By Sneha Rajaram
Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is being lauded as the first in the series to feature a central female character, who is also the first woman Jedi with a major role in the film series. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku who lost her family, becomes involved in a plan to find the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and discovers her powers as the plot progresses.
I’m not a Star Wars fan – mainly because I’ve hardly watched any of the movies. The Force Awakens worked well for me as a fresh audience anyway, even though I didn’t get any of the references to the series. It was highly watchable, and Daisy Ridley was a delight to watch as Rey.
But I’d rather not go into details here, or actually review the film. (If Star Wars fans are right, I’m not qualified to review it anyway.) I’d rather, just for a second, pick up my trusty feminist periscope and wonder why the fuss about there being a strong, central female character who is also a Jedi knight. I’ve been given to understand that this combination is unprecedented in the series. But how does that make it special? Jumping out of the Star Wars universe for a minute into the hyperspace of feminism (where everything is warped if MRAs are to be believed), there are still more male characters than female characters in the film. The Bechdel test is passed by Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) and Rey discussing Rey’s family – family being an appropriately ladylike topic. We women in the audience are proud because Rey is the first female Jedi with so much screen time – but we don’t ask ourselves what a woman achieves by getting into such a sexist establishment and becoming another brick in the wall of the masculine Jedi culture. And that sexist establishment I’m talking about isn’t just the Jedi – it’s the Star Wars series itself. Apart from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), it’s always been by, about, and for men. Why are Star Wars’ female fans being rewarded in 2015? It’s been a long wait since A New Hope in 1977. We can appreciate Rey in The Force Awakens, but we can’t be expected to be grateful for her. Why not? Because it’s 2015, as the Canadian Prime Minister said. Having a central female character in a film should be the default, not cause for celebration.
Phew, let’s put that periscope away now. If you want to be entertained, to see a woman unapologetically, spectacularly come into her powers as a hero; if you want to lose yourself thoroughly and enjoyably in the space opera genre, go get yourself a ticket to The Force Awakens. Just don’t listen to anyone who tells you that as a feminist you should be grateful for it.
December 30, 2015 at 7:36 am
Grateful, no. But I’m definitely glad, and I’ll now watch the next movie because I want to know what happens to Rey and Finn. If it had been Leia all over again – who’s badass some of the time but then needs to be rescued or sent really part of the action, I’d not be interested.
Also, doesn’t Maz asking Rey to take the lightsaber mean it passes the Bechdel test (just barely)?
December 30, 2015 at 6:00 pm
I liked the article well enough but couldn’t you have found an actual Star Wars fan to write about this film? Or at least someone who has seen the movies. I grew up on this series and watched with frustration as I only had Leia to identify with. But I wanted to fight along with Luke and not sit next to Leia and always told people I wanted to be Han Solo. The difference now is that my niece can look at this movie and experience it and come out saying: I want to be Rey. It’s massive for those of us who have this ingrained in our system. I love Ladies Finger but you really dropped the ball on this one. You couldn’t find a single feminist who also liked Star Wars? Someone who could write intelligently about former characters like Padme and Leia (and the roles they played). The women that they represented (obviously if the writer hasn’t seen the movies, then she knows about them is what she had Googled about them. She wouldn’t know their most iconic moments. She wouldn’t know what made them as characters tick. She wouldn’t know why the Episodes I to VI has done such characters disservice towards the end (yes they were marginalized but it’s important to look at how they were marginalized and also understand that history. I remember being a teenager and watching Padme’s final fate and being utterly disappointed in how such a clever and strong and intelligent woman was not simply “giving up”. It did not make sense to me. This entire write-up is disappointing. You really couldn’t find a single feminist in India who loved Star Wars?
December 30, 2015 at 10:31 pm
Unmana_ The lightsaber belongs to Luke, a man, so we’re not so sure. But when they discuss Rey’s family – that’s less iffy. 🙂
December 31, 2015 at 9:05 am
theladiesfinger I thought the point the movie was making was that the lightsaber isn’t actually Luke’s — it’s for the most powerful Jedi, so it now Rey’s. Though I half suspect Rey will turn out to be Luke’s daughter or something.
However, agree with you on the overall point — it “barely” passes the Bechdel test. Thoroughly enjoyed the movie nonetheless, and Finn and Rey were very interesting characters; definitely much more so than Han and Luke. Also liked that Rey seems the successor to both Luke AND Han. Maybe Finn is Leia’s? Would like to see how that plays out.
January 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm
Eh? I agree with hyper_Aice below. COuldn’t you have found someone with more knowledge of the series? I assure you, there are plenty of feminists in India who are also Star Wars fans. What a vacuous article. The lightsaber ‘belonged’ to Luke but now calls to Rey – that is a massive shift and I see much to be happy about.