I’ve never really been a “Star Wars” person, but I date “Star Wars” people. I have never dated anyone who wasn’t crazy about “Star Wars,” and so I sometimes come off as someone who is into “Star Wars.” I know a lot of the characters’ names, since I have seen every “Star Wars” movie multiple times in order to appease my former boyfriends and girlfriends. I also know all the words to the Weird Al Yankovic song “The Saga Begins.” (Just because I’m not that into “Star Wars” doesn’t mean I’m not that into Weird Al.)
One boyfriend made me go see “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” with him on opening day. I did not wear a costume, but my boyfriend went with Princess Leia buns in his hair. I was shocked to find that even in the tiny town of Walla Walla, Washington, where we saw the movie, people bothered themselves to spend the night in the Megaplex parking lot to wait in line and get the best seat. Because I was unwilling to spend the night in a parking lot with people who wore false ears and linen pants tucked into their boots, my boyfriend and I had to sit in the back of the movie theater. This is a fact that I think ultimately led to the demise of our relationship.
When the movie began, people cheered. They hummed along to the score that played while the “In a galaxy far, far away” text scrolled on the screen. To say that they clapped when Yoda made his first appearance would be an understatement: They practically stampeded. It was the Beatles at Shea Stadium in there; all for a little film footage of a poorly animated CGI character with a fussy voice.
People told me that “Episode I” was a huge let down, but I didn’t really feel like it was. I didn’t love episodes IV through VI (which inexplicably make up the original trilogy, for the uninitiated). I knew I should love them, but I didn’t really know why. If you ask someone why “Star Wars” is great, they will give you one of two answers: They’ll either say something about The Force, or they’ll say, “It’s just awesome, OK?! What’s wrong with you?”
When subsequent boyfriends and girlfriends asked me which “Star Wars” movie I liked best, I always named whichever title I could remember in the moment. This was usually “Return of the Jedi,” which still strikes me as the superior movie title of the bunch. Occasionally I would say “The Empire Strikes Back,” although I usually couldn’t remember what that one was called, and often called it “The Revenge of the Empire.”
Since George Lucas announced “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” would come out in 2015, my Facebook news feed (as well as every American’s Facebook news feed) has been drowning in gossip about it. First, everyone had a collective orgasm over the knowledge that a trailer was going to drop. Then the trailer dropped and people lost their minds. Then, a fraction of idiots got mad that there was an African-American actor apparently playing a Jedi. Then, an onslaught of way smarter people got mad at the idiots who were mad in the first place. I mostly tried to ignore all of this.
Since I started attending an art school, it’s been pretty easy to ignore “Star Wars.” In a class I had the Monday after “The Force Awakens” opened, I asked my classmates if anyone had seen it. At first, no one even responded. Then a fellow student said, “What’s ‘The Force Awakens?’” I responded that it was the new “Star Wars” movie. She said, “Oh. I didn’t know that they were still making those.”
I thought, “I have found my people.”
However, I currently have a boyfriend named Luke who does not go to art school. His mom named him Luke after Luke Skywalker. And so it was necessary that we see “The Force Awakens” on opening weekend. I wasn’t especially excited about this outing, but it wasn’t bumming me out, either; I like to stay relatively hip to the cultural lexicon, after all.
I give you this context so you will understand the weight of what I am about to tell you: “The Force Awakens” is great. It’s smart, it’s accessible, and it’s textured. It does a terrific job of layering upbeat moments with action sequences and unexpected dramatic turns, so the viewer never gets too depressed or too bored. The leads — a renegade with a lot of learning to do and a stubborn British girl who’s great at running, piloting, and shooting — are wonderful. They have good chemistry, and they’re funny. The new droid is cuter than any other droid in history, and its interaction with other droids might as well be on an Internet cat website for its sheer aww-factor.
But here’s what really makes this movie work for me: The girl gets most of the badass lines, and does almost all the cool stuff! Her name is Rey, and she’s tough, smart, and thoughtful. During a climactic fight scene, a dude swoops in to save her life, but falls to the ground, and she ends up saving both of them. (I’m trying not to spoil too much; I hope it’s not a shocker that the two heroes survive at least one battle with a bad guy.)
It’s amazing how much more interested in “Star Wars” I became when the primary focus of the story was someone who looked like me, emoted like me, and kicked ass. This should be old news by now. It’s stupid that it took until 2015 for girls to be driving the spaceships.
I want to believe that “The Force Awakens” — along with 2015’s other female-friendly action movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Spy” — might open the door for even more ladies on the silver screen to be protagonists in action flicks.
And yet, as corporations develop merchandise around “The Force Awakens,” Rey’s character is conspicuously absent. Last week, consumers were up in arms that a Monopoly set commemorating the movie featured only male game tokens. (Hasbro, which made the game, recently said they would add a Rey token following the backlash.)
The Twitter hashtag #WheresRey trended last week as merchandise in general excluded the female protagonist, and pictures of toy stores like Toys “R” Us were shown stocking solely male action figures. If this sounds redundant, it should. Similar criticism sprung up last summer as Marvel merchandise released following the latest “Avengers” movie largely omitted Black Widow, the only female character.
And the truth is that a female protagonist in a “Star Wars” movie is a relatively small victory in Hollywood terms. As Maureen Dowd’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine pointed out, no woman director has yet released a $100-million Hollywood action movie. (Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” will come out in 2017, when it will become the first.) From 2007 to 2014, women made up only 30.2 percent of speaking or named characters in the 100 top-grossing fictional films. There’s still a long way to go.
“The Force Awakens” is refreshing because Rey (played by tough-faced newcomer Daisy Ridley) is awesome. She’s the hero of the movie, and for girls like me — who have been dragged to movies like this forever — that feels like something different. Even if nothing else is new — the landscape, costumes, and the Millennium Falcon remain unchanged — there’s a girl in the driver’s seat. And that’s worth the cost of admission.