“You’re My Fantasy”: Postcards from the Edge and the Subversion of the Male Gaze

On 27 December 2016, Carrie Fisher died. It seemed impossible that such a wickedly funny and resilient personality could be extinguished. Like her life, Fisher’s death was bound up in her fictional image. Across countless obituaries the dominant image of Fisher was of her as Princess Leia. “Her portrayal of the sardonic and self-rescuing princess redefined the archetype,” claims the book Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy. Her return to the public eye via the Star Wars sequel trilogy coinciding with the emergence of fourth-wave feminism meant she was heralded as a feminist icon for a new generation. Uproariously outspoken on misogyny in Hollywood and the stigmatisation of mental health issues, Fisher held her trademark middle finger up to those determined to dismiss her. Images of Leia could be seen on protest signs at 2017 Women’s Marches all over the world.

My essay on Postcards from the Edge is available to read on Girls on Tops: “You’re My Fantasy”: Postcards from the Edge and the Subversion of the Male Gaze

The Game of Thrones Dudes are Getting a Star Wars Trilogy and I’m Already So Tired

Content warning: rape.

A friend of mine (hi Emma!) is trying a new thing where she tries not to judge something before she’s seen it herself. It’s very admirable in our age of retweeting without reading and knee-jerk reactions and branding people and the content they create as either problematic or pure and I’m trying to reserve judgement too. But blimey, my heart sank like Boba Fett falling into the Sarlacc Pit when Disney announced last night that Game of Thrones’ David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are to take the helm of another new Star Wars trilogy.

I think we all know that Game of Thrones is a misogynistic show. We’ve all seen the exposition dumps that take place in brothels where the naked women and velvet curtains act as equally exotic and silent set dressing (everyone jokingly calling it “sexposition” doesn’t make it any less sexist). We remember the justification of a consensual sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in the books transforming into rape on screen. And we remember the sight of Ros’ corpse riddled with arrows, posed like a Renaissance painting, silk dress pulled high to reveal her legs and tight to reveal her breasts. Two arrows are imbedded in her body near her crotch and another sticks out of her chest. That last image continues to disturb me more than anything else in the show; its eroticisation of violence against women is so visceral and so unashamed. We’d seen countless displays of Joffrey’s unrelenting brutality already and yet this was deemed necessary.

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The last straw for me, and I believe for many others, was Ramsay’s rape of Sansa in Season 5. The story is not a total departure from the books but in A Dance with Dragons Sansa’s poor friend Jeyne Poole is Ramsay’s victim. Sansa and Jeyne’s storylines were amalgamated in order to give Sansa a larger role in the season. I can’t talk about the scene specifically as I’ve never seen it. My Twitter timeline was filled with horror, outrage and resignation after the episode first aired and I chose to step away, as did the feminist pop and geek culture website The Mary Sue who explain their decision to stop writing about the show here. Rape isn’t a shortcut to make a character more complex, whether that’s survivor or perpetrator. It’s not necessary, it’s not entertainment, and it’s not comparable to the other violent acts portrayed in the show. Being thrown out of windows, beheaded or incinerated by dragon fire are not fears that most people carry. All women live with the fear of rape and to dismiss the show as pure fantasy is reductive and displays a lack of understanding of the reality we live in, as well as the number of scenes of violence against women we’ve sat through before. Enough.

But I’m not here to lecture. I came crawling back to Game of Thrones at the beginning of Season 6 with a slight feeling of shame after Sansa was reunited with Jon at Winterfell, giving me what I’d been waiting for since I read the books back in 2011. I can’t help but be a sucker for characters actually being happy for a change and the last two seasons of the show have admittedly been far less explicitly misogynistic. But Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne, Sansa holding Winterfell in Jon’s absence and Daenerys barbecuing people doesn’t negate the bullshit I’ve rolled my eyes over at best and felt truly sickened by at worst.

It’s not just that 96% of the directors and writers of Star Wars universe films have been white men (see this excellent breakdown by Maureen Ryan) and that the franchise is looking more and more like a playground for these successful white male fanboys with Rian Johnson also being handed a trilogy of his own. It’s that part of this new era of Star Wars storytelling with its female leads (albeit entirely white British and brunette) is now being handed to creators who have repeatedly chosen to write scenes of misogynistic violence. And I haven’t even mentioned the slavery fan fiction TV show Confederate which Benioff and Weiss are currently working on and Daenerys’ role as a “white saviour”. It’s not that I think Disney want a Star Wars: After Dark trilogy in which the blood will flow and the breasts will bounce HBO style. It’s that I don’t want these men anywhere near this story that I love. I’ll try not to judge before I’ve seen it myself but god almighty, can Disney hire Ava DuVernay or Taika Waititi already?

Rey Isn’t Your Goddamn Therapist

To say that The Last Jedi has divided audiences is putting it very mildly indeed. Critics have fallen over themselves to praise it while a petition calling for it to be struck from official Star Wars canon has gained over 80,000 signatures and counting. I sit somewhere in the middle but I was fundamentally disappointed by the handling of Rey’s arc.

(I have only seen the film twice so please forgive any inaccuracies, they are inevitably related to attempting to block out the sight of Kylo Ren shirtless with every bit of mental energy I posses. Maybe being truly strong with the Force means adding more clothes onto emo Neo Nazis).

