Where are the Women?: A Star Wars Story

Warning for Rogue One spoilers.

For how much we commended Lucasfilm on its great strides towards gender diversity since The Force Awakens, I think a lot of us forgot to look more closely at Rogue One until it was already out. Not everyone—god knows I been pointing out the severe lack of women since last year alongside some friends—but enough. After Phasma, Rey, Maz and Leia, and the diverse background characters in The Force Awakens, perhaps it was too easy to become complacent. Too easy to believe that once we’d taken that step forward, it was impossible to fall behind again.

Well, apparently fuckin’ not, because Rogue One barely even tries, if I’m completely honest. The tough-white-brunette-as-lead doesn’t really make up for a distinctive lack of other women anymore—not that it ever should have. As much as Rogue One seemed to want to cling to some Star Wars traditions, the sole-white-female-heroine-among-men is one that should have been thrown right out with the opening crawl (though I remain forever broken-hearted at the lack of the crawl).

Especially when the ancillary material is working more than it ever has to create a diverse galaxy, introducing women like Admiral Rae Sloane, Doctor Aphra, Cienna Ree, Shara Bey, Brand, Sabine Wren, and even more amazing women who veer away from the typical Star Wars films’ leading lady. I would give anything to see any of these women, or women like them, on the big screen, and it’s disappointing to watch Rogue One fail when so many other stories within the universe succeed. Especially because I know Star Wars can do better. Especially because I love Rogue One as much as I do.

Loving something doesn’t mean letting it escape without criticism. We, as fans, want to see Star Wars be the best it can be. Why wouldn’t we want to see the films we adore reach a potential we know they can? It’s why the casting of Emilia Clarke in the upcoming Han film, along with the rumours of Woody Harrelson being cast as Han’s “mentor” disappoints so many of us. The Force Awakens showed us that women can fill more rolls within the universe; Rogue One showed us that an ethnically diverse cast can lead a Star Wars film.

And that is, in part, why it’s so frustrating when each new casting announcement feels as if it’s falling back into what we had prior to TFA. It becomes clear to us that the default is still “white male”, even when so many of the most compelling characters within Star Wars don’t fall under that description. Look how endeared by Finn, Rey and Poe we all were, and continue to be. It’s clear that we don’t need more of the same to continue loving future Star Wars films.

So we return to Rogue One, which has an extremely noticeable lack of women. Why couldn’t any of the Imperials be women? Why weren’t any of the rebels that went to Scarif women? Surely Edwards doesn’t expect us to believe that there are so few women invested in the Rebel cause, that there are no women who would want to redeem themselves of the bad things they’ve done in the name of the cause.

This is where I have to take a brief moment of digression to point out that the ever-amazing Alexander Freed, author of the Rogue One novelization, has gone to great effort to incorporate more gender diversity where he can in the novel, even giving Lyra more importance to the story after her death (ugh).

Which is another big issue with Star Wars as a whole: killing the women, killing the mothers. Before the movie came out, I called that Lyra would be fridged in Rogue One, but I was wrong—she wasn’t even killed for anyone’s pain or story progression. She was a stray side note that needed to be wiped away so the story could continue as needed. Lyra meant nothing to what happened within the film; what does her importance in the novels matter to the casual audience?

The novels, comic, and shows can continue doing as great as they are, and it still won’t ever mean as much if these characters and ideas never make it to the big screen. There are a handful of LGBT (okay, mostly L and G) characters in the ancillary material now, but if you asked a casual audience-goer if there were any gay characters in Star Wars? Their answer would be a negative. Everything may be on equal footing when it comes to canon, but some things will always mean more. The movies will always mean more.

So, it’s disheartening to watch Rogue One and notice how male-dominated the universe feels in that one film. I adore Jyn, and I love Mon Mothma with all my heart, but I’m still left feeling a little empty from it all. This is not the galaxy Star Wars has presented to me over the past two—three?—years in the novels, comics, and shows. This is not the galaxy that so many of us have gotten to know.

I love Star Wars. I love it to a ridiculous degree, as my friends and family would all know. I am so happy with everything authors like Alex Freed, Charles Soule, Claudia Gray, and so many others have done to build a more diverse, more connected universe. I know the people working on these stories really do care—which is why I hope we can, and will, see better in the future. After all, rebellions are built on hope, aren’t they?

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