The Rogue One trailer dropped this morning, and we are buzzing over here at Permanently Geek. You can check out our reaction video here.
But now, I want to talk about the only thing I could think about this morning.
Oh my god the star of this film is a woman.
This isn’t totally news considering cast list and some photos had been released, but the weight of Felicity Jones’s role has officially been revealed with this trailer.
Two Star Wars films in a row have featured a badass woman as the hero. Two. TWO! A tiny 6-year-old version of me is somewhere in time right now dressed up in her She-Ra costume rejoicing and screaming and dancing.
Why is this such a big deal? Let me explain.
I was delighted when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rey was everything I could ever want in a strong female lead. She wasn’t a princess (that we know of). She didn’t have to have a romantic subplot. She was capable and clever and strong. And as I discussed in our Episode VII video commentary, the film never draws attention to the fact that she’s a woman as if it should be in contrast to her skills. (i.e. “Oh wow, you’re pretty good at this for a woman.”)
But I subconsciously assumed that Rey and Leia and Maz and Captain Phasma were filling a quota of women in the Star Wars universe.
And then Jyn Erso entered the picture in the Rogue One trailer. I nearly cried.
It’s not news that women are underrepresented in action/adventure stories. If there is a female character, she’s generally not the lead or she’s reduced to the romantic interest of our male hero. In recent years, it’s been exciting to see the female characters evolving from damsels in distress to at least capable romantic partners. But it’s still made clear (sometimes not so subtly) where her place is.
This made the emergence of Rey refreshing and thrilling. And the appearance of Jyn downright important.
Certainly badass women have made their mark in entertainment history (television having a slight edge over film). Ripley, Black Widow, Jessica Jones, half the cast of Firefly, even Leia to some extent in the older films, when she isn’t being objectified or mocked for being a princess. But they are scattered throughout time. Their appearances unreliable. Their importance clouded in an endless stream of strong male characters.
After voicing excitement over the upcoming Ghostbusters film (FOUR FEMALE LEADS! FOUR!) I was mansplained that if I *really* wanted equality, I would want to see a Ghostbusters crew with a blend of male and female characters. The implication of course being that evil awful feminists won’t be happy until we run men out of town completely. That we don’t really want equality. We want to eliminate men from the conversation.
Frankly, this hurt. Some men don’t seem to appreciate what a treasure it is to see yourself represented in a variety of ways on screen … and not just one token character. When a boy watches Star Wars, he can look at Luke and Han (and even Darth Vader and Yoda and Obi-Wan) and not only see male characters, but multiple archetypes from which he can choose who he most identifies with. When a girl watches Star Wars, she sees Leia and says “Well I guess that’s me.”
Consider a little girl going to the ice cream shop with her four brothers. The boys are allowed to choose their favorite from an array of decadent flavors. The little girl is not asked what she would like and is given some random flavor (often vanilla) every time. When she cries, she is told she should just be happy she has ice cream at all. And if she pushes for choices, she’s told it will take choices away from her brothers — who have more ice cream than they could possibly eat in a lifetime — and that would be mean.
It’s why I adore the Powerpuff Girls. Three female heroes! Many of my friends identify with the strong and sarcastic Buttercup. Others the sweet but powerful Bubbles. But I always liked Blossom, the logical leader who sometimes has control issues.
And then I pause and wonder, damn why do I have to turn to a children’s cartoon to find this kind of female diversity within one story?
The Star Wars universe seems to be taking up the torch and finally offering some alternatives. From the little bit we’ve seen of Jyn, we already know she’s going to be a vastly different character than Rey or Leia or Padme. Far more brooding and intense, with an undercurrent of danger. And I am absolutely dying to know more.
I went to a comic convention about a year ago. I met a little girl, no more than 5 or 6 years old, helping her mother run a booth. It was filled with handcrafted products featuring super heroes, primarily Marvel characters. She enthusiastically told me about all of the merchandise and the names of every character and started describing plots of the cartoons she had seen them in.
She delighted me beyond words.
“Who’s your favorite character?” I asked.
She paused. “Ummmmmm, the girl one,” she finally said. My heart cracked in a million pieces.
I hear you, kid. And I’m so glad others are finally hearing you as well.
I know there is much work to do. So many groups of people are painfully ignored in cinema. But seeing more representation of a group that makes up 50% of the population is a good start. Thanks, Star Wars.