The new custodians of the Lucasfilm Empire have chosen to celebrate Star Wars (of recent years) with interesting, strong and complex female characters, which is in short inspiring for a whole future generation of fans. The reemergence of strong female characters in the Star Wars Universe was definitely for at least this old fanboy a welcomed relief, when Daisy Ridley’s Rey burst onto or screens last year. Her meaningful introduction as one of the main protagonists in the new triology made me want to shout from the rooftops!
The revolution or evolution of strong uncompromising female characters began ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far away’ under the guidance of George Lucas. When he originally penned the script for Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) I wonder where he had any idea that his original heroine would have such an impact on popular culture. Of course, it took the brilliance to cast Carrie Fisher in the role of Princess Leia, and to bring her to life on scene, that made the audience root for her like you would any male action hero. She was clever, self determined, sarcastic and strong (and probably so much more) which appealed to both men and women and boys and girls. Leia took charge of the situation and did it in emphatic fashion up against the badass galatic empire.
For a little over twenty years (from 1977 to 1999) Leia stood defiantly as the only rounded female character in the Star Wars universe until Padme Amidala burst onto our screens in the prequel triology. Amidala is interesting in her own right. She is stoic in the face of the slow death of the republic (and she does have her moments) but she isn’t Leia. She is in my opinion a foil for Anakin Skywalker without being completely typecast as your typical damsal in distress. Ultimately, I think Lucas failed to develop her character. I hate that she was Anakin’s love interest for the sake of just being the birth mother of Luke and Leia. Lucas even had a great opportunity to build upon making her truly a great character in the animated Clone Wars series (2008-15), but chose instead to focus on the development of other characters, and drive the show to the point where we find Obi Wan and Anakin in their predicament at the start of Revenge of the Sith (2005). In saying that though, the best thing to come out of the animated Clone Wars series, in my opinion was Pawadan learner Ahsoka Tano.
Readers and fellow Star Wars fans might find it strange that an animated character such as Ahsoka Tano is one of favourite Star Wars female characters. To you, all I can say is why not? In my opinion, she lifted our expectations of what a strong Star Wars female character could be. I certainly, at the beginning of her Clone Wars introduction, didn’t believe that this somewhat annoying childlike character would grow into a fan favourite. (Ashoka’s popularity is also due to American voice-over actress Ashley Eckstein. Ashley has always been very accommodating when it comes to talking about Ashoka with fans.) In hindsight now, I believe she developed into arguably one of the most complex and interesting characters of the series.
Young and naive, at the start of her Jedi education, the reluctant Anakin Skywalker agrees to take Ahsoka Tano as his padawan. Almost as reckless as her master (Skywalker), she is thrust into the thick of it immediately. It is here that she soon discovers that being a padawan learner is so much harder than she thought. But as she matures and grows, Ashoka Tano becomes a formidable warrior in her own right. Interestingly, over the course of five seasons, she ends up teaching her master and the viewer a lot about standing up for yourself, speaking your own mind when it really counts, honour and decision making.
Her journey through the series takes an unexpected turn just before the conclusion of the Clone Wars. In the episode titled “The Wrong Jedi” Ashoka Tano is put on trial for a crime that she didn’t commit. Against all hope she redeems herself and is welcome back into the Jedi order. Except, Ashoka teaches us one last life lesson. That it is sometimes all right to walk away from it all. This has huge repercussions for both Ashoka and Anakin. A decade or so later (in the Star Wars timeline), an older wiser Ashoka returns to fight a new enemy and an old friend now masquerading as Darth Vader, in the spin off series Star Wars Rebels.
Star Wars had always had a boy’s club feel to it growing up. Don’ t get me wrong, I loved Leia, but not as much as Star War’s male characters. Luke Skywalker for obvious reason was the screen hero I most identified with, Han Solo for his reckless nature and Darth Vader as the ultimate screen villian. Fast forward some thirty years later, and in a life enriched by the women in my own life, I had come to embrace all things beyond a male point of view. In relation to Star Wars, Ashoka Tano had awakened an inner desire and hope to see more female characters play meaningful roles in an expanding Star Wars universe. Imagine my surprise, when I heard that Disney had bought the rights to Lucasfilm and that J.J. Abram’s was introducing a new female protagonist, Jakku native and scavenger Rey.
