Back in September, Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson responded to a tweet from a female film critic making "Ask me about my feminist film agenda" shirts to say he wanted one. Feminists may have different ideas of how feminism should be reflected in a film, but one of the easiest ways is to simply present women equally in a movie. The more women who appear on screen, the more chance to showcase various types of characters, whether scoundrels, rank and file heroes, or villains. The Force Awakens includes a good bit of background diversity, but when it comes to important scenes with the leaders of either faction troubleshooting, women mostly fade into the background, with notable exceptions like General Leia Organa or Captain Phasma. Fortunately, The Last Jedi shakes things up: women have more dialogue in the First Order, middle-aged women run the Resistance, and even the caretakers of Ahch-To, the island of Luke's exile, are completely female.
General Leia Organa
Leia as the Skywalker sibling who persisted is an obvious nod to women in this era we are living in. She isn't morosely moping over the loss of her son to the dark side, but rather mentoring the next generation, particularly Poe Dameron, whom she wants to step up and become a leader. The Last Jedi finally reveals she is strong in the Force. It even makes a visual parallel between Leia and Yoda with the cane she uses after she saves herself when the Raddus's bridge is blown out.
Vice Admiral Holdo
Poe's path to leadership comes with some tough lessons. After being demoted down to captain, he squares off with Holdo over how to save the Resistance. It's a nice nod to The Phantom Menace, which had the best representation of women in the military. Holdo also represents female friendship, not often seen in Star Wars films.
Although Resistance gunner Paige Tico's time on screen is short, her impact in the opening scene is to remind the audience that the actions of one person can make a difference. Generally, war stories (the opening scene is modelled on Twelve O'Clock High, a classic World War II movie) sideline the roles of women, so the presence of Paige and A-wing leader Tallie Lintra subvert a Hollywood norm.
There aren't enough good things to say about Rose Tico, Paige's sister. She is competent and smart, fierce yet kind. She strikes a balance between warrior, firing at Captain Phasma when Finn is threatened, and nurturer, reminding Finn that saving the ones we love will be their path to victory.
Sure, sometimes cool characters are going to die, but Phasma went down fighting rather than her fate left to some ignominious ending like Boba Fett's in Return of the Jedi. Johnson worked with the Story Group to flesh out more backstory on the character. If you want more, check out the four-part comic miniseries Star Wars: Captain Phasma by Kelly Thompson or the novel Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson.
Rey finishes the movie in a place feminist Star Wars fangirls like me thought was an impossible dream a little over five years ago, before Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, before the sequel trilogy was a certainty on the horizon. Johnson created a hero's journey for a great female character that is relatable to whoever watches.