Thanks to J.J. Abrams' vision for the next installment of the Star Wars franchise, women play a much larger role when it comes to both good and evil characters.
The director spoke at a press conference following the European premiere of The Force Awakens, and revealed that he wanted women to be a central part of the narrative before writer Lawrence Kasdan ever penned the script, according to The Guardian.
“From the beginning of discussions, the notion of a woman at the center of the story was always something that was compelling and exciting to me," Abrams said. "And not just at the center. We knew that, in addition to Leia, who was a critical piece of this puzzle, we wanted to have other women—not necessarily human, but female—characters in the story.”
Abrams' feminist-leaning vision for The Force Awakens is a welcome contrast to the current state of Hollywood; an August study revealed that actresses receive less than a third of speaking roles in major movies.
That's not to say female characters in The Force Awakens necessarily exceeds this standard, but it's certainly a step in the right direction, especially in a major franchise like Star Wars.
Abrams also explained casting actresses for more diverse roles, saying, “We have Lupita [Nyong'o] playing Maz Kanata, who is the voice of Force wisdom in the story, and Phasma leading the evil side of the Stormtroopers. We wanted to have female Stormtroopers and pilots, which we did. We just wanted to make this thing not feel like it was not inclusive.”
As for casting a female protagonist, Abrams said he wanted the sci-fi film to reflect reality: “We always wanted to write Rey as the central character, but it was just one of the things we knew we wanted to do: to make the film look and feel more like the way the world looks and feels.”
Although Abrams and his creative team set out to make a more female-centric film, it seems as though their merchandising team might have failed. In November, #WheresRey became a trending hashtag when shoppers wondered why The Force Awakens' lead wasn't part of a new Star Wars action-figure set.