From now till the 18th of December posts about what was in the trailer, what wasn’t in the trailer and what could’ve been in trailer will abound. However, there is one thing in the trailer about which I simply have to add my own two cents. As I’ve written about before on Clone Corridor, it isn’t always easy to be a female Star Wars fan since it was seen as such a boys’ thing for a long time. This has definitely changed in recent years but it can still be an issue. Thank the Maker we’ve always had very interesting and complex female characters throughout Star Wars, whether it was Leia in the Originals, Padmé in the Prequels or Ahsoka, Ventress and Hera in the TV series. With this new trailer it is clear beyond all doubt that a new name can be added to this list, namely Rey’s. However, there is something about Rey that hit really close to home for me but also made her an example of a female character I haven’t seen a lot before. This post will contain discussion of the trailer and hence potentially spoilers as well.
The trailer starts out with Rey in the desolate landscape of Jakku, all on her own. She cuts a lonesome yet strong figure, clearly capable of looking after herself. In many ways it’s reminiscent of Luke in A New Hope, only that Rey is truly all on her own, aside from BB-8. She is masked and seemingly silent. It’s a grim kind of portrayal, one which reminded me of the way Max is introduced in this year’s brilliant Mad Max: Fury Road. When the voice-over starts, with Maz Katana asking Rey ‘Who are you?’, the response ‘I’m no one.’ fits perfectly into the idea of Rey that the visuals have provided so far. We haven’t seen her face and we know nothing about her yet. The line ‘I’m no one.’ is very important though because it’s such a recognizable sentiment, echoing back to years upon years of the ‘Lone Warrior’ trope, which Rey fits right into from the outset of the trailer. Remember Odysseus who calls himself ‘No one’ in order to get away with stabbing a cyclops in the eye? It started a tradition of lone warriors with a greater calling, travelling, suffering and ending up heroes.
That is what I mean by the ‘Lone Warrior’ trope: the recognizable character that appears in a lot of adventure/sci-fi/apocalyptic films who is almost always a man, lives in the middle of nowhere and seems to only be after his own survival. Yet these characters are also defined by their never-ending hunger for something more, something that will give their life purpose. Luke gets that moment when he looks out at the binary sunset and Rey gets hers when the spaceship is passing by. Beautifully acted by Daisy Ridley, it’s a shot that reveals a lot about Rey as a character. For a moment she lets her guard down and her face betrays her longing for a different life, a grander life perhaps. It’s an aspiration that a lot of young people can identify with nowadays, the sense that you’re no one in the grand scheme of things, that this world (or in Rey’s case Galaxy) doesn’t require your presence. A key part of the ‘Lone Warrior’ trope, however, is also that destiny has a way of finding these characters.
How many male characters have we seen in the last few decades who, after struggling with themselves, realize there is something greater out there for them and in them? That they are descendants of a great line or gifted with powers unimaginable? This line of story-telling can be found all the way back in Arthurian Literature with the Bell Inconnu (the ‘beautiful stranger’) who seems to come from a regular farmer family but through willingness and heroism proves himself to the court and is then finally revealed to really be a knight’s son. We saw an example of this tradition, again, in Luke, who truly was destined for bigger things. These kinds of story-lines are often given to men, with women either happily born into a position of power or achieving it off screen, as if that storyline isn’t as interesting. Too often female characters either have no power or “too much” and have to be stripped of it. Rey is a reversal of this tradition, a woman placed at the peripheries of society,who’s entrance into the world sees her growing stronger.
Throughout the trailer Rey is very much a driving and acting force, asking Han Solo the tough questions, running with Finn, heart-wrenchingly weeping and summoning an incredible rage while shooting a blaster. Although these images may seem random, they are rather perfectly chosen. We’ve seen Rey as the Lone Warrior at the beginning, but now we get to see that hard shell crack one frame at a time, revealing a character with a lot of different nuances. She is inquisitive, she is strong and her emotions do not hold her back. All these shots not only set her up as an interesting character but also as the character central to the story line, the character that acts and reacts throughout.
And then we return to Maz Katana again, seemingly confirming Rey as this Lone Warrior with a grander destiny. Every Hero, Bell Inconnu or Warrior has a mentor, someone who guides them through. Just think of our very own Obi-Wan or Merlin in the Arthuriana. Maz Katana says the following:
‘The Force, it’s calling to you.
Just let it in.’
When I heard these lines I could feel my heart beating like crazy. Of course it’s phrased and placed just so in the trailer that the audience feels that Maz Katana is talking to them, but since we’d be in a similar position as Rey at this point I think our responses are rather telling. If this is indeed part of the conversation between Rey and Maz Katana then it’s something quite special. The emphasis of the lines is placed on ‘you’, making it very clear that the person that Maz Katana is talking about is the key. This would give us a female character who takes a first step into a larger world with the audience right behind her and empathizing with her, who has a great power she is as yet unaware of. A female character that struggles, suffers and becomes stronger, fulfilling her destiny. Personally I am also very happy with the idea that Rey may have a female mentor-figure in Maz Katana. Too often stereotypically strong female characters are surrounded by men, being directed and guided just by men. (Think Buffy in Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.)
Overall this trailer gives us a fascinating insight into Rey’s potential as an amazing role model. Female characters aren’t often those gifted with fascinating backstories in these kinds of films but Star Wars keeps excelling at giving them to us anyway. There are a lot of echoes in Rey from other Star Wars characters, whether it’s the aforementioned ‘staring into the distance’ from Luke or the strong independence both Leia and Padme show. Personally I can’t wait for this character to show up on the big screen.