It's time for me to talk about The Force Awakens. I have never felt such a powerful sense of relief that someone else's labour of love had come off so perfectly. It's so good. It's so so good. I've taken my time processing why I love it so much and how much it has fundamentally altered the way I look at all films now. It was only when I was watching this scene in the Phineas and Ferb Star Wars special with my kids last night that everything came into focus; I had an awakening, just like Rey when she's in that wood fighting Kylo Ren.
The Force Awakens is so good it makes everything that came before it look bad. I love Phineas and Ferb, it has no fewer than 3 female characters with strong identities and diverse interests (OK it's still less that 50% of the cast but it's better than most kids programmes that aren't specifically targeting girls). It appeals to my inherently nerdy ways and is very very funny. Hell, I've laughed at this specific song numerous times but since my Awakening I started to question it. Really guys, why are the storm trooper dancers sexy girls? Is that necessary? Prior to The Force Awakens I would probably have said a begrudging yes, for the sake of the musical pastiche, sexy backing dancers are necessary. I have now sat through 90 minutes of excellent cinema that proves this utterly wrong. You don't need to do things the way they've always been done. Those dancers could be male or female, they don't need to have shapely calves and tiny waists for this scene to work. It doesn't have to be so reductive. For chrissake, Britain's Got Talent proved that just this week.
My favourite scene is the one with Finn, Phasma and Han. Rey is off, busy getting things done, and three characters have a conversation and the strong white male is just the comic relief. Han is extraneous to the plot - it is the relationship between Finn and Phasma that counts in this scene. Once this shift in perspective has been seen it can't be unseen. I am constantly finding myself watching things on TV and in films and thinking "Why should I care what the white guy thinks? I'd much rather know what the other browner/blacker/x chromosome-ier character's take on this is." We all know Leia's story is so much more dramatic, emotional and resonant than the whiny farm boy's but no, in 1977 we focused on Luke because we were used to thinking people like him are important. I am so happy that it's only taken 38 years for this to change.
There are so many interesting woman characters in The Force Awakens. Captain Phasma is my current favourite - because she's a baddie but not the baddie. Women in films are usually only shown as superlatives, they are the best or the worst they can be. Sometimes, like in The Heat, they are both at the same time. Women on film are expected to be exceptional. There are very few women mid-level managers. Phasma is a woman just doing her job, and crucially, she's not doing it very well. She misses that one of her troops is no longer on mission. She gets captured by the goodies and submits to their demands. I can't think of another female character who doesn't do her job very well specifically as part of the plot. Female villains are brilliant at what they do until they plunge to their doom/get impaled/meet whatever poetically just end they deserve.
Women on film who are not good at their job are usually like this because the part was badly written, not because it's part of the plot. Often a part for a woman is dictated by what the character looks like rather than her personality.* In the extras for Jurassic World Bryce Dallas Howard talks about having training in order to be able to run in heels. WHAT? What woman does not remove her heels when running away from dinosaurs, especially when her plan is specifically to run away from dinosaurs? They trained a woman to act this stupid. They put effort into ensuring that she would create a good silhouette rather than anything like a coherent character-based sense of self-preservation. It is an excellent film but those heels kicked the suspension of disbelief right out of me.
So after time has passed and I've allowed this film to nestle into my heart I just want to say a huge thanks to JJ Abrams and his team for my Awakening. I'm off to watch it again.
* Check out the timeline of the fabulous @proresting on twitter for more on this