Star Wars: The force awakens the feminists

Feminism has finally made itself known in deepest space - Anthea McTeirnan charts the bad-ass women of Star Wars


Goddess knows we’re as super exited as the next Wookiee that new Star Wars offering The Force Awakens is ready to conquer a galaxy far, far away (and all nearer planets), but that doesn’t mean we are going to forget the space series’ dude-bias.

You can’t rewrite movie history, we know, but not even celluloid legends like George Lucas can rely on absolution for gender crimes.

The original trilogy ran for 379 minutes, and apart from Princess Leia, women had 1.03 minutes of speaking time. The prequel trilogy didn’t fare much better.

Is that because women don’t talk much or because there aren’t many of them in the six episodes of Star Wars?

We know that feminism has finally made itself known in deepest space and one of the lead characters in the new movie – Rey – is a woman. What’s more she’s an awesome woman who can fix broken spaceship engines and is never rescued by a man – not even once. Sorry Leia.

Princess Leia

‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ is a slogan used by the GAA (that’s the Gaelic Athletic Association, not the Galactic Athletic Alliance). Well you can sure see Leia – especially in that ridiculous metal bikini she was forced to wear when she was tied up by dribbling slave-herder Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi.

Fisher hated the famed metal garment. “When I laid down, the metal bikini stayed up,” she once said. “So Boba Fett could see all the way to Florida.”

The bikini has its own Wikipedia page. Which says it all, really. Leia only wears it on screen for three minutes, but that did the damage. Let’s move swiftly on.

Actually, maybe the bikini-ing of Leia makes the fact that she is now General Leia in the new movie even more delectable. Maybe if you look far enough into the future - and move to another planet - there won’t be any glass ceilings.

Leia is the woman character we all wanted to be. Brave, clever, kick ass. And Carrie Fisher is the actress we all wanted to be (minus the drug-induced years).

More than two dozen actresses auditioned for the role, so we could have been pretending to be Farrah Fawcett, Glenn Close, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Cybill Shepherd, Jane Seymour, Anjelica Huston, Kim Basinger, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis….

Leia’s breasts were taped down with gaffer tape. “We all know, there is no underwear in space,” Fisher would quip. All this makes you hope the General has something stout and comfortable on under her new jacket.

Apparently, Princess Leia’s role in Episodes 4, 5 and 6 was heavily promoted to attract women viewers. Initial research from 20th Century Fox showed that only males under 25 were interested in seeing the film. Fox then deliberately marketed the film with a view to attracting older and female cinemagoers by pushing images of humans, including Princess Leia, centre stage.

Well it worked for me. May the force be with her – always.

Padmé Amidala 

Child queen, angry senator, mother, vessel …. Call her what you like, but Natalie Portman’s character lit up Episodes 1 to 3.  Mainly because she was our only hope.

Princess of Theed and later Queen of Naboo. (Yes, we all know women can be heads of state. We’ve had two Marys ourselves, thank you very much, although neither got a crown to keep). After her reign, she becomes a senator in the galactic senate. Which she wouldn’t have done if she’d contested a seat in the Irish parliament.

She is the secret wife of Anakin Skywalker and the mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa. Yes twins. Go Padme. And not a bikini or a fertility drug in sight.


The force has awakened. Rumour has it that the new Star Wars movie even passes the Bechdel test, that tricksy algorithm that demands that a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Unfortunately it specifies a “man” – Ewoks, Wookies and droids are not the creatures you’re looking for, which may be a little unfair on science fiction.

No one mentions Rey’s physical appearance and she manages to steer clear of bikinis, in fact she gets to wear a rather sporty little number with a cross-over neckline that pays homage to Luke Skywalker’s original.  Light sabre-tastic.

As for Rey herself, Carrie “Princess Leia” Fisher predicts romance is on the cards. “I’m looking forward to your space kiss,” she told Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey. “You’re going to have to have one. Every girl does.”  Maybe this girl won’t.

Director JJ Abrams said recently that Star Wars was always “a boys’ thing and a movie that dads take their sons to.”

“I was really hoping that this could be a movie that mothers can take their daughters to as well. So I’m looking forward to kids seeing this movie and to seeing themselves in it, and seeing that they’re capable of doing what they could never imagine was possible.”

Let’s hope Ray is up for doing the impossible. It sounds like she is.

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