Have you heard this one before? “Star Wars is for boys.”
Yep, me too. A lot. Yet at GeekGirlCon this past year, the Star Wars panel was standing room only. Peruse the leading fan-run Star Wars websites and now they’re pretty even male/female in contributors and readership. So was the attendance at the Celebration conventions I’ve attended. In some areas of fandom, including fanfiction, female fans have been predominant since before the turn of the millennium. And recently Original Trilogy generation fans like Tina Fey have been reminding us more often that they’ve been fangirls from the first opening scroll.
Rumors about standalones ran rampant last week and speculation spiked for Yoda, Han Solo, and Boba Fett movies. Wishlists for standalones followed not far behind, once official confirmation came from Lucasfilm. Empire Online led the charge, throwing out suggestions for characters to lead standalone movies. Not one female character made their list of nine. The trend continued this week with Blastr, Yahoo, What Culture, and CNET adding their two cents. Among these lists, only three out of the twenty-three characters are women: Leia, Mara, and Mon Mothma. For the uninitiated or potential female fans looking at these lists on mainstream websites reporting on pop culture, the myth that Star Wars is for boys might start looking more like fact than fiction.
Existing female fans of Star Wars probably agree with many of the characters on these lists, but still notice the lack of representation for the female characters they love. Star Wars fan and blogger Megan Crouse shared with me her wishful-thinking list of female movie characters she would like to see in the spotlight. Megan’s message is specifically geared toward discussing better opportunities for female characters in genre, as opposed to an entertainment news site. To be clear, I believe fans should promote their personal interests, but I draw a distinction with media aimed at mass markets when they start to create bias, even if it’s unintentionally.
What Culture also ran a separate piece about adapting Expanded Universe material to the big screen. Of the stories they highlighted, all of them feature a male lead. Some of them, like the New Jedi Order, X-Wing Series, and Heir to the Empire, have strong casts of female characters in their ensembles. Mara and Leia received mentions, and Jaina only as one of the Solo twins. When detailing the characters from the X-Wing books who would transfer well to movies, not one of the great female characters – Tyria, Iella, Mirax, Erisi, Ysanne, Lujayne, Inyri, Winter, Falynn – received a name drop while several male characters did. Longtime Expanded Universe fans will know that the lack of female-lead stories available to propose is a direct result of the books and comics having shied away from arcs developing central heroines since the middle of the New Jedi Order. Fortunately the current and upcoming roster of comics and books have female characters such as Leia Organa, Ania Solo, and Lanoree Brock serving as central protagonists. Again, though, a potential Star Wars fan looking at the internet wish-casting is less likely to see long-time fangirl Megan’s and more likely to come across a mainstream media site like What Culture, Yahoo, or Empire Online.
If I were Disney|Lucasfilm, I would be worried about that. But this isn’t just a Disney or Star Wars problem. Fans and media sites should consider if perpetuating the myth helps the franchise or the fandom. Sure, most wish-casting articles are driven at least partly by a little selfishness toward the author’s personal favorites – but doesn’t Star Wars teach us that selflessness is the nobler aspiration? More importantly, fans and media sites actually have selfish reasons to broaden their horizons when portraying the potential future for Star Wars in wish-casting or general reporting. First, if the goal is to have lots of Star Wars, then the stories for Star Wars need to be far-reaching, relatable, broadly appealing, and as varied as the make-up of our pop culture. Second, if the entertainment sites create revenue from views, then it also behooves them to alter the public perception that “Star Wars is for boys” so they can grow their revenue base and make more money.
It was nice to see some diversity with Boba, Jango, Mace, and Lando getting nods. It shows that the Prequel Trilogy succeeded in affecting change in a way that the Original Trilogy aspired to with Lando and Leia. But change isn’t just about what the franchise needs to do, but also what the fans and media can do. When fans in the media leave blinders on and only propose pet characters that appeal to like-minded subsets of half of the existing fandom, it reinforces a Star-Wars-is-for-boys feedback loopback. Back in the Prequel Trilogy days, the fandom feedback loop ended up with many fansites dominated by exclusive, essentially boys-only clubs. And that wasn’t good for Star Wars or the fandom in the long run.
Not everyone writes for a major media outlet or has a platform with that level of visibility. How can we as fans help dispel the myth that Star Wars – existing and upcoming – is for boys? For one, take to the comments sections or Twitter and suggest your favorite characters. The most important thing I’ve realized as a longtime observer of the Star Wars franchise is that the only opinions the Powers That Be hear are the ones that are shared. Creative parties aren’t mind-readers. If you see a list that’s more varied, share that too. I’d love to include more in this post.
In the meantime, I thought I’d try some Show-Not-Tell. Here’s FANgirl’s equal-opportunity standalone wish-casting:
1. Bucket on the Head
With his well-known fanboy appeal – lovingly mocked by Robot Chicken’s Star Wars specials – Boba Fett is an obvious choice for a movie. Personally I think he’s way more interesting as a mystery, and believe he’s approaching over-saturation within the Expanded Universe. To truly tell his story, a film would have to take off the bucket and show Boba’s vulnerabilities. Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but individual fans would have such high expectations, and so many different kinds of expectations among them, that a Boba Fett movie that doesn’t disappoint may actually be the unicorn of Star Wars. That said, Mandalorians are pretty darn cool, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them spotlighted. Pre Viszla and Kal Skirata come to mind as captivating characters. The Mandalorians are an equal-opportunity warrior culture. Bo-Katan just made her mark in The Clone Wars. Can we put Bo-Katan’s voice, Katee Sackhoff, best known for her genre-changing portrayal of Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, in the armor and do it live-action style?
