It’s not uncommon among the Star Wars fandom on tumblr to find some pretty awesome gifsets made by some pretty talented people. It is also unfortunately not uncommon to find a tag on any of these gifsets saying something along the lines of:
“I didn’t like this character at first because they were so annoying/just a love interest/fought with [male character]/so on and so forth.”
If you’re nodding along to that and thinking that yeah, maybe that’s a reasonable line of thinking, I want you to stop and reconsider. You’re thinking of a female character, right? Any male characters that you hate spring to mind for any of those reasons?
I’m guessing that the answer to that is no. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea of the Mary-Sue. You know, the kind of female character that is basically perfect, has a tragic backstory, has men falling in love with her left and right, etc., etc. The kind of character that you come across in fanfiction and just heave a sigh because, there the girls go again. Like, how dare the girls get their wish fulfillment in fiction too?
If you hate the Mary-Sue, I sure hope you hate Batman. What is he, if not a male’s version of a Mary-Sue? The difference there is that in fiction men get their ideal selves and women get a man’s ideal image of herself. That’s the norm. It’s what we grow up with and it’s what is forced down our throats every day. We are not allowed to see an unfiltered view of what we, as women, would ideally want to be.
So we have Satine. I’m not in any way saying she’s a Mary-Sue type of character, because she’s absolutely not. I will say, however, that Satine is largely why I originally started watching The Clone Wars. Both her and Qui-Gon, if I’m honest. The idea of Obi-Wan having a love interest didn’t completely mesh all that well with me because I’m very much in love with the idea of a character that sticks so firmly to their beliefs that they would even forego love for another human, but I was extremely curious about any woman that Obi-Wan could (and would) fall for. She would have to be magnificent.
And my gosh was she. I loved her from the moment she stepped onscreen. Duchess? Of Mandalore of all places! At the time I started watching the show, I wasn’t too hip with the Expanded Universe, but I did know of Mandalore. Now I know there are a million differing opinions on the treatment of Mandalore in The Clone Wars, and I admit I don’t have much of an opinion on it myself. However, Mandalore existing as a pacifist planet during that era lead to Satine existing, and she was glorious.
Now, okay, I admit my biases were kicking in pretty hard. I love pacifist characters. I love strong political women. I love women with a great fashion sense. I love women, full stop. But, come on, you cannot watch Satine’s first episode and then say she was there to just be a love interest. That is absolutely not what she’s there for, and I can only get the sense that you’d think that if you only spent the episode stewing over hatred for a female character that never slighted you.
Did she and Kenobi harbour romantic feelings for each other? Absolutely — this is no secret at any point throughout any episode she is mentioned. However, this does not mean that Satine ever acts as a passive woman, even when first appearing. She’s not afraid to argue with Obi-Wan to defend her own people, but readily admit when she’s wrong. Satine is her own three-dimensional character, who doesn’t need Obi-Wan to exist within the universe. To hate her just because of her interactions with him is pointless and –in my opinion — completely ridiculous. Satine was never once the cause for Obi-Wan to forsake his morals and the code he lived his life by. Any characterisation he gained from interactions with Satine were only there to further his existence as a through-and-through jedi and a complete snark.
Satine isn’t the only woman who gets this treatment throughout The Clone Wars. The ol’ “I hated her at first but grew to love her.” Steela Gerrera, Ahsoka Tano, even Padmé are all characters I’ve seen spoken about in such a way. Note that everyone grows to love them, which means the characters are pretty obviously great characters. But this way of thinking needs to stop. The initial response that a female character must be in the wrong for somehow acting against another character (usually a man). Ahsoka because of her headstrong approach to missions that is very similar to Anakin’s, who does not get the same negative reactions from first-time viewers as his padawan. Steela because of her romantic conflict with Ahsoka, a conflict that is nobody’s fault within the series except a hormonal teenage boy stuck in the middle of a warzone. This conflict exists for Ahsoka’s character growth, and even she doesn’t hate Steela, unlike some fans I’ve spotted. I could honestly go on forever about Steela, who is also an amazing character, but I’ll leave that for another day.
My point is we need to change how a fan’s gut instinct is to hate the girl first, until she’s somehow proven worthy. It’s not even something most people realise they feel, but it’s such a common view to see anywhere these characters are discussed. Never have I ever seen anyone mention how they absolutely could not stand Rex at the start of the series. Saw was never hated as much as his sister, despite being quite a jerk about the whole leader situation. Obi-Wan was never torn down for falling in love with Satine, because obviously it’s the woman’s fault, right?
I’d argue that this is partly because we’re raised in a society with the view that men are the default and any women in fiction are extra, which leads to any male character practically getting a free pass. Look at Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He murdered hundreds, destroyed a big chunk of NYC, lied to his brother, and yet a large part of the Marvel fandom excuses him because of his “tragic backstory” and because “he just needs a hug.”
Contrast this opinion with the Game of Thrones fans’ opinions of Sansa Stark. A young teenager who has most of her family murdered by the very family she is supposed to marry into. Her inaction is understandable given her situation, and yet she gets so much more hatred and ire from fans than Loki would ever get. It’s not hard to see similar situations with many female characters who would not get anywhere near as much dislike if they happened to be cis men.
It’s an attitude that needs to be examined, and one that needs to be changed. Only by becoming aware of our feelings towards these characters and finding the motivation (if any) for these feelings can we remove the initial reaction that a female character is terrible until proven great. Have faith in the women and the girls that we see in our fiction: our jedi girls, our duchesses, our rebel leaders. Together we can protect Satine, Steela, Ahsoka, and others of their kind.