Last week I had the pleasure of appearing on the podcast Coffee With Kenobi to discuss the female characters of Star Wars from a storytelling perspective. We dove into topics like agency, strengths as weaknesses, and the unique challenges of portraying a female character as strong. Between my article on Padmé in Star Wars Insider #142, FANgirl’s spotlight on Padmé, and a few key articles on Leia, Mara, and Jaina as a strong female heroines, I had quite a bit to bring to the discussion. As I’ve visited a few podcasts and watched the internet responses to the rumors of a female lead in Episode VII, arguments for the status quo keep popping up from some quarters. So we tackled why it is that some fans fear the possibility of a female lead.
In advance of our recording, Coffee With Kenobi listeners submitted emails on the topic, too. I was blown away by their knowledge and support of the female characters in Star Wars. Below is a selection of what they wrote.
Thanks to Dan and Cory for having me on the show. Be sure to follow them on Twitter at @CoffeewithKenobi. Feel free to share your thoughts with us about the show.
What do you think about the past, present and future of female characters in Star Wars?
Troy Metzler: I think woman were portrayed very well throughout the Galaxy. Shmi was a strong single mother that never let her struggle affect her son. His struggle was his own, not inherited. Padme and Leia were powerful leaders held in high regards. Mon Mothma helped form the Rebellion and was not afraid to fight for her beliefs. The Jedi women were as skilled and mindful as their male counterparts. I think any girl that looked up to the ”femineroes” (just made that up), they will do much better than the idiots that are idolized nowadays.
Joe Bucher: This is a fair and pertinent question. The pitfall many epic series fall into is that even when women are portrayed as “strong” they tend to always need the male character to rescue them in some fashion. Alternatively, another female characterization that can turn some viewers off is the portrayal of the heroine as man-like — doing things like male heroes are portrayed – stupid feats of strength / insane fist fights – etc… It is most interesting and fitting when the female lead character is still distinctly feminine — and succeeds.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really start watching the Clone Wars until the final season. I was absolutely delighted with the character of Ashoka and her role in the story. It could be argued that much of the Clone Wars is really told from her point of view. I think it goes without saying that this type of female lead character, smartly written, independent, and not falling into the typical sexist stereotypes (damsel in distress) is perfect for the Star Wars Universe.
Films like the Hunger Games and Pixar’s Brave, with a central heroine, further push the portrayal of a universally likable female lead.
This falls into direct contrast with the Character of Dr. Carol Marcus in the latest Star Trek into Darkness. While I absolutely adore that film, it is hard to argue that Carol’s role was anything more than “hot blonde.” The gratuitous disrobing was just unnecessary for the story. Her character was secondary, but her role failed to move the story forward and it was obvious what the writer had in mind.
Melinda Wolf: It’s no secret to those who know me that my favorite Star Wars character happens to be one of the male brethren — Luke. :-) However, that being said — one of the best aspects of Star Wars is the STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS that exist throughout all 6 chapters of the saga!
FINALLY! Finally a contemporary female character emerged on the screen. Sure, she was from a galaxy far, far away, but she could have been the girl next door! She was (in many cases!). It was about time!
