With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens last weekend, fans across the world were introduced to the new female lead, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Previous installments of Star Wars have largely been dominated by male characters filling the roles of the Jedi, with females, namely Padme and Leia, filling alternate roles. And while both Padme and Leia proved their capableness in their own right by joining the fight against the Dark Side, neither took on the role of Jedi. Now for the first time ever, in over four decades of Star Wars history, a female has been cast as the lead.
Fast forward to 30 years after Return of the Jedi when Rey breaks onto the scene. Cast as a scavenger girl living on the desert planet of Jakku, Rey is waiting for her family who have long since deserted her, supposedly with the promise of one day returning. This isolated life that she lives forces her to learn how to fend for herself in a world of harsh conditions, which undeniably prepares her for the path that she undertakes as the movie progresses. After meeting up with Han and Chewie, and a brief encounter with Maz Katana who partially reveals Rey’s destiny, she discovers (with certainly some inhibitions) that she is to inherit Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and fulfill her role as one of the Jedi. Of course things don’t initially go as planned, but she quickly learns to connect with The Force and tap into its power by resisting Kylo Ren’s mind powers, tricking a Stormtrooper into releasing her from imprisonment, and dueling with a lightsaber, all without any formal training.
“She’s so strong. She’s cool and smart and she can look after herself,” says Ridley when talking about Rey in her interview with Elle magazine. Rey isn’t characterized by her looks or her body, as so many are in Hollywood. Instead it is her strength, her intelligence, and her loving nature that has made audiences everywhere fall in love with her. Speaking of her strength, Ridley went through a gruelling fitness schedule with a strict diet for three months before filming began in which she had to put on muscle in order to play the role of a scavenger. She would train for five hours a day, five days a week at the gym, as well as stunt practice which was also required to prepare her for her role. Although filming has ended, Ridley has maintained her schedule so as to keep in shape for the next Star Wars film which is set to begin filming in the very near future.
Rigorous training aside, the focus was never on her body and beauty. Rather, Rey is more concerned with helping those in need and is a character who can inspire girls (and boys) everywhere to know that it is what is inside that truly counts. Outward appearances matter little in comparison to what each person is capable of doing and becoming, and if girls want to be adventurous and get a little dirt on themselves in the process, they can. “Young girls can look at her [Rey] and know that they can wear trousers if they want to,” says Ridley. “That they don’t have to show off their bodies.” In a world that so often sexualizes the female body in media all around us, to have a role model like Ridley is essential to a growing generation of Star Wars fans.
It is both refreshing and empowering to see a woman take on such a large and important role in what is arguably the most popular movie franchise of all time. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Ridley’s first movie role and she dominates the screen with her optimistic and adventurous personality. J.J. Abrams knew that in order for a new trilogy of Star Wars films to be a success, he would need to cast someone who could be the face of the series, someone who no one had previously seen, just as the original and prequel trilogies did in their time. Ridley has not disappointed in becoming exactly that in her stellar portrayal of Rey and will continue to set new standards and break down barriers as the series continues in successive films.