It’s finally arrived. After years of speculation and anticipation, audiences everywhere have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The film has shattered box office records, leaving this year’s Jurassic World in its ion wake.
A lot could have gone wrong in this film. Director J.J. Abrams was tasked with crafting new characters living in the shadow of past legends. How do you write another Han Solo? Another Luke Skywalker? Another Princess Leia? As it turn out, the answer is: you don’t. Writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt joined Abrams in creating new characters who echo previous archetypes while thriving as individuals.
Previously unknown actress Daisy Ridley stands out in the role of Rey, a young scavenger from a barren world swept into matters of galactic import. Fans may recall that, when the cast was first announced, Ridley was the only female revealed aside from Carrie Fisher. That prompted some to complain that women were being shortchanged in the new film. Viewing the final product, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, Rey emerges as a remarkably feminist character, precisely because she’s not a feminist. As a woman, Rey has nothing to prove to anyone. She proceeds to be aloof to any expectation that she might require saving, and her confidence is well-earned.
Female characters in other films have been written with the telegraphed purpose of depicting “strong women.” Such efforts often come across as preachy, unnatural, or even silly. By contrast, Rey doesn’t “depict” a strong woman. She is one. She’s a product of her environment, focused on what someone in her circumstances would naturally focus on. Gender isn’t on her mind. Survival is. In this way, her story unwittingly highlights the absurdity of modern gender controversy. People focused on survival, which is to say people preoccupied by the cold facts of reality, don’t spend time “identifying” one way or the other. They simply are.
Rey will take her place in film history alongside Luke, Han, and Leia. She’s no princess. Neither is she tomboy or feminist caricature. She’s a hero whose gender proves inconsequential to her heroism. Isn’t that what feminism should be about?