Padme fulfilled the same role throughout the prequel trilogy. She had the drive, the passion, the commitment, the tough can-do attitude that her daughter exhibited time and time again throughout Episodes IV through VI. Padme didn’t wait for some male to tell her what to do, to guide the way for her. If there was something that had to be done, she took command of the situation. Who was it who was intent to rescue Obi-Wan on Geonosis? Not Anakin. Padme was ready to leave the padawan behind. Her friend was in need of help, and she was prepared to do what was necessary to save the day. No shrinking violet was the Senator from Naboo! :-)
There’s a whole host of strong female characters throughout the Star Wars Galaxy — from Mon Mothma — a woman was a leader of the Rebel Alliance! — to bounty hunters like Aurra Sing to pilots to heads of governments to the plethora of Jedi of the female persuasion. They all hold honored positions in this incredibly rich universe. Even on a subliminal level, the positive impact females have in the Star Wars Galaxy only helps show both boys and girls, men and women what is possible, what they can achieve. Real life has a way of emulating what appears on the silver screen. ;-)
As the parent of 2 girls — now age 24 and 20 — all I can say is I have been an enthusiastic cheerleader when it comes to discussing the female characters in Star Wars. I probably don’t have to tell you this — but I will anyway ;-) — the girls grew up on Star Wars. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they spent hours upon hours upon hours playing with their action figures, creating Star Wars scenarios that took their imaginations to a galaxy far, far away. I used to love to listen to the stories they’d fashion, and I will tell you this — NEVER ONCE did they have a female character who was anything but strong and capable! You know what? Both my girls have grown up to be strong and capable young women! I’d like to believe that I had something to do with that, but I will admit that by giving them strong female characters to emulate sure helped along the way! Both of my girls have/will go into very male-dominated fields. My oldest daughter Erin has chosen the path of a film editor — a very male-dominated field even to this day — and Caitlin, at 20, with 2 of her male friends — is a video game designer. I don’t have to tell you what a male-dominated world that is!
…[I]f George Lucas had not created such strong female characters in his galaxy far, far away, I am not altogether sure the story would have resonated so deeply with me after all these years.
Brian Roemersberger: I was 3 years old when I saw Star Wars. The way they portrayed her at least in the first 2 films helped me understand or at least see a representation that she was on par with men but still held a feminine attributes.
Tommy Mac: Overall I think women were treated as equals throughout the Saga, I simply can not recall any instance were a female character, human or alien, was treated as a “lesser” being then the male characters. Female Jedi had equal standing within the order, with several being on the council. The Rebellion had several women in powerful leadership roles, including Leia and Mon Mothma. The Empire seemed a bit lacking in the female department, I don’t recall seeing any female admirals or captains on the Star Destroyers…but that’s not surprising to me, I can certainly see how Palpatine would consider women “weaker” then men.
The ultimate female role model in Star Wars is of course Leia; a “Princess” but certainly not one who could not stand on her own and NEEDED the men to rescue her. Um, OK she DID need them to rescue her from the Death Star…BUT she also pulled their fat out of the fire during her own rescue LOL. Then she turned right around and rescued her MAN from the clutches of Jabba the Hut. Oh and saved Luke at Cloud City.
And didn’t crumble into a mass of Jello and managed to keep it together long enough to help organize the attack on the first Death Star…even though she had just witnessed her ENTIRE PLANET DESTROYED.
Becca Benjamin: I Do Believe Padme was a prominent woman figure in the SW universe. She was strongly intelligent (beyond her years), fiercely powerful with her blaster and in battle, and completely selfless as a leader in the Republic. Yes she fell in love, against her better judgment, but like every other challenge or obstacle that crossed her path, she faced it head on. At the end, she even put that said relationship aside, choosing her role of putting the people as first priority and forging the beginning of the Rebellion by signing / petitioning the Delegates of 2000. Adding to that, in the novel, “Star Wars Clone Wars Gambit #2: Siege ” it is briefly mentioned that Bail Organa motions the idea to Padme the idea of her seeking the position of Chancellor with said Petition. In the end, I don’t believe or I can’t believe she “gave up.” She sacrificed herself so that her children could have the chance for survival. Let’s face it, Anakin/Vader would have hunted her down, relentlessly. She knew, by that point that his feelings for her were too toxic; obsessive. She loved him the way he was, before he turned. Again, she gave the ultimate sacrifice, her life for the children and ultimately, the entire galaxy’s. Interesting thought, she entrusted the Jedi with her life and those she cared about from the time she was 14 and never gave up on their trust to do the right thing. She knew they would watch over the twins and they (twins) would somehow find a way to do the same for their father, Anakin. “Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life.”
Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and strong female characters. She also writes about Star Wars for Random House’s science fiction and fantasy blog Suvudu.com and Star Wars Insider magazine and is a contributor for Her Universe’s Year of the Fangirl. She has recently joined Beyond the Screens podcast as a regular contributor.
In her spare time, Tricia puts the finishing touches on her first novel, Wynde. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.