Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Feminist Movie We Need

by Maria Isabelle

Even before The Force Awakens hit the big screen, Star Wars fans were instantly enchanted by the effects, mysterious storyline and intriguing but relatable characters. In particular, Rey has become the heroine of every young girl’s’ dreams and has since resonated with a vast majority of audiences because of her admirable independence and unmatched strength. In a series that has focused for so long on its young male heroes, it’s high time that a fully-formed female character like Rey has come into the limelight.

The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the defeat of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, and since then, the galaxy has reorganized itself. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and Leia, now the general of the Resistance, leads a splinter group that fights against the new Empire, the First Order. Rey first appears as a nobody, a scavenger on the backwater desert planet of Jakku, who is drawn into the conflict after she rescues the adorable droid, BB-8, who houses vital information about Luke’s whereabouts. Like both Luke and Anakin Skywalker before her, she goes from her humble beginnings in the desert to participating in events that shape the galaxy – and like them, she also discovers that she is strong in the Force.

Rey is a hero for today’s world, vulnerable and strong in equal parts. She is able to scavenge for herself and has developed many survival skills because of this. However, we see that she is utterly alone in the world of Jakku, waiting for someone who may never come back. Despite this, she forms bonds quickly and we see this through BB-8 and former stormtrooper Finn. Later on, we find her in a pseudo-father-daughter relationship with Han, which is both lovely and heartbreaking, considering the unknown origins of her own parents. Rey’s strength comes from her abilities to take care of herself as well as her hope that someone will come back for her.

Her relationships with the male characters of The Force Awakens also show her developed character. Despite Finn’s obvious interest in her, this love interest is not fully formed and instead focuses on using Finn to show Rey’s abilities. When they first meet and are found by the First Order, Finn repeatedly takes Rey’s hand to run, to which Rey responds with “I know how to run without you holding my hand.” Han Solo also recognizes her skills and even offers her a job aboard the Millennium Falcon and a blaster gun on the planet of Takodana because he knows she can take care of herself. Rey also shows her independence in multiple situations where she saves herself: when people try to capture BB-8, she successfully fights them off with her staff and when she is captured by Kylo Ren, we find her performing her own escape plan and Han Solo, Chewbacca and Finn (unnecessarily) trying to save her.

Rey’s skills are not only present in her knowledge of how to survive in the desert, but in how she adapts to the galaxy at large. Her scavenging is directly related to her ability to understand and repair starships, thus winning Han Solo’s respect. Her melee skills with her staff- because as Finn points out, nobody on Jakku seems to use blaster pistols – serve her well when she receives a lightsaber. And her latent skills in the Force may be the most useful of all. It seems obvious that Rey may have received training at some point in the past, and these forgotten abilities come to the forefront once she meets Kylo Ren. The Sith Lord in training attempts to seduce Rey with promises of instruction, reaching into her mind to pull out memories. Rey is able to turn the tables and this moment seems to flip a switch in her. Like Luke before her, all she needed to do was close her eyes and trust in the Force.

Rey is not a damsel in distress like many female characters of the 1970s were, nor is she the hypersexualized heroine so common in the late 1990s. She has more in common with Katniss Everdeen than she does the heroines of the pulp films that inspired Star Wars. She lets audiences see that women can be heroes and fighters in a galaxy far, far away. When fans watch previous films and Star Wars spinoffs on DVD or on local channels, they can see that The Force Awakens continues a proud tradition of following along Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey – only this time, the hero just happens to be a heroine.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

Energy, Pollution and Toxic Waste: Eco-Horror in Film

written by Maria Isabelle

Climate change has been a big button issue in recent years as more and more people have become aware of its negative effects. In fact, because of the burning of fossil fuels, the emission of carbon dioxide has increased about 40 percent since pre-industrial times, according to Ohio Energy. With this concern and changing environmental issues come a plethora of films that reflect our natural world’s burdens. Films have been warning us of impending ecological disaster for years. Whether it’s our own hubris coming to get us or the Earth fighting back, here are five of the most terrifying eco-horror-themed films.



Not only the King of the Monsters, Godzilla is also the king of the eco-disasters. Famously a metaphor for the unchecked use of nuclear power, Godzilla as a force doesn’t even seem to see his victims. He can only destroy, taking victims in a way that doesn’t discriminate, much like the radiation that created him. This classic film is powerfully written and directed, nothing like the sillier entries later in the franchise that would give it a reputation for high camp. Even with the oft-forgotten love triangle that dominates the majority of the film, Godzilla has a lot to say and does so fantastically.


