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The Girl Who Needed to See 'The Force Awakens'

The first time I remember watching one of the "Star Wars" movies was during a small family reunion. I was probably 5 or 6 and one of only a handful of girls situated among a sea of rambunctious little boys. I was mesmerized. The light sabers. The battles. Princess Leia. Chewbacca. The Ewoks. (Forgive me, I was only a child.)

And yet, I watched the entire movie from the periphery of the room. I wanted to join the boys. I wanted to be seen as their equal. I wanted to sit right down with them and show them that I, too, could be rambunctious and that I, too, could love "Return of the Jedi." These boys were my cousins, after all.

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But there was always some unspoken message signaling that this movie was for boys. Girls could enjoy it (and enjoy it, I did, for many years), but only as "one of the boys."

We could have our bold and powerful moment, but only if we were literally chained and clad in, arguably, one of the hottest bikinis to ever grace a film screen.

Years later, I attended the opening night of "The Phantom Menace" with a group of friends. Only two of us were women. In fact, the entire theater was probably 80/20 men and women. Even Padmé (God bless her underdeveloped character) wasn't enough to make us feel as if we were anything but one of the boys.

Even before the credits rolled, I realized that "The Force Awakens" was the movie I'd wanted to see since I was a little girl.

As an adult, I've relived my love of the Star Wars universe with my three young sons. We've had light saber battles. We've worn Darth Vader masks. We've even binge-watched a surprisingly good cartoon series, "The Clone Wars."

Throughout these years with my children, I've still been just one of the boys.

Then, last week, I had the chance to go and see the opening night of "The Force Awakens" with one of my friends.

I'd heard rumors that the character, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), was central to the film's plot. I'd even heard one of the reviewers on NPR refer to her as a Jedi. Yet, despite the promise of Rey and the early reviews, I approached the film with a bit of caution. For anyone who lived through the disappointment of Episodes I through III, approaching a new Star Wars film with caution is a reasonable plan.

And then came Rey.

Even now, I cannot fully articulate everything that Rey is for the Star Wars franchise. I imagine that we will be (over)analyzing her for decades to come. Though the fact that she is a woman is not her most important feature—not by any means—it is a fact that has signaled a new sense of welcome to fangirls young and old.

There was Rey, desperately hungry, but refusing to take a scrap metal dealer's pile of food in exchange for BB-8. There was Rey, expertly fending off her attackers as Finn looks on in partial disbelief. There was Rey, shaking off Finn's hand, shouting that she can run perfectly well on her own, thank you very much. There was Rey, flying the Millenium Falcon without a co-pilot. (I squealed, out loud, in the theater after this realization.) There was Rey, resisting Kylo Ren's torture and then successfully using a Jedi mind trick to convince a Stormtrooper to release her from her shackles. There was Rey, drawn to Luke's missing light saber, battling Kylo Ren and then making the final parts of the journey to find Luke Skywalker all by herself.

There was Rey, who didn't need rescuing. Who needed men (and women—like General Leia Organa) to assist her but not necessarily to save her. Who was a fully realized, three-dimensional, bold and powerful character who happened to be a woman.

Even before the credits rolled, I realized that "The Force Awakens" was the movie I'd wanted to see since I was a little girl.

Even now, I cannot fully articulate everything that Rey is for the Star Wars franchise.

For just a moment, I—this mother of three boys—wanted a daughter. I wanted to be able to look at my own daughter's face and see all these realizations in her eyes, to see her imagination expand, to see that she, too, could be just as brave and strong and powerful and independent as Rey.

It took me a few days to realize that what I actually wanted wasn't a daughter. In fact, I cannot wait to see my sons' faces as this incredible woman becomes their new hero. This, too, is an important feminist achievement.

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No, what I want is to be able to sit next to my 6-year-old self and watch that little girl's face transform as she realizes that she doesn't just have to be "one of the boys" in order to be brave and strong and powerful and independent.

Being a girl is sufficient for that.

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