What was that line about the Rule of Two? It’s seemed more like lip service lately in the EU and The Clone Wars. A few Darths out and about in the Galaxy Far Far Away might be just the ticket for an epic movie. What Culture suggests Darth Plagueis for a stand-alone. The book Darth Plagueis rocks, but much of the character development happens inside the Siths’ heads, and I don’t think that particular book would translate well to the screen. (Much the same way Padmé’s story could benefit from a novel where Revenge of the Sith short-changed her character arc.) Bane, Malgus, or Revan have potential, but let’s not forget Asajj Ventress. Male or female lead character aside, Sith stories should be used sparingly, as they appeal to a limited subset of fans.
3. In Service of a Queen – or Emperor
Where do I start? How about a handmaiden like Dormé or Sabé using her training to serve as Leia’s protector and mentor on Alderaan? The handmaidens were badasses in The Phantom Menace who end up getting lost in the shuffle of Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan Kenobi saber dueling. Maybe it’s time for Star Wars to remind us that the ladies weren’t just all about the cool costumes and hairdos and hanging out with the Queen, but trained warriors. And Naboo isn’t the only planet in the GFFA with a Queen. How about intrigue in the Hapan nobility, with agents of the Lorellian Court mixing it up with a Jedi on the lamb? Yes, the unwritten Blood Oath sounds like a great movie – think a pair of Leelos and tall, dark, and handsome Jedi with a few reasons to brood. Another embedded Star Wars theme is heroes fighting unknowingly for evil. Instead of the Jedi or the clonetroopers in that predicament, how about the story of Imperial TIE Fighter ace Soontir Fel discovering his Emperor isn’t in this for the people?
4. The Path to Redemption is Star Wars Gold
Kyle Katarn has been bandied about – but so has Dash Rendar in some fandom circles. The mediocre showing of Shadow Games proves that videogame characters can have vocal followings, but that isn’t enough to actually sell their story to the broader audience. Dash is a surrogate for Han Solo, so don’t expect to see him any time soon if the real deal gets a standalone. Han’s character worked in A New Hope because he was a slightly tarnished soul who ended up doing the right thing. Tales of redemption, like Kyp Durron and Mara Jade, would work in this vein. Unlike Kyle, Kyp actually appeals to women – can we say ‘shipper wars, anyone? – and he is a bigger Jedi badass than even Chuck Norris copycat Katarn. And as female EU characters go, Mara is still in a class by herself in fandom popularity, especially as a partner and foil to Luke. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them together in the Sequel Trilogy. It’s also possible, of course, that the decision has been made to keep Luke unmarried in the Sequel Trilogy, similar to Old Ben in A New Hope and now The Clone Wars, which George Lucas has at times suggested was his vision of Luke’s future. (Honestly, if Luke is paired with a wife/love interest who isn’t Mara Jade, well, good luck with that, Disney|Lucasfilm, because you’re going to need it.) Regardless, though, Mara’s path from Emperor’s Hand to Jedi Knight is compelling enough that her story is worthy of movie treatment no matter what Luke’s is.
5. Top Gun in Space
Seriously, this needs to happen. Rogue Squadron, Wraith Squadron, Twin Suns Squadron – take your pick. Wedge is the obvious lead, but it also could spin down a generation to characters like his daughters Syal and Myri. No matter the specifics, there’s ample opportunity to show diversity in Star Wars with squadron-centric tales.
Emperor black bones, Tricia, no mention of a standalone for Jaina! You’ve got to at least shamelessly and selfishly promote your favorite character. For the record, five of the characters I proposed above aren’t my cup of tea, but I know many fans who would enjoy them. Here’s my reasoning why I didn’t suggest Jaina for a standalone. One of two things will happen in the Sequel Trilogy: either Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin Solo and Ben Skywalker will be in those movies, or they won’t. If they are, I believe the featured characters in the Sequel Trilogy wouldn’t get a spin-off or standalone movie until after the Episode VII-VIII-IX saga is complete. If they aren’t, we can probably consider their existence nullified, at least for purposes of the movie franchise. I’ll be crossing my fingers for Option Number One.
Speaking of the Sequel Trilogy, Christian Blauvelt at Hollywood.com interviewed eight EU authors about their hopes for Episodes VII-IX, the secondary EU characters they’d most like to see get a part, and the potential death of one or more of the Big Three. I have to admit, I smiled to see Jaina and other female characters get so many mentions. This post was in edits when the article popped up last night, and it’s exactly the type of mainstream equal-opportunity wish-casting I hope to see in the future.
So, now we get to the fun part. Which characters would you like to see in the standalones? Personal bias is always welcome or rather encouraged in the comments section.