The Bay (2012)

When two researchers discover a toxin in Chesapeake Bay (alluding to the actual pollution in Chesapeake Bay), even they couldn’t have predicted that it would release a parasite on the townspeople that turns them into violent killers. A straight-out horror film, The Bay gives us everything the genre needs: unnatural threat, savvy protagonists, and authority figures that refuse to do anything. It actually has shades of Jaws which it seems to homage quite nicely. Viewers who like heavy doses of irony will find a lot to like in this film.




C.H.U.D. (1984)

Photographer George Cooper (John Heard) discovers a civilization of “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers” (C.H.U.D.s) who are intent on invading the surface world. This camp classic from the renewed monster trend of the mid-80s is not subtle about how toxic waste created these mutant maniacs and doesn’t try to hide a very strong pro-environment message in between the gore and special effects.






The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

An often forgotten Roland Emmerich classic, this is the story of scientist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) who discovers that the Earth is headed for an imminent major freeze – one that happens almost instantly afterward leaving the survivors to find a way to keep living until humanity can respond. Like most Emmerich films, the environmental message and reference to the effects of climate change is in your face and over the top, but also sincere and couched in high action with exciting set pieces and very human characters.





Into the Storm (2014)

A found footage disaster film, Into the Storm switches perspectives between several graduating high school students and a veteran storm chaser named Pete (Matt Walsh) who is trying to drive directly into a tornado. The action builds as the story goes on, getting the characters closer and closer to an encounter with a major whirlwind – another force alluding to climate change. This manages to use the found footage gimmick in a way that doesn’t strain the eyes and can integrate parallel plots naturally.





These are only some of the many movies we have made that look at how we’ve treated the planet and suggest that it might cause a negative reaction. Whether it’s personifying our lack of care for water or our fears of nuclear holocaust, eco-horror always hits very close to home.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

The Scorch Trials Review

written by Maria Isabelle

Dystopian fiction has long found a home among the canonical halls of literature, but not until recent years have we seen so many offerings within this theme geared toward a young adult audience. Not only are there numerous young adult dystopian novels being written, but many of them don’t stop at just one novel but rather evolve into trilogies that then morph into three or more movies based on their various namesakes. One of the latest films in this phenomenon is
The Scorch Trials, the second installment in The Maze Runner series.


While it certainly isn’t a direct, or even at times faithful, adaptation of the second novel in the series, the film nonetheless does justice to the original and is a solid addition to what is planned to be a film trilogy based on the book series. While still recognizable as part of the series, this film   departs from its predecessor in making significant changes to the storyline as told in the source material. Some of these changes seem necessary in order to keep the flow consistent, particularly given that the timeline of this film picks up mere minutes after the ending of the last one.


Whether these changes can be considered a good thing or not depends upon who you ask. Critics and fans alike seem divided on this issue, with some bemoaning the lack of character development, apparently sacrificed for more action sequences and a sense of urgency. Others cite a lack of urgency or purpose for the escape across the scorch that results from the significant omission of the experiment’s ‘Phase Two’ plot device that was the whole reason for entering and traversing the scorch in the novel. The film makes no mention of a ‘Phase Two’ or ongoing experiment, but rather has the characters escaping to the scorch in search of a resistance group that opposes WCKD.


The one key issue that most seem to agree upon is that this film may leave some audience members confused, whether fans of the novels or purely viewers of the first movie. This doesn’t seem to bother either lead actor Dylan O’Brien (Thomas) or director Wes Ball, both of whom are on board to complete the trilogy with The Death Cure, set to begin filming within the next few months and slotted for release in early 2017. Both actor and director feel they are telling a solid story that is close to the source material but takes acceptable creative license where necessary to create a stronger film.


Regardless of other concerns, there is no denying that The Maze Runner series, and this installment in particular, provide the social commentary expected from dystopian fiction. In this case, The Scorch Trials emphasizes the devastation of a global environmental disaster and makes clear reference to at least one possible outcome of our neglect to take care of our planet and natural resources. While the devastation in the series is much more suddenly caused by unprecedented solar flares that burn away the majority of the earth’s surface, we can draw parallels to our own erosion of the ozone layer and global warming – issues closely tied to our continued dependency on traditional energy providers versus renewable sources and complacency over our much more gradual climate changes.


Audiences of The Scorch Trials are generally left with more questions at the end of the film, questions that are hopefully to be answered in the third and final installment when it’s done. Changes from novel to movie in this second film will necessarily result in a further departure from source material for the third installment, but director Wes Ball is confident that the end result will be a solid trilogy that can both pay tribute to its source material and stand on its own, as any good film adaptation should.

