Author: Helen Cox

Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.

Rey of Light: Lessons Learnt from The Force Awakens

rey star wars

Well, hello there. You seem like a nice person, so I’ll level with you. The following post contains ALL THE SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t yet moseyed down to the multiplex to see it, this isn’t the blog post you’re looking for. You need to be elsewhere. The Mos Eisley Cantina perhaps? I hear Hoth is an out-and-out Winter Wonderland at this time of year. Or if there’s a bright centre of the universe you could visit the planet that’s farthest from. But you can’t stay here. The probability of navigating this post without reading a spoiler is approximately 3720 to 1…

Right. In my book True Love is Like the Loch Ness Monster (And Other Lessons I Learnt from Film) I discuss in-depth the educational value of movies such as Teen Wolf Too, Mannequin on the Move and Stay Tuned. You know, the greats. In this post, I’m taking a closer look at the lessons learnt from The Force Awakens. About women; their capabilities, and relationships with the opposite sex.

There are an intimidating number of columns out there already dealing with the question of whether or not The Force Awakens is a good film so I won’t be delving into that here. But one thing the film did get right, to my mind, was its female protagonist, Rey. We’re taught so much through this impressive and well-defined character. My top 5 lessons learnt are listed below for your reading pleasure.

Lesson 1: You don’t have to dress like a beauty pageant contestant to be beautiful. Yes. This first point is fuelled by the irksome fact that for some time the only Star Wars action figure available through the ToysRUs website sported a gold bikini (I’m not against gold bikinis generally, you understand, but like everything there’s a time and a place). In The Force Awakens, Rey is definitely more Miss Functionality than Miss Congeniality but that doesn’t diminish her beauty. Even in her grey/sand/whatever-colour-that-actually-is action garb (based, I think, on the stylings of Mumm-ra… maybe he’s Rey’s father), Rey stands tall, proud and athletic. Dressed to defend herself or complete a day’s hard graft in the unforgiving desolation of Jakku, she’s not bending to the whims of male fantasy. She’s got more important issues like ‘will I eat today?’ and her attire reflects that. Seems to me, teaching people there are many forms of beauty outside the realms of fashion magazine pin-ups can only be a good thing.

Lesson 2: You can be a woman and be a breadwinner. Rey is the on-screen embodiment of a self-sufficient woman. In a climate like that of Jakku, it would be easier to crawl under a rock and die than it would be to survive as a penniless orphan-child. Rey however, chooses survival. Searching the sands for metal and debris she will later exchange for food, she’s not afraid of hard, physical labour and doesn’t expect anybody else to provide for her. Regardless of your gender or background, using the skills you have and developing skills you don’t in order to be truly independent is a lifestyle choice worth considering. I think when I was a lass they called this strange tick initiative. Not sure what they call it now.

Lesson 3: Family is important but it doesn’t define you. Initially Rey is reluctant to follow her heart into the blankness of space. She’d rather stay on Jakku and wait for her family to return. Life however, has other ideas and on her journey Rey realises she has strength and power she never dreamed possible. This element of the narrative has numerous applications. One obvious, feminist parallel is women juggling family and a career but there maybe many reasons why the family situation you come from might deter you from enterprises you wish to pursue. In this story, Rey is coaxed onto a journey of self-discovery that will redefine the way she thinks about herself. She voluntarily leaves the idea of family behind for a greater purpose. Although this is Star Wars, a narrative dogged by links to family, so far Rey has got where she’s going without the certainty of blood relatives around her. In some ways, this makes her resilience even more admirable.

Lesson 4: Just because you don’t need a man (or woman) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite them into your life. Sure. If pressed. Most of us could probably survive without input from the opposite sex. But is that in anyway a desirable way to live? Rather than casting men as an enemy ready to repress, young women need to see models of how to interact with men in meaningful ways. I mean, other than marrying them as is the Hollywood standard (without wishing to point out the obvious, young men might also benefit from models showing how to interact positively with women), and The Force Awakens does deliver this. Rey feels Han Solo is ‘the father she never had.’ He offers encouragement, guidance and shows genuine admiration for Rey, in his own way. When it comes to Finn, a romantic storyline would have been easy but the pair choose friendship instead. Rey makes her feelings explicit when she says: ‘We’ll see each other again. I believe that. Thank you, my friend.’ This is one of the most heart-warming moments in the film; it showcases Rey’s humility and gratitude. She doesn’t need Finn’s physical strength to survive but she does want him at her side for companionship, support and love. And he feels the same about her.

