SPOILER ALERT! This blog is about ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ which I saw a month ago. Twice. There are some plot spoilers here most of which you may already know if you read the internet. But if you have not seen ‘Star Wars’ and don’t want to know anything at all about it before you see it, stop reading now. As an aside, you should really go see it at this point. The lines are shorter now.
There has been a lot said about the merchandising of ‘The Force Awakens’ and the general lack of merchandise featuring the major female characters. No Captain Phasma, no General Organa, and most troubling of all no Rey. This bothers me. ‘The Force Awakens’ is the first of the Star Wars movies to pass the Bechdel test* and I believe that is intentional. Captain Phasma could have been male, but Gwendoline Christie did a marvelous job as an intimidating Stormtrooper leader. She naturally looms over anyone else she is in a scene with and she is quite intimidating. Maz Kanata also could have been male, but the choice was made to make the cantina owner female with no impact on story telling. Female fighter pilots are seen in passing and women are running control room consoles on both sides of the conflict. Choices were made to include women in ways that are obvious to those of us who are looking for them, but are natural to those just watching the movie. The most obvious female character is, of course, Rey. She is in the previews. She is on the poster. She is listed first on IMDB. She is the lead. She is the successor of Luke Skywalker. She is missing from the majority of ‘Star Wars’ merchandising.
Now people will say the classic stupid thing, “Boys don’t buy girl things.” Whether that is true about a female action figure with no pink in site is a discussion for a different time. What is true is that ‘Star Wars’ merchandise actively targeting women and girls was already out there. The junior girl department of Macy’s had t-shirts, leggings, and dresses with Star Wars patterns and images. Cover Girl released a whole Star Wars line of make-up. There are costumes, underwear, and bathing suits; all Star Wars themed, all targeting women. We are a demographic that is worth money and we deserve more than Star Wars Colorlicious lipstick. We deserve Rey.
The other excuse (and make no mistake it is an excuse) for excluding Rey is to preserve the surprise of her importance to the plot. I just have to say the putting her in the preview pretty much wrecked that already. Unimportant characters don’t get a hero shot running from an explosion. In fact she was featured so much fans had already begun to speculate who she might be based solely on the preview with no dialog, background, or history. My personal theory was that she was one of Leia & Han’s twins from the books. This theory seems to be faulty. Whoever she ends up being, she is important to the story and everyone ALREADY KNEW THAT before they saw the movie. We want Rey.
As you read (or not) last week, I was a huge Star Wars fan growing up. My most cherished action figure was Princess Leia. She went everywhere with me for a long time. She quickly lost her gun, then her cape, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be her. In fact, I was her. I played ‘Star Wars’ with my friends (all boys) and there was a character for me to be. We played with our figures and without. In fact, some of my friends envied my Princess Leia figure because there was no way to act things out ‘right’ without her. (I also had the only complete pair of droids in the group, but no Han or Luke.) She wasn’t a ‘girl’ toy, she was part of the team and because of her, so was I.
We all grew out of our playing Star Wars phase. But those friends became the ones who taught me how to play football and baseball. They taught me how to do tricks on my bike. I taught them how to double jump and crisscross a jump rope. I also taught them how to turn a jump rope (or any other rope) into a lasso (thank you Wonder Woman) plus many a varied knots I had learned. We didn’t think about gender roles or what boys and girls are ‘supposed’ to do. We were simply friends who had been brought together by a love of Star Wars and shared toys.
So I ask with the rest of the internet, Where is Rey? Don’t let a generation of children believe that they have nothing in common simply because they have different genders. ‘The Force Awakens’ is the most diverse Star Wars movie to date. Let’s let everyone play.
*The Bechdel test requires that there be at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than the male characters. It seems like a fairly low bar, but shockingly few movies meet these minimum requirements including the first six installments of ‘Star Wars’.