As the father of one of the many girls who like Star Wars, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to quiz the cast and filmmakers about the prominence of female characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As much as I love engaging with Star Wars with my daughter, I am always painfully aware that it is centred around male characters. But girls who like Star Wars – like my daughter – deserve to be able to see themselves in these stories too. Princess Leia is great, but it is her father and brother that the story focuses on. Ashoka is awesome, but the stories she’s in are usually driven by others.
No longer. There is much to admire about Star Wars: The Force Awakens – reuniting the original cast, the compelling new characters, using practical sets and effects. But the most glorious new aspect of the movie is the central role of Rey, and the greater prominence of female characters overall.
A new generation of Star Wars women
Having previously stated that he wanted to make a movie that “mothers could take their daughters to”, Director J.J. Abrams told me that “the idea was always to have this female character at the heart of the story”.
From the moment we meet her, Rey is the one who drives the story forward and in a way that was surprising and moving. When she had her ‘moment’ I felt like crying and cheering at the same time.
Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, has been a vocal advocate of the Star Wars fangirl community and the need to bring a gender balance into all areas of the Star Wars industry.
She observes that “(Princess Leia) was a very cutting edge character in the 70’s, so we really used that as a springboard to bring in Daisy Ridley and make her such a powerful female presence.”
This intention was echoed by Disney CEO Bob Iger, who made reference to the fact that “Women are heroes too,” so why wouldn’t they have a female Star Wars lead.
Daisy Ridley gives a bright and engaging performance as Rey. She will inspire millions of little girls, and I asked her how that felt. For her it came down to the way Rey has been written. “J.J. is an incredible writer, especially of females in a kind of male dominated world… if people look up to her, then I’m very happy with that.”
General Leia and Captain Phasma – Star Wars women’s changing role in the intergalactic military
Princess Leia is now of course General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance. It is a logical progression from the character’s more militaristic role with the Rebels in The Empire Strikes Back, and (to a lesser extent) Return of the Jedi. Of the change of Leia’s title, Carrie Fisher quipped that “Women are a lot better than men really, especially in wartime. We look better in the outfits.”
One of the best outfits in the movie is worn by Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. She was impressed with it from the start. “I Ioved that it was purely practical armour, that it wasn’t sexualised in any way,” she said, adding that “I’m utterly thrilled to wear the costume… It’s very empowering.”
— Man vs Pink (@ManVsPink) August 28, 2015
Captain Phasma became a female character very late in the casting process, in part because of internet chatter about the (at that time) low level of female cast members. It’s great that the filmmakers listened, and also looked for other ways to normalise the inclusion of women in a way that had not been done in previous Star Wars movies. JJ Abrams said that “…we have wonderful cast of good guys, bad guys, pilots, stormtroopers – that happen to be female.”
Empowering little girls who like Star Wars
It’s difficult for me to know exactly what characters will help empower my daughter. I have encouraged her to engage with a range of fictional females from Katie Morag to Batgirl. Her interest in Star Wars has been fairly organic, and she naturally gravitated towards Leia, the most prominent of all.
But I have a strong sense that Rey will resonate with her. Daisy Ridley beamed when I told her I bought a Rey figure for my daughter straight after watching the movie. “That is so cool! How old is your daughter?” When I told her she’s 4-years old (which she will be when she sees the movie), her expression changed. “She’s a bit young for this don’t you think?”. I shrugged, and so did Daisy. “Depends on the child I guess?” she said. It does indeed.
Should my young daughter see Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
In this story, set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. there was a girl who never lost hope, who cared about the plight of others over her own, and never backed down from a challenge.
I can’t wait for my daughter to experience Rey’s resilience, her exciting journey, and a defining moment that will bring many a fan close to tears.
Mark Hamill said something quite beautiful, about how much he loves Star Wars fans, and how privileged he feels to have been a part of so many of their lives from childhood to adulthood and even parenthood.
So despite her young age, and questions over age appropriateness, I think my daughter needs to see this now.
I want her to have this new saga woven into her childhood the way Star Wars was into mine. So she can look up to the stars in wonder, and imagine intergalactic adventures involving heroic girls (and villainous chrome armoured women).
Star Wars © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.