So what’s new for Episode VII’s leading lady since our last Ridley Roundup?
Despite the fact Episode VII production took its two-week hiatus, more indications arose this month that Daisy Ridley is portraying the central hero for the Sequel Trilogy. On July 24, Mark Hamill praised the actress while doing an interview with the BBC on the Guardians of the Galaxy red carpet. Less than a week later, Ridley was the only actor to join Hamill on location at Skellig Michael. The scenes shot on the Irish island were important enough for Kathleen Kennedy to attend (via The Movie Bit). Last week, Deadline broke the news Ridley is now represented by UTA. This article also states that Ridley will be returning for Episodes VIII and IX. UTA also represents Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie, Ewan McGregor, and Gwyneth Paltrow, among other superstars.
As far back as January 2013, rumors hinted that the new trilogy would have a female lead. These rumors have persisted, although with slightly less steam following the scrapping of the original Arndt script. Subsequent events like the casting reveal and Disney Store toy rollout helped temper hope for a female lead. What does seem to be apparent is that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are the leads.
Undoubtedly, fan expectations put conflicting demands on the new trilogy. They want more of the same, yet something Earth-shaking in nature in the vein of Star Wars in 1977 or The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Given the success of films like Frozen, Maleficent, Gravity, and Catching Fire, Episode VII subverting its own trope of the male-dominated monomyth by utilizing a female lead would challenge the status quo for superhero movies. Many of the major stakeholders, including George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Kathleen Kennedy, have daughters. Disney has plenty invested in providing entertainment for female customers, and at 2013’s Licensing Expo, Disney defined Marvel as its boys’ mega-franchise and left the door open for expansion of Star Wars beyond the label of a boys’ franchise.
Of all the storytelling produced for Star Wars since Revenge of the Sith, only The Clone Wars remains intact as part of the continuity that will move forward. It’s the storyline Lucas oversaw, and the only cohesive Star Wars body of work that actively promoted the legacy of female characters in Star Wars, introducing Jedi hero Ahsoka Tano and the villainous Mother Talzin and enhancing the character arc of Expanded Universe character Asajj Ventress. This all suggests that the portion of Star Wars that mattered to Lucas had worked to raise the bar for female characters.
By the time the first female-centric book series, Sword of the Jedi, was announced at Celebration VI in 2012, the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney was already under way, as was the work for Episode VII. I have wondered on occasion about the backward-facing image of a lone Jedi, minus an actual author name. Were there Disney people sitting in the room gauging the reaction to a series that put a female Jedi front and center?
Then there is the curious matter of Kevin Feige’s dance around the issue of a superheroine-centric movie. Sure, some signs suggest that Marvel doesn’t appreciate its female fanbase like it should, such as the dearth of Gamora merchandise. As they did during the #WeWantLeia toys campaign, licensees have pointed the finger at the licensor Marvel for consciously choosing to omit lead female character team members from their merchandise. Merchandising bean-counters are incentivized to divide the genders because they essentially would have to reconfigure their business model. Meanwhile, the female film-goers have provided sufficient incentive to knock the movie business notions on their ears. Money talks. On the comics and apparel side, Marvel is embracing a diverse customer base with initiatives like the upcoming female Thor and @styledbyMarvel.
Sure, as Feige likes to point out, Marvel has a plan, with all signs being that it is to crush DC. So why did Sony beat them both to the punch? Could it be that Feige’s overlord Disney wanted to save the first superheroine mega-franchise movie title for Marvel’s sibling Star Wars?
The sad part of having that hope, though, comes from considering the reasons why Lucasfilm isn’t ready to wave that flag yet. For one, despite the fact that the lead is not a white male, many entrenched white male fans still remain willfully blind to the fact that the central figure of the Sequel Trilogy will not look like them. Not only are they entrenched, but their bigotry is on full display on message boards and social media. Two, much talk since the movies were announced has mentioned how the movies will be carrying on the story of the Skywalker legacy, and in the minds of many that isn’t possible with a female character. If Daisy Ridley is the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia, she will not only be a descendant of the Skywalker family, but also of two other key Star Wars families, Solo and Amidala. It’s brilliant and flies in the face of sexist patrilineal notions that have subjugated women for centuries. Let’s not forget Kathleen Kennedy did not take her husband’s name and her last name is first on the joint venture production company with Frank Marshall. So the top of the Star Wars storytelling chain has no blind spot to women creating their own legacies.
Given all that, the internet buzzed last week around stormtrooper buckets, Han Solo’s costume, and Luke Skywalker’s beard. Perhaps, too, that has been the point. Are fans so attuned to the notion that the Star Wars movies won’t pay off the arcs of their female leads that the spoiler hounds don’t even look in that direction?
Meanwhile, next week the Legacy Volume 2 comic series ends its run with Issue #18. It’s a story about a young female Solo descendent who finds a lightsaber, and goes on an adventure with a Mon Cal sidekick and a black male Knight from an Imperial order of Force users. If you think about it, the plot has similarities to the Episode VII rumors from the last few weeks. I see more similarities than that, but if I laid them all out, it would spoil the joy of everyone else discovering them.
In other Daisy Ridley news, she met Edgar Wright in Los Angeles, spent some time enjoying the Original Trilogy with her family, and read The Goldfinch, the critically acclaimed novel being adapted to the big screen by the production team of Nina Jacobsen (The Hunger Games). Perhaps that is one of the projects UTA is representing her for?
For the Tumblr-minded fandom, Daisy Ridley Daily is a new resource to follow.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.