The instant that first photograph of the cast read-through for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released it catapulted relative newcomers Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) onto the world stage. The image is burned onto fans' memories, and – even initially – felt like something that will someday be considered iconic.
“I remember Gary Fisher [Carrie Fisher”s now famous dog] was running around drinking from Anthony Daniels” [C-3PO] glass,” Ridley laughed when I asked what was happening for her in that moment. “Carrie was probably making me laugh about something or another.”
I don”t doubt it. One would imagine that there are very few interactions with Carrie Fisher that don”t result in hysterical laughter.
I spoke with Ridley during a press day for “The Force Awakens” that was shrouded in secrecy and marked by heightened security. Covering this latest installment in the “Star Wars” Saga has been a fascinating experience as a member of the entertainment press.
The sense that you are witnessing history in the making with a (somewhat) courtside view is profound. The measures that are taken to protect the cast and the integrity of the project are unlike anything I have ever seen.
So, what must it be like to be on the inside of this experience? How vulnerable are these rising stars in a world changed by access via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram?
When “Star Wars” thrust Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher into global fame in 1977 they could not have seen that tide coming. No one predicted the film”s extraordinary success. That isn”t true today, and yet, even with the benefit of both hindsight and foresight, Ridley says that there”s little her co-stars could do to prepare her.
“I didn”t ask them about it because I didn”t want to be a nuisance,” Ridley laughed. “But now I sort of wish I had.”
“It is somewhat overwhelming,” she continued. “But I also think, which I still think is true, that we can talk till the cows come home, but it's not necessarily going to impact me. You have to experience things alone. To be supported by people and to have them there is kind of enough. So it was kind of enough just being around people who cared. I also think with social media that everything has changed.”
It has changed, indeed. And both Ridley and Boyega have delighted fans with Instagram posts and reactions that have kept us fed through the long wait to “The Force Awakens”” release.
What”s more interesting, given how protective the studio is of this franchise is that it truly is Ridley running her account.
“Instagram on my phone and I”m the only one with the password,” the actress assured.
It”s been a delight to see their journey via the lens of Instagram. It makes one feel we are somehow a part of it all, which is perhaps the light side of social media – connection. But there are two sides to the social media coin. The fact that Ridley herself is the one managing the account means that she likely sees the comments made there.
“I think it's good,” Ridley said, reflecting on her experience. “But I think social media in general is a worrying thing because there's Freedom of Speech and then there's hate. And the two are not one and the same. And people should not be allowed to express things like that, I don't think, because it's disgusting.
“My sister told me that she had to report something yesterday, so that's kind of gross. And I don't tend to hammer the point of sexism home, but it definitely is something that males direct towards females. And it's disgusting the things that people write. I can go through and get rid of things, but it's scary, and when she told me [what that person had written] I just said, ‘Ugh, it just makes me want to come off of it.””
It”s likely that most people who have been a part of social media have had that moment. The instant that the dark side feels so ugly that the desire is to abandon ship altogether arises. Study after study has been done exploring the negative impact that extensive time spent on platforms like Facebook and Twitter have on the average person”s psyche.
What then must it be like for a young woman who very suddenly finds herself in a position where everyone wants something from her? Even if it”s just a piece of her time. Or perhaps to shock her into giving them a bit of her attention.
“It is scary because I think that it emboldens people to express twisted kind of things without having any kind of comeuppance for it,” Ridley continued. “And I guess if people say things like that from behind a screen it might encourage them to say things like that in real life. And that's kind of scary. So I definitely think there should be more control. I don't know how people would do that, because I already have a profanity filter on my Instagram. Someone asked me if I wanted it. I didn't even know that was a thing. So, yeah, it's kind of a double-edged sword, I think. But the overall thing is good. There's more good than there is bad.”
As to the lady on the dark side of the force in “The Force Awakens,” Ridley”s co-star Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), of social media she says that she “prefers to keep her responses in person.”
It”ll be interesting to see how both Ridley and Boyega”s relationship with both social media and the public at large evolves as these next few years move forward.
What do you think? Have you experienced the two sides of the social media coin? Did you ultimately decide that the pitfalls are worth the rewards? Or the reverse, to get unplugged altogether?
This seems to be one of the dominant questions of our time, whether you”re in “Star Wars,” or are simply a normal person constantly checking for updates on your phone in a line at Starbucks.