It’s been about a month since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, and I’ve seen the movie twice now. You may recall that after the first viewing, I was pretty impressed. After the second viewing, I noticed some of the more nitty-gritty plot problems, but my preoccupation with those things faded after a couple of days. Now, even weeks later, I find myself smiling even at passing thoughts of scenes from The Force Awakens. The last time I can remember a movie making me this happy was when I saw A New Hope for the first time.
Let’s go back in time. It was April 2002, I was in fourth grade, and I was vomiting uncontrollably. Sorry for the grossing you out, but it’s important to the story. I, obviously, had to stay home from school, and my dad stayed home with me. I remember lying on the couch, absolutely miserable, when my dad turned on Turner Classic Movie channel. A New Hope just happened to be on. Seeing the sands of Tatooine and the Mos Eisley Cantina for the first time is burned into my brain (or maybe that was the fever, I don’t know), but immediately, I was smitten. It was like a switch had been flipped. I was a Star Wars person now.
Serendipitously, a few months later a new family moved into a house on our cul-de-sac that had a daughter my age who also happened to be obsessed with Star Wars. Our friendship was quickly cemented by our shared, over the top nerd passion. I was in deep. I didn’t just watch the movies and own lightsaber toys. I read the expanded universe novels. I dressed up as a Jedi for Halloween (and my dad was Darth Vader). In the sixth grade, my friends and I made our own original Star Wars home movies (and I am hoping against hope that those tapes are rotting in a dumpster somewhere, never to see the light of day).
Now, back to the present. If I take a critical look at why The Force Awakens brings me so much joy, it really all comes down to one element: Rey. In fact, a few days after I went to the midnight showing with my dad, I was thinking about Rey piloting the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca and I found myself crying. I was crying because I realized how freaking important it would have been to me if I had been able to see someone like Rey in a big blockbuster movie when I was ten years old. Sure, Leia was a stone cold badass leader, but she wasn’t exactly the hero of the original trilogy. It would have been awesome to dress up as Rey for Halloween instead of having to mine the Expanded Universe for a character or settle for being “some random female Jedi.”
When I think about my fictional female role models growing up, I can come up with Hermione Granger, Nala from The Lion King, and a rotating cast of Disney princesses. I’m not saying that these characters don’t have merit, but none of them were action heros or had big, sweeping stories devoted to their development. We talk a lot about what it means to be a “strong female character” at Minerva, and I think the reason Rey is so successful is that she is a strong character who also happens to be female. The trials that she goes through are not gender-specific. This is actually where I think TFA’s similarities to the original trilogy come in handy — you get to see that neither Luke nor Rey succeed or fail because of their gender.
The movie doesn’t spend a great deal of time ostentatiously subverting gender stereotypes. Instead, it just sort of winks at the audience. The moment I was really sold on the movie was at the beginning when Rey tells Finn, “I know how to run without you holding my hand!” When Finn finally gets to be the knight in shining armor and goes to rescue Rey from Starkiller Base, the damsel in distress frees herself before he gets there. It’s girl power without shouting “GIRL POWER.”
Obviously, I think The Force Awakens is a fun movie and you should go see it if you haven’t already, but more importantly, I think this is an amazing movie for young girls. If you have a daughter, niece, or any sort of young woman in your life, I’d urge you to take them. It might be the boost they need.
Featured image via The Mary Sue.