Remember back before the Internet? When claims of sexism in every movie, television show, and book had to be presented to you in person instead of popping up at random on your timeline or dashboard? I was scrolling Tumblr this afternoon and came across a post that began with Princess Leia in her slave costume at Jabba’s Palace. Added to the image were a variety of suggestions that come up if you type: “Princess Leia is” into Google. When the original poster typed the phrase in they were given suggestions such as “Princess Leia is hot” and “Princess Leia slave costume.”
When I typed the same phrase in my results were “Princess Leia is Luke’s sister” and “is senator for which planet.” The same was done for Padme and Oola the Twi’lek dancer for Jabba. Along with the post was this video, “Why Star Wars is Secretly Terrifying for Women” featuring a group talking about the issue of sexism in the original trilogy.
We’ll skip over the glaring irony that this video features three men and only one woman having this debate. The main argument seems to be that girls were only given one solid role model. They accuse George Lucas of wanting a “phallocracy,” where only men rule, and according to the definition I found, considers males to be superior. Though the women are few, they were smart and trying to change the government as it stood. Leia wielded a blaster better than a man, actually hitting her targets unlike the Stormtroopers. In the new trilogy, Padme was a senator, in addition to other female senators, bodyguards, pilots, and Jedi. The downfall of the empire in the new trilogy came when Padme went into hiding, because her power mad husband was turning to the dark side and she had children to protect, and her seat was left to Jar Jar Binks who was weak minded and swayed by Palpatine.
And let’s discuss the suggested male superiority in these films. Luke was whiney, super whiney and at times a bit petty (not so cocky once you realize it was your sister kissing you) and Han was a scruffy looking nerf hearder… I mean he was a gambler, thief, assumed womanizer. What of the men who ran the galaxy? They had Palpatine who was a power mad, megalomaniacal dictator that played the senate until they gave him the emperorship. Then there was Darth Vader, possibly the worst case of child abuse ever. Cut off his son’s hand, tortured his daughter in the name of tracking down the stolen Death Star plans, froze his daughter’s boyfriend in carbonite, and killed his former mentor. These are flawed characters; they aren’t put on pedestals because they’re perfect males. Multiple generations admire and idolize their characters of choice because their flaws make them realistic and relatable despite being in a galaxy far far away.
The debate, or rather unified agreement that didn’t allow for any other points of view, made a choice to ignore the expanded galaxy books. Books that I read as a young girl, I devoured these amazing works, not only did they carry out stories that built on the established canon but also took on the role of introducing a bevy of amazing female characters. Most notably Mara Jade, the future Mrs. Skywalker, a strong woman with a less than rosy past. To discount these books from the argument is a conscious decision to narrow the debate. Of course there weren’t a lot of female character in the original trilogy. The first three films were made between 1977 and 1983. Written by a man, based on the stories he enjoyed as a young boy, not as a young girl. It’s a heavy accusation to say, “George Lucas is sexist.” I’ll point you in the direction of Indiana Jones before you carry on with that claim. He consistently creates badass women, now they don’t encompass a large part of the cast, but they tend to be one of, if not the smartest in the room and are capable of evil and violence just like the men are.
I occasionally see posts like this pop up, people complaining that their daughters watched the trilogy for the first time and precociously asked, “Why aren’t there more girls?” These narratives always end with the parent having a lengthy conversation about sexism with their young children. It makes me think of the first time I saw the original trilogy and just how much has changed since then. It was during the 1997 rerelease to theatres, a magical summer in which I was introduced to the films. The first thing I asked my dad when A New Hope finished was “when can we see the next one?” I spent years, literal years, wanting nothing more than to be Princess Leia and not sexy Leia, but New Hope Leia. I wrapped myself up in a white bed sheet, pinned my hair up in buns, and ran around with the green lightsaber I saved my chore money all summer to buy. I didn’t need any more characters beyond Princess Leia. She was awesome, she knew better than to fire a shot off in the garbage compactor, killed Jabba using the chain he had put on her to keep her a slave, and she helped to destroy the empire and save the galaxy. Girls could do worse for role models. In fact, in 2014, they are doing worse for role models. I’d rather one solid female character to look up to than a gaggle of so-so pop stars who can’t keep their clothes on. Let’s cool it with the ‘isms’ and just enjoy the movie.