This Star Wars article contains major spoilers.
Of all the stunning visuals in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Enfys Nest and her Cloud-Riders must rank near the top of the list. This masked, fur-clad marauder brings a spear to a blaster fight against Han and Beckett’s team of smugglers in their search for the motherlode of coaxium that will lead them to freedom. Enfys isn’t just a cool mask, though. In a saga known for villains like Darth Maul and Captain Phasma, who appear with dramatic flair and little to no history, Enfys has a strong motivation and a twist (or two) that makes her different from the rest.
Before Solo came out, rumors spread that the character under the armor might be a woman. Some sources disagreed, but in the end, the rumors turned out to be true, and Enfys was revealed to be played by actress Erin Kellyman. This makes her an important addition to the canon since Star Wars has so few female villains.
More impressive is the fact that we learn about Enfy’s motivations and history in the actual movie. The novel Phasma does a great job of contextualizing the First Order captain’s on-screen decisions, but that history isn’t explicitly explained in any of the saga films. Making sure a woman — and a biracial woman at that — has an established story in Solo,even though she has a relatively small amount of screen time, is important. Yes, Solo had a bad habit of killing female main characters just as we were getting to know them, but Enfys’ story carries through the whole movie.
Her gender shouldn’t necessarily have to be a reveal: in a better world where male isn’t considered default or even just one where Star Wars has female villains on the big screen more often, one would be less likely to assume that the tall Enfys, with her digitally obscured voice, is male. The Expanded Universe has had several female villains, such as Asajj Ventress, the Seventh Sister, and Arihnda Pryce, but the movies have only really had Captain Phasma until now.
Enfys’ gender wasn’t the only surprise when she took off her helmet. The leader of the Cloud-Riders is a teenager and significantly younger than Han. She’s taking part in the earliest days of the Rebellion, all at the age of maybe 16. Considering that children and teens are a big part of the Star Wars audience, it’s great to see a young protagonist already well-established as a leader caring for the less fortunate. Of course, young rebel Enfys might not be a completely aspirational character for other teens — she partakes in her fair share of violence — but she doesn’t necessarily have to be all the time. Her “steal from the rich and give to the poor” attitude makes her a unique Star Wars teen.
Enfys also joins capable teen heroes like Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee in The Clone Wars, as well as Padmé Amidala in The Phantom Menace. If today’s teens are anything like I was, they’re eager to find characters to relate to and love. Many of today’s teens have also become outspoken activists against issues such as gun violence and income inequality, taking leadership roles in ideological battles. Thanks to Solo, these teens don’t have to look forward to being 19, like Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, to find characters who face high-stakes political decisions.
Like the young adult book protagonists before her, Enfys fights against an Empire that has demonstrated its cruelty and desire for subjugation. Today’s young adults are the generation who were raised with The Hunger Games or the more recent Court of Fives, as well as classic dystopian coming-of-age tales like The Giver. Enfys is growing up in a particularly dystopian part of the Star Wars timeline, too: the Empire has been in power for ten years, an eternity in the minds of the oppressed. Unlike Padmé or Ahsoka, she is growing up without the support of a royal retinue or the Jedi Order. However she discovered or was introduced to the cruelties of the Empire, Enfys might have seen life under Imperial rule as the status quo before the layers were peeled back and she saw the cruelty underneath.
What exactly is her history? Her scenes in Solo are just enough to give us what we need to know about Enfys as a character and anti-hero, but also leaves some interesting questions open. Was she raised in the Cloud-Riders gang? She was born after the fall of the Republic, so what did her parents tell her about the past? Her story opens up many intriguing questions — maybe enough for a novel? — but also perfectly explains why she and Beckett’s crew of thieves clash.
With a stunning costume like hers, Enfys could have been forgiven for not having a strong backstory, instead becoming another “man with no name” Western-type like Boba Fett. However, in just a few lines, Enfys’ motivation and story becomes clear: she was inspired by her mother, who wore the armor before her, and wants to use it to give back to the people suffering under the Empire, such as the citizens who literally lost their voices to the Empire’s cruelty.
Enfys isn’t all good or bad, contributing to the Disney era’s conversation about gray morality in a rather black-and-white universe. Once she has Han, Beckett, Qi’ra, and Chewie surrounded, Enfys gives them a chance to fight back against the crime lord who threatened to kill them and enslaved Qi’ra. Enfys gives Han an out and he takes it. Just like Han, Enfys’ secret — and one of the things that make her such a great antagonist — is that sometimes, she chooses to be the hero.
It’s refreshing to see a female character who clearly has a life and a history outside the context of the male characters around her. Solo’s treatment of female characters is often disappointing. Enfys Nest, though, is a sign of hope for the franchise.