Growing up next to the woods (that we, so often, referred to as Endor), my sisters and I would scavenge nature for the perfect branches to pose as our powerful lightsabers.
We would save the galaxy, day after day.
There is video evidence of my twin and I forcing our little sister to wear a yellow bucket on her head as the evil Darth Vader. We wanted to be Jedi warriors. We perfected our own sound effects the peeews of Stormtrooper blasters and the vruuumm crashh of light-sabers colliding.
Our parents encouraged the obsession, because, what parents don’t want their young girls to engage in fantasies where they are strong, capable, intelligent, and powerful?
We were always pretending to be men, however. Don’t get me wrong, Princess Leia, is mentally strong, diplomatic, and powerful in her own right, but, like most movies women in my generation grew up watching, she succumbed to damsel in distress who needed saving.
Leia’s character played with a gentle balance of powerful women and sex symbol. Take for example, her first scene in Return of the Jedi, she unfreezes Han in a badass bounty hunter disguise and the next second is half-naked, captured, yet again.
She’s talented with a blaster, yet, for being the twin of a powerful Jedi, lacks any connection or growth in the ways of the Force.
I admired the characters in Star Wars, but, few were relatable. I never looked at a character, and thought, “that could be me.”
Until, that is, The Force Awakens.
In the new installment we are introduced to Rey, a smart, self-sufficient, capable woman who can take care of herself.
When her small hands caress the cool metal of a lightsaber and illuminate the weapon in a powerful breath, my soul soared. I wondered, if this was how every boy felt when Luke Skywalker activated his saber for the first time.
It’s a rush, it’s a high, it’s relatable and after years of day-dreaming, the day has come;a female Jedi.
Why Rey is a female character, we’ve been waiting for;
She’s not holding your hand—she can hold her own.
When Stormtrooper defector Finn, first encounters Rey, immediately, chaos ensues. Finn dashes over in an attempt to be chivalrous but instead, is surprised, when Rey uses her martial skills and takes out two attackers on her own.
In attempt to flee ensuing battle, Finn reaches for her hand, to which she replies, “I can run just fine without you holding my hand!” She doesn’t expect anyone to come save her; she reacts mentally, physically.
Unlike Leia, when Rey is trapped in the Death Star, she uses her wits to explore the powers of the Force. She doesn’t let fear consume her, she takes action and escapes on her own. When Han Solo and Finn attempt to “rescue” her, they find her scaling the walls eluding her capturers.
She’s a scavenger, a survivor—-not a damsel.
Rey has been taking care of herself for most her life.
We witness her eating her one meal of the day, sans “manners”, like a real person eats. She is a human; she is surviving.
She scavenges parts of old warships, sustaining her own food, her own home.
When she’s not “sure” of something, she doesn’t abandon the situation (some of us lack that courage to persevere when we are not more than 99.9% confident), instead, she uses the resources at her disposal, she learns as she goes. Her and Finn “steal” the Millennium Falcon, and mutter the mantra, “I can do this,” and confidently, not perfectly, manage the situation of attack.
She’s innovative, grasping the quirky difficulties that arise when flying the Millennium Falcon, matching wit, and mechanical solutions with our favorite male heroin Han Solo. He, himself, admires her intellect.
At one point he hands her a pistol, “I can take care of myself,” she mutters. “I know,” he remarks, “that’s why I’m giving it to you.”
Her character allure doesn’t depend on sex appeal.
The only skin we see from Rey is her shoulders, displaying her strong demeanor, her strength. She wears little to no make-up. She is beautiful, but it’s natural, as if it’s almost an afterthought.
Her beauty is not vital to her character, and is not commented on by any man or woman in the movie. Her martial arts, fighting ability, piloting skills, quick wit and large heart are what draw our attention to her.
She’s sexy in a way that is not forced, or contrived, but alluded to by her character, her personality, her strong spirit.
She’s strong, brave, but not void of vulnerability.
She appeals to both men and women because her being “female” is not often highlighted, she just is.
Her gender is never commented on or regarded as the ruling aspect that makes her unique. She has a stronger grasp of the force and snags Luke’s light-saber from the grasp of Kylo Ren, overriding his power of the Force, and he never remarks, “But you’re a girl,” as if to discount it.
She is regarded as a challenge. An equal adversary.
She still has a heart, unlike some strong female characters we see in movies. She doesn’t sell BB-8 when offered more food than she’s seen in her life. She faces a duel with Kylo Ren in vengeance of Han Solo and in protection of her loving friend Finn.
She’s the girl we want our friends, our daughters, our sisters to watch, to be inspired by.
So often, we’re subliminally told to wait to be saved, that our intellect is only sustained by beauty.
Reys’ presence lets us know that the independence and strength we all posses, is witnessed, is possible; even if we have to search a galaxy, far, far, away to find it.
Author: Elizabeth Brumfield
Editor: Renee Picard