In the fall of 2015, in the months leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Target put out an ad in honor of their upcoming Force Friday event. The video, which immediately went viral, featured home video footage of Star Wars fans of every age talking about, reacting to, quoting, and even re-enacting their favorite moments from the Holy Trilogy. It included faces and voices from across the spectrum of race, age, and gender. The message being sent by the ad was very clear: Star Wars is ours, all of ours. (Also: "please come spend your money on Star Wars things at Target.")
Now here we are again nearing another Force Friday event at Target and the superstore has released a brand-new ad, once again incorporating fan footage in celebration of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi premiering later this year. Take a look at it, you may notice something different about this one.
Just two years after the release of that first video, kicking off multiple months of promotion, tie-ins, and another sure-to-be-unavoidable advertising blitz, our girl Rey is front and center and leading the charge. But more importantly, it’s not just that Rey is being celebrated, it’s that her fans are being celebrated. The women and girls who have been here for Star Wars this whole time are being directly pointed to and shown that "this space is for you."
At first glance that might seem far more exclusionary as a follow-up to that original one, but not when you add in the context of the #WheresRey controversy. Upon meeting her in The Force Awakens, little girls (and little girls at heart) the world over fell in love with a lone scavenger on Jakku named Rey. Immediately we wanted more. In a rush to grab all the Rey merchandise we could, we flooded the stores looking for her, only to be faced with the harsh reality that she wasn’t there.
On top of that, another negative aspect that popped up in the immediate aftermath of the Force Awakens was the dismissive and reductive argument that Rey was a "Mary Sue" character. Despite existing in the same franchise where a farmboy was able to destroy a massive space station with a single well-focused shot, Rey’s own toughness in the movie was scoffed at and dismissed simply because she’s a girl.
The idea that a female character couldn't be skilled or powerful and be as realistic as the male heroes in the franchise stung for many of the saga's fans. For many of us, this criticism and the merchandising epic fail felt like a complete disrespect to us as fans of a series we've been in love with since we were kids.
As a juxtaposition to that sense of dismissal, this new video specifically celebrates that heroic quality that made Rey matter to us. It’s fast-paced; it’s full of intense action, women performing physical feats, martial arts, even a skateboarding trick, all set to SIA’s “Unstoppable.” Some are dressed as Rey herself, some are wielding the red lightsabers favored by the Sith, and some aren’t doing anything specifically Star Wars-related at all. And yet all of them put to a tune that kicks off with the lyrics I put my armor on, show you how strong how I am.
In Rey’s name we have this video that shows us a collection of real-life girls and women following her in spirit. They’re not dressed up cute, they’re sweaty, they’re focused, they’re ripped. They’re tough as hell. They're doing the things people claim that women and girls can't do. No one in this video is a Mary Sue.
The thing you almost don't realize until a second or third viewing but that jumps out at you once you do is that Daisy Ridley doesn't even appear in the ad.
This is a video showcasing homegrown fandom. In a franchise that has been churning out action figures and toys since the late 1970s, fans of the leading protagonist of the newest movie have had to build our merchandise ourselves, and we did.
All the girls and women represented are very much doing their own thing, putting their own spin on how they see Rey as a character, or how her strength and determination are reflected in their own lives.
The Rey costumes we see appear for the most part to be homemade. In fact, in a move that might even seem counterproductive toward Target's attempt to sell toys, it tells a story of a group of women who frankly don't even need them to do so. In the void that was left in the wake of The Force Awakens, we didn't just take our staff and go home. We made our own celebrations of the character that clicked with us so immediately in the theater, and then again in the theater, and then again on home video.
In a fan culture that so often wants to dismiss female members as "Fake Geek Girls," here's a video celebrating the lengths that we've gone to in order to celebrate a character that we deeply care about. There's nothing fake about spending the time to craft a costume, to learn martial arts moves, to shoot a video, to add special effects into that video. I mean the time alone it takes to learn to nail that triple bun thing that she does with her hair:
It matters that a year and a half after the #WheresRey hashtag even needed to be a thing, we’re staring down a release of a movie in which it looks like it won’t. The message that is being sent to us by Target in this ad is that they understand that we've already built the Rey fandom without their help, and it's on them now to catch up with us.
The women of the Star Wars fandom are unstoppable. Rey matters to us and we are invincible.