Star Wars: Episode IX Is Leaving the Smurfette Principle Behind
Now let's also make sure they talk to each other, too.
I did a quick headcount on Friday as the news of Star Wars: Episode IX‘s casting dropped, and found something I did not expect: Out of sixteen cast members announced (all of whom will be playing major leading or supporting roes), seven of them were women. Nearly half the cast would be made up of women; three of those women are women of color. For a franchise that’s always struggled with making sure there’s an equal amount of women to men, this is a hug step forward.
In the original trilogy, the only female character with a significant presence was Leia; The Phantom Menace had Padmé and her handmaidens, but Padmé was still the only major player in the trilogy outside of some minor Jedi characters. However, the prequel-era series The Clone Wars featured a leading female Jedi, Ahsoka, and gave development to female Jedi who’d been in the background previously. It also introduced several female villains, such as Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress and bounty hunter Aurra Sing. Star Wars Rebels featured two leading female characters, Sabine Wren and Hera Syndulla, to the three leading male characters; it also introduced several female supporting roles to the canon.
The Disney-era films have been steadily doing better in terms of gender parity in casting. The worst one, sadly, is Rogue One, which is the Smurfette Principle personified (for those not in the know, the Smurfette Principle is when there is only one, usually token, female character in a group of characters). Jyn might be a badass and the protagonist, but she’s still the only major female character; Mon Mothma has a small part and isn’t in most of the action, Lyra Erso dies before the first ten minutes pass, and other than that, there is no other female character who gets to exist outside of a single scene. The Force Awakens and Solo both have three major female characters, but the less said about the representation in Solo, the better.
The Last Jedi broke the mold with five major female characters—seven, if you count doomed Resistance fighters Paige Tico and Tallie. Now, the yet-to-be-titled Episode IX will give us seven actual leading women. Hopefully, none of them will be killed off after a handful of scenes, or will get fridged later on to motivate a male character. Hopefully, we’ll get seven female characters who have the chance to develop and shine throughout the film, instead of being one-scene-wonders or not having much to do.
There’s also one thing I’m hoping for from this particular film: female friendships and relationships that aren’t just centered on men. A motherly relationship with Leia and Rey was teased in both sequel trilogy films, and The Last Jedi featured a friendship with Leia and Holdo, but I’m hoping that Rose and Rey can be friends, or Rey and Rose and Naomi Ackie’s character. I want Maz Kanata to play a more central role and to develop a close bond with the younger heroines. I hope Bille Lourd’s Connix plays an even larger role and, surprise, is also part of the Resistance Ladies Friendship Group.
I hope they avoid any jealousy or love triangles with Rey and Rose over Finn, as was teased in the Last Jedi novelization and some deleted scenes. Rey and Rose are wonderful characters who don’t need to be defined by their relationships to men, and to pit them against each other over Finn would be a detriment to all characters involved. Let women be friends and not competitors, for crying out loud!
Most of all, I hope this cast allows all the women involved to have storylines and powerful arcs. Women built both the Rebel Alliance and the Resistance, and so it’s time to let women really tell their own stories. From leading lady Rey herself to the mysterious new characters played by Ackie and Keri Russell, women deserve to see themselves reflected onscreen as fully realized characters, not as tropes. They also deserve to see a myriad of positive female relationships develop onscreen as well. Let the Smurfette Principle die; kill it if you have to. That’s the only way for this franchise to fulfill its destiny.
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