Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Watching THE FORCE AWAKENS as the Father of a Three-and-a-Half-Year-Old Girl (No Spoilers)

with 9 comments

There’s still plenty of weird plot holes in the movie to complain about — and, of course, call no trilogy happy until it is concluded — and the man simply doesn’t get Star Trek at a basic and fundamental level — but J.J. Abrams achieves something in a sequence of shots near the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I hope I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. My daughter is three and a half right now, and she’s still piecing together the world. We’ve raised her, somewhat accidentally, without much concept of gender; it’s only recently that she’s even come to really understand that some people are boys and other people are girls. And it’s broken my heart a bit, as this process has come into focus for her, to see her recognize that nearly all the protagonists in nearly all the stories she loves are boys. She sometimes announces, as we play, that she gets to be the boy — by which she means that she gets to be the hero, the star. I’m the boy, daddy; you’re the dragon. I’m the boy, daddy; you’re the witch.

And as I watched this one particular, truly perfect scene, at the climax of The Force Awakens, I really felt like I could see the whole thing through her eyes, and imagined the moment she watches it a few months or years from now and how it might undo a bit of the toxic lessons she’s already started to learn about boys and girls. I cried. I’m crying now, just writing about it. And however else The Force Awakens is received and whatever its reputation winds up being, however badly 8 and 9 screw it all up (or don’t), Abrams has given little girls like mine a tremendous and very special gift. That bit lives forever, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll write a longer and more spoiler-y post once more people have seen it, I think, but for now I wanted to say just that much.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 17, 2015 at 11:12 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Agreed. While we haven’t tried to call attention to gender with our 4 yr old, we’ve tried to find stories with strong girl leads over “boy” stories. We do watch both, but it’s clear she’s already interested more when a girl is the protagonist. The byproduct, however, is that most of the characters end up or begin as princesses. Likewise, our play narratives have less to do with fighting–a skill I worry she’ll need to learn in this world. So I too hope this plays out well over the course of the next two movies.


    December 18, 2015 at 12:36 pm

  2. Wonderful & moving post. My child is male, but I too really loved how Ray is basically *the* hero of the thing.

    Stephen Frug

    December 18, 2015 at 8:42 pm

  3. I loved that sequence, too; I literally got chills at a crucial moment at the start of it. My 4-year-old daughter is too easily scared to see TFA in the theaters, and she’s already heartbroken to have heard about another key moment in the film, but this scene will be wonderful to watch with her at home in a few months.

    Monique Morgan

    December 19, 2015 at 7:40 pm

  4. I’m very happy for your, and everyone else’s, daughters. I hope Fin gives a similar moment for young black boys and girls.


    December 20, 2015 at 6:32 am

    • Absolutely. Still staying out of spoiler territory, I do think the “bait and switch” from the trailers does some disservice to Finn, who becomes second-best as a consequence — and the movie leaves him in a place that at least threatens to replicate some potentially problematic territory for black heroes. But we’ll see. I don’t think they’ll blow this part.


      December 20, 2015 at 8:14 am

  5. As a little girl, I wanted Leia to get a lightsaber, and it disappointed me when she didn’t. (In fact, the whole Slave Leia thing disappointed the hell out of me — it led up well, with her breaking in to rescue Han and seeming to be about to kick ass, and then everything fell apart. But, y’know, we had to give Luke his day in the sun. Or something.)

    From Jedi and on, cinema of the sf-bent was just one disappointment after another. Except Aliens. Aliens was awesome.

    So when I watched this Friday, I realized that in my teens I would have mentally put myself in Rey’s shoes. As a mom, I project my daughter there. And I am so happy she will have that.


    December 20, 2015 at 4:42 pm

  6. For all the Generation Xs and Generation Ys viewing TFA in cinemas, felt less like a ” kinda kid again ” experience, and more like a self-conscious adult, “wait, what is happening?” I’ve used this theater viewing as catharsis, as the beginning of a trilogy could prove the 1st of 3 chances for those of us to literally see these characters grow, and like General Leia, out ourselves again as sentimental conspirators. Yet still hoping the franchise is also subdefined by baby boomers as well as children and young adults seeing this Star Wars movie as their first (in cinemas at least).
    I feel most like Chewie, a lot older, a little hairier, the copilot in the same old s*** but with a bunch of new people around…(Please, can someone write a blog or paper on how traumatic his experience in those two hours and 15 minutes must have been!!)
    Any daughters — beautiful post Gerry– should do much better in picking heroines, or heroes, to admire.
    Oh, Luke, you’ve been so lonely up there.


    December 20, 2015 at 8:33 pm

  7. First, if your daughter is jus noticing boys versus girls, give it some time. She’ll gain sophistication rapidly over the next few years.

    Second, I find it intriguing that people use such gross characteristics of character as age, gender, and race to identify with characters in film and literature. I find characters that are like me in superficial ways, such as the guy in Numb3rs or Pi, to be disappointing and badly done. But characters who are like me in deeper ways are often female, poor, middle-aged, or ugly (unlike myself, of course).

    But this raises the question of why identifying with a character is the only way to enjoy a book or movie. I don’t at all identify with the characters in my favorite books. I have concern for them, but not because they are like me in any way other than being human. But I suppose this proves the converse, because I don’t feel any concern for elves or hobbits.

    Joel J. Adamson

    December 29, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    • Well, I don’t want to advance a theory of reading on the basis of my three-year-old, but it has made a difference for her even before seeing the movie: simply giving her a Rey toy and putting a lightsaber in its hand convinced her that “girl Jedi” is a category when she absolutely refused to believe it before.

      I think this kind of representality matters in a way that can be hard for a white guy (like me!) to see intuitively, because all the stories I’ve read have been directed at me; that sort of identification may not seem like much of a problem when it’s something you always can take for granted. It’s something we talk a lot about in my classes, where straight white male students consistently argue that this sort of demographic identification is not important and everyone else in the room argues that it is. As a dad, it’s something I’ve seen my daughter struggling with even as a three-year-old, and I’m personally very glad Star Wars has taken at least some of it off the table for her generation.


      December 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

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