Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in December 2017 and was the second film to include the character Rey - a female Jedi who plays a pivotal role in the Resistance's conflict with the First Order.
A swashbuckling outsider, Rey is idolised by young fans across the world and is regularly hailed as a feminist icon.
Lizzie Reed, a Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London is investigating the reasons for this and why Rey has become such a popular subject for child's cosplay around the world.
Along with academics from Huddersfield and Chester universities, Lizzie has launched a survey with questions for both girls aged 5 to 14 who dress up as Rey, and their parents. She is also asking the girls to draw themselves dressed as Rey.
I spoke to her as the project got underway at the beginning of February.
Chris Smith: What was the thinking behind this research?
Lizzie Reed: When The Force Awakens came out in 2015 we were all amazed at how many children (and adults!) were sharing images of themselves dressed up as Rey. We’ve obviously seen people cosplaying before – and Star Wars is always a popular choice for cosplay given the huge diversity of characters and fantastic costumes and props – but it felt like this was a bit different. There were also a lot of articles – from Buzzfeed to the BBC – talking about how inspirational a lot of people were finding Rey. We were really interested to find out more about the people who were loving the movie and Rey, and talk to them about why they were dressing up as Rey.
CS: What sort of questions will be included in the survey for both children and parents?
LR: We’ve got two sections in the questionnaire, the first is for girls to fill in with their parents and includes four questions about what they like about Rey and dressing up as her, and an invitation to submit a drawing of themselves dressed as Rey. The second section is thirteen questions for parents that are all about their daughter’s best qualities, how they feel about role models for girls in the media, and what they like about Rey. We’re excited to hear from both parents and girls on what appeals to them about Rey.
CS: Why do you think Rey became such an icon after the last Star Wars film?
LR: This is definitely one of the questions we’re hoping to answer in this research project! We’re really interested to hear what it is about Rey that appeals to so many girls and their families. One thing we kept seeing after the Force Awakens was a lot of people saying they were delighted to see a woman front and centre in such a huge film, taking the lead. We’ve seen a lot more films doing this since – from Ghostbusters to Wonder Woman – so it’s going to be interesting to find out what about Rey in particular makes her so special to so many people.
CS: How important is it that children see strong young female role models in film?
LR: We know from other studies that both children and parents look for strong role models in all sorts of places, including films. We’re looking forward to discovering if the girls who dress as Rey, and their parents, view Rey as a role model, or if they prefer to find their role models elsewhere. What makes a good role model for a girl in 2018? We don’t know, but we’re hoping our participants will tell us their thoughts on that.
CS: And are you a particularly big fan of Star Wars yourself?
LR: Growing up I was never really into Star Wars – I was very much on the Star Trek side of the fence! It was only when The Force Awakens came out, and the buzz about Rey happened, that I was prompted to go back to the franchise. My love has only grown with The Last Jedi, which became my favourite film of 2017 on first watch! However, both Ben and Rachel who are also doing this research are lifelong fans. I think we’ve got a good mix in that respect and we’re expecting the people who chose to take part might be a similar mix of new and old fans.