Star Wars Women: Kicking Ass Since 1977
**WARNING: BIG ASS SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS**
*Seriously– major spoilers. If you’re cool with that then keep reading.*
*Okay, you’ve been warned*
Star Wars: A New Hope is the first movie I remember watching. I’m sure I saw others before it, probably of the animated variety, but Star Wars is the movie I have vivid memories of watching over and over and over. The whole trilogy in fact. I would pop our original VHS into the player and while the pre special edition versions – the ones with the original Ewok song, before most of the alien creatures were added, where Han shot first THE WAY THE GODDESS INTENDED IT TO BE – played out on our ancient television, my brother and I would act along with the movie.
This is a dominant memory of my childhood. The family room was transformed into a planet, a Death Star, a space ship, anything we needed it to be. We ran around, saying the lines along with the actors, and shooting invisible bad guys with invisible blasters since our mom wouldn’t buy any kind of toy gun. (Good job, Mom, adult me is totally on board with this choice.)
My brother had his pick of dudes to be. Solo, Luke, Darth Vader. He was usually Luke because Luke was the Good Guy, and as there was only one female character to pretend, I was always Leia.
The thing is, though, I like to think I would have wanted to be Leia anyway. Because Leia Organa is a complete and utter Bad Ass.
She’s the first of the three principle characters that we meet in the original trilogy. And before we even see her, we read in the opening credits that she’s stolen the plans to the fucking DEATH STAR and is on a secret mission to deliver them to the rebels.
That’s right, while Luke is whining about how hard his life is, Leia is a spy, a politician, and a leader. She’s been running a fucking planet and now she’s basically running the rebellion. At 19 years old. Without a Jedi trainer, a lightsaber or a bra.
The second time we see her, she shoots a fucking Storm Trooper. Also basically she’s the only one who can hit anything with a blaster in any of the movies. And sure, she gets captured, but you know who else gets captured over the course of that movie? Every other fucking character. Solo, Luke, even Obi Fucking Wan Kanobi, get themselves captured by Darth Vader. And whenever she’s face to face with the bad guys, she’s all kinds of Boss.
She’s the only one who ever has any good ideas to get them out of situations. When the boys show up to “rescue the princess” she’s the one who finds them an actual way out. She gets them out of the detention block and across the missing bridge. When the X-wings fly off to try to blow up the Death Star, she doesn’t stay behind because she’s weak, she stays behind because she’s not a god damn pilot because she was too busy RUNNING THE WHOLE FUCKING REBELLION. And she’s waay too important to go flying on the front lines, anyway. The brains behind the battles stay in the bunker and tell everyone else what to do.
That’s what she’s doing in Empire Strikes Back. And again in Return of the Jedi. When Solo gets himself captured – again – she goes the fuck after him and infiltrates Jabba’s palace, and then she kills that motherfucking slug with the very chain he had her on. If that isn’t symbolism I don’t know what the fuck is. She’s the one who goes after the storm troopers that spotted them on the Forest Moon and makes friends with the Ewoks, which is how they manage to blow up the shield generator in the first place. And when Luke loses all ability to can (as we’ve just seen in The Force Awakens), she continues leading the rebellion. Because that’s what a Bad Ass does.
And still, as close to my heart as Leia is, as much of a Bad Ass as she always was, and as big of an influence as she had on my life, there was still one tiny thing missing in those original movies – at the end of the day, even though nothing would have ever happened without Leia, Luke is the Main Character, the Chosen One, the Center of the Story.
So it was with trepidation, along with an insane amount of excitement that I went to see The Force Awakens. To sit there in that theater, and hear the same music, see the same font scroll across the screen but have it be new words, a new story, ignited something in me that the 7-year-old in my heart had long forgotten I could feel. And once again, it was Leia’s name, but this time GENERAL FUCKING ORGANA (I added that middle part) who we see in those opening credits is still trying to fix the galaxy from all the emo ass dudes who are fucking it all up.
And then, we meet Rey. A hero for a new age. We meet her as she’s rappelling down the side of a ship, watch her as she rescues a captured droid and then almost immediately fights off a couple of goons who try to snag him by wielding her staff like the Bad Ass she is. There are too many quotes that made my feminist heart cheer to even begin to recount them.This is a girl who needs no help from anyone, just like Leia.
There’s the perfect amount of nostalgia in this movie. Han is cynical and dry just just as we expect him to be. Chewy makes us laugh and the Falcon had me in tears seeing it fly again. When Han and Leia are reunited, there are no cheesy jokes about who got the house or alimony payments, there are only two people who still love each other, but who never needed each other to “complete” them. Who both went on with their life when they lost their son. And of course Leia is still bossing Han around – I would have walked out if it had been any other way – because Han is still the basic fuck up he always was.
And while nostalgic 7-year old me would have liked a little more Han and Leia, it would have been out of place because in this movie, the men exist to serve Rey’s story. Yeah they have arcs of their own, the sidekicks always do, but it’s Rey that everyone immediately clocks as a force (pardon the pun) to be reckoned with. Kylo Ren, Han, even Maz, who after offering Finn a way out turns to Han and asks, “Who’s the girl?”