Lesson 5: You might be really good at mechanics. Yes. Even if you’re a girl. Sci-fi is a pretty good genre for stumbling across female mechanics but they can be stereotypically masculine in their representation. Rey may know how to bypass the compressor on the Millennium Falcon but throughout the story she also retains her femininity. Sending a clear message: you don’t have to fit into a clearly-defined space. You can be a blend of many attributes and in fact, if you are you’re likely to be a stronger person for it.

Not everyone has embraced the more complicated elements of Rey’s character. For every article about the paint-by-numbers nature of The Force Awakens plot-line there’s an article about how Rey’s ‘hypercompetence’ makes her unrelatable. Forgive me. But I don’t remember any such critique on the hypercompetence of Jason Bourne. Yes she’s a woman seemingly with her own hyperdrive built-in but why should anyone have to apologise for a competent portrayal of womanhood which will be seen by millions of children forming their understanding of that very idea? Come on. Let’s be mature enough to accept what we’re being offered here. A New Hope. With an added Rey of light.

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5 comments on “Rey of Light: Lessons Learnt from The Force Awakens

  1. The Brain in the Jar
    January 15, 2016

    I’m sorry to say but I join with the crowd that found Rey dull.

    It’s not that I object to badasses, but be a badass with a personality. I watched the film twice and I kept waiting for some personality quirk, a clever line of dialogue.

    Most of what Rey has is Skills, and basing your character around Skills is never, ever good. My characters in Diablo II have a lot of skills but they have no personality.

    Personality is in the dialogue, the decisions made, the reaction to situations. I found Rey to be very capable, able to do anything but never in an exaggerated way. She was a convenient character and easy to write.

    Maybe because I watch anime but there’s plenty of unique female characters there of all types – Erin (Beast Trainer Erin). Ryuko Matoi and Mako (Kill la Kill), Yuno Gasdai (Future Diary), all the females in NGE. Hell, there are female-driven shows like Galaxy Angel, Bamboo Blade and Stella’s Women Academy.

    All of these characters have varied personalities that drive them. I don’t see how the shallow Super-Skilled is a leap forward.

    Like

    • Helen
      January 15, 2016

      An interesting point of view. Thank you for sharing. Your critique of the character is based on how you personally felt towards her which is fair cop. I personally liked that she was quite down to business about everything as I think it better reflected the hard life she’d have lived on Jakku.

      Like

      • The Brain in the Jar
        January 15, 2016

        While I can like this down-to-business style (Ryuko from KLK), I think it wasn’t exaggerated enough. I wish there were more moments that would emphasize this, especially in a comic way (Since Star Wars isn’t serious, overall). All the new characters were good, so I hope she will get developed in later films.

        Oh, and true point about the sexuality. I hate it when the only point of the only female character is to be sexy (See also: Black Widow). At least Rey wasn’t eye candy.

        Like

      • Helen
        January 15, 2016

        Definitely agree with you about the eye candy thing (obviously!). I think this first episode was very much an ‘awakening’ for Rey and I’m sure her character will develop in future films. I did find quite a few moments with Rey comic but it was gentle humour for sure.

        Like

  2. ladylavinia1932
    April 24, 2017

    “Rey of Light”? Rey of Light? What on earth are you trying to . . . .? What on earth is this nonsense?

    Not everyone has embraced the more complicated elements of Rey’s character. For every article about the paint-by-numbers nature of The Force Awakens plot-line there’s an article about how Rey’s ‘hypercompetence’ makes her unrelatable. Forgive me. But I don’t remember any such critique on the hypercompetence of Jason Bourne.

    There have been plenty of complaints about Harry Potter’s hypercompetence. And I’ve been complaining about Luke’s hypercompetence in “Return of the Jedi”. So for me, Rey’s gender is not the issue. Or are you still going to cling to gender politics as a reason to excuse her hypercompetence?

    Like

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2016 by in Author Blog and tagged , , , , , .
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