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.