In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, newcomer Daisy Ridley portrays Rey, the main hero of the new stories. Rey is smart but sweet, and independent without being masculine. One of the things I think I enjoyed most about Daisy Ridley's performance as Rey, is that she was easy to like and identify with as a leading character. In many ways, she seems like the perfect combination of Emma Watson and Pirates of the Caribbean era Kiera Knightley. She exhibits Watson's girl-next-door charm, wit, quick-thinking, resourcefulness, and independence, while also embodying Knightley-type ferocity, survival skills, athleticism, and occasional pluckiness. She's petite, fierce, and fun.
Looking at the idolized "strong female characters" of recent years, Rey is the character who finally hit the bullseye for me. Yes, we've always had Angelina Jolie to equalize and even conquer male counterparts, but how many people can really identify with Jolie? Even in her most down-to-earth roles, her dusky femme fatale aura and star-power grossly overshadow her relatability. More recently the world of feminism bowed to Elsa of Frozen, which still missed the mark for me because Elsa's independence and embrace of her true self are entirely destructive. Even by the movie's end she still hasn't really learned the importance of asking for or accepting help, having found it all within herself. A smattering of other movies and actresses demonstrate female strength as being as macho as possible, once again missing the mark.
Rey is not a smoldering and curvy Jolie-type butt-kicker, but nor is she a helpless damsel in distress, or a dark and tortured woman. If it seems like this makes Rey boring, that's certainly not the case-- she's just more normal, and much easier to understand. In fact, my only real beef with Rey is that she seems too perfect. She's tough but not macho, kind yet not weak, she seems to be a perfect judge of character, she never questions her mission, she's quick in a jam, she has a thorough understanding of mechanics, grasps the power of the force pretty quickly, and her biggest flaw is that she's too loyal, and would hop a ship back to the wasteland Jakku at the earliest opportunity to wait for the family that will never return.
Like Princess Leia before her, Rey is not waiting on a man to rescue her, and she does pretty well rescuing herself most of the time. However, Rey also doesn't give the impression that to accept help, or maybe eventually fall in love, would be a betrayal of her being. For all that independence, when she does need help, it's not shown as weakness. In fact, when Rey and Finn are reunited after Rey's capture, her acceptance of Finn and Han's dedication to saving her is a tender moment showing that her heart is growing to accept friendship.
In many ways, The Force Awakens sets up Rey to be the absolute equal and opposite of Kylo Ren. The two are about the same age, and neither has complete training in the ways of the force, but both are already powerful in their seemingly natural force-sensitivity. Ren has had training that is incomplete, yet he has a firm grasp of telekinesis and mind probing. Rey, having had no training, quickly masters mind-control tricks, resistance of mind-probing, and summoning a lightsaber-- all by lucky experimentation. By the time the credits roll, Kylo Ren has returned to his master to complete his training, and Rey has found her master to presumably begin her own. Both are under the tutelage of more powerful force-users, and eventually Rey and Ren will meet again to pit their powers against one another.
As the main hero of the new saga, Rey has an intriguing and mysterious appeal. Earlier, I mentioned that in many ways she seems a little too perfect, but I'm confident that eventually, Rey will be tempted by the Dark Side and be forced to reckon with her own potential to cross over to the Dark Side, deepening her character. There is also the question of Rey's parentage, which is currently a hot point of fan speculation, wherein the inevitable revelation of why Rey was abandoned on Jakku will create even more character-building moments. Until that time however, Rey's progress as the protagonist promises to be an engaging ride.