Warning: contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Whenever you ask siblings what ties them together, you usually get an answer to do with them teaming together to take on their parents or coming together over appreciation for something they have in common. For my younger brother and I, it’s a love of Star Wars and a summer spent watching The Attack of the Clones from start to finish on repeat because of a broken DVD player. We would sit in front of the TV, our eyes glued to the screen as Anakin and Padmé took on the droid factory to try and rescue Obi-Wan. This is one of my favourite memories with my brother, but it was always ever so slightly ruined by a voice niggling in the back of my mind, even as a tiny eight-year-old, telling me that something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t take me long to work out, especially after my brother and I received Lego sets to play with – his was a Star Wars kit and mine a princess one. The message was clear: Star Wars was meant for boys, not for me.
I was lucky in the fact that my brother didn’t really care about this kind of thing. After a while, we just pooled all our toys together and played with everything. Luke Skywalker often visited my princess castle and Princess Annabelle fought off bad guys with a lightsabre of her own. But I was still annoyed that I had to work my way into the Star Wars world compared to my brother who was instantly part of it. I often wondered if I hadn’t had a younger brother, would I have been exposed to the films at all? Star Wars meant a lot to me as a kid; it was a fantastic story of adventure and bravery, and it was weird to think of my life without it.
This is why last year, in December 2015, comments from the new instalment’s director JJ Abrams made me cautiously optimistic about this problem. I stumbled across an interview during the lead up to the film’s release where Abrams talked about introducing girls to Star Wars: ‘Star Wars was always a boys’ thing and a movie that dads take their sons to, and though that’s still very much the case, I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers could take their daughters to as well. I’m looking forward to kids seeing this movie and seeing themselves in it and seeing that they’re capable of doing things that they never imagined possible.’ This was in addition to listing Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie as main cast members, so I was excited to see the film.
But nothing could prepare me for what I saw. I went to the midnight premiere, my first ever Star Wars cinema experience, in my R2D2 shirt, wondering if Abrams’ promise was going to come to life. I remember watching the film and realising halfway through that Rey wasn’t just one of the main cast, but she was the main character of the film and she was going to be the next jedi. I found myself crying, quite literally tears of joy, during the climax of the film as Rey and Kylo Ren both tried to use the force to grab Luke’s lightsabre and it went to Rey. I cried thinking about little me wishing there was a character like that I could look up to and pretend to be, and how that was now a reality for all the little girls watching this generation of Star Wars. They had changed nothing else about the film – it was the exact same universe with the same problems and types of characters, except now some of them were female. After 19 years of waiting, I was finally part of the Star Wars world.
However, they haven’t done a complete 360 just yet – for starters, I had to buy my R2D2 shirt in the boys’ section at Target because I couldn’t find one in the girls’ that wasn’t pink and covered in love hearts. Just in general the marketing didn’t seem to reflect the message that Abrams had made with the film, as Rey was left out of a lot of the Star Wars merchandise (despite the fact she was the main character), prompting the Twitter hashtag #WheresRey to go viral. After this whole charade, Disney’s excuse was that Rey was left out as they were wary of spoilers. I don’t know when finding out there was a female character in a film became a ‘spoiler,’ that sounded like a pretty big cop out to me.
The worst part was probably the chorus of people who criticised Disney for trying to make Star Wars a ‘girls’ thing,’ an argument that I think falls down on the fact that there isn’t any real basis for Star Wars to be a boys’ thing in the first place. Sure, fighting and adventure and bravery are traditionally masculine things but we shouldn’t try to prescribe certain things just based on gender. If I, an eight-year-old girl, wanted to like Star Wars because of those things then I should have been able to. Rey has also been criticised for being a two-dimensional character, but all of the traits that she is called out for are things that she shares with Luke, the main character of the original trilogy. No one seemed to have a problem with a flat character when it was a male, but when it is a female suddenly she needs a reason to be interesting and it’s ‘unrealistic’ that she would pick up the force so quickly.
Thus I am happy with the direction that Abrams has decided to take Star Wars for this new generation. Hopefully we will not see Rey in a bikini costume like Leia in Return of the Jedi and instead get to watch as she is the one who saves the galaxy while the male characters stand back in awe.
Julia Faragher is a current university student with a passion for writing across all mediums, from novels and short stories to films, plays and poetry. Her adventure with writing began in November 2011, when she competed in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. Three years later, she had written three novels of more than 50,000 words each and fallen in love with writing. Since then, she has also had success writing in other areas, such as co-writing a play that won her high school competition and placing in the top 4 of last year’s ANU Interhall Poetry Slam. She also has a love for film, and served as the director, producer and writer for Dear Jasmine, winner of ‘Best Student Film’ at the Lights! Canberra! Action! Film Festival 2015. Other festival credits include Tropfest Jr, the All-American High School Film Festival and the Screen It Festival. She currently studies English, Gender Studies and Law at ANU and runs her own short film company, Skybound Productions.
This piece has been published with the support of the ACT Government.