Culture

Star Wars Proves Feminists Are Clueless about Science Fiction

Princess Leia in the original Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already inspired hundreds of think pieces, none more amusing than those by feminist writers who are positively over the moon about Rey, the movie’s female protagonist. Make no mistake, I like Rey. Daisy Ridley brings the right amount of joy and wonder to the character, cutting force-empowered hyper-competence with the right hint of surprised determination. But the fact that feminists are hailing her (and a couple of other bit-part characters) as some sort of ideological revelation shows how little they know about modern science fiction, including Star Wars itself.

Perhaps my favorite piece in this nonsensical vein was Jezebel’s “Finally, Women Do More than Give Birth and Die in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But writing in more sober tones, columnists at The Atlantic and Slate couldn’t help but declare basically the same thing: that the new movie is distinctively different and more feminist than every other entry in the franchise. “Rey . . . is Star Wars’s first feminist protagonist,” gushed The Atlantic’s Megan Garber. “No distressing damsel, she’s instead a fighter and a survivor and a nurturer and an all-around badass.”

So what was Leia if not a fighter, survivor, and all-around badass? All the way back in 1977, just as the “right side of history” was establishing that starlets could kick just as much butt as male action stars, Carrie Fisher’s character blasted stormtroopers, resisted torture, gave up her home planet for obliteration, mocked her “rescuers,” blasted more stormtroopers, and helped plan the attack on the Death Star, all in the trilogy’s first two hours. Subsequent installments saw her do even more blasting and play an even bigger role in the military affairs of the Rebel Alliance. She infiltrated a slaver’s den dressed as a bounty hunter, then choked Jabba the Hutt to death using the very chain with which he’d imprisoned her. How empowering is that?

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Leia paved the way for the legions of butt-kicking females that dominate modern sci-fi/fantasy films. From Sigourney Weaver to Angelina Jolie to Mila Jovovich to Scarlet Johansson to Jennifer Lawrence, the empowered woman is everywhere. She outfights men, outthinks men, and displays physical prowess that the mind can scarcely comprehend. Does anyone remember Serenity? At the climax of the movie, River, a young girl who looks like she weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, takes down dozens of rabid, howling “reavers” in hand-to-hand combat. It’s a gripping scene, and not atypical for the genre.

Indeed, modern sci-fi has been so open to the female action star precisely because it provides a rationale for the physical empowerment of women. Genetic engineering, The Force, training from birth, or alien power – any number of explanations allow you to actually believe that Rey could to toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren, that Black Widow could make mincemeat of alien warriors, or that River could eviscerate those reavers.

#share#But for the feminist Left, the past is a yawning abyss of sexism. It’s almost like they haven’t actually watched the last 40 years of science fiction. They’ve read academic deconstructions of Leia’s slave-girl costume, of course. They live in perpetual frustration that Iron Man isn’t Iron Woman. And they hate that “ze” is portrayed with excessive gender-specificity. But have they watched any of these characters in action? Is it not enough to laud Rey simply because she’s awesome?

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J. J. Abrams pulled off the impossible — he made almost everyone happy, mainly because the progressive Left knows so little about the last 40 years of sci-fi that it failed to realize that Rey isn’t remotely revolutionary. Americans have known and loved great, strong female characters for generations. But progressives demand “progress,” and as my colleague Stephen Miller notes, they are unlike to leave the franchise’s next director alone to craft a compelling story with compelling characters. Next, they’ll demand that the story itself contain progressive elements. Perhaps we’ll learn that the First Order’s real sin isn’t that it’s totalitarian and bloodthirsty but that it wouldn’t let Han Solo marry Chewbacca. Or maybe the Resistance is virtuous mainly because it can teach America how to integrate women in ground combat. Will Kylo Ren triumph over the dark side by discovering his true self and becoming Kylie Ren?

#related#Both the original films and the newest Star Wars work because their stories echo the story — the chosen one, the journey, the adventure, the ultimate struggle of good versus evil. In that context, the sex and race of the characters is immaterial compared with the quality of the script and the excellence of the actors. But if you politicize the story — defining good and evil according to the dictates of social justice rather than their more commonly understood meanings — then fewer people will care what happens in that galaxy far, far away. Is social justice worth a billion dollars in lost revenue? I’m guessing not, so I eagerly look forward to the next installment, when Rey’s just as courageous as Leia, and the feminists applaud her character as if they’ve never seen anything like it.

If ignorance keeps them in bliss and a beloved franchise is saved, it will be worth it.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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