The Star Wars Universe has consciously paid attention to current gender stereotypes when each film was made, and done some work to break these stereotypes.
The Misogynistic tropes of the first three films, while present, were also challenged by a headstrong and capable Leia. This new series brings a new set of three films and three more opportunities to show that women can be a strong force for change too.
In the newest of the Star Wars films, The Force Awakens, we see stronger female leads than ever before, and greater attention paid to pointing out and breaking stereotypes.
Rey is young and headstrong, her character almost eschewing femininity entirely. General Organa plays the fearless, level headed Rebel Alliance leader we knew Leia had the potential to be. We also see Han Solo deferring to, and learning from, both these strong women. Something not only surprising of his character, but his generation too.
These, and some other surprising character developments make The Force Awakens a pointedly feminist notch in the Star Wars belt.
From the get-go, we see Rey as a powerful and self-reliant young woman. She lives alone in the desert, until a droid (BB8) comes into her life to shake things up a bit. When it’s clear early on that Finn feels compelled to protect her, she makes it quite clear she doesn’t need his help in that arena – she’s got this covered.
Rey is a huge fan of General Organa, and is taken under her wing and inspired by the General’s strong and stoic leadership. She sees the long game through the General in a way that is often hard for younger leaders.
Our only criticism of Rey as a character is that she may be almost TOO unwilling to acknowledge her own femininity. We don’t mean that she needs to be a love interest at all, but are the filmmakers implying here that in order to be strong you must disregard or downplay femininity? Hopefully we see evolution in the next film.
Han Solo is Star Wars’ resident chauvinist, whose ideas on feminism align almost perfectly with the movies’ release dates.
In the original movies, he’s a “scoundrel, playing the perfect antihero. Though of course we learn Luke and Leia are siblings, it’s clear from the beginning that Luke’s respectful exchanges with Leia don’t do it for her in the way Han’s “bad boy” attitude and chauvinist remarks do.
Han and Leia’s chemistry is unchanged in the new film, though we see their relationship evolve quite a bit between then and now, his respect for her having grown substantially.
In The Force Awakens, while he starts off being quite skeptical of Rey’s abilities as a woman, he allows himself to be proven wrong, which is refreshing – both from someone of his age, and from his character too.
When Rey fixes the Millenium Falcon before he’s able to, and when she co-pilots the Falcon expertly, he’s continually impressed by her skills. He comes around to respecting Rey as an equal, with significant mechanic and pilot talent.
Once his mind is changed, they spend the duration of the movie working together on a mission for the Rebel Alliance.
Leia, in her new role as leader of the Rebel Alliance and senior member of the cast, is actually the only female in the movie with a romantic side. Typically women of her age are not given romantic storylines in Hollywood movies. Though, of course, the storyline is continued, it nevertheless exists to point out that a “senior” woman can still be sexual.
It is clear that her soldiers and colleagues respect her. They defer to her orders and collaborate positively with her toward responsible solutions. Han respects General Organa both professionally and personally.
She and Han still have their classic banter – though we see his respect for her clearly in their exchanges in a way we never saw in the original three films.
Wrapping it Up
Through these three lead characters in The Force Awakens, we see a new era of feminism in the Star Wars Universe – Rey as a strong up and coming female leader, and General Organa as not only an inspiration to Rey, but a pivotal figure in her own right, retaining a lot of the personality and poise we come to expect from princess Leia.
Through Han, we see a changing world – one where our antihero evolves from a well-entrenched chauvinism to realizing that, like General Organa, Rey is a force to be reckoned with in her own right – and a worthy crew member in the fight against the Dark Side.
We look forward to seeing what the next chapter in the Universe will bring for feminism in Hollywood.