I think Star Wars fans, at their best, are pretty big on gender equality in their fiction. Episodes IV-VI of the Star Wars Saga were a product of their day. But even for being extremely unrepresentative of gender representation in general, Princess Leia is a pretty great hero and she inspired generations of young women to take the initiative when called upon.
Sadly, Star Wars Episode II is the only film to actually pass the Bechdel test. One of out six films is not exactly something for Star Wars to be proud of. It appears Star Wars Episode VII is heading in a direction which represents the galaxy as more than a boy’s club, or a universe where mainly boys do the things that matter in it. Star Wars: The Clone Wars often featured many strong women, talking to one another, interacting, and it often had nothing to do with a male.
I am not completely enamored with our collective Star Wars community, however. I have often observed that Star Wars fans love to toss out the Mary Sue trope onto Ahsoka Tano, for instance. I mainly feel this is undeserved because when a teenage boy like Anakin Skywalker does the things Ahsoka does, no one questions it. Do we even have a cute trope named for when a kid like Harry Potter does something “over powered?”
Most of these ideals are probably a hold over from our old examples we still cling to. Even though Padmé Amidala does loads of heroic things in the feature films (I even argue she’s the protagonist of The Phantom Menace), some of the fan base prefers to associate the hero with her “queen” or “senator” occupation first and foremost. Recently when Princess Leia flew an X-Wing fighter in Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic series, some fans went all Rush Limbaugh, practically declaring the Femi-Nazis had hijacked their favorite franchise.
I was delighted to hear Greg Weisman words on the new cast of Star Wars Rebels:
“We have two strong female leads in the show among our set of characters and we think they are going to be fan favorites very quickly. That’s always been a personal priority for me in all the work I’ve done, to have a strong and diverse cast of characters, both in terms of gender and race.”
It makes me happy to think that my son will grow up with a Star Wars that has achieved a better take on gender equality. It won’t even be an issue to him if Princess Leia flies an X-Wing. She did that in the comics lots of times. Ahsoka Tano won’t appear to be too powerful for a girl because Star Wars Rebels and the sequel trilogy will have already given him so many powerful women in the franchise, it won’t even be questionable to him. Star Wars being a “boy’s club” is on the verge of erasure and that’s a great thing.
If Star Wars is indeed our new myth, or our culture and society’s way of dealing with our anxieties, hopes, and dreams, it is really important to have gender equality in that fantasy and in those visions regarding how we make sense of our world. If we actively fantasize of cultures, spaces, and places that have not regulated one’s abilities based on gender, it makes it possible for our culture and society to do the same. It just seems healthy to me.
From my perspective, when I put on something for my son to watch one day, there will be a transferring of values in that interaction he has with that media. I am responsible for my son growing up with a healthy set of values. It makes me happier to know Star Wars is treating gender and race responsibly. At the end of the day, we all want to see lightsabers, spaceships, explosions, good versus evil, and romance. But it is so much more comforting to know Star Wars is not maintaining an order of inequality. If every myth does a little cultural maintenance, we know the Star Wars myth is working for the progressive good, instead of maintaing the old status quo.
Edit: Our pals at Eleven-ThirtyEight dropped some hard facts about gender inequality in the entire Star Wars Saga:
— Eleven-ThirtyEight (@eleventhirtyate) December 5, 2013
That number speaks for itself, I think.