The Fempire Strikes Back: The female force finally awakens in Star Wars Episode VII

Episode VII offers the women of Star Wars their first steps towards the galactic equality that once seemed so far, far away says Sarah Doran

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“No, we don’t need to get the girl. Nobody wants the girl.” That’s the response from the woman cradling a bundle of Star Wars merchandise in the busy Oxford department store on the busiest Saturday morning in December when her other half asks if she’s picked up Rey yet.

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Meanwhile, on Twitter, she’s being proven wrong as tweet after tweet demands to know why The Force Awakens’ female hero is missing from a set of action figures. #WheresRey had been trending all morning, and wasn’t likely to stop any time soon.

Women in Star Wars have always been a talking point, there’s nothing new there. But with The Force Awakens – and the upcoming Death Star plan-stealing caper, Rogue One – something has most definitely changed. And it’s been changing, slowly but surely, for quite some time now.

When news of Felicity Jones’s casting in Rogue One broke, I was thrilled. Finally, a female Star Wars lead, who probably wouldn’t be best known for her hairstyle or a bright gold bikini.

That’s not to say Princess Leia didn’t kick some serious intergalactic behind but she, like her mother Padme Amidala before/after her, was often destined to play second fiddle to the Force wielding, blaster spinning, spaceship flying boys.

**Serious Spoiler Alert – do not proceed if you dont’ want one major element of The Force Awakens spoiled for you**

And so when The Force Awakens’ Rey screamed “stop taking my hand”, protesting that she was well able to run by herself, something inside me soared. Having endured two Michael Bay Transformers films, watching furiously as Shia LaBeouf grabbed Megan Fox’s hand EVERY SINGLE TIME the pair were required to run, I finally felt as though things were changing.

Rey looks at Finn as though the idea of her needing his protection is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Instead, she offers him hers, and it is just as – if not more – effective.

The child who’d loved The Phantom Menace’s fearless Padme almost collapsed in her cinema seat with excitement when young Jakku scavenger Rey won a mental battle with Kylo Ren. She stared at the screen with a mix of amusement and disbelief when Rey used her powers to disarm the guards holding her, before finding her way to her would-be rescuers with little or no effort.

And when she picked herself up, snatched that lightsaber from under Kylo Ren’s nose, and launched a fierce attack on her former captor, the child in me realised this film’s hero – the would-be Jedi who was going to do the rescuing –really FINALLY was going to be the girl.

Having a “complex female character” is all well and good, but while Rey’s central role is incredibly important, it’s isn’t the real triumph for women in The Force Awakens. The victory for “The Fempire” is a much more subtle one.

It’s in the command centre on Starkiller Base, where women sit behind the controls of The First Order’s most powerful weapon.

Remember, women were key players in politics in the Galactic Senate and even sat on the Jedi High Council, but we rarely, if ever, saw female officers on a Death Star. Characters like Ahsoka Tano and Ventress only emerged in the Expanded Universe and spin-off series – they didn’t dominate any mainstream saga film.

The victory for the women of Star Wars is among the Stormtroopers like Chrome Trooper Captain Phasma. In 2016 one of the First Order’s most fearsome leaders is a woman, a concept that was previously unheard of in the saga films.

And while she’s clearly not featured enough, she isn’t the only female Stromtrooper we encounter in the film either.

Among The Resistance’s most talented pilots, women sit in the cockpits of X-Wings, bringing down TIE fighters and destroying Starkiller Base. We know they’ll continue to fly to victory when Rogue One hits screens, with Felicity Jones’s character at the heart of the daring mission to get those Death Star plans.

These women don’t have to scream “IT’S A GIRL” or “I’M A FEMALE PILOT” every time they appear either. And no man on screen questions their abilities.

Their presence is a given. A norm. Equality – some might even go as far as to say gender irrelevance – is the status quo.

But don’t just take it from me.

Ask the fans who were just thrilled to see women milling around on screen like everyone else.

Or the little girl who told her mother how happy she was to see girls at the heart of the action.

The would be X-wing pilot who looked at the screen and finally felt as though she too could be there.

And the primary school teacher – who’d never really been a fan of Star Wars – who said she was delighted that her class would have another female hero to choose from come dress up day.

Guess we weren’t the only ones who’d find that shopper’s lack of faith disturbing. Thanks to The Force Awakens, plenty of people really DO want the girl.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now showing in UK cinemas