SPOILER ALERT: This article contains some spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Read at your own risk!
When I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day, I was about as excited as could be. The event almost overshadowed the rest of the holidays in my house, and for me, that’s saying something. I was fired up about meeting new characters, and I couldn’t wait to see the old familiar faces. But the best thing about the entire movie for me was something I hadn’t expected at all, and my reaction to it surprised even me.
I grew up a with a brother and somewhere around ten cousins (I lose count) all living very close to each other. There were only three girls—me, the oldest, then the others who were at least around eight years younger. That meant my playmates most of the time were boys, which was fine with me. My cousins and I who were of the same age group were, like many kids of the age, obsessed with Star Wars. Obsessed. We drew pictures, we wrote stories, and most of all, we played in the back yard. We went on missions to the Outer Rim, we trained with Yoda, we rode on Tauntauns through Hoth on wintery days.
Before each of our escapades, we would decide what roles we would play. Luke, Han Solo, Boba Fett…and then everyone would look at me.
The first while, it was cool. “Princess Leia,” I would say, and off we would run, shooting Storm Troopers and my neighbor’s cat, who would alternate between being a dewback or a wampa. But after a while, it got kind of sickening. “I want to fly the Millennium Falcon,” I would say. “I want to use a lightsaber.”
“Well…Princess Leia doesn’t DO those things,” my cousins would say. “But you can kill Jabba!”
Of course, I hated playing that scene because it meant I’d be chained up for the whole time while the boys had all the fun with the sarlacc.
Eventually, I told them there was a new character. I was Han Solo’s sister. I could fly the Falcon and I was an ace smuggler. It was a little better, but so much more work to not only come up with a character but convincing the other kids that this was an OK thing to do with their precious Star Wars canon.
Fast forward some years to December 18th, 2015. I was excited to see the film, but honestly, had no expectations, and especially didn’t have a feminist agenda about going to see that. I don’t go to the movies with the intention of tearing things apart, I go to have fun. And to be honest, this might be because I’ve been subconsciously disappointed so many times. Who knows. At any rate, I was excited to see my old friend Chewy again.
I got a little teary when the opening started, and after taking an embarrassed look around, I noticed the guy next to me sniffling a bit, too. So that was fine. There were a couple other parts where I felt a bit emo, some parts that make me laugh, roll my eyes, but hell, it was Star Wars, and I was having a blast.
Then came that scene.
Before that scene, Rey, the female lead character of The Force Awakens, was kicking butt. She was whacking jerks with her staff, she proved herself to be a pilot, she and Han hit it off, and Chewy “kind of likes” her. I mean, she was already high in my books. But that moment, when the lightsaber flew into her hand, when the music hit all the right emotional notes, and especially when she closed her eyes and trusted in herself and the Force…I realized she was, unbeknownst to me in a conscious way, what I had been waiting for in the Star Wars world. Yes, I pretended I was boy characters when I was little, I invented characters and storylines so that I could play when I was little, and maybe, yes, it made me a better person and strengthened my character. But I shouldn’t have had to do that to feel like a part of the world. I should have had what my cousins had. Bounty hunters, pilots, bad guys, fighters. I should have been able to say, “I can do that!” instead of, “Can I do that?”
I love Star Wars, I have since I first watched it when I was about four years old on laser disk at my grandparents’ house. But Episode VII gave me something I never even thought of asking for. It gave me a voice. After the movie let out and I was walking through the parking lot, I didn’t even realized how much that had moved me until I tried to verbalize it and just burst into tears, because little girls now will know that they can fly the Falcon, that they can be buds with Chewy, that they can fight the bad guys with light sabers. And they can kick ass without having to wear a bikini (unless they want to!).
J.J. Abrams said on Good Morning America that he had hoped The Force Awakens would be a movie that mothers could share with their daughters. I blew it off at the time, because I was still a little pissed about Rey’s absence among the 12 inch action figures, but I’m very pleased to see that Abrams delivered in the movie. Not only was Rey such an awesome character, but there were women everywhere: in the command center, piloting ships, being badass shiny and chrome “bad guys.” There were old women and young women. And they simply existed side by side with the men.
You know, kind of like in real life.
So thanks, J.J. Abrams, for making things the way they should have been a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Note: All image credit goes to Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd., images used with permission under terms of usage.
About Melanie R. Meadors:
A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.
Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse.