I wasn’t yet born in May of 1980. That’s not a brag about being young. I’m just saying I wasn’t around when THE EMPIRE STRIKES back came out to hear the reactions to it. So I don’t know for sure if people leaving the cinema (once they got over the “I am your father!” reveal) were talking about how unrealistic is was that Luke would be able to go toe to toe with Darth Vader and come out of it with only a lost hand. After all, he only had a few days of Yoda Backpack training. SO UNREALISTIC.
But somehow I doubt it.
But I was around in 2015 when THE FORCE AWAKENS came out and I kept having to hear that about Rey vs. Kylo.
And OMG I AM SO BORED of hearing the word “unrealistic” applied to competent female characters. So bored that I wrote a whole trilogy of books because of an article I once read about how it was “unrealistic” for “biologically weaker female characters” to wield the same weapons as men in fantasy novels. Broadswords and Light sabers alike apparently are not suitable for female consumption. But give me your callow youths, your untrained farmhands and of course they should rise to the occasion with nothing but confidence and a few laps around a swamp!
Even after many years of the conversation about “strong female characters”, and all the progress we’ve made with our Hermiones and our Katnisses, female characters are still judged more harshly. Inspected more closely when they do something competent. No excuses are made for them. No one asks you to suspend your disbelief for Rey.
So when I saw the trailer for THE LAST JEDI, with all the shots of Luke and Rey together, her wielding the light saber, I assumed what I think we all did, that Rey was getting a training montage. To justify her competency in the inevitable end of movie showdown. And with 2 years of speculation swirling around about Rey’s parentage (Skywalker? Kenobi? Solo?) we’d find out what her great and powerful bloodline was and get another justification for how she schooled Kylo Ren in that snowy forest 2 years ago.
And can I just tell you how thrilled I was to be wrong on both counts?
THE LAST JEDI didn’t trip over itself to give us a Rey that could stand up to the naysayers. In fact it leaned in to treating her exactly as it would, and has, a male hero. Everything you need to know about how she got so awesome is in THE FORCE AWAKENS. She’s already a badass from her years surviving on Jakku. She doesn’t need a training montage to learn how to fight. Any training on that stony island was of her mind at best, and, in most cases, too fraught to be of any help to he. Sure, having her train with Luke would have made a more straightforward, and probably less messy movie (yes, I said it, I loved it but it was messy). But it was not what Rey needed. And it’s not what I cared about seeing either.
And then there’s the parentage reveal! (Spoilers ahead, obviously, you have been warned) I hear some found it anticlimactic. But I loved it. Besides being the fact that it was the only thing that wasn’t going to make everyone go “I KNEW IT!” it also didn’t offer us up any excuses for her. Because Rey is not some hidden Jedi Princess, she’s just a girl, born to Nameless Nobodies. She doesn’t need to a special bloodline to accomplish what she did in Episode VI. She did that on her own skills. Her own Badass-ness. Rey could be anybody. Which means for every young girl watching, that anybody could be like Rey.
In the end THE LAST JEDI did exactly what it should have: It didn’t treat Rey like a “strong female character” it just treated her like the Hero.
Want to start reading Alwyn’s books? Start with Rebel of the Sands!