'Star Wars' paves the way for female sci-fi leads
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, women dreamed that they could be treated equally with men. Here on Earth, we’re a few steps closer to seeing that happen.
The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie has already broken a ton of records, and become the highest grossing film in the country. But, it has also done something few other science-fiction movies have dared to do — it cast a super cool woman to play the main character.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of strong female characters in science-fiction television shows and films. Zoe Saldana plays an excellent Uhara in the new Star Trek franchise and no one can forget Sigourney Weaver as Officer Ripley in the Alien movies. Even Princess Leia from the original Star Wars movies kicks a few Storm Trooper butts.
But many of these movies often involve romantic plot lines that define part of these characters. One of the biggest plot points involving Uhara and Leia in their franchises is their relationship with Spock and Han Solo, respectively.
The movies themselves aren’t the only things that are male-centric; so is everything that comes from them, from merchandise to fan clubs to public stereotypes.
Science fiction, and basically everything falling under the umbrella of “nerd culture,” has been considered a kind of “boys club” in the past.
This new Star Wars film is different, however. Not only is the main character a girl, the entire movie has been marketed to both sexes. Advertisements for clothing, toys and even action figures feature young girls, often wielding light sabers against the Dark Side.
Director J.J. Abrams even commented on the new trend when he rephrased a comment calling Star Wars was a “boys thing” from a Good Morning America interview, tweeting, “I meant to say that so many have perceived SW as a boys' club & it ain't.”
I agree with him. When I was growing up, I was never particularly interested in Star Wars. Princess Leia never resonated with me, and I was left with the impression from my dad, brother and male classmates that these movies were exclusively something for boys to enjoy. There was no room for me in their discussions of Jedi lore and light saber techniques.
Now, we have Rey, the new movie’s main character, who’s iconic not because of femininity, but because it is never really an issue. Rey is strong, smart and compassionate, just like Princess Leia was in the first movies.
But Rey defies stereotypes that limited other females in her franchises. She is never dressed in an overtly sexual way, her hair is messy and realistic throughout the movie and she continually shows that she is a capable pilot, fighter and mechanic — basically every role that was held by the movies’ male leads in the past.
She is an excellent role model, and both male and female fans alike have embraced her.
In fact, after the fan outcry over Hasbro leaving Rey out of a Force Awakens-themed Monopoly game, the company announced that it would add the character in an updated version of the game.
I’m happy that attitudes are changing, but I think we need to remember that this is just the first step. Rey is just one character in one movie. Until our galaxy wakes up and starts casting, and marketing, more female characters in our science-fiction films, we might as well be part of the Dark Side.
Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. You can follower her on Twitter at @deannaferrante or email her at DeannaF@centralfloridafuture.com.