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The force is strong in these women.

In this exclusive featurette for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie and Daisy Ridley—who star as Maz Kanata, Captain Phasma and Rey, respectively—share their first memories of the film franchise that began in 1977 and is now beloved by millions of fans around the world. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Star Wars would continue 30 years later," says Nyong'o, whose character was brought to life via motion capture and CGI technology. "I would stand on that set and marvel at the fact that I got to be a part of this universe." Looking back, she recalls, "The process of making this film was surreal."

Christie, perhaps best known for her role as Brienne of Tarth in HBO's Game of Thrones, has loved Star Wars since age 6. "I remember seeing Princess Leia and her strength, her wit, her determination, and thinking, 'I want to be like her,'" says the star, whose villainous, armored character is a member of the Dark Order. "When I heard they were going to be casting for the films, I was so excited."

Ridley, a relative newcomer, still can't believe Rey plays such an integral part in the Star Wars universe. "To play a role that's so nuanced, and an incredibly emotional role, was thrilling," she reveals in the exclusive featurette above. "I hope that women—and men—see themselves in these characters."

To Christie's delight, Carrie Fisher also returns as Princess Leia.

Star Wars, The Force Awakens

David James/Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Force Awakens features more women in prominent roles than any of its predecessors—a deliberate decision on J.J. Abrams' part. As the director recently said on Good Morning America, "Star Wars was always a boys' thing and a movie that dads take their sons to, and though that's still very much the case, I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers could take their daughters to as well. I'm looking forward to kids seeing this movie and seeing themselves in it and seeing that they're capable of doing things that they never imagined possible."

In addition to the women, the film also introduces several male characters, like Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). "Writing this script with Larry Kasdan, I didn't know what Rey was going to look like. I didn't know what Finn or Poe would look like," Abrams told Entertainment Weekly recently. "I just knew that this movie needed to look the way the world looks." Ridley, for one, couldn't agree more. "What we've seen of Rey, she looks like she can handle her stuff," the actress said. "So most of the comments I get are from parents who say how wonderful it is that their little girls can see this character." While she's happy to provide a role model, the newbie adds, "My main thing is that people connect with her, regardless of gender, color, age."

Star Wars, The Force Awakens

David James/Lucasfilm

If Ridley's role creates other opportunities for women to shine onscreen, all the better. Like Rey, she has no choice to embrace the position she's in. "For me, the idea of her being called a 'hero' or a 'heroine,' I think that's almost wrong, because the whole thing is she's a normal girl going on a journey," she said. "There's so much talk about gender, still, and the wage gap, and opportunity for women around the world in different sectors, so to be one of the facial representations of a positive progression is incredible. It's not a burden…It just seems to me like it's so simple, and obviously the difficulty then is when you look at other films and go, 'Oh my God, how did you screw up so badly? Why is your cast so white and male?'"

Star Wars the Force Awakens is in theaters Friday.