When the “Star Wars” universe debuted a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Princess Leia was the only main female character in the wildly popular first trilogy. Supporting characters who were women had a few lines of dialogue at best. At worst, they served as wordless extras.
Even so, Carrie Fisher managed to carve a space for women with her wisecracking, quick-thinking character. She went from playing a trapped princess who needed rescuing to a gun-toting rebel fighter alongside her brother, Luke Skywalker, and partner-to-be, Han Solo.
However iconic, being the main woman in a saga can be a lonely exercise.
A recent survey from University of Glasglow film lecturer Rebecca Harrison looked at how often women were onscreen in the “Star Wars” movies. The results won’t shock fans.
The original movie, “A New Hope,” scored the lowest, with only 15 percent of screen time going to women. Harrison included moments for when female characters are speaking as well as when they’re central to the plot. For instance, Leia held most of that movie’s screen time, yet the film never explores her feelings about losing her planet or being rescued as much as Luke losing his Jedi master.
Her role greatly expands in the next two films. The next set of movies out of the franchise wasn’t so kind to its next lonely leading lady, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman).
In an explanation of how she came to her conclusions, Harrison wrote on her site, “I’ve only counted women with speaking parts because having the ability to say something and contribute to the story, and not serving as a visual object, is important. However, if a woman with a speaking part is onscreen and not speaking, and neither is a man, I’ve kept the footage.”
She said Amidala got “a rough deal” since she’s not always central to the prequels’ action. “When men are speaking and a woman is onscreen, I’ve made a value judgement about whether she’s central to the action (or not) at that moment in the story. Sadly, especially in Padme’s case, she’s quite often just kind of ‘there’.”
“The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” all had Amidala, the female lead, onscreen for less than 20 percent of the movie. She gets only one major fight sequence in “Clones,” and by “Revenge,” she’s the hapless mom-to-be whose sadness (or childbirth) kills her. She’s Luke and Leia’s mom, yet she’s reduced from a politician to just a love interest for Anakin Skywalker.
The latest series, however, gives viewers greater hope for future “Star Wars” adventures.
“The Last Jedi” gave us multiple women at different levels of command. Fisher reprised her role as now Commander Leia; Laura Dern served as her second in charge, Vice Admiral Holdo; Kelly Marie Tran played Rose, who joined the ragtag team to save the day; and Daisy Ridley was back as Rey, the heir apparent to the Jedi. There were other women with smaller speaking parts, including Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata. There’s still more progress to be made, but for the first time, the series didn’t feel like a bachelor party at a sci-fi convention.
Of course, this was also the film that earned the most ire from hardened misogynist fans. They harassed not just its director, Rian Johnson, about making “Star Wars” more diverse, but Tran as well, attacking her with slurs and other unpleasantries. It may have even led to her departure from social media, the same thing that happened to Ridley when she debuted in “The Force Awakens.”
This harassment has also made its way to Kathleen Kennedy, the Lucasfilm President overseeing the franchise. Rumors are circulating through fan and movie sites that she may be pressured out from her post because of the fallout from “The Last Jedi” and the failure of “Solo.” Kennedy is one of the few women in a position of power at a studio or production company.
With the illustrious career she’s had, from “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” and “Back to the Future” to the revival of the “Star Wars” universe, it’s not like she hasn’t proven herself over decades of handling production costs and making executive decisions. What’s left is the small sector of sexist fans who blame her for making their white male galaxy a colorful one.
The lack of women through generations of “Star Wars” perhaps accustomed fans to a world without women. Now that there’s something barely resembling gender parity in the films, they demand the removal of the woman in charge, harass the women in the series and blame every misstep on the series’ move into diversity – as if the franchise never stumbled with the “Star Wars Holiday Special” or Jar Jar Binks in the “Phantom Menace.”