Star Wars has come a long way since the Return of the Jedi when Princess Leia ends up wearing a bikini while chained to an overweight - I hesitate to say it but - “man” for want of a better word. Thank goodness. Leia was the original female role model, someone to look up to and aspire to because of her grit and determination to save the planet and system she loved, but it’s tough for even the toughest women to maintain respect when you are dressed as a sex slave.
Fast forward to film number seven, some thirty plus years later and, finally, we have a female lead who has been allowed to represent “female” with absolute integrity. For me, Rey is a breath of fresh air - a truly modern heroine, able to handle herself and, above all, able to stand up to the male figures she encounters. In all the ways she represents good, she is an equal to Kylo Ren’s bad, and it is a delight to see her tell the male character Finn to stop grabbing her hand whenever danger presents itself; she does not need leading or protecting. The final and most satisfying moment though is when Daniel Craig, dressed as a stormtrooper, is side-swiped by the classic Jedi mind trick and leaves his weapon behind, just as Rey tells him to. Take that, Bond! Then, to top it all off, she both mends and pilots the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo. What a girl! And what girl (or woman) wouldn’t want to be her? We have a lot to thank the scriptwriters for.
In my house, the laws of the Jedi and all things Star Wars have played a significant role in my children’s lives, not only because of the legacy left by the first three films released in the Seventies and early Eighties, (indoctrination led by their Dad was as essential as learning how to tie shoelaces) but the prequels and the animated Clone Wars series enabled them to have their very own Star Wars journey. For them, there has never been life without it. We’ve had toys, branded clothing and even experienced Jedi training. One of them was named the rebel spy twice on a Star Wars-themed ride which was a particular joy and, I hasten to add, was the girl amongst us. They will not be alone in their Star Wars upbringing. The films have spanned an incredible forty years and recent releases -the first two sequel trilogy films, the Force Awakens and The Last Jedi - are reported to have grossed $3.1billion worldwide.
Truthfully, I hadn’t really considered how male-dominated the films are and what, if any, impact that might have on my children’s world view until now, just as the balance has been redressed. In fact, my teenage kids hadn’t noticed either until Rey came along and challenged the status quo. With hindsight it seems glaringly obvious. (Thank you again, Star Wars scriptwriters.) Rey not only continues to challenge the male lead in The Last Jedi but also seems to have led the way for a new breed of woman in this alternative universe. In the most recent release, alongside Leia and Rey, there is a female admiral who ultimately takes control of the ship, a female engineer and female pilot who are all integral to the success of the rebel alliance and ultimately the story. This is unprecedented and I left the cinema uplifted by the subliminal message this provides for new young audiences.
The world is bereft of talented women in the right positions, being treated just as their male counterparts and respected equally for their abilities. We are all aware of the undeniably poor statistics on the proportion of women in the boardroom, women in engineering and the gender pay gap. Just think what we could achieve if all people were allowed to fulfil their potential without the limitation of gender. Though I applaud this forward-thinking change in direction in Star Wars, I hope that in the future we’ll be able to enjoy films, work and life without even having to notice.
But for now, let’s see life imitate art. If Star Wars is the future, then do as Rey: challenge the world around you, stick to your instincts but be daring. In the final scene, their resources depleted, Rey asks Leia how they can continue, to which Leia answers, “we have everything we need for a rebellion”. I can only echo those incredible words and ask you, too, to be rebellious. It’s time for change.