ACTRESSES LEAD IN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
~ “The rules have shifted in the Star Wars Universe.” —Producer Kathleen Kennedy~
Generations of fans have often looked to the stories of the Star Wars saga to inspire heroism in their own lives, be it by helping those in need or fighting for a cause they believe in. Characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo defined heroism for many young boys entering the Star Wars galaxy for the first time, and Princess Leia served as an inspiration of power and confidence for young girls who admired her take-charge attitude and unflappable determination. Rey, the central new hero of The Force Awakens, advances the legacy of strong female characters in the Star Wars universe, redefining the role of heroism in a galaxy far, far away.
“Rey is a character that better reflects the heroine of today,” says producer Kathleen Kennedy. “She’s a fully realized character, comfortable in her own skin, and a survivor whose bravery and independence make her attractive.”
To the credit of both Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, and the film’s storytellers, the saga’s new central hero has been embraced by Star Wars fans of all generations, citing her strength and relatability as qualities they find most appealing about her. “She’s brave and she’s vulnerable,” says Ridley. “She doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in the film. It just so happens she’s a woman, but she transcends gender. She speaks to both men and women.”
Rey is not the only new female character to gain ground in the Star Wars universe. The pirate Maz Kanata, played by Lupita Nyong’o, and the First Order’s Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, represent significant additions to the saga’s cast of empowered females.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that Captain Phasma is the first female stormtrooper,” says Christie, who plays the first female villain ever to appear in a Star Wars movie. “It’s exciting that Star Wars has embraced the world’s need for gender balance and female empowerment. I adored how feisty Princess Leia was. Captain Phasma is an evil character, but in my mind she gains particular enjoyment through her acts of cruelty, because she is the only woman of rank as a stormtrooper.”
Stormtroopers, as well as background characters, were deliberately cast by director J.J. Abrams to be more diverse and of mixed gender. Finn, played by John Boyega, is the first stormtrooper in a Star Wars movie to be performed by a man of color, and also the first to be characterized as an individual. Like Rey, the filmmakers wanted the heroes of The Force Awakens to more accurately reflect the appearance and sensibility of modern audiences.
“Rey could have easily been a boy in the tradition of Luke Skywalker and Finn could have been white,” says Kennedy. “Their gender and ethnicity had nothing to do with the story, or for that matter, with anything Star Wars mythology had not already embraced.”
Kennedy is extremely excited about the trilogy’s central heroes and the dynamic they’ll bring to the Star Wars saga. “We could not be more thrilled that little girls all over the world feel inspired and empowered by Rey’s character and that little boys of color see a hero that looks like them in Finn. Messages like that in popular culture change perception. Hopefully, over time, they will change the world.”