A fan approached her to autograph a toy of Boyega’s Finn character rather than Ridley’s Rey, she recalls. “I was like, ‘Why am I signing a Finn thing?’ And he was like, ‘The Reys have sold out.’ I was so pleased!”
It’s no longer a galaxy where
Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia or Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala are the only heroic females, as in the first two movie trilogies. Rey is the lightsaber-wielding, Millennium Falcon-piloting focal point of a new crop of Star Wars films — the first of which has already set records with its $238 million debut — but she's just one in a strong crew of women bringing not just balance but equality to the Force.
Leia is now a general and heading the Resistance against the evil First Order. Maz Kanata (played by
Lupita Nyong’o via motion capture) is a space pirate who runs a galactic bar and offers some of the strongest Star Wars insight since Yoda. And Captain Phasma ( Gwendoline Christie) is a towering, intimidating figure who leads a battalion of First Order Stormtroopers.
“Star Wars does it very well that every character has their nuances and their differences,” Ridley says. “Girls can look at this wonderful array of women and see something in everything. And also men — the audience is not gender-specific.” (Still, the audience that went to The Force Awakens in its first weekend skewed heavily male: 66%, according to a
J.J. Abrams even got himself into a little bit of trouble with his wife and daughter when he mentioned on Good Morning America that in the past, Star Warswas “always a boy thing.”
“They were saying, ‘Well, since when has Star Wars been just for the boys?’ ” the filmmaker says. “I didn’t mean that women and girls don’t love Star Wars. I’ve been to enough Comic-Cons to be well aware that Star Wars has a wonderful and enormous female fan base. But a lot of the approach to marketing has been to sell to boys.”
Both Abrams and executive producer Kathleen Kennedy were “very upset” when they saw that large department chains were advertising only new male action figures, he says. That hasn't stopped fans from finding their favorites, though. DisneyStore.com quickly sold out of a Rey figure (packaged with a Jedi lightsaber) released Dec. 18, the same day as the movie.
Stormtrooper-esque costume is appealing to all genders and ages but her popularity as a character is much more tied to the idea of who she is, according to Christie.
“To me, it’s a brilliant signifier that people are embracing and want change,” she says. “They want to see a different kind of representation of women and of men than the ones we are used to seeing, and people really want to see greater diversity.
“There’s no greater recognition that this is what people want than the response that’s been had by the Star Wars fans and the audience of this film.”
Rey is the first woman to truly be at the center of a Star Wars film — after
Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker starred in the original trilogy and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker was key to the prequels. Her humor, vulnerability and physical skills “will give the movie, as time goes on, an even greater appreciation from female fans around the world,” says Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
Ridley’s performance “is reminiscent of
Charlize Theron's Furiosa earlier this year inMad Max: Fury Road, yet she as a fresh face on the big screen makes this strong female character uniquely and indelibly her own,” he says.
Ridley teases that there are many more female characters to come in future Star Wars movies that haven’t been announced, and while it’s amazing for her to be a part of it, she doesn’t see it as being out of the ordinary.
“For me, it just feels like, of course this is how it should be," Ridley says. "Why wouldn’t it be like this?”