About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post for EUCantina in which I analyzed the roles of women in the Expanded Universe, specifically in the post-Return of the Jedi era. The article was inspired by the cancellation of “Mandorla”, the Alex Irvine novel about Nomi Sunrider, from the Tales of the Jedi comics. I’d been wanting a book about Nomi for awhile, and was really disappointed to see it cancelled. And the disappointment stung on more than just a level of “I was really looking forward to that book.”
And then my brain began to turn. As far as I can recall, “Mandorla” was the only novel in recent memory to be focused on a female protagonist. We’ve had “Han” novels, “Bane” novels, “Revan” novels; where are the “Jaina” and “Padme” and “Leia” novels? Why cancel a novel that had a chance to expand on a strong female lead?
The article was generally well received, with a few exceptions, mostly from people claiming that the EU was already filled with lots of female characters. While that may have been true, the point of the article remained:
“But Star Wars has many female leads,” you might say. To which I reply: “but none are allowed to lead.”
The original article has since been lost to the internet ether, but I had my own draft copy elsewhere. With San Diego Comic Con happening and in anticipation of the Star Wars Books panel, I recently skimmed the article with the intention of reposting it here on Tosche Station for posterity’s sake. But as I kept reading, I realized something: in less than 18 months, Del Rey and LucasBooks has addressed nearly all of my major complaints in the article. And I knew I’d be remiss if I didn’t revisit the article and say THANK YOU.
SWORD OF THE JEDI
In the article, I praised Lucasfilm for utilizing female characters in The Clone Wars animated series, as an example of Lucasfilm obviously caring about gender diversity.
Utilizing female characters is not about filling some sort of vague quota. It’s not the quantity, but the quality of the characters that counts. In The Clone Wars animated series, Lucasfilm made a concerted effort to appeal to young girls by creating the character of Ahsoka Tano. Other female characters, such as Padme and Asajj Ventress, are given a lot of focus. I think this is great! Obviously Lucasfilm knows that girls like Star Wars. And it’s not just the girls who like Ahsoka. She’s a cool character to boys, too, regardless of gender.
I went on to discuss women in the Expanded Universe, and my disappointment in their roles and character development in the megaseries format.
In ensemble cast series, such as Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi, women have been stuffed in refrigerators, made horrible decisions, or been pushed to the side in favor of the male protagonists only to be brought in at the very end.
The most egregious of these examples were Mara Jade Skywalker (killed to further the character development of Luke, Ben, and Jacen), Lumiya (killed to push Jacen into his role of Caedus and also to sideline Luke for the big duel), Tahiri Veila (skirting the Dark Side 13 years after Anakin Solo died), and Jaina Solo (not utilized as the main female protagonist during LotF, too much focus on her love interests, only finally becoming a Master in Apocalypse). I went on to say:
Jaina hasn’t been the main focus of a book since Dark Journey in the NJO series. I think it’s high time for a Jaina book, with or without Jag. If the Legacy era goes where we’re all expecting, she has lots of stories to tell.
When I got to that point in the article, I smiled. Because at Celebration VI, Del Rey and LucasBooks did in fact announce Sword of the Jedi, a trilogy featuring Jaina Solo as the main protagonist. Heck, the concept art even got its own limited edition t-shirt by Her Universe. While the status of the trilogy has been in question since the Disney sale and the announcement of the Sequel Trilogy, it doesn’t change the intent behind this decision. If the series is cancelled, I will not begrudge Del Rey or LucasBooks. They listened to the fans and green-lit this series. For that, I have to say THANK YOU.
THE PRINCESS GETS HER DUE
Leia is the female character most people think of when they think of Star Wars. She’s great. She’s so great people think we don’t need any female characters other than her. But she hasn’t always been great. I broached my disappointment with Leia’s characterization in the Legacy era.
But now Leia has become a carbon copy of all the other Jedi in the Legacy era. The thing that made her unique and interesting—her flail for politics—is gone. The worst thing to happen to Leia Organa Solo’s character was her becoming a Jedi. Sure, she’s brought in to negotiate with Daala, but why isn’t that her permanent job? Why isn’t she a senator, or spokesperson for the Jedi Order, or even a member of the Jedi Council? Being solely a Jedi takes away what makes Leia Leia.
While that hasn’t changed as of Apocalypse and Crucible, I did get one of my wishes.
And, as with Jaina, I have to wonder about the lack of “Leia” books. All the girls who love Ahsoka would love to read about young Princess Leia in the senate. Heck, I would love to read a book like that. We’ve had two trilogies about Han Solo’s backstory but none about Senator Leia Organa?
It’s not a book about Senator Leia Organa, but we are getting Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge, by Martha Wells, on September 24–set before The Empire Strikes Back in which Leia is a leader of the Rebellion. I’ll take it.
(Leia also features prominently in Brian Wood’s Star Wars comic, set after A New Hope, and will be a part of the Luke and Han Empire and Rebellion novels.)
TO BOLDLY GO
Leia and Jaina aren’t the only female characters getting attention. While we lost “Mandorla,” we gained Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon, featuring Lanoree Brock as the main protagonist. I haven’t read this book yet, but staff writer Bria gave it a good review, and praised Lanoree’s lack of a love interest as being a breath of fresh air. We also got a new Legacy comic featuring Ania Solo as the main character. We all know my stance on comics, but it’s great to see another female protagonist getting page time. Novels like Mercy Kill and Scoundrels featured a wide array of female characters, and although none of them filled a starring role, Bhindi Drayson was assigned as Wraith Leader. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Knight Errant, which I overlooked in my last article due to focusing on the post-RotJ era, or the upcoming Kenobi, which does a great job with its female characters.
We still don’t have the Padme book I asked for, and I’m not expecting that to change any time soon with the renewed focus on the Sequel Trilogy, as well as Star Wars Rebels. Which brings up a different point: Rebels is another great opportunity to introduce and expand on well-rounded female characters to the Star Wars audience. Along with characters like Leia, Mon Mothma, and maybe even Mara Jade or Winter, imagine if Lucasfilm created another female protagonist like they did with Ahsoka Tano. (And not only is Ahsoka female, but she’s also an alien.) We’ve also got the Sequel Trilogy to look forward to, and standalone films. It’s no surprise I would love to see more than one well-rounded female protagonist in Episode VII (and one who doesn’t die immediately after her twins were born). Why must we be limited to one female main character per trilogy?
That’s not to say things are perfect. There is always room for improvement, and the reactions of people to recent calls for diversity are eye-opening and disheartening. But we’re getting there. Women are now leading books on a regular basis and nobody bats an eye. Many people are pulling for a female lead in the Sequel Trilogy. It’s not just in Star Wars: last night at Comic Con, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith stated he’d like to see the Doctor regenerate as a woman.
We’ve come so very far. Let’s not go back.