I've been a fan of the Star Wars saga since I was eight years old. The Phantom Menace came out when I was 11, and I spent the next six years waiting for the rest of the trilogy and dragging my friends to midnight showings. But even though the storytelling captured my imagination, one thing was always missing: a central female Jedi.
Princess Leia is a fantastic character. She's smart and brash and loves the Republic, and she lets her anger simmer beneath the surface and drive her. She's important, but Luke is the one who saves the day. In the prequels, Padme has less of a presence than her daughter but nevertheless still plays a significant role in the creation of what would become the Rebel Alliance. I love both their characters, both trilogies are very male driven.
Although I'll be a lifelong fan of the saga and will defend the prequels with my last breath, in the weeks leading up to the new movie, I wasn't all that thrilled about The Force Awakens. I fell for the marketing trap and thought Finn would end up being a Jedi. While that would have been cool, too, in a different way, I couldn't help but feel like the message being sent was: girls can't be Jedis; girls can't be protagonists; girls can't, girls can't, girls can't. So, when I sat in that theater on December 18th and watched as a new episode unfolded before my eyes, I felt my apathy slipping away. I cared about Rey. I cared about her and wanted her to succeed and kind of wanted to be her best friend, too.
Rey is unusual for a movie heroine, but especially for one in a blockbuster, in arguably the biggest franchise of all time. She's strong, able to look after herself after living alone as a scavenger for the majority of her life. When she gets attacked in Niima outpost, she fights off her attackers with her trusty quarterstaff. But being able to take care of herself doesn't mean she has to be unemotional. She's clearly taken aback when Finn asks, multiple times, if she's all right, and she wears her emotions on her sleeve when she sees a green planet for the first time and when she says goodbye to Finn. Making Rey the central character in The Force Awakens allows her to be more than the token female character. It allows her to be complex and to inspire a generation of girls who no longer have to grow up thinking that girls can't be Jedis. There's so much I can say about Rey, but I'll stick with: I'm excited to see where her journey takes her.