“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hit theatres this weekend, immediately shattering box office records. With its release, a generation has been introduced to a new group of “Star Wars” characters, as fans and critics alike are having their say.

A few weeks ago, however, on a crisp day in downtown Los Angeles just as “The Force Awakens” team crested towards the coming madness and -- as mentioned previously -- under the veil of secrecy and extraordinarily heightened security Disney/Lucasfilm conducted the press day for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

After being ushered into a conference hall large enough to fit an audience of over a hundred, I sat across from a young woman whose life was about to change. And in fact, it already has. Daisy Ridley, the lead in the “Star Wars” film that sets the tone for this next era, has a powerful presence.

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Ridley filled the expanse of the room, despite being so ill that she was forced to rub ChapStick along an overly taxed nose. It became immediately clear why J.J. Abrams – along with Kathleen Kennedy and the powers that be at Lucasfilm -- trusted this relative newcomer to play what they themselves describe as “the Luke Skywalker of this generation.” 

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

That comparison would paralyze some actors, but Ridley was quick to note that she didn’t think of Rey, “in terms of previous characters until we were out on the other side.” Upon reflection, however, the actress -- in accord with much of the viewing audience -- sees a combination of Luke, Leia, and Han in Rey. 

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“But also she's just her own person,” Ridley mused. “So the journey, yes, that's like Luke. From humble beginnings and she has this crazy journey. But I never really thought like that [viewing Rey as the new Luke] and I'm glad that I didn't, because it didn't put my mind into a place that it shouldn't have been. I was just trying to do a good job as Rey. I mean Luke's story is amazing, so if people see those comparisons it's great, but I'm so happy just being Rey.”

Perhaps one reason that Ridley is able to feel the necessary distance to embrace this role is that she didn’t grow up immersed in the “Star Wars” universe, and wasn’t particularly a fan.

“I wasn't really attached to any of them, honestly” Ridley said of the previous films in the Saga. “I'm not really like a fangirl of anything. My favorite film is ‘Matilda,’ but it's not like if I saw Danny DeVito I'd go, ‘AHHHHHH! Oh my God!’”

Perhaps something a little like this?

“Well,” she laughed, thinking about it. “One of our cameramen worked on it and I was like, 'Oh my God, that's so cool.' But I'm not really that kind of person. I'm not really a fan person, as it were. Which I think is nice, because like Rey is in the film, I wasn't trying to fit into anything. I was just trying to do the thing that was going to speak to me and was going to speak to the people I was acting with. So yeah, I'm one of the few...in the world.”

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Indeed. As this weekend’s box office has revealed – if we weren’t already aware – there is a global appetite for “Star Wars.” It’s interesting, though, Ridley’s detachment likely worked in her favor. Not only as it relates to the film and her character, but also in the sense that she wasn’t burdened by the weight of launching her career with the return of one of the most scrutinized and beloved franchises in the history of cinema. Nor was she, in that respect, intimidated by what her co-stars, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill represent in that universe.
“Not for me,” Ridley said when asked if they appeared as legends to her as their characters do to Rey in “The Force Awakens.” 

Image Credit: Lucasfilm

“Perhaps other people,” the actress continued. “I think how Rey feels about Han, and Luke, and Leia as legends really speaks to her relatability. Oscar [Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron] and Adam [Driver, who plays Kylo Ren] have talked about the history that they would know as characters. But Rey is part of a group of people in the 'Star Wars' world that doesn't get information, and isn't part of an order of people be they good or evil. In the Resistance or First Order. She's hearing things off the cuff. She has no one to talk to. No one to discuss these things with, so to her they are myths and legends. And that's incredible. I think that it's wonderful in the film that we see different people, and how history reflects in them, and how it effects their journeys going onward.”

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As to the onset of Rey’s adventure/trial, Ridley feels that her character handles being being swept into this long-raging war beautifully.

“She's obviously overwhelmed and frightened,” Ridley said. “But she's so hopeful, and so open, she just tries to do the right thing the whole way through. And I think that's such a wonderful quality in a person. To just keep trying, keep trying. Just keep plowing onward. And it's funny, because I think that people might watch it and think something totally different. But I think she responds in a wonderful way. And perhaps in a way that we don't see so much in cinema.”

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” finally in theatres, you can see Daisy Ridley’s Rey for yourself. And have your say. For my part, I think she is extraordinary.