And, finally, into our world came Rey. In May 1977, I was five years old, and though I begged, my mother wouldn’t let me see “Star Wars” because she feared Vader’s skeletal-like hemet would “scare” me. But I did get to see “Empire Strikes Back” in 1980, and I fell in love with the mythology, especially how “The Force” hearkened so much to Hinduism, reincarnation, and out of body experiences which I’d already been secretly reading about. (That’s another story for another time.) In Star Wars, I’d found a mythological arena where my mind could wander in a way that rocked my world and a set of archetypes that motivated me to fight for what I believed in, all under a spiritual/guiding principle umbrella that made much more sense than the Catholicism I was forced to learn at CCD and officially abandoned in a very large and unintentionally public way right before I turned 10 years old.
But “Star Wars,” though my favorite thing in the world at the time, was also hard for me: I was “in love” with Han Solo (who doesn’t love a rogue with a heart of gold?) and wanted to make out with him, but I wanted to take Luke’s Journey and hang out with Yoda. I never wanted to be Leia: she was tough, but she stood around lots and listened to intercoms to get updates about a battle, rather than hop into an X-wing and physically engage, too (unless necessary). Her white and light-colored clothes, no-strand loose hair, and way she grabbed onto Luke in the Death Star were too “girly” for me, despite her badassery and help rescuing Han from Jabba. More, it was clear that she had something else in her (like The Force/potential to be a Jedi), but a certain physical passivity that she succumbed to that made it clear she’d never take that journey–or, more apt, be a leader (a military general), yet not also go through that Boot Camp that would wholly let her see who she IS and the Each and All that resides within her. Yes, she was a senator, which meant she had a degree of leadership, but there was always talk amongst my friends that she received her senatorship because she was already a Princess–thus, there was always a thought that she didn’t have to work all too hard to “earn” that place. (Ah, what children will do to perpetuate the socialization they are fed at their family dinner tables!) As an adult feminist, I know every woman has the right to choose her own journey as she sees best for herself: her life, her journey…and that she can choose not to take the path of the Jedi (and, yes: Leia is amazing and does amazing things within that mythological world); however, as a child hungry to see a heroic female character I could relate to–a female hero, NOT a heroine–I always secretly lamented the fact that, likely, I’d never see Leia wielding a lightsaber, getting dirty/sloppy/sweaty/messy while running through the bogs and locating her Center, or training like Luke did with a 900 year old wise old being who’d seen so much. Vader was her father, too, and I just didn’t understand why “the boy” got to take the larger and more powerful journey toward transcendence, and the “girl” always wore light colored clothes that barely got dirty.
Last night, I saw Star Wars “The Force Awakens” for the first time. And toward the end, in a forest scene, I cried harder than I expected, and I scared the male stranger sitting to the right of me.
Rey is the character my nine-year-old self hungered for and actually prayed to the Oversoul to reveal to me when playing Star Wars on the playground or writing my own Star Wars short stories. Rey was dressed in utilitarian ways, was tech savvy, took care of herself, ran and let her hair become a hot mess, haggled when she felt she was being jilted, got sweaty and stained, saved the guys when necessary (and the guys never appeared to doubt her skills/be in awe that “a girl” did that), saw she had value well beyond her physical beauty, and she didn’t need her hand to be held or to have a guy guide her… especially when she knew that she understood the situation better than that guy did. And, finally–FINALLY–that nine-year old girl in me, the one who’d sit on the school’s cement steps to write Star Wars short stories during recess and lunch that had me and other girls cast as Jedi heroes, got to see what she hungered for but had been told she was “weird” to have wanted: I cried the moment Rey opened a lightsaber, answered the Hero’s Call and embraced her whole Self. And I suspect there are many other women my age (I’m 44 years old) who likely did the same and wondered as I did: what took Hollywood so goddamn long?
I’ve always wondered who I would have been if a character like this would’ve been out there for a girl like me: what parts of me did I allow to fall to the wayside because I was told, “well, that’s what the boys get to do,” as I was told over and over whenever I asked why the great journeys were always headed by men…and why it was a near-scandalous novelty when girls “sneaked” into the fold via male drag to show their abilities. When my paternal grandfather died, I got cash…and my brother received all of his WW II treasures, including bayonets and weapons taken off of Nazis with whom he’d engaged in battle for the US…and when I asked my dad why my grandfather’s collection went entirely to my brother, he told me it was because “boys like guns and war stories.” (My father has since apologized, told me some of my grandfather’s stories *and* his stories from Viet Nam, and, currently, most of those WWII objects are housed in my apartment. Yet another story for another time.) And it took me years of therapy and shrugging away the consistent accusations of being “sassy,” “aggressive,” “bossy,” “uptight,” “demanding,” “nosey,’ “abusive,” “bitchy,” and “a cunt” because, early on, I realized I didn’t fit in, I gave up trying to fit in, and I decided that, in this life time and in this body, I had things I wanted to do…and I wasn’t going to let my anatomy stand in my way, in the way of my dreams, or in the way of where the Universe continually pushed me to be. I cannot help but wonder, if Rey had been there for girls like me back in the 80s, would I have needed to learn how to be unapologetic about my character, assertiveness, sex drive, and problem-solving techniques and spend so many thousands of dollars sitting with therapists who helped me build myself into the woman I am today? (And I fucking love who I am today, thanks to the work they helped me do!) I cannot help but be excited for and a little envious of the little girls who sat in the audience with me last night…because they may never know what door blew open and ceiling burst the moment someone green lighted putting the character Rey in the Star Wars franchise.
I say this for a reason: folks often forget that even the strong need heroes…and the more we see heroes who “look” like us in terms of appearance and character, the faster we embrace our personal Centers in ways that we can then move forward to seek our true joys and passions.
Visibility is so important, not just to children, but to all of us who seek to spend our lives in perpetual states of Transformation and in hopes of finding our Core and that “thing” that we can contribute to the world. Rey would’ve provided visibility to the female hero I sought to see/strive toward becoming/craved to know existed…but, since she didn’t, I created my own heroes and pulled them from my own mind and brought them into my interior worlds.
Look around: what can you give visibility toward so someone else out there knows they’re not alone? Because, as I learned last night, I’ve never been alone: that archetype of the female hero has always been there… it’s just that Hollywood kept her on the shelf, thinking she was “weird” when, actually, she wasn’t: thousands of little girls would’ve loved her and found empowerment in her back in 1977, just as they have in 2016. What “meeting” Rey last night reminded me: I will not wait to show myself to others, regardless of the negative names I generate because I am simply being “me” and happy with that “me” I am and continue to become.
You never know who needs to see that confirmation that, indeed, they’ve never been alone on their Journey or with their hungers.
Christina Court is a filmmaker, director of “High Shine,” and a board member for the Leather Archives & Museum. She lives in Chicago.