Okay, Star Wars fans, I've got a little challenge for you. I'd like you to think of as many different characters as you can from only the six films by George Lucas himself, so no expanded universe or Clone Wars series (either of them). Now I imagine a lot of you immediately think of lightsabers and thus make the association of Jedi or Sith (at least, those of you who don't think of Han Solo or Jar Jar Binks). Now, let's lower the range a bit, I want you to think of as many different Jedi as you can. There's plenty to choose from: Obi-Wan, Anakin, Mace Windu, Luke Skywalker, and Yoda. You starting to see a pattern here?
Now let's narrow the range even further: how many female characters can you think of? Okay, you might have several, but how many can you think of that even have so much as a single line? Furthermore, how many can you recall that actually play a part in the central narrative of any of the films? Not very many. Really with such a large cast across six films there's a grand total of two women who have central roles? (I'm not including Zam Wesell or Mon Mothma, who had minor contributions but little screen time)
You also ever notice how the prequel films introduce so many Jedi characters and yet most, if not all the ones who are actually relevant to the plot are men? Yes, we do see several female Jedi but how many of them even get so much as a single line. At best they're little more than a bit part or an extra in a battle scene.
Really, when you get down to it, the female Jedi characters we do see like Adi Gallia, Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura, or Yaddle (imagine Yoda with a ponytail) are little more than background roles and/or redshirts with no dialogue. The only reason we have any idea who these people are is because of supplemental material and the expanded universe taking the time to flesh them out.
It's a shame really, we have all these cool female Jedi we could develop, and instead the films opt to make the only significant female characters ones who rely on blasters (and before you say anything, yes I am aware that Leia became a Jedi eventually, that wasn't in the films), but it doesn't stop there. As I've said, across a series of six films there have been a grand total of two significant female characters in the form of Padme and Princess Leia.
Granted both were pretty tough but Leia spent most of A New Hope being held in a prison (even if she put up a fight before getting caught), but across the original trilogy we see almost no other women in the Rebel Alliance. The only other female character we get at all is Mon Mothma, who takes no part in the action and only serves to provide some exposition necessary to the climax of Return of the Jedi.
I mean the rebels are led by a woman, so why is it we never see a single female soldier other than Leia among them? Considering their circumstances you'd think they would be willing to take all the help they could get, and yet the rebel armies we do see in the opening of A New Hope, on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, and on Endor in Return of the Jedi were all composed entirely of men, outside of Leia of course.
And you know what the worst part is? They almost did have a woman among them. It turns out that for Return of the Jedi there were actually scenes shot of a female X-Wing pilot among the squadron attacking the Second Death Star. Don't remember them? Well, that's because they were all cut from the film and one line of dialogue spoken by a woman was dubbed over by a man. Yeah, that's right, George Lucas couldn't handle the idea of women fighter pilots and actually decided that maybe the film would be better with an all-male squadron. Really?
Now I can't say much about what's going to happen with the upcoming films, but I'm almost tempted to go out and say that, disregarding content of the expanded universe, the Star Wars franchise could in fact be considered to be sexist. Now, I can only speak on the six films that have already been made. Perhaps the three upcoming Disney films will do better on this issue, but as it stands, Star Wars really could benefit from having more well-written female characters.