When I tell people that I love Star Wars, they tend to be surprised. For whatever reason, I don’t seem to give off Star Wars fan vibes. This is not because I don’t have other nerdy tendencies – I very much do. I suspect it is surprising quite simply because I am not a man. I am in fact, in a lot of ways, a very girly girl. (I am currently wearing a fluffy pink jumper and coral nail polish.) And Star Wars is generally considered a ‘boy thing’. So when, for the first time, a female character was introduced into the legendary series who is not present primarily as an object of male desire, I was more than a little excited. Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is not paraded in a bikini like Princess Leia, nor is she a ‘Damsel in Distress’ type, like Padmé, whom Anakin Skywalker is obsessed with saving (although he is not exactly a traditional knight in shining armour). By contrast, Rey is fiercely independent, proving on several occasions throughout the film that she does not need rescuing by the male characters. She holds her own alongside the men as a pilot, and with a lightsaber, and is apparently able to command the Force without Jedi training.
I was impressed by the acting in The Force Awakens, particularly Ridley’s, who not only portrays Rey as a seriously badass, force-sensitive female character, but also reveals genuine emotion in her. She shows fear, she shows anger, she is moved to tears – and Ridley does not allow this to make the character appear weak. What is so brilliant about Ridley’s performance, and why I believe she will resonate particularly with female Star Wars fans, is that she keeps Rey feminine, retaining emotion and drama, without undermining her strength. Rey’s sensitivity is shown to be not a feminine weakness, but rather a strength that allows her to use the Force intuitively, to show brilliant resourcefulness, and to show not only compassion for other characters, but also to perceive their weaknesses, helping her to defeat her rival, Kylo Ren (born Ben, to Han Solo and Leia Organa, played by Adam Driver). Ultimately, Ridley as Rey sends a strong message that femininity is not a weakness, but a strength.
Daisy Ridley as Rey.
It is the acting in The Force Awakens that carries the film – notably, alongside Ridley, John Boyega gives a funny and heart-warming performance as Finn, the Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-Fighter, and Harrison Ford stays true to Han Solo’s lovable rogue space-cowboy character. However, while the acting of Episode VII surpasses that of the previous Star Wars instalments, and much as Ridley has inspired me to sing the film’s praises, I have to say that, for me, this latest instalment is not in keeping with the Star Wars ethos that we know and love. The film is missing the quiet wisdom and life lessons from the old Jedi, particularly Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and has given way to the commercialised atmosphere that has become all too familiar in today’s cinema. The plotlines are, unfortunately, not particularly original. There is something a little too familiar about a dysfunctional father-son relationship, culminating in a confrontation on a perilous walkway, and a giant weapon which the good guys destroy by targeting its weak point.
Unlike the tense, dramatic struggle between good and evil in the earlier films, this one falls short. The motivation behind each side’s, and indeed each individual’s, actions is not explained, to the extent that, in terms of plot, this instalment could be described as a Hollywood-ised mishmash of the previous films, relying on (admittedly impressive) special effects, and the fondness and appreciation fans have for the previous storylines. I want to stress that I did enjoy the film, and I commend the actors for carrying the weight of such an immense franchise, and Disney for introducing a proudly independent and intriguing female character. Nonetheless, the thought provoking originality, and depth of understanding of human relationships, of George Lucas’ first six films, sadly, is not reached in The Force Awakens.
What might save this film is that it has left a number of interesting questions unanswered. Who exactly is Rey – a descendant of one of our favourite Jedi? Or a random Force-sensitive hero? (Personally, I’m betting on her being Luke’s daughter). Is Finn Force-sensitive, and is it the Force awakening that results in his defying the First Order? Now that the Force has been awakened, can anyone and everyone use it? Or do you have to be born with it? I am hoping that in Episode VIII, the answers to such questions will be so mind-blowingly good that fan theorists fail to guess them, which would redeem Episode VII as a necessary prequel. However, this also builds Episode VIII up for a potentially massive fall, and if it doesn’t live up to expectations, I suspect that fans, including myself, will be sorely disappointed.