One of the many great panels offered at Dragon Con through the Star Wars Track was the Strong Women of Star Wars panel. While I’ve been on Star Wars panels before I was honored to have this one be part of my first panelist experience at this particular show. Joining me to discuss the women of Star Wars were Bryan Young, Beth Dolgner, Nicole Tapp, and Travis Grimm. Bria LaVorgna was our moderator.
We started by defining what makes a strong female character. Responses included that she goes her own way and is not under the influence of someone else. We also mentioned complexity of character, because part of being a strong character is making it seem like the character is an actual (human) being. Female characters need depth too. Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels and Asajj Ventress from The Clone Wars were examples.
The trend of focusing on the word strong to mean physical strength was also discussed. And while some strong female characters, like Sarah Connor in the early Terminator movies, can be physically strong, media creators have to be careful not to just take a stereotypical male character and “add boobs”. The strong female character (SFC) doesn’t necessarily need to fight anyone to show resilience.
Take for example Shmi Skywalker – her strength is inner and quiet as she lets her son go in the belief that it will lead to a better life for him. Recently re-watching The Phantom Menace made me more aware of how amazing Shmi is and the depth of character that is backed up by Pernilla August’s performance. With her example we see that sometimes strength can be shown through dealing with what life has dealt. What’s more it left all of us wanting to get to know Shmi even more.
Beth shared her hopes of seeing some of the better character attributes of Natasi Daala come back into the Star Wars canon in some way. Rae Sloane of both Star Wars: A New Dawn and Aftermath is the biggest female Imperial character we’ve seen in the past year though. Bryan Young noted that Sloane is a character that deals with issues many women have seen in the real world. She is always working to do the best job she can even though she works for those we know to be the bad guys. There are implications in the books that she had to cope with being passed over for promotions and picking up the mess left behind when she’s finally given her due.
Of course when it comes to strong women of Star Wars, Leia is a given. As Nicole pointed out Leia is loved by many not just because she’s a main character but because it’s easy for so many people to find something to relate to – whether it’s her being stoic, brave, or vulnerable. We also covered Leia’s slave costume in Return of the Jedi. Panelists referred to it as objectification but also part of a plan that may have required her capture and her slaying of Jabba. Leia used what trapped her to free herself. Leia is never actually referred to by dialogue as a slave, but, as Bryan brought up, Shmi is. And yet no one calls her Slave Shmi or later Free Shmi.
As if the women of the Skywalker line haven’t been impressive enough, there’s also Padmé. We talked about all the things she accomplished at a mere 14 years old. The conversation also moved to her work as a senator and her strength that came from caring about other people and standing up for her beliefs. There was also a brief interlude on the gender role reversal that comes from Leia seeming to take after Anakin and Luke definitely being Padmé’s son.
Hera wasn’t our only mention of the ladies of Rebels though. Padmé’s youth brought up discourse on Sabine Wren. Sabine exhibits elements that make it easy for a teenager to connect with – she’s looking for a fight, she’s young but doing something ambitious, and sometimes she just wants to be left alone to draw in her room.
Panelists spoke on how characters like Sabine are not only nice for girls to see, but also a good example of showing boys that girls can like doing the same things they’re interested in. Boys and girls alike can be shown female characters in Star Wars that don’t necessarily fall into the trope of the love interest or the action girl.
Bria asked us to keep our focus away from The Force Awakens, mainly because there will be so much more to discuss about those women in the future. I did quickly mention I hope to see that Rey is one of the next strong women of Star Wars. Captain Phasma also came up briefly due to the ramification of her existence: Now retroactively any trooper who wasn’t specifically identified as male could have been a woman.
I’m sure the panel will have much more to say about the newest strong women of Star Wars come December and next year’s Dragon Con. Thanks to everyone who attended.
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