A FORCE TO BE RECK­ONED WITH

DaisyRi­d­ley,Gwen­do­lineChristie, andJohnBoye­gaon­bring­ing di­ver­si­ty­toa­galaxy­far,far­away

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - with­Tara Brady

Two months ago, when a new trailer for Star Wars: The Force

Awak­ens pre­miered dur­ing an Amer­i­can foot­ball game on ESPN, fans and curious new­com­ers re­acted with pre­dictable fer­vour: Ooh, Mark Hamill is still a no-show; has he gone over to the Dark Side?

Sadly, the sub­se­quent ju­bi­la­tion on so­cial me­dia plat­forms was some­what marred by the nasty lit­tle hash­tag #Boy­cott StarWarsVII. For the unlovely ar­chi­tects of this slo­gan, the ap­pear­ance of Lon­don-born ac­tor John Boyega in the new film was ev­i­dence of #whitegeno­cide and “cul­tural mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion”.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries took note that JJ Abrams, the tal­ent be­hind the Star Wars re­boot, was both Jewish and a “known” Obama sup­porter. “It’s just Black Lives Mat­ter in Space” shouted one pro­tester into the echo cham­ber. A pe­ti­tion was duly cir­cu­lated.

Nor­mal folks every­where, by way of re­sponse, sighed or face-palmed be­fore mov­ing on to the next tale of in­ter­net cra­zies: What do you mean, Mad

Max: Fury Road has been taken over by the bloody wim­min? #whitemale­ex­tinc­tion.

Ire, in the in­for­ma­tion age, is hardly novel. But one does have to won­der how deeply buried is the rock that th­ese mal­con­tents are liv­ing un­der. Surely they can’t have failed to no­tice be­fore now that Darth Vader is voiced by James Earl Jones and Mace Windu is es­sayed by Sa­muel L Jackson? Have they seen any work by

The Force Awak­ens di­rec­tor be­fore? Abrams, who scored his first ma­jor TV hit with the fe­male-cen­tric Felic­ity, may have oc­ca­sion­ally at­tracted flak for be­ing too fast and fu­ri­ous with his ex­cit­ing but un­philo­soph­i­cal

Star Trek films or for be­ing overly Spiel­ber­gian with Su­per 8. But no one has ever watched his TV shows and movies and com­plained that they were in­suf­fi­ciently po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. And so Star Wars: The Force

Awak­ens marks a gen­uine New Hope: a galaxy far, far away where im­pris­oned, un­der­dressed princesses don’t end up pro­vid­ing ill-de­fined ser­vices to Jabba the Hut.

Just ask Gwen­do­line Christie, who plays Cap­tain Phasma, a role that was orig­i­nally writ­ten for a man but was gen­der­swapped to fa­cil­i­tate more eq­ui­table rep­re­sen­ta­tion and to make room for the rather won­der­ful Christie. The ac­tor, by now, is well-ac­cus­tomed to an­drog­y­nous mil­i­tary women, hav­ing spent sev­eral sea­sons in ar­mour as Game of Thrones’ Bri­enne of Tarth and hav­ing lately stepped out as Com­man­der Lyme in The Hunger Games: Mock­ing­jay – Part 2.

“In film and tele­vi­sion, there’s a long tra­di­tion of non-es­sen­tial women,” says Christie. “Be­ing in

Game of Thrones, where you are sur­rounded by well-rounded, bril­liant fe­male char­ac­ters, has taught me a lot.”

She laughs: “It’s taught me how to break a man’s nose with my el­bow.”

Stormin’the­role

Play­ing a Stormtrooper, how­ever, re­quired some­thing more than mad el­bow skills.

“It’s just the big­gest thing,” Christie says. “One of the rea­sons that I loved Cap­tain Phasma is that not only is she the first fe­male vil­lain in Star Wars, but I think it’s un­usual for a fe­male char­ac­ter to be pre­sented in this kind of uni­form.

“What­ever won­der­ful ran­dom se­ries of things that cause us to look the way we look is not rel­e­vant here. And be­cause of the cos­tume, the ac­tion be­comes all about the char­ac­ter and the choices and de­ci­sions she makes. I was clas­si­cally method-trained, so it was very in­ter­est­ing to not have my usual senses avail­able. Be­ing in Star

Wars is al­ready a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence. Add the loss of var­i­ous senses and it really felt like you were work­ing in an­other di­men­sion.”

