An Observation About Women Who Speak in Star Wars

Last night, while getting ready for bed, Brian and I were talking about Star Wars. Big surprise, the conversation centered around the casting announcement. We speculated who the actors were playing, I squeed over Luke Skywalker, we joked about Carrie Fisher mentoring young Daisy Ridley about how Star Wars is about to ruin her life. It was grand.

We also discussed why there are only two females in the (presumably) main cast. We’ve been hearing that there may be a female role that’s yet to be cast, but that remains to be seen. Either way, the representation of women around that table is very poor. And it got me thinking about the women we see in Star Wars. More importantly, about the women we hear in Star Wars.

So I began to list all the women with speaking roles in the live action films, not counting feminine droids. And it was kind of infuriating.

Here’s what I came up with:

A NEW HOPE:

  • Leia
  • Aunt Beru

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

  • Leia
  • Tonyn Farr (the ion cannon control woman – I had to look up her name, I’m a bad fan)

RETURN OF THE JEDI

  • Leia
  • Mon Mothma
  • Oola
  • Sy Snootles (she sings, so I guess that counts)

THE PHANTOM MENACE

  • Transport captain (I am a bad fan and do not know her name and Google didn’t help)
  • Padme/Amidala
  • Sabe (aka Kiera Knightly)
  • Jira (Anakin’s old lady friend)
  • Anakin’s two girl friends (I’m a bad fan and do not know their names but one of them is Katie Lucas do I get my fan points back)
  • Shmi
  • Rabe (the handmaiden who speaks to Anakin on Coruscant)
  • Dinee Ellberger (the lady pilot in Bravo Squadron!)

ATTACK OF THE CLONES

  • Padme
  • Corde (the handmaiden who dies)
  • Dorme (the handmaiden who sees Padme off on Coruscant)
  • Jocasta Nu
  • Queen Jamillia
  • Taun We
  • Shmi
  • Beru (I guess saying “hello” counts)

REVENGE OF THE SITH

  • Padme
  • …And that’s it.

The only woman with a speaking role in Revenge of the Sith is Padme. ONE. ONE WOMAN WITH A SPEAKING ROLE IN A MOVIE THAT’S OVER TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG. And she dies of a broken heart. (Perhaps the deleted scenes might have helped here? Alas…) How had I never realized this before? Was I that blinded by Padme losing the will to live that I didn’t see that there are NO other women who speak in this movie? It’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s no reason for it. Any random male secondary character could have easily been a female with absolutely no change to the plot.

The other movies don’t do that great when it comes to women, either, with only a handful of of them actually having lines. Things seemed to get better in the first two prequels, but crapped out at the end. While there may be a lot of diversity in the background, there’s no denying women are shockingly absent from the main storyline.

And this is why people get angry. Women are seen in these movies, but not heard. It’s kind of disgusting metaphor that sticks right in the heart.

And it’s important we all acknowledge and think about it.

 

(Note: If I’ve missed someone, please let me know. I think one of the Neimoidians on the Invisible Hand might have been female, but it’s hard to tell with their bulky robes and goggles. I genuinely racked my brain trying to think of all the random female background characters who might speak. Perhaps that’s the most telling part?)

16 thoughts on “An Observation About Women Who Speak in Star Wars

  1. Revenge of the Sith is especially irritating given that what was cut involved actual women engaging in actual politics with actual consequences relevant to the dramatic stakes of the film. For all A New Hope suffers from having so few women, Leia is SO COOL and she wields real political and military influence in ways that drive the story and I feel like Star Wars has never again really lived up to how awesome that is.

    • Indeed! I don't particularly think the cut scenes in RotS are very well done, but I wish that subplot had been kept somehow.

  2. To play devils' advocate here, does it make sense in the context of the story for there to be more female, or gay / lesbian / transgender / adult / child / non-human / whatever characters?

    While I can certainly understand why people might wish there were more "insert whatever demographic you'd like here" in the story, is it actually NECESSARY? Does it make sense in terms of the story, and whichever character we're looking at, or is it case of we "must have representivity, so there MUST be XX of this, YY of that, and ZZ of the other"?

    Essentially, is a character a given demographic, of whatever stripe, because it makes sense for them to be so in terms of the STORY, or is it an artificial contrivance in the interest of political correctness rather than advancing the story?

    Inclusiveness, and representivity is all well and good, and admirable, and so forth. But when it is a case of "we MUST have a sassy black character, and we MUST have a spunky female, and we MUST have a campy gay guy, and we MUST have a butch lesbian, and we MUST have a buff surfer guy, and we MUST have a really smart asian guy," and so on? That's just as cliched', and sexist and racist and discriminatory and contrived as the alternative, where it's all male and WASP, with one or two "ethnics" thrown in for good measure. It strikes me that all we're doing is inculcating and reinforcing new and artificial stereotypes in an attempt to step away from the old norms, rather than actually addressing representivity in any meaningful and representative fashion.

