The latest installment of the most popular movie franchise in cinema history is FINALLY in theaters. It”s been over thirty years since the Rebel Alliance struck a mortal blow to the Empire by destroying their second Death Star. A lot has changed in that time.
Most notable? The galaxy seems to have found all its misplaced women and PoC (People of Color)! We already knew “The Force Awakens” was turning the page on the whitest, manliest galaxy since the two male leads were non-white and the other lead was a woman. But these tiny progresses spilled over into the entire film. Women and PoC were everywhere, populating the First Order, the New Republic, and the Resistance. But not all movie moments are created equal. There were seven – to my mind – that really sold the premise that Star Wars really is for EVERYONE.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” BEYOND THIS POINT.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
#1: First fighter is a woman.
When the First Order lands on Jakku to retrieve the map, they run into some resistance. Whether or not the villagers were part of the RESISTANCE is moot, as they take up arms to protect their own as soon as the First Order ships touch down. As Poe Dameron rushes to his X-Wing to escape, the camera pans over the first person seen taking up arms against this new threat of evil: A woman with determination in her eyes and blaster rifle in her hand.
#2: Rey stance on hand-holding while running.
After a very confused meet-cute, Finn and Rey must run for their lives as the First Order arrives looking for BB-8. Hearing the air strike, Finn instinctively grabs Rey”s hand and makes a run for it. She is down for running away, but not for strange men invading her personal space and directing her movements. Chalk it up to her independent nature or being uncomfortable with human contact after a lifetime of isolation, but it was nice to see a woman assert her right to autonomy.
#3: First time Finn turns on lightsaber.
After Maz Kanata”s catina is obliterated by the First Order, Finn sets off to rescue Rey but laments he has no weapon. Max presses the lightsaber into his hand and says that yes he does. After a pregnant pause, Anakin Skywalker”s blade ignites for the first time in three decades, in the hands of a young black LEAD CHARACTER. History indeed!
#4: Minority X-Wing pilots live!
X-Wing pilots have a very short lifespan. And movies have a sordid history of killing off non-white characters first. So when the Asian woman(!) and black male pilots that were part of Poe Dameron”s back-up on the offensive against Starkiller Base survived, it was another step in the right direction for Hollywood. Maybe one day it won”t matter what race or gender the Red Shirts™ are, but today is not that day.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
#5: Lady stormtrooper.
Two of them! Okay probably (definitely) more, but two that have lines. One is giving orders in the retreat from Maz Kanata”s cantina and the other has to deliver the bad news to Kylo Ren that Rey is still loose inside the facility. Considering how adamant Captain Phasma was that Finn keep his helmet on at all times, lack of individuality is the name of the game in the First Order. I”m half surprised the stormtroopers don”t all have voice modulators, but I”m glad they don”t.
#6: Asian Resistance leader.
If you”ll recall, other than Mon Mothma and Princess Leia, the Rebel Alliance leadership was a Pillsbury Doughboy sausage fest. To see a PoC in charge – seemingly second in command to General Leia herself – was a huge leap forward for diversity in the Star Wars universe.
#7: Rey takes up the lightsaber.
Yes there have been female Jedi before. The prequels had Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura, and Luminara Unduli but they were tertiary characters at best. “The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” have the Ahsoka Tano. But never before had a female main character in Star Wars taken up a lightsaber on film. To see Anakin”s blade whisk past his grandson and into Rey”s hands was a moment little girls have been waiting nearly four decades to see. Leia might not have been able to take up the mantle of her father, but Rey is more than a worthy substitute.