The scene with Maz and Rey– how long have I waited for a scene between the Chosen One and the Wise Old Teacher where both those people are women?! It wouldn’t have held the same resonance otherwise, and yet it’s not about their womanhood. It is about their personhood. Maz has seen the world, she knows what Rey means to the galaxy, knows the part she’s meant to play. And Rey isn’t ready yet, even though she wants to believe Maz, because that’s the path the hero always takes. This scene has played a hundred times in a hundred movies, and I have never felt the pull to my gut that I did sitting in that theater. There I was, there we were, on film, for everyone to see.
Like Leia, Rey is captured and resists the Dark Lord’s attempts to probe her mind. Then she breaks herself out – not by shooting her way out (though she does a little of that), but by thinking her way out of it. By being smart. By putting 2 and 2 together and realizing the power that she holds. Once again the boys show up to rescue her and she’s all, “Whatever dudes, I got this. Let’s go blow some shit up.”
Still, I couldn’t quite relax, because I’ve been tricked before. When the battle took to the forest, I had a horrible sneaking suspicion that Finn would stand over Rey’s injured body and that would be the Thing that would Unlock the Force in him. That yet again, Rey’s entire journey would only prove to be fuel for another character’s Man Pain.
But. That. Didn’t Happen.
Finn fell and Rey rose and defeated a god damn trained Jedi. Ren wasn’t going easy, it wasn’t that he was injured, Rey is simply more powerful than he is and she Out Fucking Forced Him.
Watching that lightsaber fly into her hands and hearing the Light Force Theme play behind the hero shot where she stood, fierce and determined, made me cry harder than at any other part of the movie. Because Rey stood there, the Bad Ass Boss. The Chosen One. The One to Bring Balance to the Force.
And she’s a mother fucking girl.
That was for 7-year-old me. For 15-year-old me. For 23-year-old me. Who was told again and again and again that I just wasn’t as important. That my story didn’t matter as much. That I could only go so far. And later that day when my sister and her kids arrived at my parents’ house, I thought, my niece will never remember a time when Rey’s story wasn’t told. She will never be told that girls can’t be Jedi. She will play Star Wars with her brothers and they can both be Jedi Knights.
She will have other struggles, and other challenges because we have a long way to go, but they will never be able to take Rey away from her. And my nephews will grow up seeing that girls can be Jedi too. My nephews will grow up knowing that girls can be the center of the story. And that is just as important.
One other moment in the movie holds a special place in 31-year-old me’s heart and that is the heartbreaking, though brief, meeting between Leia and Rey. Much like the scene with Rey and Maz, here is a woman who knows everything Rey is feeling. Who can comfort her while acknowledging her strength. Who understands everything Rey has gone through. Who won’t treat her like a glass ornament to be kept on the shelf.
You just know they went and had a cup of tea and a long talk. That Rey told Leia all about Finn’s ridiculous attempts to “protect” her when she was the one who kept saving his ass. And Leia told Rey stories about Han, how he was always getting into trouble and she was always getting them out of it. And Leia told Rey all about the Force, because Leia has it too, even though she’s not a Jedi. She didn’t have time to become a Jedi, she tells Rey, she was busy cleaning up the galaxy after they toppled the fucking Empire. Then Leia sends Rey off to her destiny, to learn to harness her power and restore the balance of the galaxy. Even though Leia knows that might mean her own son will be killed in the process.
Because that’s what a Bad Ass Boss does.
And from an actor standpoint, what an incredible gift. Carrie Fisher’s Hollywood role models were given almost no chances to be either strong or bad ass. She was charting her own territory. And still, what she’s remembered for most is that stupid fucking bikini and a ridiculous hair style. Luckily she has the biggest sense of humor on earth. Did you know she was a script doctor for years? She spent most of her adult life fixing plot holes and writing the best lines in the movies you love the most. With almost no credit. Because patriarchy. And she’s been vocal about her mental illness, a strong voice in the call for understanding and ending the stigma. Carrie Fisher is as Bad Ass as her character. But still, what was every media interview asking about? How Harrison Ford broke his ankle.
So for Daisy Ridley, young and largely unknown just like Carrie Fisher was at the start of the Star Wars movies, to play a scene with the Woman and the Legend – I can only imagine how amazing that must have been. I like to imagine that, much like Rey and Leia, the two went out for lunch and Carrie gave Daisy loads of advice about how to fight the Patriarchy.
There are many things to be discussed in The Force Awakens. The importance of the inclusion of a black character and a Latino character can not be understated. The way women slightly more evenly populated the on screen galaxy, appearing as Captain Phasma, and as minor speaking roles on both the Starkiller and the Rebel base. The women who flew up there along with the men, and the ones who gave directions from the bunker.
The there is also the return to practical effects and filming with actual film instead of using digital cameras. The fusion of the classic mythological tale that has been told for thousands of years with a technologically fantastical future and the eerily familiar elements of our present. There are the fan debates about who Rey is, and what will happen from here, and the arguments over just how badly the prequels suck (the answer – so badly I refuse to acknowledge their existence, but that’s a topic for another post).
But for me, The Force Awakens is a return to what Star Wars always was for me: Bad Ass Women Kicking Ass Across the Galaxy. And You Can Too.