So what were the top five feminist Star Wars moments that proved the force is strong with feminism?
This article undoubtedly isn’t the first to praise Star Wars VII The Force Awakens for J.J. Abraham’s much-appreciated leap in diversity and strong female characters. Honestly, I don’t even care if I’m not even in the first 1,000 contributors touching on feminist Stars Wars moments, because the praise should be shouted loud and often.
As a series, the Star Wars films have always resonated with civil rights movements and diversity, even back when the first film (fourth film?) premiered in 1977. As far as feminist Star Wars characters go, Leia stood out as a strong female role model at a time in film history where women typically served as pretty props (especially in the mainstream) with her strong demeanor, functional battle garb and give-no-shits attitude. Lando Calrissian was a character played by a black man—and the color of his skin wasn’t the selling point of his role (which was all too common in the 1970s).
Ultimately, the series takes place in a galaxy where alien races are being pushed out of their homes by a corrupt empire consisting of seemingly educated white men, which basically mirrors human history. You know it’s true. A lot has changed since the original trilogy ran, and female nerds rightfully demand more feminist Star Wars characters and plots. We have all gushed over the same RPGs without questioning why we had to play a male protagonist. We’ve all been limited to the same handful of female characters with functional costuming to cosplay, and most certainly we’ve all had our motives questioned when we declared our fandom for, well, anything, really.
2015 is the year of the girl geek, and J.J. Abrahams is on board. Thanks, dude. Below I’ve compiled a countdown of the 5 main elements to Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens that warranted a “Fuck yeah!” from this feminist. WARNING: There are some tiny spoilers in these top 5 feminist Star Wars moments, so read with caution.
5. Female Stormtroopers Are Now Canon!
On the day following The Force Awakens premiere, Good Morning America reported that over 60% of the viewers were men. Even though that’s still quite a difference in male versus female views, hanging somewhere in the 40% is pretty impressive. Naturally, I was too enraptured in watching the movie to really survey what kind of people were occupying the seats around me, but that 60% sausage fest might explain why I was the only one to yelp with glee when General Hux barks orders at a helmeted stormtrooper in passing and the voice that answers was distinctively female.
She only responded with a “Yes, sir!” before marching off to carry out the rotten doings of the First Order, but this was a monumental moment for me as a woman with a history of fixating on stormtroopers. It made me start to wonder if these sorts of details were put in place on purpose to create a more feminist Star Wars film. They could have hired anyone for that role, but the fact that it was a woman doesn’t go unnoticed by the fans that really care. Even if the men in the audience didn’t really notice it, they certainly couldn’t help but notice number four…
4. Captain Phasma
Unlike my husband, I haven’t spent the last year reading every dribble of hearsay about the film in preparation. I watched the trailers only a few times, and made it a point to avoid any speculation or in-depth looks at what was to come. I enjoy the pre-show jitters that come with a premiere, especially when it’s Star Wars—a series that I never really studied in regards to extended universe (I reserve that level of obsession for Tolkien material). I didn’t even know that Gwendoline Christie was in the film until I was waiting in line to enter the theater. This was particularly exciting for me, because I based my trooper in Star Wars: The Old Republic off Christie’s character in Game of Thrones, Brienne of Tarth, my all time favorite bad-ass lady character. So for me, this was a pretty epic feminist Star Wars character.
Gwendoline Christie, in all her 6’3” glory, portrays Phasma, a trooper decked out in chrome and a cape, who serves as a Captain in the First Order. I’m a sucker for bad girls, and it was refreshing to see a female villain who isn’t relying on sex appeal to make a point. This is driven home by the fact that she never even takes her helmet off. In regards to my appeal to feminist concepts, this was a win. As a fan, Captain Phasma was generally pretty disappointing and had minimal screen time. As a cosplayer, bring on the chrome, baby! The good news is I have a pretty strong feeling that Phasma will be back in the upcoming installments to the series.
