Feature: Is Star Wars Sexist?

You may have heard that castings have finally been announced for the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII. Alongside the original trilogy regulars Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are newcomers to the series, Andy Serkis, John Boyege and Daisy Ridley. You may have noticed that only two female roles – at the moment, at least – have been cast. Even then, only one of them is actually new.

If you think back through all six of the Star Wars films, there are definitely a lack of female roles. In the original series, a grand total of three female characters who are actually named; Princess Leia, Aunt Beru and Mon Mothma. Out of these, Princess Leia (obviously) gets the most screen time. In the prequel series, female characters are even scarcer. Only two named female characters appear; Anakin’s mother Shmi Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Now, with the casting announcements, it seems that JJ Abrams is following the trend by having only two female characters; Princess Leia and whoever Daisy Ridley will be played – rumoured to be the daughter of Princess Leia and Han Solo. One thing all these characters have in common is that none of them are soldiers.

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It can be argued that due to the “war” nature of Star Wars, women are not seen as soldiers or fighter pilots as it replicates real life where women are not allowed in front line combat roles. While this could be seen to be a fairly good reasoning, why would this be the case in a world seemingly more advanced than our own? In fact, this isn’t the case, or at least it wasn’t meant to be. It turns out that there were three female fighter pilots in Return of the Jedi, but sadly, they were cut in the final edit. Not only would leaving these characters in make the films a little less of an all boys club, but show women as being equal to the men.

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That’s not to say that women in the Star Wars films don’t pull their weight. Take a look at Princess Leia. Leia, while being a Princess is also a high ranking leader of the Rebel Alliance and the only female crew member aboard the Millennium Falcon. She starts the film series as strong female lead and action hero. She sends out the distress call from the Death Star which leads Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to rescue her. Whilst this makes her appear to be the damsel in distress, Leia in fact who gets them off the Death Star. After the sarcastic “Aren’t you a little short to be a Stormtrooper” line, Leia leads Han and Luke into the trash chute to ensure their escape. Furthermore, Leia manages to distance herself from the “Princess” role through her position as a commanding officer on Hoth, and her weapon handling experience. While on Hoth, Leia outranks the majority of the male characters and is in charge of life and death situations. In many situations Leia is the first to shoot, often with Han following behind her.

Sadly, as the original trilogy moves on, Leia’s power lessens. She turns into the damsel in distress that A New Hope tries to distance her from. By The Empire Strikes Back, Leia becomes child-like, complaining and worrying whilst on Cloud City with Han kissing her head and patting her cheek. Return of the Jedi sees Leia’s biggest change. When she is captured by Jabba the Hut, she is dressed in a provocative (and iconic) slave costume, which turns her into the stereotypical damsel in distress. She is reduced to an erotic spectacle with no power while she waits to be saved.

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Much like Leia, Padme Amidala first appears as a strong and heroic woman. She is a queen and senator who rules a planet that is defenceless. By the end of Episode 3, Amidala has lost her power, intelligence and seemingly becomes known for her mothering abilities.

It appears that women in Star Wars are often demeaned and overlooked when it comes the male characters, and so it can be argued that the series is sexist. While they start as strong, independent women who appear to equal to the males, their position shifts, turning them into weak damsels in distress. Having admitted to being a fan of the Star Wars films, it is probable that JJ Abrams will follow the same formula as the films he loves. Having also only cast one additional woman, it could be that this character will become a damsel in distress as well. However, as it is theorised that this female character will be the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia, let’s hope she follows in the footsteps of her father and becomes that badass warrior woman that Leia should have been.

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