Star Wars' has continuously dropped the ball when it comes to handling its female characters.
While I love Star Wars—and I mean deeply, truly, obsessively love Star Wars —I can’t color myself blind to some of the franchise’s more apparent shortcomings. Perhaps one of the most glaring faults is the way the existing ten films have treated women. You’d hope that over the span of, yes, ten films and forty years, the movies would have finally found a way to handle their women with respect and equality on screen, right?
Unfortunately, you’d be disappointed.
In the original trilogy, Leia is the only woman to occupy more than a few seconds of screen time and she’s forced into slavery in a metal bikini. In the prequel trilogy, while there are more women in the universe, the primary character, Padme was created to be killed. In Rogue One, Jyn once again seems to be the only woman in the galaxy. And now, in the sequel trilogy, a galaxy far, far away still fumbles and drops the ball.
When Episode VII: The Force Awakens was announced, fans were promised their first prominent female Jedi. Rey took center stage — finally, we were going to have a woman wielding a lightsaber who wouldn’t immediately be killed off!
If I’m being honest, I actually cried when I found out. And then I cried again when I saw the first toy commercial where a little girl played with a lightsaber. What can I say? I’m a sentimental sap when it comes to gender equality in science fiction.
When I sat in the theater, vibrating in my seat, already far too full of popcorn, I burst into tears when the opening crawl began. (Has this article just turned into me talking about all the times Star Wars has made me cry? I hope not.) As I watched the film, sandwiched between a little girl with her father and my sister, I pinned all my hopes on Rey. She was going to be a huge leap forward. She was going to be this generation’s Ellen Ripley.
Well. That’s not what happened.
Instead, Rey hardly interacts with another woman until the end of the movie. Leia was once again sidelined (and her Force abilities neglected for no good reason). Captain Phasma had little time on screen at all. While I loved, and still love, the movie, it wasn’t the female empowerment I hoped it would turn out to be. Maybe that’s my fault for putting my trust in a massive corporation.
And like the clown I am, I fell into the same trap with the following movie, hoping that maybe this time Rey would talk to another woman, that maybe this time the toxic fans would stay off Twitter and internet forums. Maybe this time, I wouldn’t have my unwavering obsession with Star Wars questioned. But this letdown was spectacularly worse than before. If the first disappointment was a grenade, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was an atomic bomb.
Suddenly Rey wanted to help the man who abused her, her personality flipping from one extreme to another. Admiral Holdo was flat and two-dimensional and just plain confusing. Rose’s plotline was entirely pointless, and she was shoehorned into an illogical, unbacked romance. I sat in the theater and felt numb.
I’d hoped for more from The Force Awakens two years before, but as the credits rolled for The Last Jedi, even the small steps I felt had been made were backed over and buried. Deeply, deeply buried. Like, we need a backhoe to undo the damage buried.
And I won’t lie, I was heartbroken. Sure, The Force Awakens needed work fleshing out the female characters, but at least the characters were people, and not props used to further the development of the increasingly self-insert male antagonist.
With the teaser trailer for Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker dropping, I felt a hesitant sort of hope, a new hope, if you will (it’s okay, I’ll escort myself out after that one). Rey seems to have regained some of her personhood if the two minutes of cut together footage are any indicator. Another female character has been announced. There are shots of Rey and Rose speaking to one another. While I don’t want to go ahead make a grand sweeping claim that the Star Wars films will finally understand how to treat women, I will admit that I am a little more hopeful.
Eight months stand between now and the arrival of Rise of Skywalker and in that time, I’m going to do my best to keep my hopes at an absolute minimum, as I’ve clearly been hurt before. With J.J. Abrams back at the reigns, I want to believe that Episode IX will be the movie I’m looking for, despite it being the eleventh film in a franchise that keeps slipping when it should be striding.
Maybe just...don’t tell me the odds.