//Everybody Loves Rey, a Star Wars Story

Everybody Loves Rey, a Star Wars Story

Annamarie McIntosh is coming undone. People in comic-book tees are rushing past her, lit up by too-bright fluorescents. She’s surrounded by massive signs with corporate logos, from Nintendo to DC Comics. The cavernous hall is 460,000 square feet, and McIntosh is taking up about three of them, trying to cinch the beige bandages wrapped around her arms. “We’re having issues here,” she says, with an exasperated giggle. “It’s been falling down all day.” With an assist by her mom, the 17-year-old finally twists and tucks her costume into place. All things considered, the fix is easy. It’s 2019’s Comic-Con International, and compared to the wizards and warlocks and Wonder Women crowding the floor, the outfit of the Jedi Rey is plain, simple. Sensible.

Cosplay, that pinnacle of performative fandom, dates back to the mid-20th century; some accounts note that there were cosplayers at the first World Science Fiction Convention, in 1939. Women have always been involved, both making costumes and wearing them. Options, however, have never been wide-ranging. For every Harley Quinn, there were a hundred Batmen and Jokers; for every Uhura, a dozen Spocks and Kirks; for every Kitty Pryde, a slew of, well, X-Men.

Star Wars, too, offered few opportunities for women to embody major characters. There weren’t many marquee names to begin with, and those that did exist had significant barriers to entry. Padmé Amidala had more layers, makeup, and hair spray than a British royal. Mon Mothma’s sober toga wasn’t as intricate or bank-breaking, but fellow con-goers only wanted to talk to you about Bothan death tolls. Princess Leia, the obvious choice, was most recognizable in an ogle-baiting metal bikini. For years, women did dress up like one hero—Luke Skywalker—but they could never really be that hero. (The choice between an opposite-gender farm boy and a royal sex object scrambles one’s sense of belonging.)

Then, in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens happened. Near the start of the first act, a young scavenger removes a pair of goggles, and we meet the galaxy’s new hero: a brave woman, draped in no-fuss garments and carrying a staff. Every fan wanted to be her; every fan could be her. “I make a lot of costumes with my dad,” McIntosh says, looking down at her linen and straps. “It’s super empowering for girls to see that they can be that person.”

Now Rey is heading into her third (and possibly final) movie. Which has meant four years of fan-driven debate about the existence and value of a female protagonist. Much of that conversation has felt either rote or backward—but shifting the focus from Rey’s gender to the more specific ways she wields and wears it reveals the deeper secret to her success: her costume.

rey cosplayer next to her mannequin where she designs and makes her costumes

When Caitlin Beards, 34, saw Rey for the first time, she felt a sartorial kinship.

Photograph: Amy Lombard

rey cosplayer doing her hair

Rey has to rely on her own resourcefulness and strength, and that, Beards says, makes her someone that women want to emulate.

Photograph: Amy Lombard

This was all by design. From the beginning, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, was meant to be a nobody who doesn’t know she’s a somebody. As he developed her look, costume designer Michael Kaplan sought to make it as attainable, but still as Star Wars, as possible. Rey wears the cheap, desert-ready clothes of a resourceful orphan. She has protective eyewear fashioned from a retrofitted stormtrooper helmet. “You can tell they’re homemade goggles. That shows savviness on the character’s part. She’s self-possessed,” Kaplan says. “We didn’t want her necessarily to be a very feminine character—or a very masculine one.” Her arm bandages were inspired by the shin wraps on Luke’s boots.

Kaplan has some experience with utilitarian looks, particularly those that become fashion statements; he’s the man responsible for Jennifer Beals’ legendary cut-up sweatshirt in Flashdance. For Rey, he built off Donna Karan’s “seven easy pieces” philosophy, layering essentials so she always has what she needs on her back. “Daisy didn’t have a simple job,” he says. “The stunts she was expected to do, the training, and the things she needed to learn in a short period of time—I would’ve really felt bad if she was encumbered by a complicated costume. She felt very heroic in this.”