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Through the Lens of Star Wars, Women Are No Longer the Sidekicks

Instead of just being a sidekick to a male lead role, the main female role of Rey in the newest Star Wars movie Episode VIII, is the main character. This portrays society’s focus on feminism, which has become increasingly popular, with many women in America participating in events such as the Women’s March. Originally, the first female Star Wars lead Princess Leia was seen as a statement about females that was different from other media portrayals of women during this time. She stuck out as bold and strong, new to the world of female characters in the media. The newer character Padmé Amidala further strengthened the appearance of women as powerful, which further lead to Rey’s character portrayal as being even stronger. Through these three characters, Leia, Padmé, and Rey, a change in society’s viewpoint on the roles of females is seen. In the system of the Star Wars movies Episodes I through VIII, the symbols, women of Star Wars movies, namely the newest character Rey, show that society’s viewpoints on the roles of women have changed to not only value strong and independent women, but also to value women as leaders in society who are completely equal to men.

The Star Wars film series has been capturing the attention of the world since the first movie came out in 1977. Throughout the films, I through VIII, and the additional Rogue I, women have played major and lead roles, which have changed in different ways over time. In the original first film, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, the main female lead Princess Leia captured fans attention through her spunky personality and cutting dialogue. She continues her role through Episodes V, VI, and even returns in the newest film Episode VII as an older Leia. Later, in Episode I The Phantom Menace, a new female character is introduced, Leia’s mother, Padmé Amidala. She continues to be the main female character through Episodes I through III. Most recently, Rey was the newest female character introduced to Star Wars, although instead of just a side character, she is the lead character in Episode VII. She will continue to play the role in the upcoming films, through Episode VIII and one more episode after that. These female roles in the Star Wars films change throughout the series in dress, actions, and words.

Princess Leia’s character is always seen only wearing white, at least in the beginning. She has several other outfits, which consist of dresses, pants, and even a bikini at one point when Jabba the Hut captures her. Although she is rescued in the first movie, she also helps with the rescuing. She is portrayed as a fearless leader of their boy band, and she even shoots a gun to help them escape. She later becomes romantically interested in Han Solo, and remains a vital part of their team on their various adventures throughout the film series. As a New York Times author wrote, “Upon her introduction in Episode IV, Leia immediately broke with convention. She was royalty, but not a helpless damsel in distress, and she has become only more confident with each new film.”

Padmé Amidala is the second main female introduced in the Star Wars movies. Her outfits consist of sometimes all-white, pants, and also elaborate outfits, as she is a Queen and Senator of Naboo. Padmé does a lot to help her people; she is very involved with politics, is constantly in danger of assassinations, and fights physically for them. She rebels and secretly marries the Jedi Anakin Skywalker as well. She is continually trying to help bring her people peace, and famously said the lines, “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause.” In the end of Episode III, she dies after being choked to unconsciousness by her husband Anakin, and then gives birth to Luke and Leia.

Star War’s newest Jedi, Rey, is a scavenger who lives alone in the beginning of Episode VII. Her dress is plain and simple, with her hair in funky buns. Despite being a plain nobody, throughout the course of the movie she is drawn to become a major part of the fight for good, and decides in the end to take up Luke’s old light saber and yield it. She is the first main female character in Star Wars to yield a light saber and to have the Force. Although it seems to be that she has a love interest in Finn, the movie leaves the audience hanging at the end about the status of their relationship. The upcoming movie, Episode VIII, will be released in December 2017, and will feature her as the main character.

The first sign in the Star Wars episodes is Princess Leia. Leia is a strong, independent women, showing that a woman doesn’t need to solely rely on a man to accomplish what she wants. Although she is portrayed as a strong female, she also still relies on men to help rescue her and to help her accomplish her plans for good. The fact that she is a princess still shows that society at this time saw women as feminine, and her dress in mostly all-white, and dresses, especially in Episode III, shows her femininity. At this time, women were not  to be portrayed as masculine, and gender roles were more black and white. However, Leia challenges this, because she does have outfits that have pants and she is also not only a princess, but a Rebel Alliance leader. Her signature hair buns are much more than a fashion statement as well. According to George Lucas, “I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico.” Leia’s quirky buns also are similar to a hairstyle worn by Native American women of the Hopi tribe in Arizona. According to an article, “At the turn of the century, the Hopi women were known for resisting colonial rule – and as part of their unique style and resilience, they would wear their hair like this as a sign of their maidenhood.” Therefore, Leia was created as a resilient statement on our society during this time period when the movie was first released, that women were being encouraged to stand up for their rights, to be resilient, and not to sit quietly.

Alongside Leia’s dress and identity is her speech and action that show she was not the typical princess. Typically, princesses don’t do the fighting, and in Episode V, Leia strangles a giant gangster worm named Jabba the Hut. She also is seen throughout the movies shooting a blaster pistol and taking out the bad guys. Usually princesses don’t handle the dirty work, but Leia seems to have full control over her shooting skills and isn’t afraid to get in on the action. Although she fights, just does need to be rescued a few times. In Episode IV, she sends Obi-Wan a message, “Obi-Wan, you’re our only hope,” through R2 D2, a droid. She is still a female character who is dependent on men to save her, even though she does fight. According to Dan Rubey, “Princess Leia, despite her attractive spunkiness and toughness, basically fills the same male-oriented roles. She is the traditional damsel in distress—her capture by Darth Vader begins the film and provides the motivation for Ben Kenobi’s return and Luke’s rescue mission.”

