My expectations for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens were ridiculously high even though I tried to keep them low. I love Star Wars, and knowing some of J.J. Abrams’ work made me feel that at last the franchise was in capable hands. I kept reminding myself of how disappointing the prequels were but I couldn’t help my extreme excitement.
And amazingly, my expectations were exceeded. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the movie (and a crush on Poe Dameron like I haven’t felt for a fictional character since I was in middle school and obsessed with Orlando Bloom as Legolas).
But what really blew me away was the character Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. And here are a few reasons why.
1. She’s a girl.
I know that just being female isn’t enough to make a character awesome or a role model, and I’ll get to all the non-gender related reasons why Rey is the best. But Rey being female is so, so important. There are so few franchises that portray women as more than the love interest or the damsel in distress that this really feels like a landmark.
And okay, you can’t ignore that Daisy Ridley is beautiful. She might be an actual angel. But her beauty has nothing to do with her skill or her ability to carry the movie. Finally, we have a female lead that is admirable for more than her looks.
Even though there are too few Rey toys available, whenever I do see them in stores I feel weirdly proud. I don’t think I realized how important it would be to me as a young woman to see female action figures prominently displayed, and it must be even better for young girls.
The decision to make the new Luke Skywalker female might have been calculated, but even if that was the case I’m all for it. Filmmakers should be more conscious of the lack of female protagonists, and I sincerely hope that this is the first step towards seeing a lot more leading ladies that are actually leads.
2. She’s capable.
We don’t know a lot about Rey, and the mystery of her parentage is driving the internet crazy. We do know, however, that she’s damn good at taking care of herself.
She survived on a junkyard planet as a scavenger and managed to eke out a living harvesting parts from wrecked ships. Not everyone would be able to repel down a giant chasm like it’s just another day at work, but it’s the first thing we see Rey doing.
She also proves over and over that she’s kind of a mechanical genius, even managing to impress Han Solo with her ability to fix and manipulate the Millennium Falcon.
And as she explores her power with The Force, it’s clear that she’s going to be capable of things beyond what we’ve seen in previous movies. She kicks Kylo Ren out of her head amazingly quickly for someone who hasn’t had any training. And don’t even get me started on her fighting skills, because if you’ve think I’ve been gushing so far, you are mistaken.
3. She’s optimistic
Rey has been through some real shit. Abandoned on Jakku, she waited in vain for her family to come home, and spent her days doing back-breaking work in the desert for little reward. After meeting Finn she fought monsters, confronted her past, was kidnapped, and saw a hero die.
She was tempted to run away, and even tried once, but her sense of duty kept her from seeing it through.
Even so, the dumb pun ‘Rey of sunshine’ is extraordinarily apt. She has no tangible obligation to help BB-8 get to the rebels, but does it because it’s the right thing to do. I mean, that robot is also crazy adorable, but she could have just ignored him and refused to get involved.
And more than anything, her love for the people around her is what motivates her. She geeks out over meeting Han Solo, and her delight after she and Finn escape Jakku on the Falcon is palpable and endearing. Not to mention how genuine her friendship with Finn is, and how their relationship is based on mutual admiration and respect.
It’s likely that romance between them will enter into the equation eventually, but if it does, it will grow out of something really nice and healthy. And regardless, the main point I’m trying to make with this article is that Rey doesn’t need a love interest to be valid or interesting. A romantic subplot could be enjoyable, but it’s not necessary to motivate her. And that makes me so happy.
Rey’s difficult life could have made her cynical, unwilling to abandon the solitude she’s become accustomed to, and hardened her against the needs of others. But it didn’t. And her enthusiasm and ability to care is one of my favorite things about her.
Laura Jewell writes for Girls in Capes and has a BA in Theatre from Miami University. She currently lives in Chicago and enjoys many fandoms, including her favorites Harry Potter and Doctor Who. Her favorite weekend pastime is curling up with a book and her fifteen-pound orange cat, Orange Cat.
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