It’s not just equal op­por­tu­ni­ties on the Dark Side. Else­where, the film, which is set

Not only is Cap­tain Phasma the first fe­male vil­lain in Star Wars, but I think it’s un­usual for a fe­male char­ac­ter to be pre­sented in this kind of uni­form

some years af­ter the events de­picted in The Re­turn of the Jedi (hence those roles for Har­ri­son Ford and Car­rie Fisher) utilises a dual pro­tag­o­nist struc­ture, as re­formed Stormtrooper Finn (Boyega) teams up with Rey (Daisy Ri­d­ley), a scav­enger from the planet Jakku. On hand to su­per­vise is Os­car Isaacs’s vet­eran X-fighter Poe.

Knight­ly­look

Ri­d­ley has show-busi­ness pedi­gree: her great un­cle, Arnold Ri­d­ley, played Pte Charles God­frey for more than a decade in

Dad’s Army. A lively crea­ture in an an­drog­y­nous striped suit, she looks as if she might have been cloned us­ing spliced DNA sam­ples from Keira Knightly and Natalie Port­man.

“I get Keira a lot,” she says. “I really don’t look that dis­tinc­tive. Peo­ple al­ways tell you look like some­one else. Mostly I get: you look like my friend Sarah. Or you look like my friend Mag­gie. And I think, oh great. I love look­ing like ev­ery­one else.”

That or­di­nar­i­ness is key to Rey, she says, and it’s the key to Daisy Ri­d­ley. And it’s en­tirely in keep­ing with JJ Abrams’s grander democrati­sa­tion of the Star

Wars uni­verse. “I went to board­ing school from nine to 18,” says Ri­d­ley, who in com­mon with most or­di­nary twen­tysome­things uses the words “ran­dom” and “skilled” quite a bit. “I’m a very nor­mal girl. I love watch­ing The Great

Bri­tish Bake Off. I never really felt the love that peo­ple had for

Star Wars be­fore; that’s not be­cause I’m a girl; that’s be­cause I’m the per­son I am.

“I was never really crazy into any­thing. I never had posters of any­thing on my wall. I never wanted to meet my idols or any­thing like that.”

If only Rey had come along ear­lier. “If I had a lit­tle sis­ter – be­ing the youngest of many sis­ters – I sus­pect she’d love Rey. She is not over-sex­u­alised. She is not born into priv­i­lege like Ami­dala or Leia. She’s just this girl. Who one day is alone and scav­eng­ing for food and the next finds her­self on a great ad­ven­ture.

“I don’t think it’s just girls that will look up to Rey. I think she’s some­one ev­ery­one can con­nect with be­cause she ex­ceeds all expectations. But she’s not in a gold bikini. She’s cov­ered up and fight­ing all the way.”

He’stheone

Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens is just one part of John Boyega’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer curve. Born and raised in Peck­ham to Nige­rian par­ents, the young ac­tor was spot­ted by a the­atre agent while still at pri­mary school. By 19, he had tread the boards at the Na­tional The­atre and was named by Screen In­ter­na­tional as one to watch, based on his screen de­but in At­tack the Block.

As much as the 23-year-old loved teas­ing Har­ri­son Ford and en­ter­ing the “same world of ac­tion fig­ures and Jedis and fly­ing things” that he grew up with, he’s keenly aware that his ap­pear­ance will mean a lot for other kids back in Peck­ham.

“Ob­vi­ously, rep­re­sen­ta­tion is ev­ery­thing,” he says. “It’s so im­por­tant for kids watch­ing to have a point of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing for peo­ple to re­late who maybe couldn’t be­fore. Es­pe­cially with the strong fe­male char­ac­ters that we have. It’s go­ing to be a great op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­one to see them­selves on screen. In some way.” He laughs. “But what I’m most proud about is all the green peo­ple we have.”

Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens opens on De­cem­ber 17th

I don’t think it’s just girls that will look up to Rey. I think she’s some­one ev­ery­one can con­nect with be­cause she ex­ceeds all expectations

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