Hi everyone! I’m still figuring out my new blogging schedule in my new job. When? How? Where can I reference Farscape? (Answer: There is always a way to reference Farscape.)
I may have Christmas sermons to write and new liturgies to figure out. But, goshdarnit people, there is a new Star Wars movie. A new Star Wars movie that does not involve Gungans and makes no mention of midichlorians (Yes, I am sure I misspelled that. Such narrative blights do not deserve the correct spelling.)
More importantly … this was a Star Wars movie with a woman at the forefront. I cannot begin to tell you how moving it was for me to see Daisy Ridley’s fully-realized “Rey” up on screen driving the action of this major science fiction franchise that defined so much of my childhood.
Now, I can hear you asking — what about Princess Leia? Didn’t she have spunk? She stood up to Darth Vader! She was one of the most important leaders of the Rebellion! She rescued Han Solo! Wasn’t she someone you could aspire to be as a kid? Of course, Princess (now General) Leia is supremely awesome–not to mention Carrie Fisher, and her dog, just *winning* all the press tours for Episode VII. (Never change Carrie Fisher!)
I have and always will love Leia. Yet there was something about her that never quite fulfilled that desire in me to see a girl as the hero of a story. Leia maybe occasionally gets some good moments (and is overall quite a strong character). But I can never quite get over the feeling that she doesn’t get to participate in the action on exactly the same level as the guys. Luke and Han get to save the day in the epic trench run to destroy the original death star. Against Luke’s advice, Leia jumps on a speeder when fleeing storm troopers on Endor … and almost gets blown up. Leia was … the classic “exceptional” woman. She was allowed to play with the boys because, well, she was supremely awesome. But the original trilogy never lets you forget that Leia is playing on their terms. Let us also take a moment to note the absolutely absence of any other ancillary female characters, outside of “Aunt Beru” and “Mon Mothma” (she of the “many Bothans died to bring us this information).
Rey’s story made me want to cry tears of joy thinking of my little 9-year-old self obsessing over the Star Wars movies but never really feeling like I could be the hero of the story. Rey was everything that I wanted to be as a kid — she was smart, strong, and the heir to some mysterious but undoubtedly amazing destiny. All while being a fully realized human being with faults–as impulsive as Luke is in a New Hope, Rey is afraid to step out of the only life she has ever known–and vulnerabilities. Being a “strong woman” does not mean eschewing any those weaknesses that make us human. Seeing her fly the Millenium Falcon and wield a lightsaber filled me with so much hope for my own daughter how much more empowering her relationship with these films might be as she grows up. I am thrilled not just for Amanda but for all the girls who will grow up seeing Star Wars as rightfully theirs, an ownership encouraged not just by Rey but by the number of female X-wing pilots and bridge officers who make up the background of the film. (And I didn’t even get to Captain Phasma … If I have one wish for Episode VIII is it more Gwendoline Christie).
Yet even as I celebrate deep in my heart for the ground-breaking presence of women in a major geek franchise — I am aware that there are still those who struggle to find representation in media, particularly women of colour. Why cast a beautiful actress like Lupita Nyong’o and hide her behind CGI performance capture? Even as we express out excitement at greater representation for one group, we must remain mindful of the work that remains to be done to ensure true equal representation of all stories in mainstream media. I give The Force Awakens tremendous credit in the white male dominated world of Hollywood for pushing boundaries of diversity in film. But it is still an uphill battle.
In the meantime, as we near the end of this Advent season, we pray: Come Lord Jesus. And May the Force be With You.