Star Wars between Misogyny and Radical Feminism

Star Wars is more than just cinema. Beyond technological feats, lightsaber fights and the often promoted marketing venture, the saga created in the late 1970s by George Lucas conveys values and messages that reflect social, political, and even religious concerns. One of the concerns that Star Wars raised in the original saga is gender inequality.

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Since Star Wars was created to portray the masculine hero’s journey, illustrated in Josef Campbell’s Hero Of a Thousand Faces, women suffered from gender inequality in the original and the second trilogy where the speaking of two major female roles was reduced to few lines, and the secondary roles were totally silenced. Ann Larabee, a professor in Michigan State University, said, One of the oft-noted limitations of Hero of a Thousand Faces is that it focuses on male heroes, as regected in its subsequent adaptations (7). In addition, Padmé and Leia were periodically put in their stereotypic picture as emotional beings often invaded by their internal impulses. In contrast, in the recent trilogy, Rey has become a model for little girls. To make an unknown young woman the star of a Hollywood movie was one thing. To give her the keys to the most popular saga of all time was another.

Because after the death of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, it is now on the shoulders of this character that rests the future of this space opera. This heroine clearly does not need men to fulfill her destiny and forge, with a little assistance, a better world for her galactic contemporaries. However, some critics are expressing concern about the aggressive and vengeful feminism that might damage the heroic journey of the hero as a concept. Star Wars might fall between two extremes, the lake of women representation in the original saga and the promotion of aggressive feminist movements in the recent releases. There is an obvious gender inequality in the first trilogy of Star Wars. The two major roles entrusted to women are those of Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher in the first saga, and Padmé Amidala played by Natalie Portman in the 1999, 2002 and 2005 saga. Both characters have marked the trilogy by their strong personalities and their ability to fight. Intelligent, funny, necessary to the story, however, these women are all, inevitably, reduced to their feminine stereotypic nature.

The Princess Leia, member of the rebel Alliance, is being perpetually put in situation of weakness vis-a-vis men, and often brought back in popular culture with her golden bikini (so mythical a bikini that it has today its own Wikipedia page). In addition, Padmé Amidala, passing from politician to lover, then sacrificed mother, she illustrates weakness and fragility. Both equipped with the same abilities as men at the beginning of the story, these two characters fall into roles of stooges to highlight the “real” heroes of Star Wars. Secondary roles, which are also not very present on the screen, are given roles with short time speaking or even portray textless roles. Highlighting the dialogues of female characters in the original trilogy, excluding Princess Leia, concluded that the total running time is only 63 seconds. Considering the original trilogy last 386 minutes altogether, that really isn’t long at all. Amy Blumsom, a researcher at Fremantle Media in the UK stated. Nathalia Holt, an HIV researcher and science writer, said in New York Times newspaper that, Princess Leia who reigned alone in a galaxy of men and her dialogue was less than half than that of the golden droid C-3PO in A New Hope. Gender inequality in Star Wars, in reality, reflected a common habit in Hollywood that doubts in women’s capability to lead and complete the hero’s journey as Leia and Padmé have revealed.

These characters, throughout the first six episodes, are typically feminine and often associated with the stereotypes of the roles of women in society. Leia becomes an example of a submission to the man as she was kept slave of Jabba the Hut. By creating this new phase of Leia’s story, the audience faces, again, the classic inequality that promotes the devaluation of women against men and the reduction of their state to sexualization. The woman is represented in submission rather than in emancipation. Padmé, a more woman of power, creates her own loss because of the man she loves. This woman is victim of her feelings, blindly follows love by abandoning her status for a role of woman and mother that will eventually cause her loss. The woman is depicted as an entity full of emotions, not in a good harmony with reason. The first six episodes of Star Wars, as it granted just few dialogues to female secondary characters, represents in a certain way the absence of right to speak. Woman are reduced to silence. In contrast, the third trilogy is re-making the history of Star Wars and women are given more than what they wished for. Since the first revelations of Star Wars: the Force Awakens project in 2014, many media and film critic have asked if there will be more female characters in this new part of Star Wars.

Lately, with the new Disney Star Wars trilogy, which is much more feminist than the original, spectators can see that women have finally emerged from the shackles to take power, and the release of The Last Jedi, confirms this trend. These episodes are written, produced and disseminated in the wake of the second wave of feminism, which advocated the right of women to freely dispose of their bodies and their sexuality. In The Force Awakens, the central character is Rey. The young woman played by Daisy Ridley, piloted the Millennium Falcon as a leader who mastered the techniques of Jedi combat. Again, in Star Wars: Rogue One, it’s a woman who takes the lead role; Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a fearless girl charged by the Rebel Alliance with infiltrating enemy territory. Yes, the presence of women is still limited in Rogue One, but at least they have powerful roles and they are not objectified as Padme or Leia in the original trilogy.

Yet, in The Last Jedi, women continue to prove their strength by conquering all the principal roles; they are the leaders of the rebellion, admiral, mechanic, Jedi or commander. In contrast to these wise and thoughtful women, men are depicted as weak, negative reckless, and willing to destroy everything on their way in order to appear strong and impressive. To illustrate, Robert Barron, an American prelate of the Catholic Church, author, and theologian, said, For her to appear strong, they have to appear weak.(43), and that is exactly what happened in the 2017 Star Wars. In fact, most or maybe all masculine roles in the last episode are negative, hasty, arrogant, or careless. Female characters play the role of stability pillars in The Last Jedi. In other words, male characters are, for the most part, very volatile or at least very unstable. Finn (played by John Boyega) is not sure if he had done the right choice by joining the rebellion forces and even tried to flee and save himself. Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) is a commander in the Resistance’s Starfighter Corps and one of Leia Organa’s most-trusted operatives, however, he does not show any sign of wisdom or trait of a real commander. He tried to hijack the commandership from Amilyn Holdo (played by Laura Daren) in a foolish and selfish attempt to defeat the enemy.

Even Luke does not escape the new classification and lets himself be invaded by his fear of Dark Forces. Robert Barron went far with his critics to the recent release of Star Wars and said, What began as a thrilling exploration of the philosophia perennis has devolved into a vehicle for the latest trendy ideology. Barron accuses the new movie of sacrificing the artistic work in order to go with the flow of feminist movements. Thus, the focus is shifting towards the new trend, not the hero’s spiritual journey. He explains that male characters in The Last Jedi are required to be put down in order to allow females to rise and appear perfect. In fact, Rey appeared to have all power she needs from the beginning.

Competent and brave, she even diminishes the role of Luke and made him appear afraid and in need for support. In the years 70s-80s, when Star Wars saga was born, and when women just started opening the doors to political and military careers, they started having a place in the cinema industry, a place that is not always perfect. In the first trilogy of Star Wars, women were objectified and treated as emotional entities, little by little, they overcome this stereotype. Now women become leaders and fighters; in general, they are powerful without men. They even snatched the lights from men in the cinema as seen in the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi. However, the recent movie has revealed a radical shift from the extreme that is pro men to the opposite extreme that promotes the trending feminist movements exclusively. Will the future of Star Wars bring more in-depth roles for women, roles that depict the spiritual journey of the hero? Or will this wave of feminism continue with new episodes? No one knows the answer until we see a new story of this space opera.

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