Thursday, 25 January 2018

Star Wars Female Characters Ranked

So I've been over this before, the Star Wars franchise has had a long and complicated history when it comes to the subject of diversity. It's a difficult subject to discuss and has a few different lenses one can examine it through.

The cast of A New Hope is made up almost exclusively of white men (the exceptions include a single woman whose role is overshadowed by said men, two robots also played by white men, and a walking carpet who was also played by a white man). It wasn't until very late into the next film The Empire Strikes Back that we get even a single non-Caucasian joining the main cast. Then in Return of the Jedi the roles of female Rebel pilots were actively censored by George Lucas himself. Not a great reputation. One could technically say that the old Ewoks and Droids cartoons had more diversity than the original films.

This is also not exclusive to the original trilogy. The prequels added three new films and only one significant female character- Padme. The Clone Wars also had a lot of the same problems. Even though it boasted a large cast and tried to develop characters not given much focus in the films, it was weirdly averse to showing female Jedi. We'd constantly get plotlines concerning Mace Windu, Obi-Wan, or Kit Fisto, yet female Jedi like Aayla Secura and Shaak Tii would get one story to themselves then spend the rest of the show reduced to background non-speaking roles.

On the other hand, as many are quick to refute, Princess Leia was a huge deal when the trilogy came out. She was a woman with authority and both physical and mental strength (even if it's not as visible in A New Hope). The expanded universe in both timelines has also added its share of strong female characters, though this often occurred in projects where George Lucas wasn't directly involved.

One notable detail that seems to have come from George Lucas leaving Star Wars is a greater effort at diversifying the cast. Among the things that started to win me back into Star Wars fandom was the efforts to rectify those problems. The most recent films have depicted mixed race and mixed-gendered groups of heroes (and mixed-species in some cases). The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi also depict their antagonistic faction, the First Order, as mixed-gender (though members given primary focus have been male).

We've even had some writers go back and retroactively depict the Empire (depicted as exclusively male in the original trilogy) as having female officers and Stormtroopers. This one actually turned out to be pretty easy, because how would one tell the difference between a male and female Stormtrooper? The only indicator seems to be slight differences in voice, but they barely speak in the original trilogy as it is, so doing the math it is entirely possible for female Stormtroopers.

Also, special mention goes to one very recent project, Forces of Destiny, an animated web series and toyline which focuses specifically on highlighting strong women of the Star Wars universe. The cartoons so far have generally focused on the adventures of several different women from across different eras of Star Wars canon in between moments from the films. Many of them include big action scenes where said girls get to save the day.

Anyway, enough of my tangent. I got to thinking it would be interesting to try and rank the various strong female characters we have seen across the Star Wars Saga.

I've had to set a few perimeters for this list. First off, I have chosen to stick strictly to the new canon. The legends timeline had some excellent female characters in its own right, but I list all of them I'm going to be here all day. For one thing to break down every great female character in Knights of the Old Republic (and for the record, Revan is and always will be female!) would take up a lot of space, to say nothing of the countless novels, video games, and other material I would need to cover. I am also covering ones who were given a particularly prominent or significant role, as opposed to ones who were just part of the background before someone else gave them a backstory.

I am also sticking to official canon for this. I have written some very good fanfiction stories of my own: The Merchant of JakkuRogue One: Scarif, and Shadows of the Past, all of which try to feature strong female characters. Unfortunately, these are not presently considered official canon so I will not be including any of my original characters on the list. The same is also true for non-canon projects such as The Freemaker Adventures.

That said, I have tried to keep the list as varied as possible. One trap I have fallen into before when discussing female characters in Star Wars is to focus only on the light-side characters, when the series does have some strong female antagonists as well. Admittedly, the various antagonistic groups have a tendency to be predominantly male (though this has started to change) but I've still tried to recognize strong women where I can.

I'm also not touching The Clone Wars right now because that show wasn't great and Rebels is a thousand times better. It also didn't have as much in the way of strong female characters, frustratingly.

15. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

Okay, I need to ask, why the purple hair? It makes sense on some characters but there is never really anything about her personality that clearly warrants such a wardrobe choice. It looks really weird. What were you thinking?

Anyway, questionable wardrobe aside, Amilyn's role was somewhat inconsistent and I'm not sure exactly what we were intended to think of her. She is abruptly introduced in The Last Jedi as the new commander of the Resistance (might have been a good idea to establish her role earlier, perhaps even in the previous film) and is depicted for the most part as an ineffective and bureaucratic commander more likely to get her subordinates killed than anything else.

It is even treated as a positive outcome when our heroes openly perform a mutiny, yet she also ends up staying behind and sacrificing herself to save the Resistance. I'm not really sure what we were intended to think of her. She's set up as a leader but generally seems to be treated in a negative light only to have that view reversed near the end. Who is this character anyway and why is she so abruptly introduced out of nowhere when the Resistance already had authority figures who could have filled the role instead?

