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Celebrate the Contradiction

In the spring of 2016 I made a fanvid to premiere at Wiscon, a decades old con dedicated to feminism in science fiction. The Force Awakens was still relatively fresh and I was participating in three panels dedicated to the film, the fandom, and Rey. So I decided to make a tribute to the women of the Star Wars films.

Formerly Known As

At the time I wasn’t yet creating my own clips so I only had access to what I could find online. Quality varied, and precision, but I was satisfied with the result. It had heart and the audience liked it. That vid closed with Rey climbing the Jedi steps on Ahch-to beneath a scroll of names. Names of Jedi and rebels, politicians and nobles, mothers and daughters, all the women in the vid and the saga so far. It was about 40 names and you’d be forgiven for maybe recognizing half.

That was May 2016. Live action Star Wars consisted of the first seven films in the Skywalker Saga and the teaser trailer for Rogue One. It’s now May 2020. The nine film Saga is complete and we have two anthology films and one season of The Mandalorian. And I now have the ability to get my own footage. I decided to make a new tribute.

Title: Walk Unafraid
Artist: First Aid Kit
Footage: Skywalker Saga, Rogue One, Solo, The Mandalorian S1


There’s good news and bad news. The number of women characters who Actually Do Something has significantly increased. In the original trilogy there’s Leia and . . . well, there’s Leia. Aunt Beru, Oola, and Mon Mothma also exist but that is about the best argument I can make for them.

The prequels expanded the Star Wars universe in many ways, and introducing more women was one of them. Unfortunately, there is still only one in the main cast. Even more unfortunately, the appearances of minor women characters decrease as the films go on.

In The Phantom Menace, Padmé is joined by her own girl squad! But they are reduced in the second film and disappear in the third. Two more queens of Naboo appear, and their handmaidens, but none of them make an impact. Apailana’s entire appearance is walking mutely in Padmé’s funeral procession. Anakin’s mother Shmi is important and memorable but she dies in her only scene in the second film. Luke’s aunt Beru is . . . also there again. Though still better off than Leia’s adoptive mother Breha who appears once and does not speak. Padmé’s mother and sister and two nieces were cut out of the films, other than the aforementioned funeral procession. Mon Mothma and a handful of other women politicians/rebels were also cut out.

The sequels give us the first woman protagonist and introduce new women characters in every installment. Leia’s Resistance is full of women of all ages. There are women commanders, women pilots, women mechanics, women in the First Order. Maz owns her own cantina. There is a woman smuggler and a woman stormtrooper. Leia is Rey’s Jedi Master. Two women kiss! We even get sisters.

Communication or Lack Thereof

But one of them immediately dies, silently sacrificed, and her sister is the only one who mourns. And none of these many women talk to each other. Rose talks to Finn. Kaydel talks to Poe. Jannah talks to Finn. Zorri talks to Poe. Leia and Holdo get one brief exchange. Rey has a handful of conversations with Leia and says hi to Zorri that one time but she mainly talks to Finn, Poe, Luke, Ben, and ultimately Palpatine. Rey talks to her undead mechanized clone grandpa more than she does to any woman.

Rogue One has this problem, too. It’s another woman protagonist, but she spends very little time with other women. She has the scene with her mother, who then immediately dies, and a couple of meeting scenes with Mon Mothma — and a whole bunch of other people, mostly men. There are women in the background, some pilots for example, and Leia appears to usher in the original film. But all of Jyn’s important relationships are with men: her father, the terrorist who raised her, the Imperial who killed her parents, and her rag tag crew of rebels.

Solo and The Mandalorian give us three women characters who could easily carry their own story: Qi’ra, Enfys Nest, and Cara Dune. We should at least see Cara again. But Qi’ra and Enfys may never reach their potential, and Val got blown up before we got to know her. Then there’s L3, an amazing droid with an amazing arc, who is also blown up and then trapped in a spaceship forever (#FreeL3). We get a few incidental women in The Mandalorian. There’s the armorer, the mechanic, a couple bounty hunters, and the widow who’s good with a gun. But it was also three episodes before we met any. And, again, still, none of them talk to each other. Qi’ra and L3 gossip about Lando and that’s it.

The Contradiction

Thus, it is hard to create a vid about the ways women influence and inspire each other if they never even interact. Now, I love using scene similarities and hug montages to make my points, but we end up with a lot of a incidental boys in my tribute to Star Wars girls. I love Anakin and I love Ben and I love Han. I love Luke and Finn and Cassian and Mando. And I love all their relationships with the women in their lives. For me relationships are what Star Wars IS. I only wish there were more on screen live action examples of meaningful relationships between women in this universe.

Finally, the coda. “Star Wars is for girls.” is somehow a controversial statement. Most of the comments on my tribute to the animated women of Star Wars (and yes, I’m planning another of those as well) are positive but the negative ones are all along the same lines. That it’s silly and/or sexist to celebrate women characters and that Star Wars isn’t about or for women. And even the positive comments tend to pit the women against each other for supremacy as if there can only be ONE truly worthy woman character.

So I wanted to be clear that Star Wars is for girls. And my video is dedicated to every girl who has ever been told with words or actions or narrative that they don’t belong here. You do and this video is for you.

This post is a part of PadMay. Follow along this whole month on twitter.

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