The development of female role models in the Star Wars universe
Violence erupts in the Holy City of Jedha. Stormtroopers representing the Imperial War Machine have been ambushed by rebel forces in a coordinated attack masterminded by the extremist Saw Gerrera. Explosions rock the city streets, but the debris, shrapnel and laser fire caused by the conflict do not discriminate in terms of whom they kill.
All around innocent civilians of all races and species are wounded, and many perish. In the middle of it all, a small girl frozen by fear cries for a mother she can’t find. Laser bolts zip by just inches away from her face. Just as it seems she will be another nameless casualty of this endless violence, a young boy watching the fighting from far away points and happily exclaims, “Jyn Erso is going to save her!”
That young boy is three years old, and he is my son.
His name is Dylan, and I am confident that in about two years, his knowledge of Star Wars will exceed my own (and I’ve been immersed in the SWU since 1983). His favorite movies in the saga are Rogue One, The Force Awakens, and Return of the Jedi. He is also a huge fan of the Star Wars Rebels franchise and has seen every episode. What I am most interested in, is the fact that some of his favorite characters are Rey, Princess Leia, Sabine Wren, and the aforementioned Jyn Erso.
As a father, you have many proud moments. Your daughter gets on the honor roll in school. Your son gets his first hit in little league baseball. Oddly enough, one of my proudest moments came a few months ago when I took Dylan shopping for toys. Obviously our first stop — and usually our only stop — was to the Star Wars aisle. Searching for another action figure (because a few hundred just isn’t enough), I always let my kids choose their own toys.
My proud moment came when Dylan passed up no less than five male characters to pick Jyn Erso, and the sheer look of joy when I placed the package in his hands. I looked at him and thought, “My God, that is amazing”, and in writing this I get the same goosebumps as I had that day.
I began to do some introspection as to why I found that simple act so powerful. The fact of the matter I believe is: it shouldn’t be. A little boy choosing a female action figure over her male counterparts because he admires her more should be the norm. Sadly, however, even in 2017 it is not the norm.
In a previous article I wrote entitled “A Hero’s Journey” I discussed how George Lucas gained much of his writing inspiration from famed mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell was a major proponent of matriarchal societies. On numerous occasions he talked about the significance of powerful goddesses such as Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.
Moreover Campbell explained the significance of the philosophy of Gaea, or “Mother Earth.” Whereas Man destroys life, Woman creates life. As all life starts in the womb, the woman was therefore put on a pedestal. Ideas were also seen to start this way, and hence why ancient authors would plead to the muses (also female characters) for inspiration. It should be noted as well that although both Athena and Ares were gods of war, the soldiers and generals chose to worship and plead to Athena because she was the goddess of war and wisdom. Ares on the other hand was not well respected by gods or man because of his arrogance and immaturity.
George Lucas took Campbell’s teachings to heart. They influenced how he created the iconic character of our now beloved Princess Leia. 40 years later Lucasfilm continue to put women at the front and center of the franchise.
The job, however, is far from finished. As I write this, Disney has just announced a new Star Wars project called “Forces of Destiny,” focusing on characters such as Rey, Leia, Jyn and Ahsoka have had on their universe. That is certainly encouraging, but considering some of the anti-feminist backlash that has already occurred because of this announcement, it looks like we still “have a long ride ahead of us.”
Oh great, another feminist article, some may think, and what’s worse from a dude.
I feel I needed to write this short post though; after all, it is because of characters like Ahsoka, Jyn, Sabine, and Hera that my daughters — ages 13 and 10 — have no inhibitions about jumping right into “Jedi versus Sith” in the backyard and not feel weird about it, or not go to school wearing their “I Rebel” t-shirt and be ashamed of it.
It allows my son to feel comfortable opting for the female character in the toy isle.
More importantly it teaches all children that there is nothing in this galaxy that they cannot accomplish if they have the heart and determination to do so.