Having discussed the plot and characters of The Force Awakens, there remains but one thing to discuss: the politics.
Now, in any sane universe, this topic would not even be up for discussion, beyond “Oh, right, the Republic/Rebellion/Resistance is good and the Empire/First Order bad, how very American.”
Unfortunately, we do not live in a sane universe, and there has been a certain level of controversy (thankfully largely confined to the fever swamps of the Internet) over certain characters that get to certain…broader cultural issues.
This, by the way, has nothing to do with the BoycottStarWars hashtag that a couple of idiot white supremacists tried to start due to Finn being played by a black man. Shocking, I tell you. Absolutely shocking. Next thing you know, people will start being judged by the content of their character.
No, this has to do…mostly with Rey. Because, apparently, either she’s too feminist or not feminist enough. This latter bit, fortunately, is largely confined to people on Tumblr who like playing oppression Olympics.
The former, however, I have seen in certain conservative circles, and having watched the movies I find myself asking whether they watched the same movie I did. We went over her somewhat improbable skills last time, but to reiterate, she’s this generation’s Chosen One and has been living as a scavenger for a very long time. It should also be noted that she messes up badly more than once, particularly when she accidentally lets the monsters loose on Han and Chewbacca’s ship.
The key to this issue is her interactions with Finn, beginning with the not particularly improbable scene where she takes on two thieves with a stick (if you think this is the first time she’s had to fight off malefactors, I want some of what you’re smoking), then her and BB-8 chasing him down, then the hand-grabbing during the attack on the scavenger camp and her reaction to it, the repair scene on the Millennium Falcon, then the scene where Finn tries to back out of the quest and she doesn’t.
To begin with, I’ve heard more than a few complaints about how the interrogation scene, where Rey is asking Finn how he got Po’s jacket, is handled–the words “blubbering coward” have been used. No, Finn’s not John Wayne–or Po–but honestly he seems more annoyed than scared. More along the lines of “Why’d you whack me in the face with a stick and why won’t you let me get a word in edgewise” than “please don’t hurt me I’ll do anything!”
The facts that Finn grabs Rey’s hand twice during the attack on the scavenger camp, the fact that Rey is displeased by this and expresses it, and that eventually she grabs Finn’s hand have also been taken as evidence that there is third-wave feminism in this movie. To begin with, the latter event never happened–she held out her hand to Finn when he was thrown to the ground by an explosive blast. Going further, it is entirely in character for her to be annoyed with Finn–she doesn’t realize just how serious the situation is, and she has, let me repeat myself, been taking care of herself for almost a decade. Furthermore, I believe that Finn grabs her hand a third time while the monsters are running loose on Han and Chewbacca’s ship, and she does not object then.
Now, the repair scene on the Millennium Falcon, when she knows what she’s doing and Finn doesn’t, can be much more easily understood as a feminist scene, and arguably has some distinct overtones thereof. That having been said, viewing it in this light overlooks the following scene, when the dynamic duo believe they are about to be boarded by stormtroopers, and Finn, not Rey, comes up with the idea to flood the ship with gas. They have different skill sets, no more no less.
The “back out of the quest” scene argument has a lot more merit–Finn definitely comes off worse than Rey, here. On the other hand, when the First Order shows up, he stops running. Also, in this regard, The Force Awakens is no worse than A New Hope–see Han Solo vs. Princess Leia.
Speaking of this, we have the relationship between those two, and its breakup. There are some of who have claimed this, also, is feminist, as Han goes back to smuggling and Leia goes back to fighting, and claim that Han is presented as the reason the marriage fell apart. While the first part of this has merit, the second does not–each one blames themselves for the wreck, and explicitly does so. There’s also the Luke issue, but that’s almost expected of Jedi Masters who lose their students–see Yoda and Obi-Wan.
In other words, just based on the obvious things that happen in the movie, we have a “it’s feminist because the Chosen One is a girl” at most.
However, I will go a step further, and say that Rey’s entire character arc is a kick in the teeth to third-wave feminism. Here’s what I mean. When we meet Rey, she is a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man–or anyone else, for that matter. However, she does not find the need to denigrate Finn, we immediately see her latch on to the first father figure she can find (Han), and she goes to another man (Luke) to train her in how to use the Force.
In other words, she begins as everything third-wave feminism claims to want, and we find out that is not what she wants to be. Admittedly, we have two more movies to work in, and the tide might shift a bit. But as it stands, it’s awesome.
As a side note, my favorite commentary on Rey as a character comes from Alicia Cohn, who essentially summed up her character arc as one which a girl becomes a woman not by discovering sex, but by discovering virtue. Personally speaking, I’m down with that.
In summary, if you haven’t watched this movie, do so. You’ll not regret it.
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness