I’ve been fairly open about the numerous issues I’ve had with modern Star Wars. While I will continue to give The Force Awakens the benefit of the doubt (for overall quality) until I see where The Last Jedi takes the series, I cannot ignore the major problems that have become more and more visible, especially in Rogue One. The two most significant of these problems, in my view, are the lack of creativity, and the characters–specifically, the female characters, and I’ve written as much in a pair of guest posts over on the Castalia House blog. Regarding the female characters, it is not their presence or roles in the story–I love well done female characters in major roles, and my work demonstrates this. Key word being well done.
Thus, this tor.com article (archived to avoid giving the site more clicks), was something I had to respond to, even with my limited time. I talked about it a bit over on periscope, but this really demanded a written response.
Let’s get started, as I said, I don’t have a lot of time.
The article’s agenda/narrative is obvious from its very title, “Women are the Champions of the Rebellion Now.” Right up from, this is saying two things that I take issue with. The first is that women could not be, or just were not “champions of the rebellion” before, and that now it is primarily or completely a role for women, as opposed to men.
Addressing the second point first, there is some truth to it, as Disney Star Wars is pushing that agenda. It hasn’t been lost on people that the primary character of both released films of the Disney era are women, with male character very much shunted to the side, and that awful Forces of Destiny animated series, and the recent comics. The Rebels show is more balanced, though this was (I believe the first post-Disney Star Wars, and made by the same people that made the excellent Clone Wars series.
To focus on the films, it is clear that both Rey and Jyn are not well-created characters. Rey may become more interesting as we learn more, but in her first appearance she is written very much in the role of “Strong woman,” who never actually needs help, has no romantic interest with another character, and just good at everything she does–with a little tacked-on reluctant hero. This isn’t particularly interesting, as we lose a lot of possible tension. Going into The Last Jedi, why should I worry about Rey? She’s never been in a situation she couldn’t get herself out of so far. It doesn’t make a character weak if they need genuine help, or a rescue, at certain points. It allows us to see them in a different light, and helps build relationships with other characters. Finn was basically dead weight, as far as she was concerned, so it does follow that they don’t come across as friends, despite all they’ve gone through together. The same with Han. What did he actually help her with? But I’m not going to get into this aspect of the articles problem too much; I already made all of the points I have regarding the weakly created female characters over in that well-received Castalia House post.
What really bugged me about this post, however, is the assumption they make that Star Wars has previously been “a boy’s story.” In fact, the many women who have loved the franchise since its debut will likely take issue with this. To look at the original trilogy first, how is the fact that Luke is the main character make Leia not matter all of a sudden. Just look at this awful, awful paragraph.
The original Star Wars trilogy is a boy’s own space adventure. We followed Luke on his hero’s journey, we watched him learn from an older man (and then an older male puppet), vie for the role of hero with a roguish scoundrel, and think that he might end up with the pretty girl, only to learn that she was his sister. His arc in each film was set by his father: in A New Hope, he wants to “become a Jedi, like [his] father”; in Empire he seeks vengeance against Vader for his father’s murderer—and then learned that Vader is his father, which, in one moment, changed his conception of himself, his family, and the black and white morality he’d been following; his arc in Return of the Jedi centers on his need to save his father. The boy wins. His father joins the two other male authority figures as a Force Ghost, the boy is now a man—and in all of this his mother only rates a single sentence.
This conveniently ignores the fact that it was Leia who set in motion the plot, and her actions allowed Luke to even get R2-D2 and the plans. She then resists interrogations, and then flat-out lies while her homeworld is being threatened with destruction, and then has to watch it destroyed. During her rescue, she saves their lives, and fights alongside the men. Then, back with the Rebellion, she takes a commanding role (and by the way, this article later uses the presence of Mon Mothma as a rebel leader in Rogue One as evidence of where Star Wars is going, ignoring that she held that exact same position of power in the originals), and is the one to brief the fighter pilots before the crucial mission. In Empire, Leia is one of the last to leave her post and evacuate, and helps fix the Millennium Falcon,then helps fight the heroes’ way out of cloud city and leads them to Luke, saving him. And in Jedi, she goes down in command of the commando squad, fighting the whole time, and plays a major role in the key Ewok alliance. Yes, she wasn’t the main character, and didn’t follow a “hero’s journey,” but she was every bit as important and strong as Han and Luke.
In the prequels as well, Anakin, a man, is the main character. But that doesn’t lessen Padme’s role. The article writes this:
In the prequels, we learn Anakin’s story. He wins podraces, leaves his mother to become a Jedi, trains under two male authority figures, falls in love with a pretty girl, and gradually succumbs to the Dark Side. His fall comes because he is so angry and fearful about the two women in his life—his murdered mother, and his possibly-doomed wife. The Jedi around him tell him repeatedly not to get too attached, and given that his attachments are all to the women he loves, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that women were his downfall.
I guess we’re ignoring Padme being a queen and senator perfectly capable of fighting, and with a huge role in the political developments. Yes, Anakin has more going on, as the main character, but how does that make it a “boy’s story,” in which Padme is unimportant. G-d, this cancer is making me defend the freaking prequels. They also cite a comparison between Anakin’s mother’s death and the death of Luke’s Aunt Beru as driving forces for the characters. I guess Uncle Owen doesn’t matter.
I’m going to present another quote from the article, with only minimal comments, because it should be clear from reading this that the author either didn’t actually watch these films, or is willfully only viewing things through a narrow feminist lens.
And let’s look at those arcs: in The Phantom Menace, Amidala is a Queen who represents an entire people, and works within the Republic to try to use the law for the good of the people. She’s duped by Palpatine, and gradually her story shifts to one of torment over her forbidden love, facing pregnancy alone, and being emotionally and physically abused by her secret husband—all before she dies (of a broken heart) right after giving birth. In A New Hope, her daughter Leia withstands torture and reveals herself to be a sassy leader, but is gradually softened by love. She is taken prisoner (again), forced to wear a degrading, sexualized outfit, and finally ends the trilogy fully femme, wearing a princessy dress (probably left by a woman the Ewoks ate) with her hair loose. One male lead is now her romantic partner, the other has gone from being a potential love interest/friend, to being safely categorized as her (celibate, probably) brother.
Notice the ignoring of the fact that Leia attempted to rescue Han from Jabba, and then choked Jabba to death with the chain he held her by. Padme’s role in the arena battle and attempted rescue of Obi-Wan is also ignored, in favor of the more narrative-relevant stuff, as well as minimizing their power and strength by emphasizing weaker moments or development. And again, what exactly is wrong with a major female character being romantically involved with a major male character?
The article’s end encapsulates the agenda it is pushing, and further demonstrates how this lens warps the author’s view of the franchise is.
Over the last few years Star Wars has gone from being a story of boys fighting and finding themselves with gorgeous royals as side characters, to a story that features princesses who are also career military, rebels who leave the past in the past and sacrifice their lives to get shit done, high-femme queens who try to promote peace from the inside, scavengers who answer the call to adventure, elderly business magnates who celebrate themselves with statuary.The Force Awakens and Rogue One transform the entire arc of the series, shifting from stories of young men acting more or less individually, to focus on women building resistances against unfair power structures, working together with people across class and species lines, welcoming new members, honoring each others’ work. Women have passed the spirit of the rebellion to each other, from Padme and Mon Mothma’s co-founding of the Rebellion, to Jyn Erso’s sacrifice, to Leia’s leadership, to Rey’s taking up the search for Luke. These stories may have happened a long time ago, but the future of Star Wars is female.