“Georgie has not earned that level of devotion from me! But, yeah, of course.”
Having heard various ravings on the topic of this movie, I was already envisioning a blog post for today. It began:
I know I said you would never win me back, but somehow you’ve swept me off my feet….
However, this is not that post. I remain unswept. Don’t get me wrong; the movie was not bad at all. It felt a lot more like Star Wars — though of course had it really felt exactly like the original three, I’da been swept like a dust bunny when the Queen is coming to tea. It had strengths, but many failings. I’m not here to discuss the shots that would have taken my breath away in a video game but were juuuust too fake for a movie, or the classically stilted Lucas dialogue, or how focused on stunt rather than emotion all the obligitory duels in the first three are, or why fabulous actors suddenly become wooden in these movies. Nor am I here to praise the underlying political message (Yay, Georgie! Give blue lightsaber vs. red lightsaber a whole new meaning!)
This is what I’m here to talk about: I love Princess Leia. She’s one of the most important fictional characters in my life — probably the most. And George Lucas and Carrie Fisher brought her forth when the track record for strong women in adventure movies, let alone sci fi, was poor. She started a streak, from Ripley in 1979 (though she still had to strip down to Very Small Underwear onscreen) onward, through to the Evie Carnahans and Elizabeth Swans of our present, happy day — albeit with some people Just Not Getting it (Vicky Vale, folks, 1989. If the Joker wanted you for a little giggle-girl, wouldn’t you at least, I dunno, get a gun?) During Episode I, I was vaguely insulted that Queen Kabuki was supposed to be Leia’s mom. During Episode II, her moments of action-heroine spunk made my disapprobation wane slightly. I went into Episode III with some expectations of the wooden piece labelled ‘heroine’ being a strong character, perhaps noble in the face of adversity, choking back her own pain and disappointment to hasten into hiding and protect her children.
About twenty minutes into the movie, at the first or second mention of ‘bringing balance to the Force,’ I thought, Maybe what the guldurned prophecy means is that Anakin will bring about GENDER balance in the Force. Luke’s a Jedi, Leia becomes a Jedi. Balance! I thought I was making a funny.
Then the Jedi purge began. A few male Jedi tried to hold off their attackers but were killed. Then, a scantily-clad female Jedi of the tentacle-head dancing girl species…got shot in the back and fell dead into the flowery mud. I didn’t even see a lightsaber on her belt. I made a noise of protest. Cut to another female Jedi, on a speeder bike. She… got shot in the back without realizing what was happening and dissolved in a fireball. No more female Jedi were shown. I think there were some girls among the younglings, but the only ones we saw with lit lightsabers, even in the security holograms, were boys.
Perhaps Padmé will save me, I thought! Perhaps she will stop sitting around like a pregnant prom queen (seriously. Prom. Seven different costumes of prom.) and exchanging high school-style “No, I love YOU more!”s with her tall drink of evil, and DO something. I was right! She eventually left her apartment! To…run to the arms of the guy she’d been told was eeeeevil (since small-scale genocide seems to get her hot, why am I surprised?) and get smacked around. “You’re a good person!” she whined. Umm, no, honey. He’s not.
And on the more abstract women’s issue of sexual mores…she won’t be allowed to continue in the Senate if she has a baby without being (publicly) married? We have clones running around and yet it’s inconceivable that a rich lady of politics and leisure went to the Republic Sperm Bank and said, “Have any force-sensitive blond donors?” And didn’t they make a big point of Padmé being an elected official? The mandate of the people only lasts until you become a single mother? Lovely.
I’m not saying George Lucas is a misogynist bastard. Heck, I wouldn’t even say that he is indulging in deliberate sexism. But I am saying that a tenth of the care and attention he lavished on droid designs would have, if aimed at women, revealed that his movie had no female Jedi Council members; no women carrying lightsabers (or even blasters, unless I missed a scene); no women resisting or fighting back; and a weak, sorry excuse for a female heroine.
No, filmmakers don’t have a responsibility to portray a society only recently fallen from the utopic as full of strong, empowered women. But when a filmmaker gives one generation of girls the best role model for intelligence, assertiveness, wit, strength, competence and leadership for which they could ask, and another generation of girls a passive paper doll with bad taste in men, I get disappointed. I’m pretty sure Leia would be, too.