I feel that the term “strong female character” is rather ambiguous when used to describe the variety of female characters in today’s works of fiction, be it on the screen or in literature. I applaud all characters that have genuine ranges of emotion, showcase weakness in stressful situations and then come out on top. Female characters that I love and come to mind when discussing recent releases in Film/TV and literature are for example, Katniss Everdeen from the “Hunger Games” and Sansa Stark from GRRM’s “Song of Ice and Fire” and HBO adaptation “Game of Thrones.” However, I find it rather upsetting when female characters are showered with abilities, given a brief or unbelievable backstory and the shoehorned into a traditionally male role. I say male role because these sort of “badass” female characters are so out of touch with their feminine side that they become frustratingly unbelievable to me, as if the idea of a woman in such a role is so alien to the audience that the femininity of the character is best left unmentioned and stowed away, for the most part anyway.
Nowhere is this more true than in the character of Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed,” JJ Abrams’ new take (and vanity project) on the re-rebooted Star Wars Universe. The character of Rey (yes, just “Rey” but bare with me) is such a cardboard cut out of the Mary Sue archetype that she undermines the otherwise well thought out, but otherwise uninspired plot of the movie. “Rey” as far as we know has spent her entire life living on a desert planet barely able to keep herself fed with her occupation as a scavenger of a nearby scrapyard, but somehow has amazing skin and hair? Yet, when a fugitive Stormtropper called Finn (trust me the names don’t get any better) needs her help she proves herself to be a masterful pilot, taking down a fighter jet with her new friend. Before this point in the movie her mastery of the skies is not mentioned in detail but it is implied she flew star-ships for a local slumlord who somehow saw it fit to teach a street urchin about space-ships. Naturally, the audience will ask themselves why on Earth she has not just flown away from her hellhole of a planet to start a new life. This question is answered in a brief scene later on where it is explained that her guardians had dropped her off in the scrapyard, said their goodbyes and then flew off back into space never to be seen again. Frustratingly, we are to believe that she still harbors some hope of them returning even after well over a decade has passed.
Rey’s mastery of the skies is not her only natural skill, oh no far from it. As the movie progresses she learns how to shoot a laser gun with pinpoint accuracy, repair a damaged spaceship, control people’s minds using the force, sneak undetected around a military base on high alert, and last but not least take on the movie’s antagonist and fellow lightsaber enthusiast Kylo Ren (honestly?) without ever having so much as held a lightsaber before. Granted, Kylo Ren was injured when the duel took place but she was still utterly outmatched, in spite of this she eventually comes out on top leaving her foe injured on the ground. Sadly she would not strike him down that day and the two part ways, no doubt having a rematch in the next film.
Ultimately, characters like Rey don’t advance the cause of feminism in any medium at all and only serve to prove that the only way to have a good female character is to simply make that character do everything that the male heroes usually do, such as being really good at fighting and war and stuff. Hopefully, in the future there will be more fleshed out female characters on the big screen and preferably ones who are not just male substitutes. After-all what would be the point in that?