Prior to seeing The Force Awakens (2015) I had hoped that Rey would be compassionate, smart and courageous, a lot like Palawan learner Ashoka Tano, and in fact she was all of that and more. It is her willingness to help those in need and to stand up to schoolyard bullies like Kylo Ren that we can all relate to the best. Importantly, it is the characters that she meets shortly after being catapulted into an adventure of a lifetime that has a profound effect on her. But with a whole lot of unanswered questions left hanging at the end of The Force Awakens, some believe Rey is not who we think she is. I really don’t care to speculate at this point in time. I just want to enjoy the moment.
In short, actress Daisy Ridley really nailed it on screen, portraying a young woman full of strength and hopefulness, yet also allowing us to see her softer vulnerable side. Interestingly, Daisy Ridley made an astute observation about playing Rey in an interview about The Force Awakens last year where she said that, “She (Rey) doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in the film, and for me, she’s not important because she’s a woman. She’s just important.” But whether actress Daisy Ridley really believes that Rey transcends gender talk will probably still be determined. In saying that, try telling a whole new generation of female fans as young as ten or eleven (like my daughter) who think Rey is the best thing since Snow Queen Elisa in Disney’s animated movie Frozen (2013).
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit our screens here in Australia today. I have personally been anticipating its arrival in almost the same vain as The Force Awakens. My first reaction is that Rogue One stands up mostly to all the hype, despite some of the harsh criticism it has received especially from The New Yorker and New York Times. It is action-packed and engaging, with a great ensemble cast spearheaded by the very talented Felicity Jones (who plays Jyn Erso).
A lot like The Force Awakens, Rogue One’s Disney producers, director Gareth Edwards and actress Felicity Jones, all want us to care about Star War’s latest female protagonist, the criminal misfit, turned reluctant hero (Jyn Erso). As an actress, Felicity Jones in particular finds herself in an unique situation, definitely (or do I dare say defiantly) trying to fill the shoes of The Force Awaken’s Daisy Ridley. So it is no wonder that Jones has been vocal over the coming months about wanting girls to care about Jyn Erso’s story. And what a story it is!
Set just before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance recruit Jyn Erso to work with a team of rebels to steal the plans of the Empire’s new super weapon, the Death Star. She is a tough, fierce loner with a backstory in tow, that makes you want to be standing right besides her, as she expels all her energies attacking the Galactic Empire. That said, it is definitely her fighting instincts that I believe really embody the spirit of this war movie. But at its emotional core, Rogue One’s story focuses on Jyn Erso’s relationship with her father Gallen, who was apprehended and coerced into designing the Death Star. It is also the love she has for her father that eventually drives her to believe in a cause that is so much bigger than herself.
What I like most about Rogue One is that like The Force Awakens, it has thrust forward a worthy character in Jyn Erso. She is not simply a fan-fiction fulfilment. She is as important as any character that as come before her in Star Wars folklore. Without spoiling anything for the reader that hasn’t seen Rogue One, Jyn Erso’s ultimate sacrifice is far greater than most and something that is a little more human and measurable by us.
For girls and women in general who feel underrepresented or underappreciated on screen, I hope that at least in the Star Wars universe, we are starting to readjust this balance. To those who feel threatened by the arrival of strong female characters, I say shame on you. I also sincerely hope we don’t see an anti-Jyn Erso or especially anti-Rey backlash in the years to come. That would be a great travesty. In short, be inspired by the leading charge of important female characters on our screens!
Photo Credits: The header movie still images of Star Wars characters Rey, Ashoka Tano and Jyn Erso are presumably owned by LucasFilm and Disney. With no free alternatives, I make use of the images under the rational of fair use. It enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone. I am not the uploader of the YouTube clips.