The Force Awakens and girl power strikes back

A LONG time ago, there was a galaxy far, far away …dominated by men.

No, make that the entire Star Wars universe.

Take for instance the fact that in the original trilogy's 386 minutes of run time, women other than Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia were allotted just 63 seconds worth of dialogue.

Luke Skywalker's aunt Beru got almost half of that before the character was cooked early on in 1977's A New Hope. An unnamed rebel officer got one line in The Empire Strikes Back, then rebel leader Mon Mothma just managed to push past the one-minute mark in Return of the Jedi.

The prequel trilogy fared a little better, with Natalie Portman's one-time queen Amidala doing the majority of the talking for the girls. Attack of the Clones did briefly feature two female light sabre-wielding Jedis, Aayla Secura and Shaak Ti, but they couldn't get a word in.

The new trilogy, starting with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, however, will look to put more females on the interplanetary front line in the battle between good and evil.

Rey, played by English newcomer Daisy Ridley, will be at the centre of proceedings - a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, who gets drawn into a new confrontation between the light and dark sides of the force.

Who the character really is - and whether she is actually a member of the Skywalker clan - remains to be seen, but she does take gender equality to new levels by piloting Han Solo's Millennium Falcon.

Then there's Star Wars' first-ever female "baddie", Captain Phasma, played by 191cm Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones fame (Brynne of Tarth), who is again decked out in shining armour - this time a remodelled storm trooper outfit.

A commander of the First Order, which has taken up the fight against the Republic since the Empire's crushing defeat in Return of the Jedi, Phasma has already become a fan favourite and confirmed to be appearing in Episode VIII.

Of course, Princess Leia will be back too, though the "princess" part of her title is expected to be dropped in favour of a more military-sounding position, that of general.

It is Star Wars' destiny to become far more female friendly.

Director JJ Abrams, who made Jennifer Garner a star with his hit TV series Alias, recently told Good Morning America that "Star Wars was always a boys' thing ... a movie that dads could take their sons to. And although that is still very much the case, I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers could take their daughters to as well."

Long-time Star Wars producer and now Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy recently revealed that four out of the six people who made up the story department were women, which was particularly important in helping the character of Rey "take shape".

Kennedy told the LA Times Rey represented "the new face of women in Star Wars. She feels very modern. I think she will be relevant to audiences today - she embodies that sense of self-reliance and independence."

Of course, there will be plenty for the boys too, with old favourites Han (Harrison Ford) and right-hand Wookie, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), back for another adventure - perhaps one to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has been purposely omitted from all marketing to build mystery.

New characters will include heroes such as turned storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) and X-wing pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), and villains Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

There'll be droids too, with mainstays C3PO and R2D2 returning, alongside newbie BB-8, who, for the record, has been confirmed to be male.

Star Wars gender equality is, after all, a work in progress.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens nationally on Thursday.

Adam Driver and Stormtroopers in a scene from the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Supplied by Disney. Photo by David James.
Adam Driver and Stormtroopers in a scene from the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Supplied by Disney. Photo by David James. David James

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Andy Serkis, John Boyega, Peter Mayhew.

Director: JJ Abrams

Rating: TBA

Reviewer's last word: The eyes of the world are on Disney and director JJ Abrams' highly anticipated addition to the Star Wars franchise. The film is sure to have its detractors but the returning cast (Ford, Hamill, Fisher, Mayhew) should ensure a smooth transition to a new generation of freedom fighters.

Star Profile: Carrie Fisher

Quirky fact: Stood on a box for many of her scenes with Harrison Ford in the original Star Wars trilogy because she was 30cm shorter than him.

Best known for: Star Wars, Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking.

If you like this movie you'll like these: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Quote: "I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive."

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