This section is essentially spoiler free:
On the 17th of December, 2015, I publicly declared my greatest hope for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I shared with our readers the immense impact the character Leia had on me, and how much I hoped the new film would provide a hero for a new generation of little girls.
I got a lot more than my wish.
But not just Rey, Daisy Ridley.
Again both the character and the woman who played her are worth talking about.
First let me talk about Daisy Ridley, from the West end of London. Because that doesn’t have spoilers and can be read safely. She not only played Rey incredibly well. But she came to this movie as a fan. How do I know? It’s between the lines. It’s clear she loved the films and she valued the impact of this character so much she had her old video reels deleted. It’s a bit difficult to find the details on that, but according to her quotes in IMDB she was proud of her previous work but wanted to be fresh, so everyone could see her as Rey.
She knew how important her role was to children. What she would perhaps never realize is her impact on adults. But I’m getting there.
Ridley made several quotes about the film, how her favorite location was Abu Dhabi because it really felt like walking into a complete set, one that reinforced her sense of character. A sign of a fan, for someone to “find [her] groove” by feeling the heat, and the reality of what they had built to film with. (IMDB)
She also said of her character, “She’s so strong” and “Young girls can look at her and know that they can wear trousers if they want to,” And the best addendum? ”That they don’t have to show off their bodies.” (Elle)
But it’s not just her attitude that is awesome. JJ Abrams had this to say.” Daisy is so tough, while also able to reveal how human she is. There was one day on set when some sparks went off around her, and one went down her back and burned her a little. It was more scary than it was physically painful, but she took a minute, shook it off, and we were back up and running in 15 minutes.” (Elle) I already love that actress so much.
Yeah. I got way more than I bargained for. Another actress I could relate to, in a way I’ve related to no other actress. And a character that inspired a new level of hope in me. Yep, even as an adult.
So yes, let’s talk about Rey.
**************** Spoilers Below *****************
Leia, you were awesome, and good with a blaster, and you make a mighty fine general these days, but bloody hell Rey can fight like nobody else. Not just aim and shoot. But kick ass, up close and personal with a staff, with a lightsaber she’s never used before, with whatever she needs to fight with. She has the ability to make it work. But not by refusing to ever show fear, she shows her humanity and she fights past it. She overcomes that which holds so many of us back. That’s why I think of her as a new hero for me as well as millions of little girls. And why not? We all need to be inspired, even as we grow up. Most just forget that we do.
But back to Rey. We get to see her strength early on. And from the beginning she is the main protagonist. (As was often hinted of). Sorry, Finn’s cool and all. But the story is clearly about Rey. Let’s pause for a moment for quite the opposite of a silent few minutes:
Guys! Guys! Guys! Star War’s main hero is a bad ass woman, and she’s so fucking bad ass I want to be her! And I’m far too old to want to be a fictional character, but I do!
Ahem, back to the article.
When she wakes up to her force powers? (Though she’s had a hint) She looks at the man whom is assumed to be the big bad, the one trying to manipulate her mind, and she see’s back into him, into his worst fear! And it makes him recoil, not just in shock. But I saw fear in those eyes. And perhaps at that moment she realizes her true potential and gains control over the force – maybe for the first time, possibly not. Fan theories abound. (Maybe a good Wednesday discussion sometime after the moratorium on lots of spoilers, ask Mike Fatum by sending an email to email@example.com if you would like to see it.)
There are moments when Rey is so fucking cool the whole movie theatre cheered. Kicking the arse of the mooks trying to steal the droid she feels protective about? Check. Piloting the freaking Millennium Falcon without a copilot or having seen it before? Check (And possibly done by using the force). Fixing the Millennium Falcon on the fly because she knows her stuff? Oh yeah, she even impressed Han. Or how about most bad ass of all, when Kylo Ren is reaching for the lightsaber she’s been reluctantly carrying, and it flies past him to her? Oh yeah, even I cried out, “Yes!” at that one. And usually all you’ll hear from me is laughter. Which you will hear, I have a laugh that can be located from about twenty miles away. But that’s besides the point. We all loved her.
Somewhere inside me a seven year old watched the film, widened her eyes and said, “See, I always knew a woman could be like that.” Please catch the meaning of my words, not just fight like that, be like that. She was scared, and human, and gentle and kind. But tough. strong, honourable, and brave – all despite her fears and hesitations. For a while, once more we can be transported into a world where heroes like her are accepted.
I won’t say women like her don’t or won’t soon exist, women can go into combat now after all. We have trans women who served before emerging as themselves as well. But it’s been an uphill fight. And any comments section on an article on women in combat will show it’s not yet widely accepted. But maybe movies like the Force Awakens will change this.
Oh yes, to be little again, watching these films and getting a slightly different message but one I would encourage with my every breath. Women can be fearless, we can be fighters and generals. And we can still be tender when we want to be because these things aren’t mutually exclusive. (Men can do that too by the way) Leia is still a hero for me, even to this day, and they clearly did a lot to make her the tough chick in charge. But Rey is the one on the Hero’s Journey. The Journey we see her start to make very early on.
Do I mind that some of her story echoes Luke’s? Mind? Hell no! I love that throughout the film homages were made to the originals. I loved that the first Star Wars were steeped in myth and the trappings of myth, and this one does not disappoint. Indeed I think it’s essential. For Rey to reach out and grip the hearts of all of us as she does, she needed to be absolutely soaked in strength, goodness, passion, kindness, humility, courage, and the cloak of symbolism that is much of modern myth.
The writers, J.J. Abrams and Daisy Ridley nailed it.
I literally couldn’t be happier with the movie. It might have had flaws. I don’t know, I was too busy Loving Rey.
Thanks Daisy Ridley for clearly being as strong and tough as the character you play. And thanks for playing her so well you even inspired a 37 year old woman into thinking maybe having heroes as an adult is just fine too.