Anthea McTeirnan: 'Star Wars brings feminism to a galaxy near you'

It has taken thousands of light years, but feminism has finally made itself known in deepest space

 

It has taken thousands of light years, but feminism has finally made itself known in deepest space.

Call it a cynical marketing ploy to suck the girls into an omniplex near you, but the advent of the arse-kicking, spaceship-fixing, scavenging vigilante Rey is sure going to work. Beam us up, Rey – then count our ticket money.

And if the mainstay of new Star Wars episode, The Force Awakens, is going to drive girls home to fashion weapons out of broom handles, then it’s job done. As my fellow cinema goer – let’s call her Mary – says: Move over Han Solo. Hannah Solo is at the controls.

And she can fly a falcon. A Millennium Falcon. What’s not to like?

You can’t rewrite movie history, we know, but not even celluloid legends such as George Lucas can rely on absolution for gender crimes.

The original trilogy (Episodes four, five and six to us Star Wars nerds) ran for 379 minutes, and apart from Princess Leia, women had 1.03 minutes of speaking time. The prequel trilogy didn’t fare much better.

Is that because women don’t talk much or because there aren’t many of them in the six episodes of Star Wars?

Princess Leia is now a General, which is a much better title in our books. She’s has also been allowed to ditch the ridiculous metal bikini she was forced to wear as Jabba the Hut’s plaything in Return of the Jedi.

The good news is that our hero-du-jour, Rey, is fully clothed – and remains so for the entire movie. If that’s a spoiler that will stop you stumping up for a ticket, may you force off.

The bikini-ing of Leia makes her being a General even more delectable. If you look far enough into the future - and move to another planet – maybe there won’t be any glass ceilings.

Apparently, Princess Leia’s role was heavily promoted to attract women viewers. Initial research by 20th Century Fox showed that only males under 25 were interested in seeing the film. Fox then deliberately marketed the film with a view to attracting female cinemagoers by pushing images of humans, including Princess Leia, centre stage. We love a human, us girls – although we will make an exception for Lupita Nyongo’s Maz Kanata in the new film - obviously.

General Leia Organa has woefully few lines in the new movie, but she is there, and her hug with Rey made me cry. #GeneralDelight.

Which brings us to the new leading lady. Ah Rey, the force has finally awakened.

Rumour has it that the new Star Wars movie even passes the Bechdel test, and that this movie features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Droids and Wookies need not apply, though, because most of them seem to be men.

No one mentions Rey’s physical appearance - until now - when I am going to mention that her cross-over neckline and general wrapping pays homage to Luke Skywalker’s costume. Other than that, she wears no make-up, no high heels and no Spanx. Light sabre-tastic.

Rey is our new Ripley, the Alien series queen who we like to imagine spawned Daisy Ridley's character herself. She fights. She fixes spaceships. She holds the future of half the population in her hands. Make that the whole population – of the galaxy.

“I was really hoping that this could be a movie that mothers can take their daughters to as well. So I’m looking forward to kids seeing this movie and to seeing themselves in it, and seeing that they’re capable of doing what they could never imagine was possible,” director JJ Abrams said recently.

Rey will make everything possible. That is the lesson we’ve been looking for.

May the force be with her – always.

 
- An audio version of this article can be heard on The Women’s Podcast which is found on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud and irishtimes.com

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