Four of the women of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Gwendoline Christie, and Kathleen Kennedy) sat down with LA Times to discuss the changes in female roles in Star Wars.
The Force Awakens features more women in starring roles than all the other Episodes combined. This is no coincidence, a result of lucky casting, or merely a consequence of the script. Both Lucasfilm and Disney are making a conscious effort to incorporate women into the cast of Episode VII, as well as “across the board throughout the industry” (via LA Times).
"“They [Disney] are really, really making a huge effort across the company to put more focus around casting women and putting women in positions of responsibility, with directing and various other positions inside, different lines of business in the company.” – Kathleen Kennedy"
The face of the newly refocused feminine demographic within the franchise is Daisy Ridley’s Rey, long speculated to be the daughter of Princess (excuse me, General) Leia and Han Solo. Kathleen Kennedy feels Rey will connect with modern audiences because of her character’s relevance to present day values.
"“She feels very modern,” Kennedy says of Rey. “I think she will be relevant to audiences today, she embodies that sense of self-reliance and independence. I think that’s who she is. I think that’s who she is as a person, as Daisy Ridley and who she is as Rey.”"
Ridley reminds people, however, that Rey is not your typical kick-ass, tight-suited heroine. She’s really just a normal person (albeit with wicked piloting skills).
"“I don’t know if Rey is really about anything in the beginning of the film except for working and feeding herself,” Ridley says. “Her life is pretty … ‘mundane’ is the wrong word … but it’s pretty repetitive. She’s literally living hand to mouth. She’s solitary. She doesn’t speak to people very much. She’s just trying to make it work for herself.”"
She also adds, “Rey’s not important because she’s a women, she’s just important. But obviously, having a woman like this in a film is hugely important.”
That’s an important thought to keep in mind, especially when you’re trying to revolutionize the way women are portrayed in media. The struggle to move past unrealistic characters and tokenism is what Lucasfilm and Disney are fighting for. And it’s part of the core of 6’3″ Gwendoline Christie’s character, Captain Phasma of the First Order.
Christie addressed the problems with the way modern society views heroines, using a Google search as an example.
"“Kathleen Kennedy said to me, ‘Have you ever Googled ‘female heroines’? I said, ‘No,’ and she did it for me. If you do it, there are a lot of scantily clad women. Now women should be allowed to dress exactly however they choose, but the idea that you Google female heroines and there isn’t a diverse range of examples that come up, I find it a bit depressing.”"
It’s obvious Captain Phasma is not a conventional female villain. But really, that’s the point.
"“We see women in a different range of roles in the film,” Christie says. “And the reason I love my character so much and I feel so enthusiastic about Capt. Phasma is, yes, she’s cool, she looks cool, she’s a villain — but more than that, we see a female character and respond to her not because of the way she looks. We respond to her because of her actions…It isn’t about her wearing makeup. It’s not about her being conventionally feminized. The idea of this enormous legacy and franchise embracing an idea like that, which of course to many of us feels logical, is actually really progressive. And long overdue.”"
We’ve been assured Episode VII won’t be the first and last appearance of Captain Phasma. Kennedy has “big plans” for the Chrometrooper, saying, “She’s an important character, a baddie in the best sense of the word.”
But the work on revolutionizing heroines in pop culture didn’t begin with Rey, or Phasma. It began in 1977, with the introduction of Princess Leia.
"“She had contempt for and worked with men, and I liked that,” [Carrie] Fisher says. “There was something human about her. It showed that she could do whatever she needed to do, and if she could do that, then everybody could do it. People identified with her. She’s like a superhero.”"
Fisher also doesn’t give a nerf when it comes to people who are up in arms about trying to explain the Slave Leia toy to their children, such as the man with two daughters whose frustration with the toy and Slave Leia’s chain went viral.
"“How about telling his daughter that the character is wearing that outfit not because she’s chosen to wear it. She’s been forced to wear it,” Fisher advises. “She’s a prisoner of a giant testicle who has a lot of saliva going on and she does not want to wear that thing and it’s ultimately that chain, which you’re now indicating is some sort of accessory to S&M, that is used to kill the giant saliva testicle…. That’s asinine.”"
But the fact remains, Princess Leia was the only heroine in the original trilogy. Perhaps part of the reason why there are so many more and diverse female characters in Star Wars now is because of the increased effort to put women into the story making process.
"“I have a story department up at Lucasfilm, and four out of the six people who make up that story department are women,” Kennedy says. “So there were as many women sitting in the room having those discussion as there were men. I think that, in and of itself, is what really began to help [Rey] take shape in a way that was relevant to us… Having a female point of view in the room — when you get into a discussion about behavior — who would say what and how they would interact with one another… In certain situations women are going to have a different opinion on that than men. It made for a really balanced conversation in the room.”"
Ultimately, it takes the collaborative effort of many different voices to change the way something is traditionally viewed in pop culture. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is well on its way to doing that, and it’s because of people like Kathleen Kennedy, the men and women in the Lucasfilm story department and at Disney, and enthusiastic new cast members like Daisy and Gwendoline who are happy to become the new faces of Star Wars for fangirls.