Star Wars fandom has a long tradition of turning minor characters into beloved superstars. Boba Fett and Wedge Antilles both became cult favorites despite their small roles in the original trilogy, and The Force Awakens has rejuvenated that tradition with X-wing pilot Jessika Pava.
Jessika “Testor” Pava, played by actress Jessica Henwick (Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones), is a member of the Resistance’s Blue Squadron, one of the two X-wing units commanded by Poe Dameron. She only has a few lines in the movie, but that was enough to win the hearts and minds of Star Wars fans.
Meet the new female hotshot pilot from #starwars #TheForceAwakens JESSIKA PAVA!!— Ryan (@LazerShow530) August 22, 2015
Like many minor Star Wars characters, Pava’s role has already been expanded in tie-in books and comics. Before The Force Awakens‘s release, she had appeared in the illustrated young-adult tie-in novel The Weapon of the Jedi as a young pilot who asks C-3PO to tell her a story about Luke Skywalker that no one else has heard.
Cameo appearances aside, most of the interest in Pava comes from fanfiction and art, where she’s generally cast as one of Poe Dameron’s best friends. She’s also one half of the fandom’s most popular femslash ship, paired with Rey. They never actually met onscreen, but whatever—that’s why fanfic exists, right?
Thanks to the abundance of niche merchandise and tie-in material, background characters have always been an incredibly important element of Star Wars fandom. Just think about how many people build complex cosplay outfits for unheroic and obscure characters like Bib Fortuna (Jabba the Hutt’s tentacle-headed butler) or even Gonk droids.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Jess Pava—the first female X-wing pilot, and the first Asian woman with a visible role in the Star Wars movies—has struck a chord with so many people. She combines two of the greatest strengths of The Force Awakens: the carefree badassery it inherited from original trilogy and the intentionally diverse casting choices that opened Star Wars up to a new generation of fans.
This sudden love for Jessika Pava is one of the many reasons why Star Wars is such an exciting new fandom for 2016. Several enormous fandoms have exploded with popularity over the past few years—Sherlock, Marvel movies, Supernatural, One Direction—but most of them inevitably focused on one or two specific slash pairings between white male leads. The Force Awakens is more like Harry Potter in that there’s a wealth of side-characters and worldbuilding to explore, but with the important distinction that it offers a far more diverse cast.
Incidentally, one of the main portmanteau names for Rey and Pava is “BlueRey,” after Pava’s X-wing callsign Blue Three. Alongside Stormpilot (Poe/Finn), Star Wars fandom has lucked out in the ship-naming department. Poor Hunger Games fandom had to deal with horrors like Peeniss and Katpee for the Peeta/Katniss relationship. It was a dark time.
Photo via Paul Bateman/Twitter