So it’s hello discourse, my old friend, and my two credits (that’s Star Wars speak for cents) on Rey’s role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

As someone who involuntarily sobbed with joy when Rey summoned Luke’s lightsaber, wielding it with a look of fear that hardens into resilience, I can safely say that I feel a very personal investment in her journey. Unfortunately, in The Last Jedi Rey’s search for her own identity is very much defined by the characters we see her interact with the most: grumpy hermit Luke Skywalker and My Chemical Romance fan Kylo Ren. They both happen to be men.

While Rey is reunited with the Resistance at the very end of the film, her story in The Last Jedi is overwhelmingly dominated by her relationships with Luke and Kylo, her perception of their conflict and the emotional labour she is forced to do to support their narrative journeys. It’s her responsibility to bring Luke back to his senses from a place of cynicism and isolation, persuade him to train her, work through his Kylo/Ben Solo guilt and bring him back with her to help the Resistance. Ever since Luke solemnly announced that “It’s time for the Jedi to end” in the teaser trailer it was clear that Rey would not be welcomed with open arms and Jedi Training 101. In a literal throwaway gag Luke hurls the lightsaber so pleadingly offered to him by Rey over his shoulder and shuts himself away. Using Leia’s name won’t sway him so Rey stubbornly stumps around after him. Eventually, after realising she’s no ordinary Resistance Fed Ex courier, he reluctantly gives her some lessons. However, it still feels as though Rey’s journey towards self discovery is fundamentally focused on his issues. The relationship would feel more balanced if a stronger, more nurturing bond of teacher and padawan was established and if the parallels between them that were established in The Force Awakens were fleshed out further. But as it is, Rey’s arc gets bogged down by Luke’s guilt over his moment of weakness when he considered murdering young Ben Solo. She is held back by his inability to move forward.

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Rey’s time with Luke is interspersed with a series of unwanted Force FaceTime calls with Kylo Ren and his emotional struggles also become her burden to carry. While Rey is initially hostile she gradually becomes more sympathetic towards him and the loneliness she senses in him and herself. After reaching out and “touching” his hand via Force Vision (reader, I nearly puked) she comes to believe with absolute certainty that he will turn away from the Dark Side and be Ben Solo once more. Despite having seen him murder the father she always longed for and slice Finn’s back with a lightsaber Rey spends a significant amount of time appealing to the good she sees. She seeks out and surrenders herself to the First Order, putting herself in mortal danger, and promises that she’ll help him. She stays true despite Snoke torturing her and of course, he doesn’t turn. He claims to know the truth about her parentage, telling her as she cries that they were junk traders who sold her as a child for drinking money. “You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me”.

Of course no matter how much Rey tries Kylo does not turn and it’s Force Ghost Yoda, not Rey, that finally enlightens Luke. Rey’s efforts feel essentially wasted. Seeing her place so much emotional investment in these men only to be disappointed may make for a more complex portrayal of good vs evil than Star Wars has offered before and we obviously learn about characters via their responses to others’ actions. However, it’s disheartening for the girls and young women who look up to her. Rey’s search for her own identity is so defined by her responses to the conflict between Luke and Kylo that it’s almost lost. The Lynchian interlude in which Rey enters the cave searching for answers is quickly eclipsed by her hand touch with Kylo and the subsequent confrontation with Luke which is again focused on Luke vs Kylo fallout. Sure, Rey’s arrival on the island is ultimately the catalyst which reconnects Luke to the Force but there’s no emotional resolution between the two of them. She doesn’t even get to witness the final battle between Luke and Kylo which has shaped her story throughout.

The reveal of Rey’s parentage, obviously a pivotal moment in her arc, is a cruel act of manipulation by Kylo Ren. Obviously he’s a villain, albeit a complex one, and cruelty is part of the villainous package. But it’s especially troubling to me that he’s granted this when his interactions with Rey are so reminiscent of real life abusive behaviour and many fans interpret their relationship as romantic.

In The Force Awakens Kylo kidnaps and tortures Rey, invading her mind and telling her “You know I can take whatever I want”. Regardless of the fact that the connection in The Last Jedi was engineered by Snoke, having Kylo repeatedly appear in Rey’s mind against her will acts as a continuation of this violation. The sexualised undertone to their interactions (the hand touch, the shirtless scene which Rey is explicitly uncomfortable with) coupled with language that could’ve come straight from the mouth of a real life abuser left me feeling immensely uneasy. “You’re nothing. But not to me” is a line many fans seem to swoon over but the implication here is that he’s the only person who’ll ever see her as anything other than worthless. Romantic it ain’t, my dudes.

Of course Rey refuses his plea and is soon reunited with Finn, who saw her as special long before she picked up a lightsaber, and Leia who entrusted her with the crucial mission to find Luke. Poe knows exactly who she is and appreciates how important she is to the Resistance before they’ve even met. It’s a huge relief to finally see Rey surrounded by people who value her after spending the majority of the film reaching out to those who don’t, but it felt a little too late. Rey literally closes the door on her relationship with Kylo at the end of the film, and perhaps her experiences in The Last Jedi will establish her as a character who has learnt to stand alone. But I can’t help feeling, after waiting two years to see Rey from Jakku, Nothing from Nowhere, that we barely saw her at all.