There is a little Yoda that sits on my desk at work. He used to sit on the computer desk at my parent’s house, and then he sat on my computer in college. He’s followed me to all of my jobs.
I guess part of the reason I have Yoda with me in my creative space is because Star Wars has been a huge influence on me, creatively.
But today, as the new cast of Star Wars Episode VII was revealed, I came to terms with something that disappointed me. In short, that a universe I love and reference so much sorely under-represents ladies like me. Or, well, ladies.
Let’s back this TIE fighter up a bit, shall we?
The first two nightmares I ever recall having as a child, maybe age three or four, both centered around science fiction. In one dream, I was faced with a room full of angry Klingon, and they threw tomatoes at me (I must have ran out of prune juice. If you get this, you win extra points). The second nightmare was that I was a waitress in a diner, and I was waiting on Darth Vader himself. I forgot to bring him ketchup, and then feared I’d get the death choke on my return to ask him how his meal was. I know it makes no sense. How does he eat a hamburger and fries with that snazzy mask? I’m not sure why my childhood nightmares centered around tomatoes and sci-fi, but there it was. I also had nightmares about AT-ATs stomping through our playground. You know, rational childhood fears.
I was fascinated by Star Wars. Return of the Jedi and Thanksgiving just seemed to go together. While some of the creatures scared me, I stayed up to watch the behind the scenes specials after the movies. I loved Yoda and, yes, Ewoks. When my first grade class went on a field trip to the fire station, my mom chaperoned and volunteered to try on the whole fire outfit. Through the breathing mask she said, “Luke, I am your father”, and all the children scampered away. And I was proud of my mom for making such a dorky joke. My dad’s Palpatine impression makes most people chuckle, and I’ve even seen a few people request it. We had a dog named Chewbacca (RIP), and nicknamed my childhood friend’s mom’s van the Death Star, despite the fact that it was a big, white, mini van.
I loved the costumes of Star Wars, the music, and the sound design. I’d have to say that the sound design of Star Wars and Jurassic Park are two major factors as to why I studied post production and sound in college, and John Williams’s score was a huge chunk of my senior thesis.
Leia Organa is a pretty interesting character (understatement of the week). I surely hope most people don’t just think of her as Han Solo’s lady (hence the title of this blog post), or a pair of cinnamon buns and a gold bikini. Leia is not afraid to call people out, go her own way, or strangle a Hutt. *
Likewise, Padme, her mother, is one of the best marksmen in the films (along with Leia), a political leader, and a smart lady, despite the terrible dialogue and her ultimate demise. Yet, her character didn’t seem to make much of a splash. I threw together a last minute costume my freshman year of college, trying to duplicate her outfit from one of the battle scenes, because it was simple enough for me to put together. I should have just worn the Leia buns and called it a day. Nobody knew what I was supposed to be. But did anyone know what she was supposed to be?
Padme was seemingly panned by many for being either a) creepy for going after Anakin when she was so much older than him, b) a terrible character for the dialogue given to her, and c) weak for crying over and dying over Anakin. I find these criticisms a little unfair. For starters, yes, the age difference is a little creepy, but it always seemed like a mutual relationship as she and Anakin grew up. Second, did any of the characters in Episodes 1-3 have really great dialogue? Third, she’s still a human and was trying to help someone she loved, not to mention she was carrying and protecting her children. There are blog posts all over fanboy geekdom dedicated to why Padme is lame, and most of the reasons given are attributed to characteristics displayed by many of the male characters, too. Except, while Anakin was having a temper tantrum and going to the Dark Side, Padme was trying to get crap done in the senate, all while hiding that she was carrying twins.
If you’ve watched any of the behind the scenes footage from Episodes 1-3, or any of the post-production specials, you’ll see that an entire subplot was cut from Revenge of the Sith, which dealt with Amidala and the formation of the Rebel Alliance. I would have much rather watched that than over the top CGI action scenes.
So, as it stands, we have two prominent Star Wars characters who are female. Leia, of course. And Padme, kind of. I just don’t feel that her character is as respected in Star Wars land which, again, I find unfair.
There are other ladies, of course. And I don’t mean the Mrs. Hutt. Don’t forget the Twi’leks! Alas, in the film world at least, most of us remember Twi’leks by Oola, who was pretty much Jabba’s slave dancer. Shout out to my sister, who dressed up as a Twi’lek Jedi one year for Halloween. Did you remember characters like Jedi Master Aayla Secura?
Today, as I sat next to my little Yoda at work, drinking water out of my fancy-pants retro Star Wars water bottle, my coworker notified me that the casting had been announced for the upcoming Episode VII. I scanned the list and was surprised by some of the choices. Plus, something seemed odd in the list. I couldn’t pinpoint what, but when I read Daisy Ridley’s name, it broke my thought process. Of course, the cast was mostly men.
My coworker said aloud exactly what I’d been thinking at that moment. Why aren’t there more leading ladies in Star Wars films? The prominent females are all somehow related to Luke or Darth, and I am seeing that this could be the case with Ridley as well, though it has not been revealed.
Of course we remember Luke’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, and Padme’s handmaidens, but does anyone remember Queen Apailana? Probably not.
I admit that I should have realized this a long, long time ago (pun intended), but what the heck happened in that galaxy far, far away? Or, perhaps the story is so centralized to Luke, Leia, Han, etc, that we don’t see as much diversity between men and women?
Yes, Leia is a pretty strong character. But do you recall any ladies working on the Death Star? Any fighting in the TIE fighters? Honestly, I can’t tell if the Cantina Band was a boy band. Sorry, guys.
Perhaps George Lucas never gave it much thought, and didn’t do it on purpose, and I’m overreacting to my lunchtime realization from today’s cast announcement. Or perhaps in that galaxy far, far, away, where someone thought Storm Troopers were better than battle droids (I mean, that one guy hitting his head on the doorway? Battle droids don’t waste time on that. Don’t even get me started on how they treat the clones), women just weren’t as prevalent.
I’m sure part of the difficulty, as with the robots vs Storm Troopers deal, is that Episodes 1-3 take place before the original films. The Star Wars universe wasn’t as out of control, and Leia reigned (so long as we excuse her singing in the Star Wars Christmas Special). Would the Dark Side have really devolved society so much, though? Again, it’s tough to say when you have decades between filming the two sets of stories.
So, J.J. Abrams, while I am upset that, in this galaxy of 2014, we are still short on strong female leads, I’m hoping that you will surprise me. If Ridley is playing Jaina (is this the rumor?), here’s hoping she at least has some supporting characters with some depth to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Star Wars, specifically the old ones. Lando, Han Solo, they’re all great characters. Let us never forget Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. I am in no way saying that Star Wars is bad, or intentionally sexist (it did give us Leia in 1977), or any of that nerf herder brouhaha.
I’m just saying that I’d like to think the Star Wars universe has a few more bold ladies on those planets. **
There’s a reason why I have Yoda at my desk, or a little C-3PO on my key-chain. Films like Star Wars fueled my imagination as a child, as a student, and beyond.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed and I’m hoping that, as we move from a long, long time ago, to just a long time ago, some things have changed since the Rebel Alliance first kicked it.
If not, eventually I’ll just have to wear a Leia costume for Halloween, because what other choices are there REALLY.
Hold your cinnamon buns high (aka your head, duh, not your bum).
And, oh yeah, May the Fourth soon be with you.
*Not condoning violence or choking aliens
**I’m referencing the films only here, not the books or cartoons.