We’re still a week out from the release of the new Star Wars movie, and already it is breaking box office records, shattering pre-sale expectations with a staggering $50 million gross, all without any kind of critical or preview word of mouth. The immense secrecy surrounding The Force Awakens—combined with some stellar trailer footage—has made the new Star Wars film the hottest ticket of the year, and a marketing coup for Disney, who acquired Lucasfilm and Star Wars with it in 2012.
The new franchise, which will begin with The Force Awakens, and carry through a trilogy of new films, is a massive corporate endeavor, encompassing not just films, but toys, games, books, clothes, theme parks, and more. If the original Star Wars trilogy hit the world like an unexpected bolt of lightning, the onslaught of Star Wars to come is more of a military affair—planned meticulously, executed with precision, set to conquer.
Though the films have attracted artists from every level of Hollywood, from directors like J.J. Abrams to Rian Johnson, to top-of-their-game actors like Oscar Isaac and Lupita N’yongo, the films are also an interactive catalogue that allows fans to experience their future products in action. It’s a late capitalist bonanza, and for the coup at the center of the madness, Disney has found itself an unknown commodity in their new leading lady, Daisy Ridley.
It must be a strange experience going from working at a bar in your hometown to having your face scanned for use in selling merchandise, but it’s a strange world we live in and Star Wars lead actress Daisy Ridley seems up for the challenge.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be the 23-year-old’s first feature film. Before being cast in the film, Ridley graduated from a performing arts high school in 2010. She appeared in a music video for the British rapper Wiley in 2013 for his song “Lights On” and notched a handful of guest appearances in British television series like Mr. Selfridge and Silent Witness.
But for the vast majority of the millions who will see Star Wars beginning next Friday, the role of Rey, a solitary, Jakku-inhabiting scavenger, will serve as a first introduction to Ridley. Like her slightly more established costar John Boyega, who starred in the 2011 sci-fi film Attack the Block, Ridley hails from London—a casting choice departure from both the original films and the prequels, where the main cast was dominated by American actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, both of whom will return for the sequels.
It’s impossible to say much about Ridley’s performance in the new film, as Disney has kept the movie itself as far from the press as is possible for a project of this magnitude. But her performance as the face of a new brand has been admirable.
She’s already hitting the red carpet in an impressive array of designers, from major houses like Dior, Chanel, and Giambattista Valli to trendier fare like David Koma and Mary Katrantzou. In interviews, she describes herself as being healthy, and takes the time to specify that she means mentally as well as physically. Her role in the new films clearly requires that she stay fit, but if Rey has to worry about guns and battleships and rogue Adam Drivers on the loose, it’s the marathon of promotion and publicity facing Ridley that will require the most training of all.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ridley was asked about the pressures of being an “ambassador” for the new series, and no doubt she’ll field questions from now until the end of time about her views on being a role model for little girls. For most people, I imagine it would be a daunting prospect. But Ridley seems to be taking it in stride.
“I think if I was a crazy loon, I’d be worried,” Ridley responded. “The one thing I got told: ‘Tone down the dramatics.’ But I’ve not been told to be anything else than I am. So for me it’s wonderful.”
An answer with the kind of freshness not even Disney money can buy. Sounds like they’ve got the right girl.