Stronger Than She Knows: A Letter to Rey

TFA poster

In honor of today’s deadline for submissions for The Fan Mail Project, I wanted to share my latest letter for this project with all of you!

Dear Rey,

I’ve written a lot of letters for this project. I’ve written to characters who shaped my past and to characters who are helping me be my best self in the present. But you represent the future. So, while I have certainly discovered things about you while watching The Force Awakens that have inspired me personally, I’m not writing this letter for me.

I’m writing this letter for the little girls I saw in the movie theater around me all four times I saw The Force Awakens. I’m writing this for the girls too young to write you a letter of their own. I’m writing this for the girls too young to even write at all. And I’m writing this for the girls who aren’t even born yet but will someday be introduced to your story the way I was introduced to the original Star Wars trilogy as a child of only five or six.

When I was a little girl, I used to play Star Wars with my cousins on the playground near my grandparents’ house. While I always had fun pretending to be Princess Leia, so many of our games involved the boys “rescuing” me from the jungle gym that we imagined was the Death Star. There were times—even when pretending to be one of the strongest women in sci-fi—that I felt like I was just playing a small part in their imaginary adventures.

When I saw The Force Awakens for the first time, my initial reaction was to think of the little girl who would one day be playing this version of Star Wars on a playground with her cousins. And I was overwhelmed with gratitude on behalf of that little girl—whoever she may be. Because when that little girl pretends to be you, she’ll be the hero of her own story, and it’ll be the boys who are part of her adventures—not the other way around. That little girl will pretend she’s flying the Millennium Falcon. She’ll pretend she’s breaking out of her holding cell on her own. She’ll pretend to hold a lightsaber and use the Force. And none of those imaginary adventures will seem crazy to her, because she’ll have seen you do all those things. And when you see someone like you doing amazing things—no matter if it’s real or fictional—you begin to believe that you, too, can do amazing things.

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They Have a Choice Now: Thoughts on The Force Awakens

TFA poster

Source: starwars.com

Warning: This post contains MAJOR spoilers for The Force Awakens

I can’t write a review of The Force Awakens. To me, a review implies being able to see things at least somewhat objectively, being able to critically evaluate a piece of media. And there is no way I can be objective about this movie. Maybe after further viewings I’ll be able talk about things like cinematography and scoring and pacing and whether it borrowed too much of its structure from A New Hope or just enough to make it resonate with fans. But I’ve only seen it once so far, and after seeing it, there was only one thing I really wanted to write about—and that’s what this movie is going to mean for little girls and their playground adventures.

When I was a little girl, I used to play Star Wars on a playground near my grandparents’ house with my two older cousins, both of whom were boys, and my little sister (who—being the adorable toddler she was—always played an Ewok). My cousins had a choice: They could be Han or Luke or Darth Vader or any X-Wing pilot or any Stormtrooper. I could be Princess Leia. I’m not saying that was a bad thing or that I even wanted a choice back then. I think even now—if given a choice to pretend to be any female character ever created—I’d still choose Princess Leia. But maybe other little girls playing on playgrounds wanted a choice. And the only other choice they really had (besides being a dancer in Jabba’s palace—and no one wanted to choose that) was Luke’s Aunt Beru—who dies at the beginning of A New Hope—or Mon Mothma—who gets one exposition-heavy monologue that lasts about a minute and is never really seen again.

Even after the prequel trilogy came out, choices were limited for little girls who wanted to pretend to be Star Wars characters. Padme was a strong leader, but she wasn’t the main focal point of the story. There were some female bounty hunters and politicians, and even some female Jedi—but they never received the kind of focus that made kids really take notice of them in a way that became part of their imaginations and aspirations.

After The Force Awakens, things are different. Little girls have a choice now. They can be General Organa if they want to be a fierce leader of the Resistance, they can be Captain Phasma if they want to play the villain for a little while, they can be Maz Kanata if they want to be a wise alien creature, they can be any of the many female military leaders (on both sides of the conflict) and X-Wing pilots shown throughout the film, or they can be Rey if they want to go on their own hero’s journey.

As I watched Daisy Ridley own every bit of her screen time as Rey, I kept thinking about all the little girls who will see this movie in the coming weeks, months, and years. I thought about the little girl who one day—years after this trilogy ends—will be introduced to these movies by her older cousins and will play out Rey’s story on the playground with them by her side. And when she plays out this story, she will be the hero, and it will be the boys who are part of her story—not the other way around.

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