14. Rose Tico

Ultimately, I never found much to get invested in with Rose. She didn't have that much going for her beyond a (far more interesting) sister who dies at the very beginning. She accompanies Finn through much of the plot, but what exactly does she really add to it? One could probably cut her out entirely without changing much, if anything. Plus, she also ruined the long-anticipated Finn/Poe romance that was supposed to happen, before abruptly kissing Finn at the film's end. Star Wars was so close to introducing its first LGBT couple (come on, Star Trek's beaten you to this one now as well- get your act together).

13. Padme Amidala

Padme is a somewhat difficult character to judge. How well she was developed seems to vary depending on which source you turn to. One of the better parts of The Clone Wars was the decision to actually focus her episodes on her political career, and to emphasize Padme's wit and self-reliance when placed in a tight situation. In the prequel trilogy, on the other hand, her character deteriorates. She goes from a tough Queen in The Phantom Menace who leads a full-scale assault on her own castle just to free her subjects, to sitting around brushing her hair in Revenge of the Sith

Over the course of the trilogy, her entire role becomes increasingly about her relationship (and secret marriage) with Anakin. By Revenge of the Sith, it's more or less the only real character trait that gets any focus. Then there's that whole "Lost the Will to Live" thing. After being betrayed by her husband, I could understand her having every right to be upset, even traumatized (he did nearly strangle her to death) but losing the will to live seems a tad extreme. How about dying for the early Rebellion, or something more interesting?

12. Bo-Katan Kryze

Bo-Katan first appeared in The Clone Wars initially as a supporting antagonist but later changed sides after a bizarre and convoluted story arc involving Darth Maul performing a coup on Mandalore (yeah, that happened). She later returned for Rebels where she got a chance at redemption that proved valuable. Here, she was given the chance to step up as a new leader of the Mandalorians, and lead them through the fight against the Empire.

11. Captain Phasma

Phasma was an interesting addition to the cast, but unfortunately she's not a character that leaves much room for investment, mainly because we know nothing about her. To an extent, that works in her favor, as it makes her feel more like a typical Stormtrooper, but as far as depth of characterization we don't have a lot to discuss. Phasma is a commander who seems to be devoted to the First Order and firmly upholds their regulations.

That said, this is not entirely a bad thing. In fact in some ways Phasma can easily be argued to be a fairly progressive character. She just doesn't have as much to make her as memorable as some of the other characters on this list.

10. Seventh Sister

Of all the inquisitors that appeared on the show, Seventh Sister was probably the most intimidating and the most effective. Her partner (referred to as "Fifth Brother") was generally based on brute strength, but Seventh Sister had the brains. She proved almost more devastatingly effective than her season 1 predecessor. Every time she showed up, it was clear that our heroes were in serious trouble.

In fact, none of them were ever really able to defeat her (she ended up being killed instead by Maul, an even more powerful ex-Sith who could be described as morally gray at best). One never got the sense that any of the Rebels would have a chance at defeating her and often it was an immense victory just to be able to escape from one of her traps in one piece. She was therefore arguably the most worthy opponent of the Rebels compared to her (less memorable) male colleagues.

9. Governor Arihnda Pryce

Rebels managed to introduce a few female Imperials during its run, but Governor Pryce stands out as one of the most devastatingly effective, though one kinda has to be when they're second in command to one of the galaxy's smartest tacticians. Grand Admiral Thrawn is bad enough, but Pryce is often the one carrying out his orders.

8. Iden Versio

At first, seemingly an effort to retroactively suggest the Empire wasn't as misogynistic as the original trilogy claims, Iden Versio has a fairly complex story over the course of Battlefront II's campaign. She begins as a member of Imperial Special Forces and is depicted as a devoted member of the Imperial Military. This is someone who genuinely believes in the Empire's might and it's potential benefits, yet isn't afraid to speak her mind at the same time. 

In fact, while she does end up defecting to the Rebellion, it's not exactly a simple case of moral issues. If anything her partner Del Meeko begins questioning the Empire long before she does, and they only end up with the Rebellion out of necessity. This is a character who grew up thinking she was doing the right thing only to be betrayed by the very people on whom her existence depends. 

7. Ursa Wren

Season 3 of Rebels gave us Ursa Wren, the mother of one of the show's regular characters, and she turns out to be quite the character. When we first meet her, Ursa turns out to be a powerful woman. She runs the Mandalorian Clan Wren more or less single-handedly and shows an impressive skill for combat. She can be ruthless, but at the same time we do get a kind of noble side to her as well. Underneath her harsh exterior are strong maternal instincts and once she realizes the danger posed by the Empire she doesn't give up in fighting them.

6. Ahsoka Tano

Okay, I freely admit that I preferred Ahsoka in her Rebels incarnation than Clone Wars, but Ahsoka has some interesting qualities. Somewhat ironically an extremely flawed and problematic story of The Clone Wars involving her being betrayed by her best friend out of nowhere led to an interesting plot thread concerning her as a gray Jedi that brings out her more interesting quirks in Rebels. She is a former member of the Jedi Order who trained under Anakin, but over the course of the Clone Wars she begins to question the wisdom of the Jedi Knights and eventually chooses to leave them all together.

