STAR WARS Episode IX Is Honoring Carrie Fisher…And Screwing Over Women In The Process.

Published on July 28, 2018 by   ·   No Comments

Disclaimer – I have written before about some of my dorky passions, among them Dark Shadows and Stephen King’s Carrie.  Star Wars is not among them.  I’ve seen all of them, I like some of them and can tolerate the rest.  Sometimes, if I’m bored, I’ll read a fan theory or some behind the scenes gossip.  But I’m not a “fan,” at least not as far as fan culture goes (and, as I’ll talk about below, fanboy culture specifically).  I’m just someone who likes to think about and comment on pop culture.  Take this as you will.  Also, obviously there will be spoilers, as there is in pretty much everything I write ever.

Jedi 01I’ve seen both of the newest Star Wars movies, and I generally like them.  I’m one of those crazed heathens that the fanboys hate that actually thinks seeing women and people of color and even *gasp* women-type-people of color represented in one of the world’s biggest franchises is a great thing (you can bring on the queer folks any time now…seriously, like, any time).  The new movies have a pretty difficult job: they have to pay homage to the foundations on which the series is built while also innovating and finding new characters and stories for the audience to care about.  I thought they did a fairly good job in both movies.  Yes, The Force Awakens is a little derivative and felt sort of like a remake of one of the films from the 70s with a diverse cast, but it felt familiar, and the characters were pretty interesting or at least had interesting setups.  It was like somebody was saying, “What if the first film had been made in a world where straight white men weren’t the only viewers we cared about?  We’d have made this movie!”

Much has been said about Daisy Riddle’s Rey, and I think she is wonderful and a perfect hero for this franchise.  But before we talk too much about the new characters, let’s look at how episodes VII and VIII have treated the old guard.  There are lots of great returning characters, but from the moment a new film was announced, there were questions about the role of the “big three”: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa.  Sorry Chewie and C-3PO, you guys are great, but these three are the core “family” that this series hinges on.

Jedi 02The Force Awakens is Han Solo’s movie.  It brings him back into the fight, he assists Rey in putting together the pieces that allow her to go and find Luke.  And when he is killed by his own son, I had to wipe away a stray tear or two.  This was his moment to shine, and then say goodbye.

In the same vein, The Last Jedi is Luke Skywalker’s movie.  He reveals to Rey his great shame about creating the destructive force that is Kylo Ren and helps her get in touch with her own connection to the force.  He is conflicted, and eventually has to be shown that the ways of the Jedi can change and evolve just as the people who choose to follow them.  And at the end, after providing a necessary diversion for the resistance, he disappears into the ether.  This is his goodbye.

In a recent article announcing casting decisions for the forthcoming episode IX, it was revealed that the role of General Leia Organa would not be recast and instead Carrie Fisher would appear using footage shot but never used for episode 8.  This is a wonderful tribute to Carrie Fisher…but it’s the worst possible news for the character of Leia Organa, in a franchise that has a long history of mistreating its female characters.

There was recently a fan petition to have Meryl Streep play Leia in the new film which received just shy of 13,000 signatures, and some of their reasoning is interesting and at least as sound as one would expect when talking about the lives and portrayals of fictional people.  Meryl Streep is arguably (and I would love for someone to argue this) the most talented living actress, and she did play a character based on Carrie Fisher in Postcards from The Edge.  She was a close friend of Fisher.  But regardless of who would have been ultimately chosen, having a new actress in the role would have allowed Leia to get the sendoff she deserved.  In honoring the actress, the series is dishonoring the character.  No matter what they can piece together, it will never been the full story that would have unfolded if Fisher had lived, and like Han and Luke before her, Leia deserves her pivotal storyline to shine and then bid her farewell.

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Why does this matter?  Why isn’t it enough for a film to pay homage to a wonderful, vibrant woman whose character and performances meant so much to so many fans of the series?  Because sacrificing the woman for the character continues a pattern of what tends to happen to the women of the Star Wars franchise that started with the scrolling text of the first opening sequence and continues into the newest episode.

