Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Star Wars: The Feminism Awakens

Well, it's nearly the end of 2015, so just wanted to stick something in before 2016 rolls on...

'Rolls on' like BB-8, for instance...!
As of writing I've seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice (and that's tame by other fan-standards), but along with the return of one of the most influential pop-culture franchises in cinematic history, we've seen something different, something...changed...Something that has...awakened...

Okay; name all of the female speaking parts in the Original Trilogy apart from Leia...Beru, Mon Mothma...That lady in the Rebel Hoth base that informed everyone to standby for the Ion Cannon...Screaming civilians in Cloud City...You get my point; like a lot of things back then, 'diversity' meant having one person in the overall thing to represent those who aren't male (or white)...Unfortunately some still think and do this way, BUT...

(Slight spoilers up ahead for Episode VII!)

Leap into hyperspace from 1983 to 2015 and; lead characters, baddies, wisdom-bearing elderly figures...Oh my...! Along with Mad Max: Fury RoadAgent CarterSupergirlJessica Jones and others, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has made 2015 the year that women got to shine in front of the camera with a range of characters as complex and broad-ranged as can be...And also behind the camera, too! Just consider the astounding work director Rachel Talalay and writer Sarah Dollard have contributed to this years' ninth series of Doctor Who...But also (returning to Star Wars), the current president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy. Of course there's a heck of a lot to do for equality and full representation and inclusiveness and such (glares at Hasbro), but as starts go, this is a damned good one!

I always said Finn would be a Red Herring, regarding the lightsabre...
The point is; Star Wars has evolved and moved with the times whilst still managing to capture the magic of the original trilogy. Kathleen Kennedy, a long-time producer with a phenomenal list of credits under her Hollywood-pedigree belt, has brought back Star Wars with a clear message; it's for everybody. And J.J. Abrams, the director of The Force Awakens, has clearly learned from the mistakes of his previous film (and staying away from those writers helped too) and has taken this project on board with incredible results. The fact that Star Wars is space-fantasy, rather than full-on sci-fi, means that virtually anything is possible...So why not representation? ^^

In The Force Awakens, we have a healthy mix of background characters of both genders filling the workstations of both The First Order and the Resistance. And for the main characters, we have Maz Katana (Lupita Nyong'O), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and the return of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). But of course the main character for this, and presumably the next two saga instalments, is the character of Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Rey is such a relatable, interesting, natural and exciting character! An example of progression, she has clearly been developed as much as male protagonists throughout film history. Her gender was actually put aside for her character so much that the fact she was a woman was hardly ever brought up in the film itself! 
And that, in my view, was the best way to go about it...Anybody could identify with her.

She's been defending herself with that staff for most of her life; a lightsabre's just an upgrade for her!
Rey gets up to all kinds of awesome things in the film; fighting off thieves and 'troopers, piloting the Millennium Falcon, but most significantly of all, discovering her abilities with the Force. (Mind-games with Kylo Ren and mind-tricking 007 for two things...) I almost cheered aloud when Anakin's lightsabre whipped past Ren and into Rey's hand...and the ensuing dual was just spectacular for so many reasons.

A quick search on 'The Force Awakens' and 'Rey' tags on social media and you'll hear and read many stories about how young girls are watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens and becoming so excited to see a hero on the big screen (especially big if it's IMAX) that they can connect with...And this is on top of those kids with multicultural backgrounds watching John Boyega and Oscar Isaac and seeing Finn and Poe Dameron become their idols.

Rey, Finn...And BB-8! What's not to love! ^^
Of course, nothing's fundamentally stopped the femme-fandom from grabbing lightsabres (and other Star Wars-y things) in the past, but in recent years we've seen a rise of amazing female characters on our TV screens; Ahsoka Tano (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels), Asajj Ventress (Clone Wars), Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren (Star Wars: Rebels) and many others...And now leading the way in film, we have Rey...

Cue The Force Theme...

Another thing is; I've been watching The Force Awakens as a proud Briton too...Production returned to the UK after the Prequels spent so much time Down Under...And Daisy Ridley, our leading lady, is of a very British acting pedigree. You see, for those who may not know, Daisy is the great niece of late English actor Arnold Ridley, who played Private Godfrey in the classic WWII sitcom Dad's Army...And, since a new film adaptation of the series is coming in 2016, the BBC have been repeating the series, so it's very much at the forefront of the mind.

Arnold Ridley fought in both WWI AND WWII, so he was at the front-lines for battles a lot of us nowadays couldn't even imagine...But now many different battles are fought, including social and cultural battles for equality and representation. 
And I like to think that Arnold would be looking upon Daisy now with pride (not just because she's in one of the biggest movies of recent times), because she's on the front-lines of feminism in something so culturally significant to so many and, however much she intended it or not, she's helping to make that change...With two more films for her under the wings of Carrie Fisher and Kathleen Kennedy, it's a force for good in the name of progress.

We'll have to wait and see in the long-term, but if The Force Awakens can make as big-a-cultural effect as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, then the future is very much with the Light Side of the Force.Star Wars is for everyone...Just ask that young lady in the front row when you go see 'Episode VIII' & 'IX'...

So for now, it's a Happy New Year from me...For 2016 continues the diversity by bringing the first Star Wars Anthology film to our screens starring Felicity Jones; Rogue One. And I cannot wait. ^^

Felicity Jones leads the cast of the band of Rebel Spies set to steal the plans for the Death Star


(All images are Lucasfilm/Disney, courtesy of Wookieepedia)

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