When The Last Jedi came out, one of the biggest complaints was that Rey finished her Jedi training with Luke too quickly. These critics must not be familiar with the story of Joan of Arc, a young, untrained peasant girl who picked up a sword and turned the tide of the 100 Years War. Joan was a fierce warrior who won the respect of her soldiers and king through exceptional valor and faith.
These days the trope of a commoner becoming a deciding figure in a conflict has become so common in movies that it has become a cliche, but when Joan did it, she flipped the script of her time period. Here are a few ways that the story of Joan of Arc is better than anything you’ll find on the silver screen today.
1) She led armies.
Setting aside how unusual it was for a woman to fight in war, let alone command armies, Joan did the unthinkable for one of her station. An uneducated, common girl whose father was a mere farmer, she attained an audience with the dauphin, heir to the French throne Charles VII, and convinced him to allow her to address the siege on Orléans.
The city of Orléans had been surrounded for six months by English forces, yet Joan, a young girl unproven in battle, was able to lead 700 men to recapture the city in just four days. Once the area was cleared of the enemy, Charles VII was able to travel safely to Reims, where he would be crowned king.
While Charles was most likely testing the validity of Joan’s claims with a task he never expected her to achieve, her victory led him to put her in a position of authority over his armies and fight in his name during the 100 Years War. However, it is unclear to what extent Charles rested his faith on his God-sent warrior, since upon her capture the fledgling king made no attempt to see her ransomed.
2) She wore armor and fought alongside the men.
The 15th century was not a very progressive time, and a woman wearing men’s clothing was not accepted by everyone. Still she stood beside war-hardened soldiers, brandishing a blade which Encyclopedia Britannica explains was found after Joan made a prophecy:
She had her standard painted with an image of Christ in Judgment and a banner made bearing the name of Jesus. When the question of a sword was brought up, she declared that it would be found in the church of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois, and one was in fact discovered there.
When she was imprisoned her captors demanded that she wear women’s clothes and she accepted this. Yet several days later she was found in her cell wearing men’s clothes once again. Historians theorize she may have just been more comfortable that way, since she was a seasoned warrior at that point, but it is also possible that her guards forced her to wear men’s clothes in order to make her seem defiant to the authorities.
3) She made several attempts to escape captivity.
Joan had no desire to remain imprisoned and was willing to do just about anything to escape, no matter how dangerous. When she was first captured, John of Luxembourg sent her to his castle in Vermandois. She made an attempt at escape there, which came too close for comfort, and John sent her further into English territory to a more distant castle.
In her second prison she was treated kindly, but her desire to escape became so great that she climbed a tower and jumped from the top, landing in the moat. Although she was unconscious, she was not seriously hurt, but had to spend some time recovering before she was moved once more.
4) She held the courage of her convictions.
Joan’s trial was one-sided to say the least. She was afforded no counsel and interrogation under duress was permitted. Joan displayed heroic levels of fortitude throughout the ordeal through a profound belief in the justice of her cause, even as the authorities did everything they could to discredit the validity of the voices she heard.
At one point she was threatened with torture if she did not recant her claims. Joan told them they could torture her all they liked and she wouldn’t recant. Then, worried that the torture would make her say anything to make it stop, she brashly told her tormentors that if she did recant then they shouldn’t believe it, because anything she said would be lies, said under duress.
5) Her faith held firm to the end.
Even in a court that was predisposed to side against Joan, her interrogators must have recognized the purity of her faith. Before she was brought to the stake to be burned, they allowed her to make her confession and receive communion, an unprecedented mercy which was usually withheld from those who were executed as heretics.
She accepted her death willingly. Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that her last request was simply that a cross be held up high, so the flames would not obstruct her view:
A Dominican consoled Joan, who asked him to hold high a crucifix for her to see and to shout out the assurances of salvation so loudly that she should hear him above the roar of the flames. To the last she maintained that her voices were sent of God and had not deceived her.