The Unaddressed Issues in YA Dystopian Fiction

written by Maria Isabelle

The future of mankind is dark, desolate and generally pretty frightening. At least, that is what dystopian fiction like The Giver and The Maze Runner would have us believe. Dystopian fiction pictures a future world where many of our current problems are escalated to extreme proportions.These fictitious works are set sometime in the future after we have continued down our current path of destruction and the end result is a world overrun by violence, greed and sometimes even a creepy monster or two. There is an overarching presence of oppression by some sort of political force in all these works of fiction, and it is when citizens of these dystopias realize the system they live in isn’t the one they want to live in, that the story typically begins.

This is not a new genre of fiction, but it has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, especially in the growing young adult market. While there may be many reasons for this rise in YA dystopian fiction, the fact that many of these stories feature an oppressed hero ready to fight for freedom speaks directly to the oppression many teens feel as they grow up. Unfortunately, this oppressive feeling also highlights what is really lacking in many dystopian works including the minimization of racism, sexism and a number of other issues plaguing modern society.

While issues such as technological dependency, government control, and environmental destruction get A-list exposure, real problems teens (and adults) face on a daily basis are mostly ignored. Right now, there is a big discussion happening on the role both racism and sexism play in YA dystopian fiction. Hit properties like the Divergent series actually go right for societal separation, which one would think is the perfect place for a discussion on racism and equality. Instead, Divergent (and its sequel Insurgent – streaming info for both here) avoids all of that messy real-life drama and instead chooses to base its separation on virtues instead of race, which is unfortunately far more likely the way our evil future-selves would run things.

Along the same thinking, The Hunger Games features a predominantly white world with little room for race issues. Sure, there are some minority characters in the film, but not too many fans likings. During casting of The Hunger Games, it was announced that Willow Smith may play Rue, a young girl that was written as a minority in the books, and the internet went wild.

All over Twitter, blogs, and forums fans of the series were coming out in droves to bash the casting of an African-American girl as Rue. These comments varied from the downright hateful to the more passive-aggressively racist, but the general sentiment was the same. Following the movie’s premier, the comments continued and even though Smith did not play the role of Rue, Amandla Stenberg put forth a sensational portrayal of the character even the harshest of critics couldn’t ignore.

It comes as a surprise to many that in comparison to other dystopian fictions, and actions movies in general, the main protagonists in these films are strong female characters. Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley have been dominating screens in these films for a couple years now openly challenging gender stereotypes. The underlying tone of female empowerment present in these series is great for the young girls that are typically fans of the genre. But rarely are the serious issues many women face on a daily basis like discrimination and harassment addressed.

While most dystopian fictions feature some element of racism or sexism, they barely scratch the surface of the issues and their repercussions in the real world. By tackling these major issues in young adult fiction, we are encouraging the youth of today to openly discuss the real-world problems they face now and will in the future, possibly opening up the genre to a whole new reading and viewing public. Ignoring these real-world issues are akin to simply saying they do not exist or are not important, and we all know that is not the case.


Prof Pic 1

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

The Five Best Realistic Science Fiction Films in the Past Five Years

written by Maria Isabelle


There was a time when science fiction films consisted of more fiction than science, but as mankind grows more intelligent about the scientific forces that control the universe, our need for more believable science fiction also grows stronger. Here are some recent and realistic depictions of science and technology in film:


Gravity (2013)

When their shuttle is destroyed, a medical engineer and an astronaut must work to survive in space as they are adrift in orbit. This has become one of the most famous movies in recent times to be completely picked apart by modern rock star scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The physics is a little hit-or-miss, but there are times when Gravity did capture the zero gravity feeling, according to Buzz Aldrin. Other realistic additions include special props used by astronauts, correct alignment of buttons and controls, and the growing problem of space debris in Earth’s orbit.


Her (2013)

In this sci-fi dramedy, a man falls in love with an intelligent operating system named Samantha. Not the only film on this list to deal with man falling in love with a machine, Her is steeped in something a little closer to reality. More recently, humans have developed a growing trend of being attached to our technology at all times. How many people never leave the house without their cell phones or take them to bed with them? For some, it also seems that communicating remotely via email or messaging could make it easier to form more personal bonds. Perhaps in the future, when more sophisticated technology is developed, the prospect of relationships with artificial intelligence won’t seem so crazy.


