“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” tackles racism, misogyny, men’s “daddy issues”

*Minor spoiler alert ahead*

During what was arguably the most awaited film of the year, fans lined up hours before show time to catch the recently released sequel to the original Star Wars franchise. The Force Awakens follows Return of The Jedi, 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire.

Though I do have a basic grasp of the series, I don’t claim to be a Star Wars fanatic. Nevertheless, this film surpassed my wildest expectations. Directors always run a risk when they revive a trilogy as massively successful as the original Star Wars. The 1999 prequel left even the most devoted cult followers underwhelmed and heartbroken. The Force Awakens, however, counters that failure with a refreshing breath of action packed hilarity.

Director J.J. Abrams takes an entirely original approach in his casting, presenting a generation to fresh faces, one reflective of our diversely modern culture. The two leads, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are versatile, witty, and captivating. While Finn’s casting caused controversy earlier in the year due to racist backlash against having a black male lead, Boyega silenced critics with his charismatic interpretation of a conflicted Stormtrooper who defies the Empire. Boyega shatters all the stereotypes of the often over-masculinized paradigms of black men we often see presented in pop culture.

He depicts a range of emotions, displaying fear of the Empire and resentment in the violence they’ve inflicted throughout the galaxy. Boyega successfully translates this anxiety to the audience in both his mannerism and intense gaze. Though he is bold, Finn is often times endearingly naive, at one point confessing to Han Solo that he worked in the sanitation department but hoped to bring down the evil empire by using ‘the force.” Han promptly responds “That’s not how the force works!”

Ridley’s character, on the other hand, may be the single most empowering female lead of the year. Tough, independent, and cunning, Ray is a scavenger who fights her way through Empire foot soldiers and eventually comes face to face in an epic battle with Commander Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). There was not a single scene where she required any rescuing – even beating Finn, Chewy, and Han Solo to the punch in escaping her own capturer. Ridley is reminiscent of Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean; she exerts both masculine and feminine qualities that challenge gender binaries.

She also sets a standard for upcoming Star Wars films, as it has been historically noted that women played minimal roles in the original trilogy. The New York Magazine recently published a YouTube video titled Women Don’t Talk Much in Star Wars, which showed the total number of times females (with the exception of Princess Leia) spoke in the original films. While there were 386 minutes of run time for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – the few side characters actually played by women were only given 63 seconds of airtime. 


There is also something to be said about the semi-recycled storyline involving Kylo Ren, who is the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Ren turns to the dark side after initially training with his uncle, Luke Skywalker. However, after rejecting Skywalker’s teachings he is seduced by the Empire’s supreme leader, Snoke, and ends up as a Commander of the First Order. For most Star War fans there is a deja-vu quality to the plot, as it strongly resembles that of a New Hope. Ren idolizes his grandfather’s power, thus explaining an eerie monologue with the burnt Darth Vader mask.

There is no doubt that susceptibility to the ‘dark side’ runs in the family, but it seems as though the galaxy is always on the brink of extinction because the men who run the Galactic Empire feel abandoned by their fathers. Neither Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, nor Kylo Ren could quite seem to work past the therapeutic stages of their daddy issues. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting perspective to examine the dynamics of father-son relationships and the affects it has on fascism in the Star Wars universe.

All in all the film was an entertaining cinematic experience, if not for the action and humor alone.  The script is full of delightful easter eggs and throwback references for some of the more hardcore Star War fanatics. Whether you are just jumping aboard the Star Wars bandwagon, or you have been a fan for ages, The Force Awakens brings a contemporary twist to the beloved classic series.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

PG-13, 135 mins.

Directed by J. J. Abrams

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver

Photo: official image


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.