ready to break away from the life she knows, and Finn, a rebellious black stormtrooper who dares to question orders, are poised to lead the next generation of fans on an incredible adventure through the galaxy.
As a feminist, I could not have been more thrilled to watch these two incredible characters take the lead in the film. Both are strong and independent individuals who fight against all odds and battle a wide variety of foes and challenges in order to become the people they are destined to be. In one scene, Rey manages to save Finn and a droid, and quickly gets the Millennium Falcon space ship operational in order for all three to escape the grasp of Stormtroopers. When Han Solo learns that it was a girl with no training who returned the ship to operation, he was as shocked as most of the audience. Not me, though. As a feminist I was proud of Rey for doing what was seen as an impossible feat, and for shocking everyone. Both Rey and Finn will serve as influential role models, and will help to inspire the newest generation of Star Wars fans.
Despite the amazing characters and the flawless film design, Star Wars still frustrated me. This is the seventh film in the Star Wars saga, yet the first to star a woman and a black man. What possibly could have taken Hollywood so long? When the first Star Wars film premiered in theaters in 1977, 21 women were serving in Congress, and artists like Barbra Streisand were busy topping the music charts. Women were starting to rise in status and gain more equality in American society and continued to do so, but in the five Star Wars movies released after 1977, women were still never featured as main stars.
While I am elated that a female finally starred in the film saga, I am annoyed that it took such a long time. Were producers waiting for women to be accepted as equals in society before they could be equals on the big screen? Or did producers feel comfortable putting a woman center stage knowing that the film had already created such a loyal fan base who would come see the film no matter who starred in it? While I can’t dive into the producers’ minds, the lack of a female star in the Star Wars saga until 2015 represents a well-established problem within the entertainment industry. The problem is that the entertainment industry seems to be hesitant to allow females to star in films unless they are supported by a loyal fan base or a star studded cast of supporting male actors. Women are not perceived as being able to hold their own in TV and film, and require men by their side in order to star.
Adding insult to injustice with the initial release of the film came a variety of products, from food, to clothing and toys. Yet none of the toys initially available featured the lead character Rey. Despite her importance to the film, she was not included on products until mid-January, long after the holiday rush had ended. While the official reason for the lack of Rey products was that the production company didn’t want to give away secrets about the plot, many feel that Rey was excluded from products due to the traditional belief that Star Wars is a ‘boys’ movie,’ and that boys don’t want toys or cereal boxes with a girl on them. The lack of Rey products only furthers the patriarchal nature of Hollywood, emphasizing the idea that women can’t play the lead in movies because they won’t sell tickets and they can’t launch movie related paraphernalia either.
While the Star Wars saga may have taken decades too long to feature a woman, they have taken an important first step in identifying Rey as a central character in the current trilogy. And when the next film comes out, you can be sure to find me waiting in line to see the midnight premiere, ready to watch Rey restore order to the galaxy.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.