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.
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
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."
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
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
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.