The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Guest post by Amy Richau
In the first two Star Wars films the women beyond Princess Leia appeared as mother figures, background fillers, and in The Empire Strikes Back (TESB) active members of the rebellion. There were no female villains in A New Hope (ANH) or TESB or seemingly any female aliens – except for a brief appearance by the Tonnika Sisters in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Female pilots have also been absent, as women were shown as only working in the control room or in the flight crew at the rebel base in Hoth.
The sixth Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi (ROTJ), has more female characters than ANH or TESB in a wider variety of roles. However, some of the female characters may not be the roles you were looking or wishing for.
It’s really hot on Tatooine. That is the easy explanation for how many females characters are so scantily clad in Jabba’s Palace. Although this explanation falls apart when you see the male characters all in heavy clothing.
The real explanation for the female wardrobe choices at Jabba’s Palace are that almost all of the women shown are figures of entertainment for Jabba. And Hutts seem to really like seeing women in a variety of galactic bikinis.
The main female character in Jabba’s Palace is also the most tragic. Oola, the first Twi’lek in a Star Wars film is Jabba’s current favorite slave at the beginning of the film. Played by Femi Taylor, her amazing dance skills don’t save her from a terrible end at the hands (and teeth) of the rancor monster.
The other original Jabba dancer was actress Claire Davenport, who played Yarna d’al’ Gargan but whose role in the credits was simply “Fat Dancer.” While Davenport’s dancer was saddled with probably the worst name in a Star Wars film, she got her revenge by arguably having the most fun in Jabba’s employment. She is also totally owning her peekaboo outfit.
While Oola screams for help, she doesn’t really talk in ROTJ. The first female to talk in ROTJ sings her lines and is the first verbal female alien in the Star Wars series. Sy Snootles, who was a puppet in the original ROTJ and replaced by a CG version in the Special Edition, is the lead singer of the Max Rebo Band in Jabba’s palace.
Also added in the Special Edition were three female backup singers Rystall Sant, Greeata Jendowanian, and Lyn Me.
These ladies are about as scantily clad as Oola and Fat Dancer, complete with the first Rodian bikini sighting and proof that red lipstick is a favorite on Tatooine.
The backup singers also seem to have nothing better to do than flirt with notorious bounty hunter Bobba Fett in between songs. Are they desperate for romance or just trying to make the best of a bad situation? Hard to say – but these female characters are clearly no equal to Princess Leia.
Princess Leia does in fact make an appearance in Jabba’s Palace, first disguised as bounty hunter Boushh collecting the bounty for delivering Chewbacca . . .
. . . and then as “Slave Leia” after she is discovered rescuing Han Solo from the carbonite.
The change from kickass undercover bounty hunter – the first female bounty hunter in the Star Wars universe – to servant in a skimpy bikini is a great example of one step forward, two steps back for female Star Wars characters. At least Leia doesn’t turn into a frightened victim in her gold bikini. Instead Leia takes her neck chain and strangles Jabba the first chance she gets before getting an assist from R2-D2 in her escape.
Two other women show up in the background of Jabba’s palace. One is a fully clothed woman in a red jumpsuit named Laudica. She seems right at home at Jabba’s Palace enjoying the frequent rancor feedings (shown below behind Boushh).
The second woman is briefly shown during Boushh’s and Chewbacca’s entrance. Jess has blue hair and was later said to be looking to join the Max Rebo Band.
Jabba’s Palace also was the home for the first Star Wars ‘female’ droid EV-9D9. While EV-9D’s voice was that of ROTJ director Richard Marquand this supervisor droid with a mean streak is referred to on StarWars.com as ‘her’ and has a feminine sounding voice.
For the first time in a Star Wars movie Princess Leia is not the only female to be shown in space. As the Rebels gather to discuss their plans to destroy the under-construction Death Star, we catch a glimpse of the first female Rebel pilot sitting to the left of Lando Calrissian.
Even more impressive, joining this rebel pilot and Princess Leia in this scene is another female rebel, Mon Mothma. Mon Mothma reports the findings of the stolen Death Star plans and has one of the film’s most re-quoted lines: “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” Mon Mothma is serious and sad, but she is also clearly in a position of power.
Later on in the scene we see two of Mon Mothma’s peers. Where were these ladies during the Battle of Yavin?
At the end of this sequence we catch a glimpse of another female rebel pilot on the left, and a group of women who look like they might be in the flight crew on the right.
Even though there were several women in the battle prep scene mentioned above, for some reason Leia is the only woman who makes the trip to Endor to destroy the Death Star’s shield generator.