3. Carrie Fisher
I must confess, I was never really a fan of Leia Organa in the first place. I can appreciate the role she served to little girls across our galaxy, but the character never really resonated with me. It’s no secret that she makes a come back in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, 32 years after every single earthling fell in love with her as “slave Leia.”
Her strong role as the General of the resistance was reason enough to make me smile, but what really pulled at my grrl strings was how natural and stunning she looked, because J.J. Abraham’s filmed 59 year old Carrie Fisher as, well, a 59 year old woman. Ageism is often a less-discussed branch of feminism, especially in regards to Hollywood. When directors and writers do include mature females in their films, it’s often a selling point of the characters and actresses themselves.
In The Force Awakens, Fisher looks beautiful, but that isn’t the point. Never once is there a cheap joke made about her age, frailty, or womanhood. This might come as a surprise to male viewers, but that is incredibly rare in even the most liberating of films. Older female characters are always written as a matronly, wise figure. J.J. Abraham’s addresses Leia’s struggle with mother and age without undermining her ultimate role: a bad-ass lady who oversees the resistance.
2. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac
Right out of the gate in the new film, we’re introduced to all new characters Finn, a defected stormtrooper whose moral guidance sends him running from the First Order, and Poe Dameron, whose proclaimed the best pilot in the resistance. For anyone that adores the Star Wars franchise, diversity has always been evident in the content, at least in regards to the societal norms of the decades they were released in. However, when promotional material hit the Internet in preparation for the new movie, there was uproar on social media because Finn is played by John Boyega, a black man, and Poe is played by Oscar Isaac, who is of Latin decent. I absolutely hate to dedicate any of my Star Wars euphoria even addressing such small minded bigotry, but asshats took to Twitter with the hashtag #BoycotStarwarsVII to bitch about black people taking a “white” thing away from them.
This whole movement was pretty quickly slammed down into the Trump-y depths from which they emerged by defenders of the series (and true fans) who pointed out the aforementioned running theme of the series, the fact that racism against black people and Hispanic people wouldn’t have existed in the Star Wars universe, and ultimately the fact that George Lucas is married to a black woman.Just like Carrie Fisher’s age not being the highlight of her character, it was refreshing to see a diverse cast who played characters that were not there just for the color of their skin.
Ultimately, this countdown of feminist Star Wars moments comes to a major head with the main protagonist of the film. Now, before I get into this, let me just say that I tend to be pretty skeptical of any female lead character in a fandom movie, because they’re often so underwhelming. It isn’t necessarily that I’m “the kind of girl that doesn’t like girls,” it’s that I’m usually left struggling with all the potential a character could have had, had they not filled her screen time with the standard development of a love story. Don’t get me wrong, I like a love story, but not when it’s obviously been written into the story. Because even today, in 2016, we promote the idea that finding a man is a major plot point (and requirement) for any 20-something year old girl, you lose me.
Rey, who is portrayed by Daisy Ridley, is introduced as a scavenger on a desert planet who’s barely scraping by. Her parents for some unknown reason abandoned her there, and she’s quickly swept up into the story (and across the galaxy) by stumbling across a really important droid.
As I watched the movie, I found myself falling more in love by the scene with this character as her story develops. There isn’t a lick of sex appeal that is hinted, which is refreshing. She’s smart, savvy and morally guided—like all good Jedi. I realized she hit the target as the protagonist of this film and surely the ones to follow when I came out of the theater shrieking praise, and so did my husband, father, and younger brother—three generations of die hard Star Wars fans. Not once in the film is there a joke or statement made at the expense of her gender, and considering she (spoiler) is strong with the force and follows Luke’s trail for training, it’s safe to say she’s a Jedi, which rules out the possibility of some half-assed love story being shoved on her, because obviously romantic relationships are a no-no for the order.
Ultimately, as a fan I’ll spend at least the next three weeks picking the film apart and discussing theories and plot holes with my equally dedicated friends. As a feminist Star Wars fan, though, I’m tipping my hat to J.J. Abraham’s for finally giving us a movie we can geek out over without combating the nagging sense that as women, we weren’t properly represented in something we love.