This shows that in 1977, when the first movie with Princess Leia came out, society was still adjusting to stronger females in the media and in reality, and not completely ready for females to be completely independent and equal to men. Romantically, Leia falls in love with Han Solo, the smuggler and scoundrel. Although she tries not to, inevitably she cannot resist him, and even comes to his rescue in Episode V, ironically since a man usually is the one to come to the rescue a female in traditional fairy tales. Princess Leia transforms the old version of princess into a princess who is a fighter, rescuer, yet also still somewhat relies on male figures to help her accomplish her plans.

Padmé Amidala is the next main female role introduced in the Star Wars movies. She is portrayed as strong, yet also feminine through her dress. When she is acting in her roles as Queen and Senator, she wears very intricate outfits complete with headpieces to show her power as a political leader. However, she has another side, the side where she fights physically for her people. In one of the battle scenes, she wears an all-white outfit, perhaps signifying, similarly to Leia’s earlier outfits, a pure princess in the battlefield. Yet, her outfit is not a dress as Leia’s signature all-white outfit was, and has pants instead, showing that she is more take charge and is a leader. She is also showing her midriff, which could show her as more sexualized than Leia. Society wanted more of a woman who was a political leader, yet still one who showed her feminine side through her kind actions and dress.

Throughout Padmé’s role in the movies, she is seen as someone who can take care of herself. In the battle scene in Episode II, when Padmé, Obi-Wan, and Anakin are captured and held in the Geonosian Arena and three beasts are unleashed to kill them Padmé quickly climbs up the pole that she is chained to, while Obi-Wan and Anakin are still trying to figure out what to do. Anakin turns to Obi-Wan, worried about Padmé, and says, “What about Padmé?” Obi-Wan replies, “She seems to be on top of things,” and they both turn to show that while they have been wasting time talking, she has already climbed to the top of her pole. This scene shows that Padmé is already proving that women can be quick thinkers and that they have the potential to be more on top of things than men. Padmé not only fights physically, but she also is a political figure who fights to maintain peace for her people. As Senator, she makes the famous statement, “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause.” This statement shows that she is not only a figurehead, but also that she is smart, and understands politics. In society today, women have become more prominent in politics, particularly in the United States, compared with in the beginning of our country, when women were not included in politics whatsoever.

The newest main female role in the Star Wars movies is Rey. Rey takes on similar traits and attitudes of Leia and Padmé, but also takes on a stronger and more dominant persona than both. Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said about Rey’s character, “Rey is the first woman to truly be at the center of a Star Wars film — after Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker starred in the original trilogy and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker was key to the prequels. Her humor, vulnerability and physical skills ‘will give the movie, as time goes on, an even greater appreciation from female fans around the world.’” Rey’s outfits are much less feminine than Leia or Padmé’s outfits. Rey wears pants, is more covered in all her outfits, and wears neutral, plain colors. These plain and covering outfits show that society today wants a woman who doesn’t need to show off her body or fancy clothes to be a powerful figure.

Another example that upholds the women’s clothing of Star Wars representing society’s viewpoints on female roles is Kathleen Kennedy, the producer of Star Wars Episode VII, and her statement about female heroines in the media. She said to Time.com, “Have you ever Googled female heroines?” She went on to share that usually female heroines were dressed in revealing outfits and tightly fitted outfits as well. She explained that the new character Captain Phasma, who is a human female stormtrooper Captain of the First Order,  wears a silver storm trooper outfit, which covers literally every part of her body including her face. Her face is never even seen on the screen. This supports that Rey’s clothing in the movie is purposeful, that despite traditional female clothing in the media which shows more skin, attempts to be sexy, and feminine, they are making a change to show that women don’t have to be sexualized, and that women in real life don’t have to be defined by their clothing.

Rey’s clothing isn’t the only thing that makes a statement about women in society. Instead of being a sidekick to her male co-star Finn, Rey is the lead role, and Finn is her sidekick. Star Wars has come a long way from the days of Princess Leia, when her dialogue was less than half of C-3PO’s, a sidekick droid, dialogue in Episode IV. When she first meets him, she lays him out flat on his back, and she ends up taking the lead with him following her. Rey’s take-charge attitude shows that society today has changed their perspective on women. Society’s viewpoint is now that women can make things happen, and not only that, but also that women can make a significant impact for the better. Society now views women not as back seat drivers, but now as the person who is behind the wheel.

Rey also is a female Jedi, which is significant because all of the main characters before her were male Jedi. Rey is literally taking the role of a normally male role. In society, the work force has changed, and not only the work force, but also that more women are going to college. Therefore, because of this change, society views women more now than ever of taking the roles of men, versus before when women stayed at home more and had more of a traditional stay-at-home mom role. Rey symbolizes that more women are stepping into roles that used to be traditionally men’s roles, and also making the statement that this is a positive, not a negative. Therefore, Rey takes on a much bigger role than the original female Star Wars lead roles, Princess Leia and Padmé Amidala. Although these female characters show changes in society’s viewpoint on women’s roles, Rey shows the biggest changes of all. She shows that society not only still values strong, independent women, but also that our society today wants women who are political leaders, wants women to be seen beyond how they dress, and wants women to be equal to men in their roles. People want to see women in bigger roles, not only in the Star Wars movies and the media, but also in real life.

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