As of SOLO, STAR WARS Still Has a Woman Problem

Warning: Spoilers follow for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

From the moment Rey used the Force to grab Luke’s lightsaber from the grasp of Kylo Ren in the snowy forests of Starkiller Base, Star Wars fandom has been inundated with a small but loud contingent of furious men who claim the franchise has turned from its roots and is pandering to a new audience fueled by political correctness and “social justice warriors.” But the truth is that Star Wars still has a massive woman problem, and even that arguably iconic moment in the forest was at the expense of Finn, a young black man who’d been promised and portrayed in trailers and merchandising as the lead Force user of the new franchise. Basically, when it comes to representation, Star Wars is far from perfect.

Though we have Rey at the center of the new trilogy, and both Rogue One and Solo had lead female characters, they’re all able bodied, straight, brunette white women, and fit a narrow notion of womanhood. Both The Force Awakens and Rogue One technically pass the low bar of the Bechdel test, while Solo and The Last Jedi fail miserably. But it was Solo’s decisions regarding its female characters that drove me to write this piece. In fact, it was the treatment of one particular woman, the first black woman to be part of a main ensemble Star Wars cast who wasn’t playing an alien or creature of some kind, Val. Thandie Newton‘s radical rebellious thief was marketed as a key part of Solo’s core group, but she was unceremoniously killed off in less than a half hour after her first appearance.

“The women in refrigerators” trope is one synonymous with almost all pop culture. The term was coined by comic book writer Gail Simone when she was a comic book critic, referring to Green Lantern’s popular girlfriend in the ’90s comics who was literally murdered and put in a refrigerator to further Kyle Rayner’s arc. Fridging is rife within comics and movies, and in Solo, the trope happened not once, but twice. The strangest thing was that in Val’s case, her death barely affected the men in her life, but it opened up the potential for Tobias’ ultimate role as a double-crossing villain. It was done at the expense of a vibrant and smart character who was ultimately killed off when some robots were shooting at a pole she was hiding behind, which in the grand scheme of Star Wars escapes seems easy to get out of.

Val’s death may be Solo’s biggest sin, but it’s not the only one. Lando’s female droid L3-37 is also killed to give Lando a big emotional moment and to further every male character’s journey as she literally becomes part of the ship’s computer in the Millennium Falcon to get them through the Kessel Run before the coaxium they’re hauling becomes unstable.

It’s not even just the killing of these women, but the wasted potential of the others in the film. The reveal of Enfys Nest is one of the most powerful moments in the movie, a fantastic reflection of the original trilogy where our heroes are seen as terrorists by the Empire but we know they’re truly the heroes. Enfys and the Cloud-Riders have been painted as vicious pirates, but they’re actually the seeds of the Rebellion. Enfys’ interaction with Han is a vital part of his origin. She’s a much needed brilliant POC character in Star Wars films, yet aside from some quick train heist action, Enfys is only in the movie for the final minutes, a near waste of one of the most intriguing characters Solo introduces.

Having more women behind the scenes could only help the treatment of female characters. Going back to the original trilogy, Marcia Lucas, George Lucas’ ex-wife, played a huge part in the success of those films. In fact, the only Lucas to ever win an Oscar for Star Wars was Marcia for her stellar editing. She’s also credited–by George himself–with inventing some of the film’s most iconic moments including Ben Kenobi’s death, Luke and Leia’s kiss for good luck, and the trench run. But due to a bad divorce and industry misogyny, Marcia has been written out of the history of Star Wars; her career ended after Return of the Jedi, adding to the toxic myth only men can create huge, successful franchises.

So what can Lucasfilm do? A start would be introducing more women into the writing rooms of their films. The Star Wars story group, which as of December 2017 was comprised of four women and seven men, that oversees the canon and overarching narratives was established years ago and is still run by the incredible Kiri Hart. She worked closely with Rian Johnson on The Last Jedi to introduce a much more diverse vision of Star Wars. But The Last Jedi was still written and directed by a man, as was Rogue One, The Force Awakens, Solo and every other Star Wars movie except The Empire Strikes Back (Leigh Brackett wrote on the film). That desperately needs to change for Star Wars to continue as a powerhouse.

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy must look to women to create the future of Star Wars. Fantastic directors like Dee Rees, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Karyn Kusama, Euzhan Palcy, Julie Dash, Amma Asante, and many more have proved their talent and skill, yet Lucasfilm continues to follow the dangerous Hollywood tradition of offering upcoming white male directors the reigns to the biggest franchise in the galaxy. With the leaked news that J.J. Abrams is looking for an African-American female lead for Episode IX, we might finally see even better on-screen representation in Star Wars. But we need to look to behind the camera before we can begin to talk about Star Wars and Lucasfilm becoming a truly inclusive space for viewers or filmmakers.

Images: Disney, Lucasfilm

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