The only other obvious female on Endor is this Ewok mother holding her baby. Notably a large percentage of the actors playing the Ewoks were women. Ewoks, like Jawas, were apparently not very easy to genderize without resorting to the ridiculousness of the Rodian bikini in Jabba’s Palace.
Death Star Space Battle
We caught a glimpse of a few female Rebel pilots during Mon Montha’s briefing, and we finally get to see a woman in action in the space battle that occurs beside the Death Star.
Unfortunately the actress’ voice was dubbed over by a male actor for her one line in the film.
Two other actresses filmed scenes as Rebel pilots in battle, but both were cut out of the finished film. The second pilot below interestingly appears to be the oldest of any male or female pilots in any of the Star Wars films. Unfortunately the only place you can see these actresses are in the deleted scenes.
The original Star Wars trilogy certainly could have benefitted from a few more interesting and important female characters. Few women beyond Leia are seen and fewer still are heard. The inclusion of Mon Mothma in ROTJ was certainly a step in the right direction.
Still to come in the Star Wars universe are female Jedi, Imperials, bounty hunters, planetary leaders, and pilots who can be both seen and heard. The Force Awakens promises several more memorable female characters to look forward to, and Oola surely would be pleased to see Hera in action on the Star Wars Rebels television show.
- The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode IV: A New Hope
- The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Amy Richau is a Star Wars fangirl, wife and mother of two young kids, freelance writer, and Denver Broncos fan (not necessarily always in that order). Amy grew up with the Star Wars original trilogy and spent more time and money than she would like to admit tracking down Star Wars collectibles. Before motherhood in Colorado, Amy worked in several film archives and labs working as a film archivist/preservationist – including a ‘dream come true’ stint at Skywalker Ranch at the LucasFilm Archives. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follower her on Twitter @amyrichau.
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5 thoughts on “The Evolution of Women in the Star Wars Universe: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”
Maybe instead of getting hung up by the gender of every individual character in the Star Wars universe, you should just enjoy these masterpieces as they are.
If you want to get tied down to specifics, the only main “male characters” would be Luke, Han and Darth Vader. The rest are either not important (which you’d complain even if they were female because they wouldn’t have a big enough part), or aliens/robots. Jabba is a Hutt and we do not hear what his gender is at any point. R2 and 3PO are robots which makes them gender neutral, and Chewbacca is a Wookiee. So as far as main protagonists go, there is only a 2:1 ratio on lead characters’ gender. Princess Lea will always be a badass, but what difference does it make if Luke and Han are males?
This is an ignorant comment.
Main characters in Episode IV: Vader (male), Leia (female), C-3PO (droid, male voice and pronouns), R2-D2 (droid, male pronouns) Luke (male), Ben (male), Tarkin (male), Han (male), Chewbacca (Wookiee, male pronouns). Ratio: 8:1, or 5:1 if you discount Chewie and the droids.
Main characters in Episode V: Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Ben, Yoda (alien, male), Lando (male), Vader, Boba Fett (male). Ratio: 10:1, 6:1 discounting alien races and droids.
Main characters in Episode VI: Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Lando, Jabba (alien, male), Yoda, Vader, Palpatine (male). Ratio: 10:1, 5:1 discounting alien races and droids.
That’s a crap ratio which wasn’t good enough then, and hasn’t improved much now. What difference does it make if Luke and Han are males? Ask yourself what difference it would make to you if Lucy Skywalker and Betty Kenobi with their female-voiced/pronoun-ed droids set off with Hannah and Chewbella, and along the way rescue Prince Lee from Grand Moffette Tarkina and Darth Mader. They go back to the rebel base, brief the pilots, and they fly off to destroy the Death Star. Prince Lee sits and looks pensive and hopes he doesn’t get blown up. Lucy unlocks her family’s hidden Force potential and, with a timely assist from Hannah and Chewie, destroys the Death Star and saves the day. All the stormtroopers, all the aliens with lines, all the Imperial officers, all the Rebel pilots are women. Would you watch that movie? Would you walk out of that movie feeling like you could be a Jedi? Or a wise-cracking smuggler? Or a hotshot pilot? Maybe you would. Or maybe you’d feel like it would’ve been nice to see more dudes than Lee and old Uncle Barry.
Oola has lines in the 1983 version of the film when she’s struggling on her leash. Here watch this, it’s original unedited video of the original song “Lapti Nek” and death sequence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ebjptd6Kgo
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