Be sure to check out the first part of this article, which covers Beru Mars, Mon Mothma, and the slave girls on Tatooine.
Hoo boy. A Virgin Mary joke here is way too obvious, but suffice it to say, there’s a reason why Phantom Menace is considered to be the absolute worst of the Star Wars movies. Seriously, if you want an example of how threatened the Star Wars movies are by women, just take a second to see if you can slot every female character I’ve talked about into the virgin/whore paradigm. Shmi, of course, is the ultimate example of the virginal mother figure. She’s a character composed entirely out of archetypes with zero personality (this makes Anakin’s later descent into evil less-than believable, because, as we saw with Beru, I don’t think anyone is emotionally invested in her death). If I’m really digging deep here, I can say how I like that she’s not especially good-looking—unlike almost everyone in the prequels, she looks weathered. Her dialogue is terrible, and so is her personality. If Jar Jar Binks didn’t exist, she would be the worst character of the prequels.
Oh, Padmé. Never has a character been such a charisma-suck. You have to feel sorry for Natalie Portman. She did her best with the crap that was handed to her. This character only exists to give a pretext for Anakin’s fall from grace. Not even a good pretext—did anyone else find the reasons behind Anakin’s turn to the dark side completely unbelievable? The original idea—that Anakin was an arrogant, talented man who was seduced by the controlling power of the dark side—seems much more believable than the idea that a good man seriously believed he could save his possibly dying wife by slaughtering a bunch of children. The tragic hubris of the original story is destroyed by this plotline.
Anyway, poor Padmé is a complete failure of a character on almost every level. She has zero personality, and seemingly no failings—besides being completely boring. She’s basically a younger version of Shmi, which admittedly gives Anakin’s obsession with her an intriguingly Freudian component. I could go on for pages and pages about the many failings of Padmé Amidala as a character, but I’m going to zero in on a specific one that has always bugged me: the various costumes this character is forced into. They make no sense and they’re incredibly distracting. I understand that Padmé is a senator, but Leia wasn’t running around in ridiculously elaborate and constricting gowns throughout the original trilogy. Even as a refugee, or when she’s sleeping, Padmé’s costume (including hair and makeup) is exceptionally detailed. This has the unfortunate effect of undermining her credibility, since the script seems invested in making her seem down-to-earth, but the costuming tells a completely different story.
Into this horribleness comes Leia Organa, a character so good she doesn’t actually seem to belong to this franchise. Leia is sharp, more than a little shrewish, judgmental, and I love her. Leia is such a good character that she single-handedly almost contradicts all previous evidence that Star Wars is a hostile place for female characters. The great thing about Leia is that she is actually a three-dimensional character with idiosyncrasies, flaws, and actual human dialogue.
This analysis is going to be short, because we know very little about her yet, but I think based on the rest of this article, we can all agree that another interesting female character is long overdue for this franchise. And, good news! Early appearances are promising! She’s wearing clothing that looks similar to Luke Skywalker’s outfit in A New Hope, which leads me to believe that she will going on the same epic hero’s journey. I was also really excited to see the moment in the trailer when she offers a hand up to John Boyega’s character, Finn. That one gesture has more confidence and agency in it than I’ve ever seen from a woman in Star Wars.
Like almost every other Star Wars fan out there, I apprehensively learnt that Disney had acquired the Star Wars franchise and was planning on expanding the saga. I was even more apprehensive when I learned that J. J. Abrams was directing. I absolutely loathed his adaptations of Star Trek. Wow, were they ever bad—stupid too, which is absolutely unforgiveable when dealing with such a thought-provoking legacy. However, if we’ve learned anything from the prequels, it’s that a proven track record of making great films in a franchise doesn’t stop you from coming back and making terrible ones. So I guess there’s no reason why a man with a proven track record of making terrible franchise films can’t come up with a good one. And we do have Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote The Empire Strikes Back) writing the script, so that’s not nothing. In the end, it’s really hard to see how Abrams could do worse with Lucas’s legacy than Lucas did himself, so let’s see what the Lost creator comes up with.
-Contributed by Lara Thompson