I’ve been thinking lately.
And all the people said “Oh no.”
This time, I have been thinking mostly about Rey from The Force Awakens. She is by no means a typical character (ie archetype) for the big screen these days, but that does not necessarily mean she is a good character. Originality does not guarantee excellence; just take a look at the uniqueness of the junk on television every day. Then again, originality is not necessarily bad; if Rey is so different from the majority of characters on screen, chances are that she and I have a lot in common.
But… to determine if anyone fits a definition, we need to know what that definition is. So here is my claim: a strong character needs neither a sword nor a soapbox to be a well-rounded, dynamic role model in a story. Get it? Got it? Good.
Let us begin with “well-rounded.” Well… yes, Rey is well-rounded. In fact, of all the characters in the movie, Rey is the most developed. For all you Myers-Briggs enthusiasts, my guess is that she’s an INFJ. She is hard-working (competent at her job of scavenging) and she is loyal and organized (keeping a record on her wall). At the same time, she has a sentimental side; don’t tell me you didn’t see the little flower on her kitchen table and the old doll on her shelf.
Further into the movie, Rey proves that she can be tough without losing her gentleness. She can scare off a freaky-little-alien-thing riding a freaky-big-alien-thing with her staff, but she does it to rescue poor BB8 from being scrapped. She attacks Finn, but only because BB8 accuses Finn of killing his friend Poe. She isn’t afraid to cry when her friends are killed or injured. And I dare anyone not to chuckle when her face lights up and she says proudly, “I bypassed the compressor!” Yes, I’d say she has depth to her character.
Secondly, Rey is a dynamic character. She isn’t turned into another flat soapbox like Tauriel the redheaded activist (ugh), but she grows in her feminine confidence without turning feminist. More tangibly, at the beginning of the story, Rey refuses to take Finn’s hand, claiming that she can run by herself. Well, duh. It’s the old boys-opening-doors-for-girls problem. Maybe we are feeling a little bit insecure about ourselves, Rey?
Yet I had judged her too soon. By the end of the movie, Rey is the one grabbing Finn’s hand and borrowing his jacket in a snowstorm. Don’t believe me? Look at this. And all this just makes sense; if a guy was in Rey’s place, he would be dragging his friends away from danger and accepting a coat when a blizzard starts, too. It’s not chauvinism; it’s common sense. And all this is to mirror her development as a powerful Jedi who fights evil in the galaxy (which we had better see in the next movie!). Rey learns to be confident with who she is and where she is going, and thus she becomes a stronger character.
Finally, Rey is what I generally call a “role model.” This is what most qualifies her as a strong character. Remember when Finn is getting dragged away by a really-big-freaky-alien-thing aboard Han Solo’s freighter? Of course you do. Rey figures out how to close the doors just in time to free Finn from the tentacles. Nice. The scene is intense, awesome, and undeniably original. But- did you notice what Rey said to Finn after rescuing him from imminent death? Just “That was lucky!”
In many other stories- and even at the beginning of Rey’s story- the girl might have replied with something along the lines of, “Yes, I know. I’m the one who did it, because I am a smart empowered female. I know how things work.” (Yes, I just took a shot at Tomorrowland. I’m not sorry.) That is what makes the difference in Rey’s character: she has a certain maturity, a unique sort of strength, that intensifies over the course of the story. I no longer have to squirm when my sister dresses up as Rey or chooses her for a Disney Infinity character; I know that Rey won’t be influencing her or any other girls to become self-absorbed featherheads who worry about all the wrong things.
At the end of the day, a strong female character (as well as any male one!) should be able to stand on her own feet. She shouldn’t have to stand on a soapbox to look taller, nor should she need a sword to make a point. Both puns were very much intended. If you want to write a strong female character, stop worrying about proverbial glass ceilings and start worrying about how you will write a strong character who will make all of your readers admire her and the rest of your work. Be like J.J. Abrams.
That is, unless you would rather be George Lucas.
So- is Rey a strong female character or not? Comment below and share your thoughts.
AND I have one quick announcement: I’ll be sharing a few first-draft snippets from Alen’s War on Facebook this week. You can check that out here– and definitely do so because you won’t want to miss all these wonderful sneak peaks.