As you’ve probably heard, Star Wars: Episode VII is starting to film, and the main cast list has been announced. And in that list, there’s only one new woman (the other is Carrie Fisher). What gives?
Sure, there weren’t a lot of women in the Original Trilogy – the only main female character was Leia. And the only other real female characters of any importance were Aunt Beru and Mon Mothma. (I have a hard time counting Oola since her sole purpose was to dance around and then be eaten by the Rancor)
But the Extended Universe happened. And while I don’t blame JJ Abrams for wanting to ignore decades of material for the new trilogy (only because there are a lot of existing storylines, and you’d either have to adapt one of the more well known ones or try to find a tiny gap in time to fit something new in), I’m disappointed that he ignored one of the fantastic things that the EU brought us. Female characters. Everywhere you looked, there were new and interesting female characters- and I’m just going to list the examples that first popped into my head. Lots of female pilots for both the Empire and the Rebellion. There was Guri, the human replicator droid in Shadows of the Empire. Admiral Daala (a female Imperial Admiral). And last (but not least) MaraJade and Jaina Solo! In most of the books you picked up, there was at least one female character.
The comics added their fair share of female characters, too- in fact it was the comics that introduced the Dathomir Nightsisters, Sith Witches who were skilled in the Force. Video games? I could start listing all the female characters, but we’d be here for a while.
While there weren’t a lot of new major female characters in the prequels, there were certainly a lot of secondary characters. Naboo had a matriarchal society- with an elected queen whose handmaidens were all trained to protect her. We had female fighter pilots. There were women on the Jedi Council – and plenty of named Jedi were women. Heck, we saw a female Hutt. It was clear that this was a universe where women existed and weren’t just slaves.
And the animated series only expanded on that. The Clone Wars featured two main female characters, Ahsoka Tano and Asajj Ventriis, women with faults and strengths. They were also generally more interesting than the male characters (sorry Anakin, but it’s true). Star Wars Rebels also prominently features female characters, and has received a lot of support for that from the fanbase.
You can’t tell me that there’s no foundation for a Star Wars movie with more than two female characters (one of which is Leia, who I doubt will be in the bulk of the movie). If the hardcore fans bought the diversity in books, games and comics- they’ll buy it in a movie, too, not to mention in merchandise. Fans which include a lot of women- and judging by the success of Ashley Eckstein’s HerUniverse clothing line, women do buy merchandise. Frankly, the excuse of “it’s the way it’s been” holds no water- we can always improve things and should. Sci-fi has long been a medium for people to showcase diversity and tolerance, so frankly, it’s hard to justify a mostly male cast (and mostly white, but that is an entirely different rant that I’ll let someone else make).
For those curious why I’m so passionate about this, Star Wars was really my first fandom- and indeed it’s still one of my great loves. I’ve been a geek for my entire life and was shunned from a lot of communities for being a girl. And yet, in the Star Wars online communities, I was welcomed. For a decade, a friend and I ran an online Star Wars RPG. We were unique because most of the players were female, and yes, we had a hard time attracting new players – because some assumed that the games were somehow girlier. In fact, none of the stories really hinged on the characters being women. They could have easily been stories about men- our focus was more on pushing the characters in stories we found entertaining. The one storyline that I regret to this day was one where one of the female characters has a miscarriage. I was talked into it, and I still regret it because it wasn’t done for any reason other than a plot device – which was terrible. But to answer the lingering question- the guys who did show up? They had a lot of fun and only dropped out because real life got too hectic to keep up with our group.
My partner in crime from Wolle Sector currently runs the Star Wars LARP at WyrdCon (Cantina Far Far Away), and it’s a popular game. Her NPCs are a pretty even mix of male and female. And true to the way she wrote stuff in our game, the gender of the NPCs or PCs has no bearing on the story she’s telling. She just wants to tell a fun and interesting story. Which is as it should be.
I’m sure I’ll go see the new Star Wars movie. I’m just disappointed that there aren’t more women – because there are plenty of women in the Star Wars Universe that I’m familiar with.
Update 6:30pm PST: According to THR, Abrams says they still have one more female role to cast. Which is nice to hear, but I’m admittedly suspicious that they announced their cast, then suddenly said it wasn’t complete after the internet began to complain. There was no mention if there were any more uncast male roles. Oh well, I suppose we’ll find out when the movie’s finished.