With still about a month and half to go before Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unleashed upon the world (at the time of writing this), the movie is already breaking records. Pre-sale tickets have already dwarfed previous records, with its day one sales moving eight times as many tickets as the previous record holder, The Hunger Games.
This type of fervor is to be expected with Star Wars, given that previous entries into the saga have consistently crushed box office records. But beyond just breaking financial records, some are hoping The Force Awakens breaks social boundaries. The upcoming film co-stars Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) as Captain Phasma, the film series’ first female villain. Given the nature of the role, Christie has hopes that the film will change the dynamics of gender roles in the Star Wars universe, as well as in the sci-fi genre in general.
In a recent interview with EW, Christie opened up both about the challenges of playing Captain Phasma in The Force Awakens and the conventions that normally plague the world of science fiction and its depiction of women. As pointed out by EW, Phasma’s full bodied coverage makes her indistinguishable from her male counterparts. The lack of typical feminine features for Phasma was a welcome challenge for Christie, who embraced the role as a way to push her acting forward:
“We see Captain Phasma, and we see the costume from head to toe, and we know that it is a woman. But we are used to, in our media, connecting to female characters via the way that they look, from the way they are made flesh.”
This sentiment echoes other statements Christie has made regarding her character and the challenges presented by playing a fully costumed role that disallows for the use of facial expressions in acting. However, it’s interesting to consider how often femininity is expressed via looks alone. Consider Leia from the original series, and how often her hair was perfectly kempt amidst war torn battlefields and combat zones. In fact, many fans still remember Leia from Return of the Jedi, in her metallic slave girl costume, which has become somewhat symbolic of feminine depictions within the sci-fi community.
This is a stigma Christie hopes to break with Phasma, as she told EW:
“We are actually connecting to a female character as a human being. It wasn’t just about what I was expressing above the neck, it was also as focused on what I was expressing below the neck. It was an interesting acting experience as well as a fangirl’s dream.”
In the same way that David Prowse brought Darth Vader to life through mannerisms and posture, Christie was forced to dig deep to provide Phasma with a soul of her own, without help from typical depictions of femininity like scant costumes and a helpless demeanor. Indeed, Phasma appears to be anything but helpless, and is set to become a formidable foe against our heroes, old and new:
“She’s Star Wars’ first female villain. It’s incredible, it’s timely, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Indeed, the heart of Star Wars has always been about breaking boundaries. Whether it was boundaries of storytelling from the original series or the boundaries of special effects from the prequels, every new entry into the saga has pushed things forward in one way or another. It makes sense, then, that the new series would seek to push boundaries of social norms and gender portrayals, and Christie is the kind of actress who can absolutely make that work. After all, her portrayal of Brienne of Tarth is every bit as reliant on her stances and swagger as it is the expressiveness of her face.
With that in mind, there should be no doubt regarding Christie’s ability to bring a character to life with little more than movement and posture.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.