The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Welcome to the seventh installment of my series looking at all of the women (literally) in the Star Wars feature films. This time we’re looking at Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars film after the Disney acquisition where George Lucas stepped away from the franchise he created. The Force Awakens premiered in 2015, ten years after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 28 years after the premiere of the original Star Wars film Episode IV: A New Hope.
In previous Star Wars films, women remained mostly in the background with the exception of Leia Organa, Padmé Amidala, and a few smaller female roles in the original and prequel trilogies. A few women were seen as rebels, Jedi, bounty hunters, and royalty – but few of them spoke or spent much more than a few minutes on screen.
In The Force Awakens, the supporting female roles are larger and are not the typical mother figure roles that appeared in previous Star Wars films. There are no dead mothers in The Force Awakens, which is a welcome relief to me.
Here are all the women in The Force Awakens as they appear in the film.
Close to the beginning of the film, we see Dasha Promenti (Ana-Maria Leonte), a Jakku villager getting ready to defend her fellow villagers from First Order troopers.
Another woman trying to survive the village firefight.
More women are rounded up by First Order troopers.
In the deleted scene below Finn lets a female villager escape.
Later in this same village scene, we get the first glimpse of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Audiences never get the chance to see Phasma with her mask off in TFA, but she is readily identified as female by her voice. Previous to Episode VII a few female roles could be classified as “bad guys” (such as bounty hunter Zam Wesell in Attack of the Clones), but there has not yet been a female Imperial – even in the background of scenes. Phasma’s inclusion as not only a First Order Trooper but a high-ranking one is a huge breakthrough for female roles in Star Wars films. Gwendoline Christie was not included in the original cast announcement, and the character was genderswapped in response to criticism of the gender imbalance in the announcement.
As the scene closes out more women (below) can be seen huddling together before being massacred by First Order troopers.
Protagonist Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is introduced fully covered and scavenging parts of an old ship. Rey is defined throughout the film by her strength, kindness, bravery, and independence.
Before Rey meets BB-8 and Finn, she sees an elderly Jakku villager (below) cleaning off parts to sell to Unkar Plutt.
Female First Order technicians and officers are easily spotted throughout The Force Awakens in a variety of scenes. Seeing women in lower ranking positions makes sense since at least one woman, Phasma, is a captain.
Chief Petty Officer Unamo (Kate Fleetwood) is one of five female First Order officers who have speaking roles.
When Rey, Han Solo, and Finn enter Maz Kanata’s castle the camera moves around so fast it’s hard to get a good look at the cantina customers. But female characters are there. One woman can be spotted below left.
The owner of the joint is none other than Maz Kanata, played by Lupita Nyong’o using motion capture technology. Maz is only in this one sequence of the film, but her role is a strong one and substantial to the story. Maz is over 1,000 years old and clearly has the respect of the people around her. Maz notably isn’t anyone’s mother, wife, or girlfriend – although she does seem to have a crush on Chewbacca (understandably). I definitely left the movie wanting to know more about Maz and hope she gets even more screen time in The Last Jedi.
One of Maz’s customers is Bazine Netal (Anna Brewster) below. Bazine, who you can learn more about in Delilah Dawson’s short story The Perfect Weapon, later reports to the First Order that she knows the whereabouts of BB-8. This screenshot below of Bazine lounging by Grummgar reminds me somewhat of Leia being chained to Jabba in his palace in Return of the Jedi. But just as Leia wasn’t about to stay tethered to Jabba for long, Bazine is clearly calling her own shots in this scene.
The entertainment at Maz’s castle includes Taybin Ralorsa (Laurence Sessou) playing in a band (below left). Taybin’s presence is notable as there have only been a couple of instances where black women have been seen in a Star Wars film. Considering that Star Wars movies have included several roles with black actors (Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, Quarsh Panaka) it just doesn’t make sense that black women have not been seen much or heard yet in a Star Wars film. Throughout this series of articles, I only spotted two shots of black women playing human characters in very quick shots in The Phantom Menace in the Tatooine village Mos Espa and viewing the pod race.
It’s notable that Femi Taylor played Oola in Return of the Jedi and Gin Clarke and Lily Nyamwasa played Jedi Adi Gallia and Stass Allie in the prequels, but they were not human characters and they didn’t have any dialogue. There’s certainly nothing wrong with black women playing non-human roles in Star Wars films, but when those are seemingly the only roles they receive something seems off. Lupita Nyong’o playing Maz Kanata is a similar example of a black actress playing a non-human role in a Star Wars film, but at least Maz had some lines of dialogue and significant screen-time making her a more fully imagined character.
Black actress Crystal Clarke was revealed as having earned a role through the worldwide casting call for Episode VII (via StarWars.com.) Using several sources, Wookieepedia identifies her character as Pamich Nerro Goode. Clarke is currently listed as playing an unidentified character in Episode VIII, presumably reprising her role. Hopefully we’ll see more than a passing glance.
During Rey’s force vision we see a young Rey, played by Cailey Fleming.
The addition of female First Order officers cuts down significantly the amount of screen time that goes by without any female roles onscreen.
Right before Hosnian Prime is destroyed audiences get a brief glimpse of several female senators and Commander Korr Sella, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers (second from the left below).
Korr Sella’s role was originally going to be larger in TFA. In the deleted scene below Korr and Leia discuss work, which may sound boring to some, but could entertain me for hours. The almost complete loss of Korr Sella’s role really stings.
The destruction of Hosnian Prime draws out most of Maz Kanata’s customers including a feminine-looking droid ME-8D9 droid.
After Kylo Ren takes Rey on to his ship we, at last, get our first look at General Organa (Carrie Fisher). Not surprisingly, Leia is just as tough, funny, and persistent as she was in the original trilogy.
At the Resistance Base, women can be seen everywhere in a variety of roles from pilots, to technicians, to controllers.
Below left is our first look at Kaydel Ko Connix, played by Billie Lourd.
When Chewbacca needs some medical assistance Dr. Harter Kalonia (Harriet Walter) offers a few encouraging words. Overall six women fighting for the Resistance have speaking roles.
In A New Hope Leia was the lone female in the command room. In The Force Awakens women are visible in the majority of shots in the command room.
While The First Order gets closer and closer to destroying the Resistance Base General Hux receives an update from a female First Order officer.
The women in the background of the Resistance screenshots below are quite diverse. Could more of them be talking in these scenes? Sure. Is it a big step forward that they are there at all? Yes.
No stormtrooper ever had a female voice, but this First Order trooper does.
The repetitiveness of the screenshot below of yet another female First Order officer speaking to Hux is exactly the kind of problem I was hoping to have when I started this series.
A few more shots of women in the Resistance.
Jess Pava (Jessica Henwick) is one of the Resistance pilots who joins Poe Dameron in the attack to destroy Starkiller Base.
Actress Morgan Dameron played Meta, a Resistance commodore.
Tabala Zo (Philicia Saunders) warns that Starkiller Base is getting ready to fire. I believe this is the first black actress who has a line of dialogue playing a human character in a Star Wars film.
Many women can be seen at the Resistance Base after the successful destruction of Starkiller Base.
Leia gets the last word in The Force Awakens when she says to Rey, “May the Force be with you.” If that isn’t a sign of progress with female representation in a Star Wars film I don’t know what it.
Coming up next a look at the women in Rogue One.
- Two New YA Novels About Inspiring Young Women: Blood Water Paint and The Night Diary - March 4, 2018
- Stuck in the Stone Age Wants Kids to Create Their Own Stories - February 22, 2018
- The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Rogue One - January 24, 2018
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