Where's the female side of the Force in 'Star Wars VII'?

(commentary) Casting news reveals both veteran actors and newcomers. But where are the major female characters besides Princess Leia and actress Daisy Ridley's unannounced role?

princess-leia-1.jpg
Lucasfilm

Is there more to the women of a galaxy far, far away than one leading lady for every five Force- and blaster-wielding men?

It's what I, and some other fans, wondered aloud as official news finally broke from Lucasfilm Tuesday about the cast of the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode VII" film.

Original-trilogy favorites will return, with Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and Kenny Baker as R2-D2. The list of newcomers to the "Star Wars" universe is even more interesting -- "Girls" star Adam Driver, "Inside Llewyn Davis" actor Oscar Isaac, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" actor Domhnall Gleeson, "Lord of the Rings" actor Andy Serkis, the legendary Max von Sydow (of everything from "The Seventh Seal" to "Dune" and "Rush Hour 3"), and John Boyega, who's used to battling aliens from his role as Moses in the hit British sci-fi action comedy "Attack of the Block," will take the jump to lightspeed.

But while the cast list so far is impressive, it's hard not to wonder why only two women were mentioned for major roles in a universe that clearly has many more female characters than just Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia and a-yet-to-be-named role for Daisy Ridley.

Don't get me wrong, Princess Leia is one of the most iconic feminist characters. She led a rebellion against the Empire, sass-talked Tarkin, stood up to Darth Vader, killed Jabba the Hutt while chained to him in a metal bikini, and flirted with a scruffy-looking nerf herder who didn't know what hit him. And we still don't know what major female character is in the stars for newcomer Daisy Ridley.

But that can't be it for major female characters in this brave new "Star Wars" directed and co-authored by filmmaker J.J. Abrams, can it? Sure, we female "Star Wars" fans love any character that's written well, regardless of gender. But we also like to identify with badass women onscreen.

"Excited that it feels REAL, and disappointed that there's only one new woman at the table," fan Maria Selke tweeted.

Added another fan, Marlies Benter: "Love the new cast. But maybe some more women?!"

When I first saw "Star Wars" as a little girl growing up in Kansas in the '70s, I may have empathized with Luke Skywalker being stuck on a farm, but Princess Leia was my role model. She showed me that women can pick up a blaster and shoot at stormtroopers just like the fellas. She didn't care what others thought of her and her ideas. She rescued the guys more than they rescued her. She was no damsel in distress.

Even the Ewoks didn't try to make Leia into their next meal -- the same can't be said about a certain Han "Hot Pocket" Solo who was almost roasted on an open fire on Endor.

So, speaking as the kind of geek girl who would dress up as Princess Leia for school pictures, I'm thrilled Carrie Fisher is reprising her role as a strong, female leader. But who else are we missing? What about a main female baddie like we had with Asajj Ventress and Aurra Sing in "The Clone Wars"? Or perhaps a few more prominent female Jedi Masters?

Annalee Newitz, author and io9.com editor, also found the lack of ladies a bit shocking.

"Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)? Mythic tales are supposed to open up possibilities, not shut them down," she writes in her article "Hey, 'Star Wars' -- Where the Hell Are the Women?" "Myths are powerful things, because we learn who we are by telling stories. When are we going to let little girls and kids of diverse races have fantasies as powerful as those given to white boys? When?"

She has a point. While the "Star Wars" original-trilogy films may have had only Princess Leia and Mon Mothma holding their own as major female characters among a few Jabba slave girls and alien extras, the "Star Wars" prequels added quite a few prominent female characters to the mix with Padmé Amidala, Jocasta, Shmi Skywalker, Zam Wesell, Aayla Secura, and Dormé -- as well as all the female Jedi and senators.

In the "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" animated series, we were treated to a main female character, Ahsoka Tano, as well as the dominant female villains of Asajj Ventress and Aurra Sing. This list of female characters gets even longer with Barriss Offee, Shaak Ti, Mother Talzin, Ione Marcy, and even Mama the Hutt.

While no outsiders have an idea of what the new story will look like and how it will unfold, Lucasfilm and Disney both have to sign off on it. Which raises the question -- what role will female fans themselves play when this upcoming movie is marketed to the next generation of lightsaber-swirling youngsters? Will little girls have their female "Star Wars" characters to look up to like they did with Ahsoka in "The Clone Wars" or will Princess Leia and Daisy's unknown character have to do? It's not like we still have to prove that little girls like superheroes and sci-fi too, do we?

"The Guild" and "Supernatural" actress Felicia Day also chimed in on Twitter about the lack of female characters in "Star Wars" and most likely many sci-fi and comic book movies about to hit the big screen over the next few years.

"Let's make more women writers and directors so we don't have to be upset there aren't more women parts written in big movies, OK?"

OK!

"Star Wars: Episode VII" is scheduled for release on December 18, 2015.

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Female Jedi Ahsoka Tano wielded a lightsaber and kept Anakin Skywalker on his toes in the animated series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Lucasfilm

 

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