I saw Star Wars for the first time in 1977 in the theater. I was ten, and while I thought it was cool, I really didn’t like it.
It had cool special effects, and I liked Leia and Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 a lot, and I thought Darth Vader was super creepy and fascinating. But as a movie, as a story, there wasn’t anything for me to connect with.
Making matters worse, perhaps, my parents gave me a Princess Leia doll, but I didn’t really know what to do with her since I didn’t have any other Star Wars toys (those were for boys), and alongside my Barbies she was the tall freaky girl who couldn’t wear any of their clothes. Worse, once you undid her donut hair, you could never fix it again. (Meanwhile, my Bionic Woman doll, although likewise larger, had bionic parts and supersonic hearing, and was always the badass who saved everyone in my crazy convoluted tales of mayhem).
Doll or no doll, I just couldn’t get into Star Wars. Nothing changed when I saw Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. They just didn’t work for me.
I tried for years to figure it out. I loved Star Trek, so it wasn’t the space/sci fi aspect. I thought maybe I didn’t get the story, and when I realized it was actually a fantasy (which is my favorite genre), I rewatched it, hoping I’d like it more. But I didn’t. All it seemed to me was a bunch of spaceships and blasters and fight scenes, the good guys vs the bad guys—and almost always guys. Leia was tough, but always overshadowed, and at least for me, she was largely unmemorable.
None of this stopped me when the new Star Wars trilogy came out. I really wanted to like The Phantom Menace, but I came close to walking out because it was so awful. I saw the subsequent two films, and nothing changed for me. I still couldn’t count myself a fan of Star Wars, and if anything, I liked the franchise even less than I had as a kid. (Though arguably the ‘prequel’ trilogy has plenty of detractors due to its poor screenplays).
Today I saw The Force Awakens.
I bought the ticket on the night they went on sale. It took me six hours of waiting, regularly refreshing the screen, until I finally got a seat. Throughout the evening, I kept asking myself: Why did I care so much? I don’t even like these movies!
Bought into the hype, I did.
But deep down curiosity got the best of me. And I consoled myself that at least I’d see it before the plot was irretrievably spoiled.
Yesterday the first few people I knew who saw it were posting about how great it was. Honestly? I figured no one in their right mind would dare say it sucked, not after everything it took to get an opening day ticket. So I went in with very low expectations.
This time, something was different.
The bloody handprint drew me in, and for the next two hours, I was captive to an intelligent storyline, three-dimensional characters, excellent pacing, believable dialog, and—all of the women.
And that (along with a better screenplay and director) made all the difference. The Force Awakens is absolutely filled with female characters. Everywhere you look there are women who act with purpose and intelligence, strength and wisdom, greed and foolishness, just like the men. Female characters who serve a purpose other than to be eye candy or victims. Women fighting for the side of light, and women on the side of darkness.
And then there’s Rey.
I don’t want to say much, lest I spoil anything (even minor stuff), because part of the beauty of her role are the surprises. But she’s amazing.
Even Leia finally has a role, as well as a birthright, that makes her significant. She finally can be her own person, not just a sidekick or love interest or victim.
What this means is that Star Wars is now as much a franchise for girls as it is for boys, and not because they threw in romance or emotional scenes (though we get those too, yay!). It’s because the film shows that women are a part of this world, good and bad, and can be just as badass or evil as anyone else.
At the end of the day, Star Wars is just a movie, but it’s such a part of our culture that I always felt left out because I couldn’t ‘get it.’ It turns out that I’ve been waiting for this ‘episode’ for my whole life, and I didn’t even realize it. I didn’t recognize that I just needed a Star Wars movie that I could connect with, understand, appreciate, and want to see again.