But this isn't a simple case of her turning to the dark side. Ahsoka instead ends up using her newfound freedom to assist in building up the early Rebel Alliance and develops her skills in finding new ways to protect the galaxy. Her story notably came to an abrupt (and still unresolved) conclusion when she entered a fight with Darth Vader, her former teacher. This resulted in an epic duel (come on, not many people can say they were able to hold their own in a fight against Darth Vader). Although it still has not been confirmed one way or the other if she survived, Ahsoka was able to pummel the living daylights out of one of the most powerful Sith Lords the canon has to offer. Even Luke couldn't do the level of damage Ahsoka did.

5. Rey

Rey seemed like such an amazing character when The Force Awakens came out, though with hindsight I would be tempted to place several more above her. She was also arguably more interesting in The Force Awakens than The Last Jedi. She had an aura of mystique, insofar as we didn't really know who she was or where she came from (questions rather anti-climatically answered in The Last Jedi), but she was also a competent and independent young woman. 

An expert pilot and scavenger who also knew how to protect herself, Rey has a lot of good strong points. It was also definitely a smart move to avoid any unnecessary romantic entanglements (I like that she and Finn are just friends and nothing more). She can work with others but isn't dependent on them. Special mention goes to when she gets captured by the Empire and it set up to be a perfect example of the damsel in distress- then proceeds to outwit her enemies. By the time Finn arrives to "rescue" her, she's already traversed half the base undetected and she has to assist him.

4. Princess Leia Organa

Of course I couldn't omit the most iconic woman of the Star Wars saga. Leia was the lone female character in the original trilogy, and a tricky one to discuss as there are several approaches to take with her. On the one hand, her role in A New Hope basically amounts to being a Maid Marian-esque damsel in distress to be rescued by the (exclusively male) group of heroes. On the other she does spend those moments standing up to the Empire and resisting Imperial Interrogations (it's implied that she was tortured for information and never gave in).

Leia also gets a more prominent role in the later films. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi give her more time to show off her skills. She oversees the Rebel Evacuation of Hoth and participates in the escape from Cloud City. She did have the infamous gold bikini, but I should point out that she also wore that thing while strangling the giant slug who forced it on her. That was then followed by her taking an active role in the Battle of Endor, not to mention securing an alliance with the local Ewoks that ended up being crucial to the Rebels' victory.

Both timelines also established Leia's role in the aftermath of the Empire's defeat, including her involvement in building the New Republic, but Carrie Fisher later reprised the role for The Force Awakens. By this time, Leia has become a general for the Resistance, and takes a more active role in planning and co-ordination (she also managed to rescue herself from the vacuum of space, not an easy feat). 

3. Sabine Wren

I couldn't do a list like this without including the second greatest female character from Rebels (you'll see who the first is soon enough). Sabine Wren is friggin' awesome. She's got both brawn and brains, and she's really good at blowing stuff up. She's also got a skill for machinery and works as an artist in her spare time. What's not to love? Yet they also balance this out with a fairly compassionate side: Sabine constantly struggles to reconcile her Mandalorian upbringing with her Rebel allegiance (and ends up key to bringing both factions together).

2. Jyn Erso

Jyn is the second female protagonist to be featured in one of the main films, and probably one of the best in the series. She's a far more complex character than some of our previous heroes-not as overtly idealistic as Luke yet also not as whiny as Anakin ("whiny" is not a very good description of Jyn Erso). Also a notable departure from the previous films by being a non-Jedi protagonist, instead leading a story essentially about the background characters who would normally be extras in the original trilogy.

Jyn comes from a complex background compared to previous heroes (though she does seem to continue the theme of absent parents that persisted with Luke, Anakin, and Rey). She actually starts off as a criminal who works for the Rebellion more as a temporary means to an end than out of any real interest in their cause. Her entire character arc is based on learning to be part of something greater than herself, unlike Luke (who more or less immediately joins the Rebellion as soon as he has the chance). 

1. Hera Syndulla

When doing a top anything list it is often hard to choose the #1 spot because there are so many great contenders. This time, there was no question. I knew going in who my top choice would be, so counting down was easy. On a list of the best female characters offered in Star Wars canon, how could I add anyone but one of the best female characters Star Wars has to offer? Hera Syndulla is not only one of the best characters in Rebels, but just plain one of the best characters period.

Rebels depicts many of the events leading up to A New Hope, with a particular emphasis on the early years of the Rebel Alliance. Hera Syndulla is one of the key players in organizing that rebellion. She is an expert pilot and mechanic, skills which routinely prove useful (she is already referred to as "Captain" when the show starts, and will become a general by the time Rogue One takes place). In addition to that, she also knows how to hold her own in a fight and improvise when a mission goes wrong.

Yet they also balance this with a more compassionate side. Hera's leadership allows her to become a maternal figure towards her crew (and as one Imperial Intelligence crew learned the hard way, she gets really nasty if you hurt her droid). She is a dedicated Rebel but also emphasizes that how one fights is just as important as why they fight.

I kinda wish they'd bring Hera back for the new trilogy. I could totally buy her being with the Resistance but what happened with her in that 30-year gap?

No comments:

Post a Comment