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Star Wars: The Feminist Force Awakens?

***WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS***

I have something to get off my chest. I loved Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. So much so that I saw it twice in four days. The heart that had been missing from the prequel trilogy had returned, the special effects were mesmerising (especially in 3D) and it had the fantastic pairing of Rey and Finn at the forefront, backed up by our favourite classic characters.

Yet despite the focus on a kick-ass female lead, some have said that Star Wars has not gone far enough to stem the tide of criticism of sexism and racism in the first two trilogies.

With only one stand out female character, Princess Leia, in the original trilogy and two memorable female characters in the prequel trilogy Padme and Amidala, accusations of sexism were well justified. So what has changed this time around?

The number of female characters has multiplied exponentially for a start. Leia, now General Organa, is joined by our eponymous heroine Rey, as well as be-metalled baddie Captain Phasma, be-latexed Bazine Netal and bespectacled Maz Kanata. Not only this but in the hum of voices at the headquarters of both the Resistance and the First Order female voices can be heard and female faces are often picked out by the camera.

The character of Rey is a breath of fresh air in the Star Wars universe. She is more than capable of looking after herself, even before the realisation of her Jedi potentiality. Here is a woman who needs no man to hold her hand, can captain the Millennium Falcon with ease and has a strength and bravery that some of her male co-characters just cannot measure up to.

So much for the good, now for the not so good.

With the exception of Rey and Captain Phasma, there are very few female figures seen to be fighting on the front line, I spotted only one female fighter pilot in Poe Damaron’s fleet, and Leia remains in the control room rather than going on the rescue mission with Finn, Han and Chewbacca. Women in Star Wars still seem to be outnumbered by men by about five to one; there are possibly hundreds of female storm-troopers but given their body armour, this still seems like a massively masculine force.

The First Order is headed up by a triumvirate of masculine evil; the permanently enraged Kylo Ren and lisping coldness of General Hux led by Supreme Leader Snoke. Looking forwards to Episode VIII, how fantastic would it have been to see the Resistance under General Organa going up against the First Order headed by a female Snoke?

Whilst The Force Awakens itself has come some way in increasing a female presence in the Star Wars series, Disney seems to have let itself down yet again when it comes to merchandising. In the past few weeks merchandisers have come under fire; firstly for under producing the Rey figurines, and then for excluding her completely from the new Monopoly set.

So the film does have its short-comings and Disney has quite a way to go before the Star Wars films become the ‘feminists’ dream’ that some have hailed The Force Awakens, but it is infinitely better in this respect than its predecessors and its popularity proves that films with female and ethnic minority leads can definitely be big hitters at the box office.

By Gillian Price

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