Interstellar (2014)

In a far out scenario, a team of space explorers must travel through a wormhole to save mankind. Even though the premise is a little insane, there is a lot of sound science fact in this film. Using all available information, most scientists agree that the black hole and wormhole in the film are as close to real as we can imagine right now. Another fascinating aspect of correct science is the different aging rates of the cast. The gravitational pull of the black hole would, in theory, slow down time on the planet closest to the black hole.


Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina sees a man falling in love with an AI robot. Unlike Her, the AI machine here is an actual robot with a very realistic human face. The entire film is centered on the Turing Test, a way of testing AI against the realities of human intelligence. It seems that we may be way off until the technology depicted within the film but we’ve still made some small but great strides in advancing it: smart lights and appliances, remotely controlled home security systems, and even software that actually passed the Turing Test.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

In a far off dystopian future, two people fight to restore balance and order. This film made the list, not for its great technology, but for its realistic depiction of our bleak future. After global climate change and increasing worldwide violence, the Earth is now barren and devoid of any similarities to our modern society in this film. There has been a breakdown in our culture and things such as water and gas have become the top commodities. It isn’t pretty, but close to our reality if we aren’t careful.



Although sci-fi films can sometimes be a bust, they key is to depict relatable and realistic stories in an imagined world. Let’s just hope the tragedies and violence surrounding these technologies and science in film never make it to real life.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.

Robot Movies You Should Watch in 2015

written by Maria Isabelle

ChappiePosterEver wonder if your microwave has feelings? What if it felt imposed upon every time you nuked a burrito inside of it? What if the microwave started conspiring with the rest of your kitchen appliances? Would there be any hope left for any of us? Are you also craving a burrito now?

The point that I’m laboring towards here is that machines are becoming pretty sophisticated — so sophisticated that it’s slightly worrisome. There are a number of films slated for release this year that tackle this very issue issue: Chappie, Ex Machina, and the latest installment of the The Avengers franchise. And while there is much chatter about this year as a “good year for robots,” the truth is that robot movies have been around for about as long as robots themselves…or movies, for that matter. One could perhaps make the case that our aversions toward technology are, in essence, the very basis of science-fiction itself. And there are a lot of ways that the newer films will likely echo thematic elements of classic science-fiction films.

Chappie, for instance, will tell the story of a future dystopian society that has come to rely upon a robotic police force. “Chappie” is a police robot that is stolen and reprogrammed so that “he” is sensitive to external stimuli in much that way that human children are. In other words, he is capable of learning and feeling, and his experiences and observations inform his behavior. On the one hand, you might think of it as some bizarre synthesis of Robocop and Kindergarten Cop. You might also see it as a modern day nod to classic sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, wherein the robot is merely a foil to expose how cruel and irrational people can be, and the notion that people are not born to be hateful or violent — societal conditioning plays its part.

Ultron takes a slightly different approach. The film will feature the Avengers crew squaring off against Ultron, a robot that is hell bent on destroying the human race. This narrative treatment is perhaps a little closer in substance to the tech paranoia present in something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the robot itself is a danger because it has been given the agency to make decisions even though it lacks the capacity for empathy, even though “he” is a somewhat sympathetic character “himself” — disturbed even, to borrow a phrase from director Joss Whedon. Ultron is a not a cutesy foil — no part of him is Kindergarten Cop derivative.

Ex Machina is notable for its thematic integration of gender politics. The film revolves around a young computer coder named Caleb who gets the unique opportunity to spend a week in the sprawling estate of Nathan, the head of the tech company that Caleb works for. Within the home, we meet “Ava,” a feminized cyborg who is endowed with remarkable wit and an uncanny facility for verbal communication. Caleb, we learn, has been brought to the sprawling estate on false pretenses: the real reason he has been recruited is so he can perform a Turing test on the robot. Nathan, we learn, has a whole ward of female robot servants that he routinely mistreats. Of the three films discussed in this article, Ex Machina promises to be the most somber and thought provoking.

For everything that’s advantageous about modern technology, there are many risks. And while other people ultimately pose a much greater threat against people than robots pose against people, it’s difficult to completely suppress one’s occasional discomfort with the thought that, in a few decades time, the machines could rise from the kitchen to enslave us all.

These are all tropes well-rooted in Cold War era science-fiction. In the aftermath of nuclear weapons dropped in Japan, the entire planet was left to ponder about what could happen to the world if scientists were allowed to run mad like those kids in that one sequence from Kindergarten Cop. This doesn’t negate all of the wonderful things that contemporary technology has brought us. Automated home security systems are obviously pretty useful (more info here) and so are robotic surgeries (details here). But when you read about technological devices that are used for the sole purpose of harming people…it’s hard to think of that as progress.


Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.