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In the original films, Leia gets some character development…but primarily because she is the ONLY prominent female character in the original trilogy.  Other women who appear have little or nothing to do with the story or its development.  And much of Leia’s screen time is spent in the terribly cliche role of damsel in distress.  Yes, she may sometimes assist in her own rescue and she’s been known to pick up a blaster and take out a storm trooper or two, but generally she’s calling for help whether appearing as a hologram projected by R2-D2 or dancing in Jabba’s Palace in a gold bikini.  Episodes VII and VIII gave her some additional development, showing her having grown from princess to general, but she was never at the forefront; those movies were for Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, and she was graciously waiting her turn.

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In the wasteland that is episodes I through III, women are still little more than a joke or an afterthought.  Padme’s journey undercover as one of her own handmaidens in episode I gives her a paper thin storyline of a ruler “learning how the real people live,” but there is no substance here.  Episode II is worse, as we see beginnings of a “romance” with Hayden Christensen’s Anakin (I have to put the word in quotes as his wooden acting gives us absolutely nothing one could attribute Padme’s supposed growing attraction to), and in Episode III she seems like a sorority girl on spring break who has woken up next to her late night Prince Charming to find that he’s actually a douche canoe from Cal Tech with a temper: even as she tries to sweet talk him, she always seems to be looking for an easy escape.  George Lucas seemed to think that Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala would be that generation’s Leia Organa, and as such he didn’t seem to feel the need to populate the world with any other meaningful female characters.  In fact, after episode I received criticism that there was a lack of visible, developed female characters, Lucas created a whole host of visually interesting female Jedi…none of whom had any development or even spoken lines of dialogue and who were all killed by clones at the end of the film!  Not only was it a waste of some potentially cool characters (some of whom have been fleshed out in the cartoon series or other publications…too little, too late) but it almost felt like an attack on women who dared to challenge George Lucas’ vision of the world.  “You want to see women?  I’ll show you women!  And I’ll show you what happens when they get too uppity and ask for greater representation!  Muwahahahahahahaha!”

Ok, so that bit was totally my own invention, not a direct quote.  But that ending felt like a direct assault on those of us who wanted to see more representation in the series – literally EVERY SINGLE ONE of the new female characters died.  Except for that Kamino woman who was in the hallway that one time when Obi Wan snuck down to the rainy planet where they were making all of the clones.  Maybe she’ll get a spinoff… [insert rolled eyes]

"You have no idea who the fuck I am, do you? Goggle me, you punk bitches!"

“You have no idea who the fuck I am, do you? Goggle me, you punk bitches!”

Now, Rey is an improvement, and I for one loved to feel the fanboy rage surge up when they realized that the hero of the new installments was going to be a woman…assisted by a black man and a possibly gay pilot (though the queer representation that was hinted in the first installment seems to have been shelved, for now).  I could bathe in the tears of straight white fanboys and stay young forever!  But as much as I liked Rey, I was a little concerned that they set her up as single-mindedly searching for her parents.  This continues a trope of women who put their families before themselves, and that women must be loyal to their families above all else, including themselves.  There are still places on the planet where women who don’t subscribe to this ideology can be beaten, attacked, and sometimes killed, so maybe not the best message for young girls.  A delightful side effect of this obsession with her parents, however, is that it also fueled fanboy speculation that Rey would turn out to be Luke’s daughter or even Obi Wan’s granddaughter, and lead to further rage when she was revealed to be the daughter of, well, nobodys (basically negating her entire motivation for the first movie, cool).

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So who else do we have representing the ladies in the new movies (I’m going to leave the spinoffs alone and stick to the core films)?  We have Maz Kanata, the cantina proprietor.  She exists to give the special effects people a chance to work on a creepy but humanoid muppet and connect Rey with Luke’s lightsabre.  That’s it.  This article refers to her as a “female Yoda-like character” but she has much less screen time and her prophecies don’t get the development they need – they end up sounding more like detailed fortune cookie papers from PF Chang’s than actual life advice.  Plus that article, which claims to be about how The Force Awakens is the “most female-driven Star Wars yet” can’t go two seconds without comparing a female character to her more roundly developed male counterpart (Rey is a “female Han Solo”) – not a good sign.

