Sitting in the cinema and waiting for Rogue One to begin, I contemplated the new female protagonists appearing in the recent Star Wars films. Considering Rogue One’s theatrical poster, the protagonist Jynn Erso is the only woman to be featured, surrounded by a large group of male Rebel fighters and villains.
“I love that Star Wars has more main characters that are women, but don’t you think they’re …” I paused, trying to find suitable words.
My friend finished my sentence, “… Overdoing it?”
I raised my eyebrows. Overdoing it? Only a guy could say that. No one would ever say that about male protagonists, because seeing them in film has become the norm. It’s not unusual to see so many male heroes, especially in specific genres such as adventure, action, and science fiction. Women are slowly becoming more prominent, but what I really meant about Star Wars was – doesn’t it seem that the female protagonists are only compensating for the films consistent lack of women as a whole? There is considerable progress from the original trilogy, but I was still discouraged from Rogue One’s apparent lack, and the same goes for The Force Awakens (yet, less so).
I was then much more excited towards the end of the film, when we were gifted with a few fleeting glimpses of female pilots – at least two or three, which, though still a sad ratio considering all of the other male Rebel fighters, was something to be pleased about.
Upon researching this issue in order to broaden my knowledge of female pilots in the Star Wars universe, I discovered the four actresses who were cut from the final release of Return of the Jedi, all cast as Rebel fighter pilots. Three of these women were filmed, with one, Vivienne Chandler, having an entire page of dialogue (wow). They were ultimately removed from the final edit, leaving us fans to wonder if maybe any of the Ewoks were women, at least.
Watching the female fighter pilots in The Force Awakens – namely Rey and Jessika Pava – and Rogue One gave me the feeling as though I were seeing female pilots for the first time. As strange as it sounds, it was like these women were my Amelia Earharts and Amy Johnsons, entering a previously male domain despite rigid social conventions and opinions of female inferiority. Because the Star Wars universe is forever expanding, and not just limited to the films, it is perfectly normal to presume that there were more female Rebel fighters – and Storm Troopers and Jedi’s, for that matter – than the movies present. And why wouldn’t there be more women in the Rebel Alliance, especially since women have been rebelling against injustice and tyranny all throughout history? Surely women are the more experienced, and therefore the more compatible, in rebellion.
To quote Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, “Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth.” Brontë was speaking of women’s personal rebellions in the mid-19th century, the rebellions against societal conventions and the idealised behaviour which women were expected to perform. Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson and all the other female pilots of the early 20th century rebelled against conservative ideas of women, and so I can only expect that in the Star Wars universe, women too rebelled against gender roles in order to ‘fight the real fight’, if you will, against the common enemy.
You cannot say that Star Wars’ gender imbalance is a reflection of reality – and I know that Star Wars is just science fiction, of course it’s not real, but nevertheless it contains certain elements of reality that reflect our modern history and society (Nazi metaphor, anyone?). It is then ridiculous to exclude women altogether or disregard it as ‘unrealistic’ that there would be an equal number of women fighting and participating in an intergalactic war. Women are visible in the military, navy, and air force today, so why should that not be reflected in popular culture?
The more women we see in films, particularly a franchise as large and beloved as Star Wars, the more women won’t feel so invisible as they watch. Princess Leia is my everlasting favourite fictional character – and do you really need to ask why? Apart from the obvious characteristics that define her, her defiance and her leadership and her strength, she is the only prominent woman in the original Star Wars trilogy, and therefore the most obvious candidate to relate to – for a young girl to want to live up to.