When you’re playing Star Wars with a couple toddlers, it’s no fun to play Leia.
My two cousins, four year old Anthony and two year old Nicholas, cousins are absolutely obsessed with Star Wars. Nicky, at 2, knew the sounds of R2D2 and ewoks before he know what a cat said. Anthony, at 4, knows all the movies and even some deeper lore, like why lightsabers are different colors. He even has his own theories about how *Force Awakens Spoilers! Spoilers are throughout this piece, actually* Luke ended up with such a crazy robot hand.
Since Anthony could walk and talk he’s been telling me that “my lack of faith disturbs him” while pretending to choke me from across the dinner table. They went as mini Chewbacca and mini Vader for Halloween, and after seeing The Force Awakens they were little balls of energy, screaming with wide eyes about how Han was dead and how Finn is dead and how cool Rey is.
I am so glad Rey exists, and I am so glad she is cool.
Nicky and Anthony have great parents and they know it’s okay to be girls. They know girls are not any lamer than boys—but they want to stay true to the plot of Star Wars, and Leia doesn’t use a lightsaber.
Leia had a personality, unlike most female roles at the time, and was a pretty good fighter, often saving the men as often as they had to save her. Not only that, but she was shown as being brilliant, caring, tough, and fiercely independent. But…she doesn’t use a lightsaber.
I could just play someone else, to use a lightsaber, right? I mean, I don’t have to play Leia. Unfortunately, prior to The Force Awakens there was only one other prominent female character, and who wants to play Padme? My cousins are pretty smart, but couldn’t quite wrap their heads around me playing a male character.
Except Chewbacca, for some reason.
I was overjoyed by Rey’s existence for a million reasons, but I didn’t realize how it would affect playtime until today, when I picked up a toy lightsaber and began play fighting with them. My cousin Anthony gasped and pointed at me all excited.
“You’re Rey!” he shouted.
I was excited about this, even at my age, and here’s why:
Naturally, I didn’t care too much about playing Leia, boring as she was. I mean, I’m an adult. But that one moment made me realize how different elementary school recess would have been if The Force Awakens came out when I was a kid. Or if Frozen did, or The Hunger Games. I was okay with playing Hermione, but she never got to face off against Voldemort. I was okay with playing Powerpuff Girls, but then none of my male friends could play with us.
I realized, as I faced off against 4-year-old Kylo Ren and 2-year-old Darth Vader, that representation in media mattered even more than I thought it did. The kids loved Rey. They thought she was really cool. Plus, now they could see their cousin as a person who can be a hero, not just a side character. They can put me on the same field as their male role models. In fact, Rey could help them realize that all women can be heroes.
I could see kids on playgrounds across the country—girls being Rey, boys being Luke, both able to use lightsabers without a problem.
I knew representation in media for all races and genders was important forever—hell, I did a 10-page paper on superheroes-of-color—but seeing it in practice, even in such a small way, had a huge impact. I only wish I had a young girl cousin to play Star Wars with, because I know Rey must be affecting young girls even more. After all, I’m sure I’m not the only girl who was stuck on the sidelines playing Leia.
Girls, the force may have been “with us” since the seventies, but now we get to use it.