The trailblazing, feminist force awakens in ‘STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI’


Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Before we “ooh,” “ahh” and cry “spoilers!” over the bloggosphere about director Rian Johnson’s STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, it’s important to pay respect to a significant part of the force – the women who bring balance to a universe far, far away. While we don’t know much in the way of details, what is clear – and always has been – is the reverence in which these groundbreaking, blockbusting films treat female characters. Now, more than ever, this is an important thread to explore. This newest chapter speaks to this equality of strong character in many ways, whether that be on either side of the force.

For many women, Princess-turned-General Leia (Carrie Fisher) represented our first cinematic female heroine. She was fearless, feisty and embodied a ferocity unlike anything we’d ever seen on film before. Her cinematic footprint has since left a lasting legacy many in the current STAR WARS cinematic universe feel today. Gwendoline Christie, who reprises her role as Captain Phasma, said at the film’s Los Angeles press conference that she was impacted by Leia at a young age.

She was very significant. I remember thinking, ‘That character is very different!’ I watched TV and films obsessively from such a young age, but it stayed with me throughout my formative years. She’s really interesting. She’s really smart. She’s really funny. She’s really courageous. She’s really bold. She doesn’t care what people think and isn’t prepared to be told what to do. And she doesn’t look the same as sort of a homogenized presentation of a women that we had been used to seeing. That was really instrumental to me, as someone that didn’t feel like they fitted that homogenized view of what a woman was supposed to be. There was inspiration there. That you could be an individual and celebrate yourself and be successful without giving yourself over – without having to make some sort of terrible, huge compromise.

Christie took all this heart, turning it into action when forming her own character.

To play a character, as well, from what we’ve seen in THE FORCE AWAKENS, I was very excited when I was shown just a basic element of the costume. I knew we were seeing a character whereby a woman, her femininity wasn’t delineated in terms of the shape of her body, in terms of her physical attractiveness. I was delighted to have that opportunity.

Laura Dern, who plays Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, mentioned she was particularly moved by Ms. Fisher’s bravery and lack of shame, hinting that Leia has some humorous moments in THE LAST JEDI to be that sassy, scrappy character we love.

We always had Carrie – not just Leia – her wisdom. People speak about people who are brave and fearless. That’s what moved me the most about the icon she gave us, but also what she gave us individually and personally, which is to carry who she was so directly and to be without shame. To share her story and expect nothing less from any of us. The privilege of watching how beautiful Rian has captured all of that and her grace in this amazing, pure performance. Also, I think she found an equal irreverent, subversive stance that affects this performance that I was so moved by.

Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico, took inspiration from Ms. Fisher in the way she conducted herself publically.

Something about Carrie that I really look up to, and I didn’t realize until recently, was how much courage it takes to truly be yourself when you’re on a public platform – or when a lot of people will be looking at you. She was so unapologetic and so openly herself. That’s something I’m really trying to do and that’s hard. I think she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie. What an example! She will really live on forever.

Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. Courtesy of Disney/ Lucasfilm.

Daisy Ridley, who once again reprises her role as Rey, also noticed this disparity between male and female characters in this world. Mostly she’s “thrilled” that a more inclusive balance has been achieved – and that’s just good for all humankind.

When I got involved, I knew it was a big deal. But the response was so beyond anything I could’ve imagined. I never took it for granted, but it was so monumental – the response. It’s not like, ‘She’s a girl. This is a guy.’ It’s just everyone is great characters.

Tran added,

It feels like an honor and responsibility at the same time. In the beginning, I felt like I wanted to do it justice. I’m just so excited that all the girls in this movie – every  single one of them – kick some butt.

Dern credits Johnson for making it a point to shine a spotlight on dynamic women.

I just want to pay tribute to Rian for being one of the most brilliantly subversive filmmakers I’ve ever been able to bear witness to. In the case of the look of my character, I was moved by the fact that he really wanted her strength to first lead with a very deep femininity – and to see a very powerful character be feminine. It’s something that moved away from stereotype that sometimes is perceived in strong female characters.

Christie elucidated,

You get to see women being strong not just because they’re acting like men. They’re doing something else and you’re seeing a developed character – or at least a developing character that’s showing some complex character traits. I’m delighted that something as legendary as STAR WARS has decided to be modern and to reflect our society more as it is.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI opens on December 15.

Header photo: Carrie Fisher in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. Courtesy of Disney/ Lucasfilm.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.