The Strong Female Characters of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Disclosure: I attended a press screening of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Despite existing stigmas, the Star Wars series has never been for just one gender. What is true, however, is as the franchise expands and evolves, new heroes are introduced to represent more and more demographics. Whereas the original trilogy mainly had only Princess Leia as its female role model, the following films, TV shows, video games, and novels have created dozens of strong woman characters. With the Skywalker Saga, which began back in 1977 with A New Hope, coming to an historic close with Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the film dedicated its runtime to showcase some existing, and some new, empowering role models for the universe.
As someone who is a mother to a daughter, and majored in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies in college, representation of strong women in films is something I’m very passionate about. I wanted to give some sort of review for The Rise of Skywalker of course, but with this being such an important film (the end of the Skywalker saga, you could say the end of an era), I don’t want to give any spoilers whatsoever. Nor do I want to do a traditional review and have my opinions possibly affect your experience viewing it. Because whether you enjoy the film or not, I want you to go in, give it a fair shot, and feel that thrill of watching a new Star Wars film in theatres unbiased. It’s truly a feeling like no other.
So instead, I want to talk about the women of this particular Episode. I would say there are more women who play an integral role to the story in this film compared to any other Star Wars film. So I wanted to talk about each of them, and what strengths they exhibit and how they are each uniquely a role model for future generations of Star Wars fans watching.
General Leia Organa
While she was never to be considered a true damsel in distress, the character of Leia (Carrie Fisher), twin sister to Luke Skywalker and daughter to Anakin Skywalker, showed evolution from the fiery freedom fighter she was in the original trilogy. In the sequel trilogy, she is a strong albeit world-weary general and leader of the galaxy’s last hope at freedom.
Her role in the films are primarily as a mentor. In The Last Jedi she aids in the growth of Poe Dameron, shaping him into the leader he is in The Rise of Skywalker. After the death of actress Carrie Fisher, many were concerned with how the final film would be able to conclude her storyline. Despite having to rewrite her character arc, built around unused footage from the previous films, Leia retains a strong presence, acting as Rey’s mentor and Kylo Ren’s last remaining tether to the Light Side.
She shows girls that you can be a strong leader no matter your age. I feel we hardly ever see women who are middle-aged or older in these types of roles, and I think it’s very impactful that not only is General Leia Organa in this role, but her age or gender isn’t a plot point or ever discussed. Everyone is just on board and in agreement she is a respected, intelligent leader of the resistance.
Introduced in The Last Jedi, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is a quintessential Star Wars hero, a young rebel thrust into the center of the conflict due mainly by fortune and her own know-how. A strong-willed but inexperienced mechanic, she forms an immediate bond with fellow rebel Finn as they attempted to infiltrate the First Order to free the escaping Resistance fleet.
Although a curiously divisive character, Rose represents the optimism and inherent good of the Star Wars galaxy. She is unlike many other “battle-ready” heroines from the franchise. Instead she represents just an average person, fighting only with the power of her belief in justice. Although her role is sadly reduced in The Rise of Skywalker, her presence in the film is still of optimism and a faith in the good in people, and dedication to her resistance family.
A newcomer to the story, Jannah (Naomi Ackie) isn’t given many character moments due to her entering later in the story, but she is strong and pivotal to the heroes of the film. As a former stormtrooper leading a band of freedom fighters on Endor, Jannah, much like Rose before her, represents the strong will of good people, the optimism that enough people will stand for what’s right when they’re needed the most.
Hope has always been the recurring theme of the stories in the Star Wars universe. Throughout the franchise, the Jedi have often been the symbols of hope, but in the newer films, such as 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, “hope” was more broadly defined as being the power of individuals standing up to oppression, rather than reliance on magical warriors. Jannah is the latest of leaders called to action to do what’s right, beyond the Light Side and Dark Side of the Force.
At the press junket, Ackie talked about how she became more in tune with this strong character by gaining confidence she didn’t have before during the physical training for Jannah, including doing pull-ups and horseback riding.
Ackie worked along with director J.J. Abrams to figure out the balance between the strength of her character and the caring, empathetic qualities she has:
“We don’t always have to just be strong and fierce, sometimes vulnerability is strength at the same time. Finding that balance is really interesting, and I feel like we found it by the end.”
Like Jannah, Zorii (Keri Russell) is a new addition to the Star Wars canon. A former associate from Poe Dameron’s past, the constantly helmeted smuggler is integral to the main storyline, reluctantly assisting the heroes in their quest to defeat the First Order. And although, much like Jannah, she isn’t afforded many character-building scenes, we get a good indication of who she is and her relationship with Poe.
Her character can almost be seen as a female counterpoint to the Han Solo archetype. She is introduced as a scoundrel and criminal with hints of Robin Hood-like altruism, who, despite her intention to only look out for herself, likewise does not turn down the call to do what is right when she is needed. It is refreshing to see this dichotomy in a female character in a major film.
At the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker press junket Keri Russell said she loved that her character was almost always in mask. It represented a super tough version of herself: “It’s a real power play in a way, because no one can really see what you’re thinking but you can see everyone else.”
As the central figure of the new trilogy, Rey’s character arc has been fascinating to watch. In very much the same vein as previous hero Luke Skywalker, Rey is a commoner from a desert planet who is thrown into adventure, discovers her magical powers, and goes on a path to realize her destiny in the world, whether for good or for bad. As the primary Force-user of the new trilogy, Rey gets the distinction of being the first female character in a lightsaber battle within the scope of the films. She continues to show that no matter when doing the right thing or changing the galaxy for the better seems impossible, it is worth it to give it your all to try to make that change.
Throughout the film, Rey has to face many challenges both in physical strength and emotionally. This was felt through the filming by Ridley, who at the press junket talked about how no day was just “one quick scene”. Every day was heavy, and a challenge for her to portray these difficult circumstances for Rey.
The Rise of Skywalker Synopsis:
After the events of The Last Jedi, the Resistance continues to struggle along in its battle against the might of the First Order, now led solely by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. As Rey continues her Jedi training, she and her Rebel friends are called upon for the Resistance’s most important mission. Rumors of an secret enemy raising a massive, clandestine fleet spurs the heroes on a hunt for the source of this new threat. Along the way, Kylo Ren pursues Rey, hoping to bring her to the Dark Side, armed with knowledge regarding her own identity, as Rey struggles to discover her destiny.
The Rise of Skywalker is in theatres December 20th. You can find tickets here.