What started out as a film that prior to its release, was mocked not only by the public, but the movie industry, as well as some of the people making it, soon became one of the biggest and most successful franchises of all time, and no matter where you go or who you talk to, everyone has heard of Star Wars.
A lot has changed since the release of Episode IV – A New Hope back in 1977, and one of the things that has changed most, especially in cinema, is the representation of women.
In today’s movies, we’re much more used to seeing women have leading roles, and despite Princess Leia, portrayed by the late Carrie Fisher, being a strong and inspirational role model for girls at the time, the original Star Wars trilogy leaves a lot to be desired for modern audiences when it comes to representation.
In Star Wars’ more recent movies and spin offs however, women have had a much larger part to play, with the franchise clearly looking to ensure that it does its bit for female representation.
So, let’s take a closer look at how this great franchise has seen its representation of women and female characters evolve over the years.
The Original Trilogy
Looking back to the trilogy that cemented Star Wars as a household name, there is just one woman that comes to mind, Princess Leia.
The character was loved by many, as was the actress who portrayed her, Carrie Fisher, and even in the earliest appearances for Leia we see her shooting at Imperial Stormtroopers, as well as lying to the face of the imposing
Whilst she was initially seen as a damsel-in-distress scenario, it was clear to audiences even back then that Leia was a strong and independent woman that was more than capable of looking after herself.
Despite the inspiring character of Leia bringing balance to the overly masculine Han Solo and the shy and boyish
Leia was just one of three named female characters that appeared in the entire trilogy.
The only other named female characters in the Original Trilogy include Luke’s Aunt Beru, who is killed only minutes into the first film, and Mon Mothma, who had limited screen time and lines herself, although she would make later appearances in both the 2008 Clone Wars animated series, the Rebels series, as well as Rogue One.
So, with society’s expectations on female roles in movies changing dramatically between the time the Original Trilogy had concluded and with the beginning of the Prequel Trilogy just around the corner, it was clear that change was needed.
The Prequel Trilogy
As expected, the Prequel Trilogy introduced a wide selection of female characters, notably Padme Amidala, the queen of Naboo, and Anakin Skywalker’s love interest, and later wife. As well as Shmi Skywalker, the mother of Anakin.
Even in Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace both of these characters have incredibly important roles, and throughout the trilogy they prove to be strong and capable women in their own right, making brave decisions in the face of danger to save the ones they love.
The films might not flesh out too many of the female characters, but the 2008 Clone Wars animated series, which takes place during the same timeframe as the Prequels certainly does, and we’re introduced to an abundance of strong and powerful female characters.
Jedi such as Luminara Unduli, Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura, and of course, Ahsoka Tano are just some of these incredible women, and the animated series also introduces us to the first ever female villain in the franchise too, Asajj Ventress.
What was so important about the Prequels era of shows and movies is that not only are we provided with a wide variety of strong female characters, but they’re all fleshed out well, and each has their own unique personality too, which ultimately avoids the habit of female characters having repetitive story arcs and cliché character traits.
Sitting between the Prequels and Original Trilogy is also the spin off film Rogue One, which was adored by fans, even despite the lack of Jedi versus Sith action, with the film being much more focused on the acts of the rebellion itself prior to Luke and co’s involvement.
This film also sees the addition of the particularly strong minded Jyn Erso, who’s character provided a captivating story that helped give the movie so much credit, with many people stating that her inclusion didn’t feel forced or inorganic, which unfortunately is common with many female characters, especially in a franchise owned by a large corporation such as Disney.
Plus, with Ahsoka Tano not only appearing in Rebels, The Mandalorian, and The Book of Boba Fett and the Tales of the Jedi series, but also being set to get her own live action show soon too, it shows that Disney and Star Wars are intent on keeping the theme of strong female characters.
The Sequel Trilogy
Although it caused somewhat of a stir at the time, the evolution for female characters in Star Wars was the moment it was announced that Rey was to be the lead for the Sequel Trilogy, becoming the first female lead in the history of the series.
Rey’s character arc is criticized heavily by critics of the Sequel Trilogy in general, with many believing that she didn’t go through the level of hardship and training that her predecessors Luke and Anakin did before being able to stand victorious over the First Order and the remnants of the Sith, and thus dubbing her a “mary sue”, but the reality is that Rey’s character is an empowering one, and was a massive step forwards for the franchise.
The great thing about the sequels though is that Rey isn’t the only female character that enjoys the spotlight, the likes of Maz Kanata, Rose Tico, and Vice-Admiral Holdo are all great characters with their own stories and personalities, which demonstrates a conscious effort by Disney to provide plenty of representation.
We’re also introduced to another female villain in the form of Captain Phasma, who is a commander of the Stormtroopers of the First Order, and is seen as a direct enemy for Finn, and despite only having 3 and ½ minutes of screen time, plenty of fans hope we get to see her in some form in future shows and spin offs.
It’s clear then that female representation was something that was deemed as crucially important when it came to creating the Sequel Trilogy, and although there is a lot of criticism that surrounds the Trilogy, some valid, and some not, it’s hard to deny that the female representation was executed perfectly, and serves as a great reminder that the Star Wars galaxy is a diverse one.
So, after capturing the hearts of millions all around the world, and with plenty of loyal and devoted fans, it is great to see how the franchise has evolved throughout the decades to provide fans with great stories that are lead by both strong male and female characters, whether they be protagonists or antagonists, Star Wars has come far from where it started in terms of female representation, and there is no doubt that it will only continue to improve as the years go by.
We hope you enjoyed this look into the evolution of female characters in the Star Wars universe, do you have a favorite female character from the Star Wars universe? Let us know!