Like any child born after 1983 (and many born before that), I was raised on a steady diet of Star Wars movies, toys, and games from an early age. I remember watching the original trilogy with my older brother multiple times. Luke was my favorite, and I thought Han Solo was a real jerk to Leia (remember, I was a very small child, so some nuances were lost on me; I used to wonder why Leia and Luke didn’t get together in the end, because I had a very selective memory about them actually being siblings).
But there was something more than Han Solo’s curt attitude towards Leia that bothered me, even as a five year old:
Where were the girls?
When I was in third grade, my best friend had his birthday party at the Smithsonian, which had a special exhibition of the costumes of Star Wars. All my guy friends marveled at the cool costumes of Luke and Obi-Wan, Darth Vader’s helmet (and what was underneath), and Han Solo trapped in carbonite. But I, the sole female of the group, had three costumes for someone like me: Princess Leia’s white dress, the sexy leather ensemble of a twi’lek, and the infamous metal bikini.
Even when the three sequel episodes came out, there was a clear gap. No matter how badass Leia was, or how intelligent and capable Amidala was, there was a clear division; women were secondary to men in Star Wars. Sure, they could succeed, and even be unusually strong representations of heroines, but women were never the “heroes.” Women always had to be, at best, the attractive romantic counterpart to the male heroes, and, at worst, beautiful, but silent captives, sex symbols, or canon fodder (especially if they were older or unattractive).
New York Magazine put together a video compilation of all the female speaking rolls in the original trilogy, excluding Leia. The results show the disparaging difference between female characters in the movie and male (keep in mind, the collective runtime of the first three movies is well over 300 minutes).
It’s unequivocal to argue that taking Leia out of this compilation is proving some kind of fallactical point. Even including Leia, the male characters of Star Wars undoubtedly speak far more than all of the female characters. Simply look at the ratio of lead male characters to female: it’s 2:1.
What it comes down to is, it’s not fair for there to be one woman of note and so many men (Han, Luke, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, Yoda, Lando, Jabba….even C3PO and R2-D2 are presented as male). It’s a matter of numbers, and a matter of equality. And this is coming from a white, brunette woman, a woman who looks pretty darn close to Princess Leia. Imagine how hard it is for women of color, who’s best representation in the original trilogy (and in all Star Wars movies thus far) are Jabba’s green and blue-skinned dancers.
Director J.J. Abrams has specifically spoken to the point that Star Wars was always a “boys movie.” Speaking as a woman who watched Star Wars, it was a boys movie. No matter how many female fans there are, or how deeply they love the series, the movies were never about the female characters, or for women in general. I hope Abrams’ statement that the Force Awakens is “a movie that mothers [can] take their daughters to” is true, because that would represent a tangible shift in the gendered marketing of sci fi films in general.
On this, the eve of the debut of Star Wars: the Force Awakens, I offer my hope that this newest installment of the giant film franchise, which promises to have more speaking females than the first three (possibly the first six) films put together, not only follows through on its promises, but also features more variety of characters, aliens and humans, that represent our current world: people of all colors, sexualities, and genders.