The following is a blog post I wrote on 23 December 2015, shortly after seeing The Force Awakens in theatres. Some of the rant here still applies after having seen The Last Jedi two years later….
So we have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There are spoilers here, because I don’t want to keep anything secret — in particular, I want to shout to the rafters that we finally have a heroic-journey action movie, and the chosen one isn’t a white male!
Okay, I’m a hetero white guy, and I’m done with hetero-white-guy heroes. I’m sick to fucking death of all the women and all the brown-skinned folks and all the Asian folks and all the gay folks being reduced to the sidekick, the hired help, the boss, the assistant, the comic relief, the person who dies to motivate our hetero-white-guy hero, who is always the one who gets to do the fun shit. This is true even if the hetero-white-guy hero is far from the most worthy person in the story. I mean, let’s face it, Hermione is smarter and more capable than anyone else at Hogwarts, yet we keep hearing about how Harry is the chosen one and the focus of everyone’s admiration and approbation in the *sigh* Harry Potter books. Lord Bowler was far more capable than Brisco County Jr., yet it was The Brisco County Jr. Show, so guess who got to do the cool stuff? Trinity was a kickass bruja who could take on anyone, yet she had to be subordinate to this incompetent corporate drone with delusions in The Matrix, because someone decided he was the chosen one. Hope Van Dyne was obviously ready to be a superhero, but instead Scott Lang gets to wear the suit and save the day, but Hope can be the sidekick in the next movie! (This grated even more because the Wasp is actually a much more significant character in Marvel Comics than Ant-Man ever was.) For that matter, why does fucking Ant-Man get a movie when the Black Widow — who has been the most interesting character in all four movies she’s been in — doesn’t?
So fuck spoilers, because I want to shout to the rafters that the heroes of the new Star Wars trilogy are a woman and a black guy, with the secondary hero being a Latino guy. And nobody makes a big deal out of it, and it doesn’t alter the story in any way that matters.
Of course, people are complaining about how unrealistic it is (in a world with magic Force powers, not to mention ray-beams that can cross solar systems in an instant, I don’t see where realism enters into it, but whatever) that Rey suddenly becomes all Force-proficient and stuff, and can pilot the Falcon. Thing is — Rey doesn’t do a single thing that Luke didn’t do in the 1977 film. In fact, her journey is more convincing than his. At the beginning of The Force Awakens, we see that Rey has lived a hardscrabble life as a scavenger, can more than hold her own in a fight, and is proficient with a staff. This puts her about fifty steps ahead of Luke — at the beginning of Star Wars, Luke mostly just whines a lot when asked to do simple chores. Yet he gets to save the day in the end and no one talks about how “unrealistic” it is that he flies an X-wing in the climax.
There have also been complaints that she’s so incredibly proficient with a light sabre without any training, and those complaints are, to be blunt, ignorant. We know from jump that Rey is proficient with a staff, and all the techniques she uses in her climactic duel with Kylo are actually staff techniques. (I’m also trained in staff techniques as part of my karate training, so I’m not just pulling this out of my ass.)
Basically, all these complaints boil down to “she’s a girl, she can’t do that stuff,” to which I say, fuck you. She can too do that stuff, and it’s no more or less convincing and/or realistic that she does what she does than it is that Luke did what he did 38 years ago. If you bought it then, you have no excuse for not buying it now that doesn’t boil down to being a sexist asshole.
The movie is not perfect. It apes the structure of Star Wars a little too closely, Poe’s recovery from the tie-fighter crash and return from Jakku really should not have happened off-camera (nor should our first view of him since the crash be a brief one while he’s wearing the big orange helmet — the response to seeing him again should be “yay!” not “shit, was that him?”), the coincidences are credulity-stretching even by the low standards of this franchise, and the plot is barreled through a bit too quickly with relationships formed a bit too unconvincingly quickly. Finn’s journey from Stormtrooper to hero is a bit shortchanged, though John Boyega plays him delightfully. And the First Order apparently follows all the tenets of the Empire, including by far the most important: guardrails are for wussies!
OTOH, I totally want my own BB8, Harrison Ford was letter-perfect as the older Han Solo, and I loved the fact that, after so many decades together, Chewbacca no longer takes a single atom of Han’s shit.
I’m on the fence about Han Solo’s death. It wasn’t quite as contrived as the equivalent death in Star Wars (Obi-Wan’s), but it felt pretty contrived anyhow. Hell, as I’m watching it, all I can think is, “Okay, Ford only agreed to come back if they killed him.”
But the most important thing is that, after years and years of bullshit about how women don’t sell movies (while top-grossing movies keep having female leads, from The Hunger Games films to Frozen), we now have the most popular pop-culture franchise in the history of the world telling us that the primary hero, the one in whom the Force is strong, is a woman. And Daisy Ridley plays her magnificently. Indeed, she’s a better actor at this stage in her career than Mark Hamill was in 1977 (though Hamill improved tremendously in the subsequent two films).
(For an incredibly good take on Rey’s place as a role model check out this article.)