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We have Captain Phasma…and let me tell you, I was waiting for that stone cold chrome dome ice queen to get her moment to shine.  She didn’t get much in The Force Awakens, and I thought the buildup was delicious.  Obviously they’re going to give her her due in The Last Jedi, right?  Nope.  She and Finn fight for like barely three minutes, we see one blue eye through a crack in her helmet, and then a full one-and-three-quarters-movies’ worth of fucking buildup fell down a fiery hole in the crippled First Order destroyer.  Of all of the waste of female characters throughout the series, this was probably the hardest; all of the slain female Jedi were visually interesting, but never really did anything, where Phasma is set up as a force to be reckoned with and teased for almost two movies before being some swiftly and easily dispatched (check out THIS ARTICLE to read about a deleted scene from the film that could have given the character more depth).

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Rose is sweet…but that’s all she is.  She exists to feel grief for her sister and a camaraderie for Finn (and growing romantic attraction, lest he be seduced by that undercover queer waiting to happen, Po Dameron!).  She’s another female character who offers some convenient skills to a task at hand and is defined by her emotions towards other characters.  Her most memorable quote is about love, and it’s clear she’s talking about her growing love for Finn.

SW 02

And then there is Admiral Holdo.  Laura Dern is a fantastic actress and frankly, she deserved better than this.  Holdo is presented as being a war hero, but Po and the other “grunts” immediately call her history into question.  They can’t believe this is the Admiral Holdo they’ve heard so many stories about.  When Leia is assumed dead and Holdo is given command she asserts herself in a bid to keep the resistance alive: “We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic. That spark, this Resistance, must survive. That is our mission.”  This puts her on a collision course with the fireworks and cowboy mentality of Po Dameron, who of course already has the audience’s sympathies, and Holdo is painted as at best a leader with no backbone and, at worst, a traitor to her own people.  When she sacrifices herself to save the last transports by crashing the main cruiser into the First Order’s destroyer, she is redeemed and we learn that her role in this film was to transform Po: he already knew how to be a hero, but she taught him how to go beyond a hero to be a true leader.  She’s one fabulous, purple-haired spitfire of a plot device designed to bring emotional growth and evolution…to a man.

Are you starting to see the pattern here?  If I were more of a Star Wars aficionado, I could probably have produced more examples but I think you get the point.  The female characters in Star Wars are constantly being pushed to the side, devalued, ignored, and sometimes literally sacrificed to make way for the stories and experiences of men.  In that world, with the final film bringing the main branches of the franchise and nearly 50 years of lore and fascination to a close, Leia Organa deserves her moment.  She deserves better than a tribute to a single actress pieced together from scraps on the cutting room floor.  Because the women of Star Wars have been getting scraps since the beginning, and this was a chance to finally let them feast.

And ironically, I think Carrie Fisher would want the character to get a proper finale, even if she isn’t there to play it.  In the promotional tour for The Force Awakens, Fisher told Daisy Riddle to “fight for your outfit.  Don’t be a slave like I was.”  She also hit back at trolls who commented on her looks in the new movie, joking that it hurt “all three of my feelings.”  Carrie Fisher was an advocate for women, and she gave so much of her life and talent to that character, seeing her develop from a princess, a prisoner, and a slave into a general and the leader of the resistance to galactic tyranny.  You would have a hard time convincing me, after investing all of those years into that character, that she wouldn’t want the character to get the ending she so deserves.

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I’m sure I’ll see the movie anyway; like I said, I’m not invested enough in this particular franchise to give into the throes of full on nerd rage.  But let’s hope that as this story closes and Disney and Lucasfilm delve deeper into the Star Wars universe, into characters and locations and stories not related to the core films, that they finally find some decent female characters and give them some dynamic and fully realized stories to play.  If not, I at least hope they make that fan theory about Jar Jar Binks being an undercover Sith Lord come true.  Now that’s a character tribute I can really get behind.

And let the nerd rage commence…

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