Why The New Star Wars Film Matters More Than You Think

Even if you're not a light saber swinging superfan, the new Star Wars film featuring ELLE covergirl Daisy Ridley is an important screen win for women.

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This December, Star Wars The Last Jedi comes out and, whatever you think of the franchise, it's something to be celebrated. Why?

Because it's one of the biggest blockbuster franchises in movie history with a female lead. The actual biggest is the Marvel universe, which can best be described as an absolute penis party. Sure, Black Widow is one of The Avengers and yes, she's a woman. A Scarlett Johansson woman. But she's also the least fun of the lot, which is saying something when you remember that Thor is a long-haired dude whose main claim to superhero fame is a magical hammer. Imagine being secondary to hammer guy. It's almost like the writing team put more time and energy into the male character, isn't it?

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And before you yell Wonder Woman, yes, she is a wonderful role model - albeit in the much less successful DC universe, I forgive you for not being a raving geek like myself - but she's the only one. Until, of course, Star Wars rebooted their franchise with a woman and a black dude at the helm. I hope everyone in the movie industry stroked their chins and said 'Oh so women CAN kick arse and black people CAN lead major blockbusters! What is this magic?!'.

It's called the magic of not thinking white men are the only heroes. Powerful stuff. So even if you don't give a flying Falcon about Star Wars, the fact that the creators are driving this movement towards gender equality via strong female presence should make you want to dance. Or swing a light saber.

It's true that I'm in the minority, being a female ELLE-reading 20 something Star Wars fan, but looking at everything from the marketing to the merch, the fact that the fan base is overwhelmingly male isn't a surprise; Star Wars has traditionally always been a targeted at guys. Until the last few years.

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When my sister and I used to play Star Wars using a carpet with button-like patterns as the Millennium Falcon's dashboard, I was Han and she was Luke, and neither of us mentioned Leia. And it's no accident - in 2015, a survey found that the average Star Wars fan was a 46-year-old man, which tallies with the male-targeted advertising of the original 1977 film. That same study shows the popularity of different characters with men and women and, as you'd imagine, Princess Leia is beloved by older, female fans, while Luke and Han's popularity is not only nearly double Leia's, but also firmly in the male bracket.

THE TRAILER WAS AMAZING

A post shared by Daisy Ridley 🌼 (@daisyridrey) on

But things have changed. SinceThe Force Awakens there's a character beloved by a younger audience with an equal gender split: the scavenger female protagonist Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Not only has she managed to appeal to both genders, but, for the first time ever, a National Retail Federation survey in the US found that Star Wars merch appeared on Christmas present gift charts for girls the year Force Awakens came out. Star Wars merch has never charted on gift lists for girls before.

This is also reflected in the marketing; The Force Awakens targeted female advertising slots for the launch of Rey and the gang, with spots appearing in the commercial breaks of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Jane the Virgin and the Real Housewives right through to ads on mobile video games popular with young girls.

While Leia was the rebel leader, she was also inescapably a princess. Rey, whatever her lineage turns out to be (no I haven't watched the new trailer, because Adam Driver says there are spoilers, and I do whatever Adam Driver tells me), is presented to us a scrappy scavenger, living on nothing, sweating and dragging junk around the desert along with a whole gang of weird looking things you probably wouldn't want to mess with. You can relate to her, because she's just a hard-working gal trying to get by on a hovercraft. Alright, well you can relate to most of her.

We miss you Carrie. 💝

A post shared by Daisy Ridley 🌼 (@daisyridrey) on

When John Boyega's Finn crashes into her previously quiet life, The Force Awakens plays with everyone's feminist expectations. 'Are you alright?' he misguidedly asks her from the ground after being blasted metres in the air, while she stands above him, perfectly fine. 'Yeah?!' she says, helping him up. 'YEAH!' I yell in the cinema, and get asked to leave.

It's a calculated move, and it shows no signs of slowing down. J J Abrams, director of the upcoming The Last Jedi said in a recent interview: 'We have female stormtroopers and female resistance pilots. There are female voices and energy throughout.'

To be fair to George Lucas, Star Wars already did it to an extent in the 70s with Leia; while some of the male fans may have just seen her as a pretty woman to moon over, she's also a leader of the rebel alliance, genius plan-hatcher and saves the guys more than once. And while people always insist on bringing up the bit where she wore a bikini while being enslaved by Jabba the Hut, yes, it felt slightly unnecessary but aforementioned people forget that she then promptly strangled Jabba to death with a metal chain. She was a strong feminist lead, but couldn't compete with Luke Skywalker aka everyone's favourite, or Hans Solo, aka everyone's other favourite. Now Rey is thrust front and centre, along with Finn, and there's no way you'll be seeing her in a bikini draped over a giant slug. It's about time little girls saw a proper female hero, with not a hint of nip out for the lads.

Star Wars poster game going strong ❤

A post shared by Daisy Ridley 🌼 (@daisyridrey) on

In 2016's brilliantly done Rogue One, the offshoot series that's running concurrent to main films (yep, I think it's too many as well, and I'm a fan), Felicity Jones was the long-suffering, heroic protagonist who sacrificed everything to prevent the rise of evil, without being over-sexualised once. While the upcoming Solo, about a young Han Solo, is obviously focused on the male titular character - Emilia Clarke has been drafted as his foil, Kira. Who will she play? Probably not a piece of arm candy, judging by the tide. It is important, Abrams added, 'that we give people a chance to see themselves in the movie.'

And that's why I'll be going to the 6am opening day screening of the next one - because, just like when I was 13 and would watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias, there's something spine-tinglingly thrilling about watching a woman kick butt. It's how I imagine guys feel when they watch other guys be cool. And for Star Wars to take that, and run with it, well it's not just a cold calculation to get more female fans. It's a reflection of the world we're in, which, for anyone still unsure, contains the same amount of women as it does men.

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