Our guest today has been here several times before. Most recently she blogged about writing Wise Women Characters, a must-read post if you want to find some fresh ways to show women as strong, without making them fighters. She also invited us to take part in her fabulous SciFi Women Interview series early this year. She is a scholar with a broad background in gender and media. Her extensive research into the depiction of underrepresented characters in the Star Wars universe sparked a whole book: A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars and it’s available from Amazon. Please welcome Natacha Guyot.
[warning]WARNING: This post contains a spoiler for Star Wars: The Force Awakens![/warning]
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS featured the main trio from the original saga trilogy, including Leia Organa. While it made complete sense to include her, seeing an older female SciFi character on screen isn’t common. An older Leia Organa in the new movie was thus a strong choice, and might help attitudes change regarding women characters in films and television. Indeed, the “youth at all cost” can be damaging societally speaking, when on the contrary, people should be embracing all ages for all genders in terms of representation. The fact that backlash occurred against Leia’s older figure shows that there is still room for people to accept something as natural as women aging and still being capable of great professional and personal accomplishments.
Like in her younger days, Leia Organa held a significant position in Episode VII’s narrative and continued to be a leader figure, which was refreshing. Yet, I refuse to say that “General Leia” is better than “Princess Leia” because I believe that both titles had validity in the universe and nobility title, including “princess” shouldn’t diminish a character’s credibility nor should be considered “girly” in a bad way. Leia has inspired many people for years because she was more than a “pretty girl who could shoot a gun”. She was a leader from the start and had great strength beyond her physical resilience.
While the presence of older women isn’t widely spread, including in Star Wars, small roles, some important regardless of limited screen time, have appeared in the Star Wars movies since the very first one, A NEW HOPE, released in 1977. In it, Beru Lars raised her nephew Luke Skywalker. This maternal figure soon gets killed along with her husband, to allow Luke to begin his journey. In RETURN OF THE JEDI, political and Rebellion leader Mon Mothma partakes in a crucial briefing, along with male military counterparts.
The Prequels also included a few older women in supporting or minor roles, mostly mother and Jedi figures. The latter case is Jedi Archivist Jocasta Nu in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Where male elder mentors are included in all trilogies so far with characters such Obi Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker, women are still to occupy such positions. In that, Jocasta Nu, who briefly showed up again in the CLONE WARS series, is an exception.
In THE FORCE AWAKENS, Leia Organa has a multi-faceted representation, which shows actual care to her character from the movie’s script writers. Due to that, she ties all the previously included threads of older female characters in the saga’s films. Her portrayal encompasses both the professional aspect, respecting her as a political leader as a General in the Resistance, and the personal. In the latter case, the narrative gives her space to be a (former) romantic partner with Han Solo, where the relationship still has great depth, no matter the longtime separation. She is also a mother who struggles with what her son has become, but still has undying faith in his return to the Light Side. The same way, she is a sister who seeks to find her brother Luke and bring him back to help in the fight against evil forces.
By allying professional and personal, the story gives Leia the possibility to show how she has developed off-screen over the decades. Despite struggles of all kinds, she continues to fight for what she believes in, including when it requires her coming to the battlefield. When she first appears in the movie, after several mentions from multiple characters, it is at the end of a fight, where she came aboard one of the crafts, even at the risk of being shot down in the process.
A final point that was thankfully not ignored was her Force potential. While she isn’t presented as an actual Jedi, and any training she might have received or not is left unknown, she still remains able to sense strongly for her loved ones. THE FORCE AWAKENS picks up from when she reacted twice to her twin brother’s situation through the Force in the Original Trilogy. Indeed, a shot clearly shows her shattered when she feels Han’s death. While a very brief moment, it is significant to see Leia’s potential and skills acknowledged during such a pivotal event.
In the end, the Star Wars movies have included older women in most of them, though until THE FORCE AWAKENS none has had as much screen time as Leia Organa. There is still progress to be made, but here is to hoping that Leia’s influence will continue to bear fruits, not only in her portrayal in the upcoming movies, but also more generally speaking, so that older women may still be valued in narratives of different genres and formats.
Natacha Guyot is a French researcher, author and public speaker. She holds two Master’s degrees: Film and Media Studies (Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Digital Culture and Technology (King’s College London).
Her main fields of interest are Science fiction, Gender Studies, Children Media and Fan Studies. Besides her nonfiction work, she also writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.
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