Girl Power

Star Wars’ female characterization improved, still lacks diversity

Star Wars has a huge popular culture relevance, and it has evolved over the years to make room for new generations and new fans. This can also be reflected in the female characters. Nearly everybody can recognize Princess Leia, often based on her earlier depiction in scant clothing, as a damsel in distress. Other female characters face similar treatment, even if they are not remembered quite as well. Female characters are given unnecessarily tight clothing which does not necessarily aid them in the sequences that they perform, but is evidently catered to the male gaze.

Another fixation is the low number of actual female characters portrayed in the films. Even if the female characters are visible in the background they are not given the amount of screen time that male characters are allotted. There are many male characters, all with varying shades and characterization, while the same diversity is not visible in the female characters. Even most of the non-human characters are males. The female characters are often either side characters or extras that say a few lines for the sake of the screenplay, without actual development. Even Princess Leia, who gets more screen time, is not explored as a complex character, especially in the original Star Wars movie, “A New Hope.”

Despite these flaws, it is important to address the ultimately dual nature of female characterization in the Star Wars’ movies, specifically ones. Although Princess Leia is not explored much initially, she eventually becomes a defining character of the series, even in the original movies. Princess Leia takes control of her narrative and does not simply remain a damsel in distress, but rather a forefront fighter of the opposition forces. Moreover, Rey Skywalker, one of the few female characters in the sequel movies, does not apply to beauty stereotypes and comes across as a powerful character, dispelling certain myths about the traditional roles of women. This does not diminish the necessity for better characterization in all aspects, especially in regard to varied female characters, who are ridden with the male gaze. However, it does raise the bar, which is already so far below, slightly higher, especially for the time of these older movies. 

Moreover, Rey eventually becomes the protagonist of the sequel Star Wars trilogy, finally allowing a female character a platform. The newer Star Wars series showcase a variety of women in forefront roles, with Princess Leia as a veteran leading the charge. Yet, women of color still do not get many lines. There are still so many changes that need to be made. Even now, there are fans that make misogynistic comments regarding the representation of women in what they consider to be their series, but if there is a lack in nuanced perspectives with diverse casting of women, then Star Wars will lose it’s narrative growth and relevance to a wider world, as reflected in this galactic universe.