Warning: this post contains spoilers for Shattered Empire, Lost Stars, Lando, and Moving Target.
Greg Rucka’s 4-part miniseries, Shattered Empire, has come to an end this week. As part of the lead-up to The Force Awakens, the comic had a surprising finale: a truly happy ending for Rebel pilot Shara Bey and her family. It probably says a lot about Star Wars in general that nobody dying is astonishing, but it’s certainly refreshing, especially in Shara’s case.
Being a space opera, Star Wars is no stranger to drama and tragedy, and it has in the past tended to fall into the habit of killing women, especially wives, mothers, and lovers—Padmé Amidala, Shmi Skywalker, Satine Kryze, Asajj Ventress, Mara Jade, and Etain Tur-Mukan, just to name one or two. At times the story genuinely calls for the death, other times it appears unnecessary, but after a while their bodies start to pile up, something that’s hard not to notice when the GFFA has been such a sausage fest.
The entirety of the Shattered Empire miniseries plays with tropes, as well as fans’ experiences with previous comics both Star Wars and otherwise (think Marvel’s Jean Grey and DC’s Alexandra DeWitt). Often referred to as Fridging—a woman dying to further a man’s story and fuel his manpain—the death of women in media, especially comics, has been a recurring issue for a long time. Though it is almost never a deliberate writing decision, Fridging—or “Women in Refrigerators,” a term coined by comics writer Gail Simone—has, quite frankly, given me trust issues.
In the first issue of Shattered Empire, Shara’s husband Kes tells her he wants to find a nice place to settle down, only moments before heading into an Imperial base with Han Solo. Shara makes a joke of how stereotypical the situation is to help alleviate her worry while she waits, a joke that also shows how self-aware the comic is. We’re expected to expect character death. Kes survives, but not without some good tension first.
Many assumed, because of Shara and Kes’ private celebration on Endor, that Poe’s conception occurred in the first issue. This ostensibly gives Shara safety, until the second issue reveals that Poe is already alive and safely with his grandfather. Throughout the third and fourth issues Shara has near death experiences with Leia and Luke respectively, even giving a sacrificial speech to Leia before a last-second rescue by the Rebel fleet. Shara survives her jaunts with the Skywalker twins, and thanks to Luke’s persuasion she leaves the Rebellion, finally free to be with her family without constant fear.
Shara’s survival is part of a broader change in storytelling and the way creators are approaching stories, and though this may not entirely be a conscious change, it’s a much needed one. No doubt this shift has been helped (and even sparked) by backlash, criticism, and raised awareness, but the fact of the matter is that ladies surviving in media needs to be something that occurs naturally, and it seems to be increasingly doing so.
Where the women could die to further stories—some speculated Shara’s death might have fuelled an older Poe’s anger—they instead live on, leading their own stories. Ahsoka survives The Clone Wars, Cienna doesn’t go down with her ship, even Chanath Cha and Kidi live on as side characters in Lando and Moving Target. Shattered Empire is simply the latest in a series of narratives that are slowly populating the GFFA with more diversity, breaking free from the old ways, ways that are the reason people like me have anxiety when it comes to female characters and their survival.
So perhaps the fourth issue ended unexpectedly for some—not that the some are complaining—but maybe one day soon such a finale won’t feel like a rare creature. Either way, Star Wars is taking great steps with diversity in a way it never has before, and I fall in love just a little more with every new story. On to the future, a future filled with amazing characters like Shara!