The Current

Daisy Ridley's Rey inspired a new generation of female Star Wars fans, says cosplayer

Caitlin Beards has been a Star Wars fan since she was a young girl — but it wasn't until The Force Awakens four years ago that she saw a female heroine who she felt a true connection with.

Caitlin Beards says boys and girls alike are excited to see her in Star Wars cosplay

Caitlin Beards cosplaying as Rey from Star Wars. The latest film in the series, The Rise of Skywalker, hits theatres Thursday. (Vander Photography/Submitted by Caitlin Beards)

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Caitlin Beards has been a diehard Star Wars fan since she was a kid. But she never quite saw a character she could fully identify with — the lightsaber-wielding Jedi, including Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, were all men.

But in 2015's The Force Awakens, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, became the first woman to truly take up the Jedi mantle. From then on, Beards was all in.

"That pinnacle moment, when Rey reaches out her hand and grabs a lightsaber from Kylo [Ren], all of a sudden I was like, 'There, I finally have a character who I felt a very strong connection with,'" she told The Current's guest host Jayme Poisson.

Beards, 34, channelled her day job experience at a visual arts school and created costumes for herself as Rey, joining the legions of fans who "cosplay" as their favourite characters at comic conventions and other fan-laden events.

It is a great time to be a girl in nerd fandom- Caitlin Beards

Ridley returns as Rey this week in The Rise of Skywalker, the latest Star Wars film and purportedly the final one to feature the characters first introduced by director George Lucas in 1977.

Beards recalled being in costume at a Yankees game, posing for photos with fans as part of a charity group called the Rebel Legion, when a little girl tugged at her outfit to get her attention.

Beards, second from left, poses with Star Wars fans at a baseball game as part of the Rebel Legion charity group. (Submitted by Caitlin Beards)

"And she's like, 'Rey, I just wanted to let you know that you're my hero.' And then she runs off with her family," she said.

"So that was definitely the highlight of me ever being dressed as Rey."

'A new paradigm of female heroine'

Beards notes that young girls and boys alike have embraced Rey's hero status.

"Gender [or] or anything like that doesn't matter. What it is, is that they see this character who's strong, and they love them."

David Christopher, an arts and visual history instructor at the University of Victoria, created a cultural studies course about Star Wars.

Left to right: Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Daisy Ridley as Rey, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron and John Boyega as Finn in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

He said that one student described Rey to him as "a new paradigm of a female heroine," who flipped Luke Skywalker's original hero's journey on its head.

"Outside of the Oedipal narrative of Luke looking for his father, you've got that very mirror image in [The Last Jedi], where it turns out the parental guidance [Rey] is looking for ends up being her own — her individuality, herself," he explained.

Female screen time a mixed bag, says writer

According to Rebecca Harrison, female representation in the Star Wars tent-pole films has been mixed at best.

In 2018, the University of Glasgow lecturer in film and television studies calculated the amount of screen time afforded to women in the films

The Last Jedi in 2017 scored the best, with 43 per cent. The 1977 original, anchored by the late Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia, ranked last at 15 per cent.

But Harrison said that the progression wasn't completely linear over time.

"I actually found that the prequel films, so the films that came out in the '90s, in the 2000s are on the whole worse than the films that came out for women's representation in the 1970s and the 1980s," she said.

She also found the films as a whole featured far fewer roles for women of colour, who enjoyed only 14.3 per cent in The Last Jedi.

"These films are still privileging whiteness in a lot of different ways," she said. "So yeah, it's quite a complicated picture."

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia was the original Star Wars female lead (and sometimes damsel in distress).

Princess Leia not just a damsel in distress

Despite the numbers, Harrison says she was transfixed by the strong-willed and headstrong Leia when she first saw Return of the Jedi as a young girl.

"I just remember being totally transfixed by a woman on a speeder bike racing through a forest with blaster pistols," she said.

I think seeing a woman on screen in that role, seeing a kind of a princess in a slightly more alternative kind of style of representation was really important for me. And I've loved the films ever since- Rebecca Harrison

"I think seeing a woman on screen in that role, seeing a kind of a princess in a slightly more alternative kind of style of representation was really important for me. And I've loved the films ever since."

Despite Leia's original status as a damsel in distress, Christopher noted that Fisher's performance introduced "a really strong independent character" that "young women, for the first time, could really sink their teeth into" in the sci-fi genre.

The late Fisher appears in the latest Star Wars film thanks to unused footage and some digital trickery. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

As far as female representation goes, Beards said that fans can look beyond the main films to find characters like Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren from the animated series Star Wars Rebels. Gina Carano and Ming-Na Wen also make appearances in the Disney+ series The Mandalorian.

She's also buoyed by female-led series like Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss in The Hunger Games, and Emma Watson's Hermione in the Harry Potter film adaptations.

"It is a great time to be a girl in nerd fandom," she said.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Alison Maseman.


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