    I'm white, heterosexual, and male, and I'm also the "wrong" side of 40. That is naturally going to colour my perceptions and perspective. So please, feel free to express a divergent opinion. Please understand that I'm not attempting to "troll", or express a contentious point of view, merely for the sake of it. Feel free to disagree with me, or have a different opinion, just please be polite in how you tell me you think I'm all kinds of messed up & wrong 🙂

    • Is it necessary? Well if you want to have a long-term franchise that stands the test of time, you need to do things to grow its base. That means reaching out to demos that aren't haven't traditionally been a part of that franchises' base. Given that Disney paid four billion for Star Wars, they probably want it to have a shelf life greater than three more episodic films. Given that, it's imperitive they do these things.

      Additionally, I'd encourage you to read this article. Pay particular attention to arguments three and four.

    • Here's another way to look at it.

      Within the realm of entertainment, the default is White Male. To break that default, you have to go out of your way and critically examine your character archetypes. It's not a matter of needing cliche tropes X, Y, and Z. What needs to be done (and what everyone here and elsewhere is advocating for) is asking whether characters really need to be white males. Is anything lost by changing the characters gender and/or race? If not, you should strongly consider it. And who knows, by changing things up, the story and film can IMPROVE thanks to the added diversity.

      Prime example of this is Alien. Ripley was supposed to be a male character. Can you imagine anyone other than Sigourney Weaver playing that character now?

    • Yes, we must have diversity because we live in a diverse world.

      Also, the characters you listed off are stereotypes and would make a bad story just because of that. Diversity isn't about checklists, it's about reflecting our world. I work in an office with 11 people. 6 are women, 5 are men, 2 are black, 2 are Hispanic. Nobody set out for things to be this way, it's just how the chips fell when it came to hiring people. If I was to write a story that took place in an office in 2014 and everyone was male (or female), would that make sense?

      And we're talking about a franchise set in a fictional galaxy in which 14 year olds can be elected queen, so anything is possible. There's no reason Qui-Gon couldn't have been a woman. Absolutely none.

      Also, playing devil's advocate is never beneficial because we've heard these arguments before thousands of times. They're exactly the arguments we're fighting against. So to hear them from allies or potential allies really just makes us want to throw our head against the desk and say, again?? I'm sorry if that comes across as rude, but I've been arguing with people about this all day and may be a little cranky.

    • "To play devils' advocate here, does it make sense in the context of the story for there to be more female, or gay / lesbian / transgender / adult / child / non-human / whatever characters?"

      Yes, yes it does to address the specifics of this post with women and Star Wars. It comes down to show, don't tell. We know the star wars galaxy is a diverse place. We know that women do frequently hold positions of power and authority. We know there is nothing inherent in the force that makes men more powerful than women with it. We can assume that, like in our world, there is a roughly 1:1 male to female ratio.

      It does not serve our setting, or our story, to have our story inexplicably show only one (or two, or four) woman speaking on events of galactic importance compared to the many many men. Sure a story can just randomly happen to focus upon characters who happen to be men and still be a good story, and societies with unequal gender regard will skew things as well.

      But men and women should be as equal, or more so, in Star Wars as they are in real life. So why are the women in the star wars movies so consistently silent? Why does the good story never happen to have very few men with lines while most of the talking is done by the women?

    • This article is far, far away...from saying we MUST have a sassy/spunky/campy/butch/buff/really smart stereotype. This article is continuing the statement made long, long ago that women shall not be silent.

      Ian, you make a good point about asking if demographic quotas are necessary, and while it isn't a consciously forced quota, THERE IS a very unnecessary demographic pattern, and it is the very thing this article is about. This article isn't really about Star Wars, it's about a very consistent pattern in film and other media. If that pattern wasn't there, I would totally agree with you.

      It DOES NOT make sense in terms of story that so few women speak in Star Wars and the majority of films and other media. This radically unbalanced representation of people does not make sense, & speaking out against patterns like these is not cliched', sexist, racist, or discriminatory.

      We are both men, that is part of our identity, even if it's a small part, and what happens in media affects how people identify us. At the moment, media inculcates and reinforces the idea that both of us have important things to say, but multiple women do not have important things to say. That does not make sense. Imagine if most movie plots didn't need to show men speaking to each other. While that would be weird, it wouldn't hurt quite as much, because our group identity still has a crazy super majority in positions of social/economic/political power, including each branch of national government.

      Some group identities are inescapable for some individuals, but will never affect other individuals. This is not the case for surfers and people over 40. However, for women and black people, these strange patterns in media are a part of an unhealed wound of a part of their identity that they can never separate themselves from. People can escape society's discrimination against "buff surfer guys" by not being surfers, but blacks and women can never escape. The least that filmmakers can do is stop pretending that they don't matter.

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  5. I don't have an issue with the prequels being male focused, because these were Lucas creations. We can argue for years about his film making and story telling. However, it's more apparent in the new film cast, there's no excuse at all. But then Disney appear to be trying to cut female involvement in Star Wars and aim it towards boys and other stuff for girls. Where are the girl friendly leia lines? Why is Ashley Eckstein doing it on her own? Disney should hang their mouse ears in shame. Star Wars is for all not just little boys...

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