Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Star Wars on Trial Blog Tour

Today, I will be discussing charge number 7: "Women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak."

For those who are new to the blog tour, the format of the book is a bit like a transcript of a trial. There are opening statements from the prosecution and the defense, then each charge is discussed. After both the prosecution and defense presents arguments for each charge, the other side does a cross-examination.

I chose charge number 7 because it was the most intriguing one to me. I was curious to see how both sides would try to prove that they were right.

First up was the prosecution. I was very impressed with Ms. Jeanne Cavelos' arguments. She acknowledges that both Princess Leia and Queen Padme Amidala both started out as strong characters. She points out, however, that despite the huge potential of both characters, they were both relegated to the sidelines as the trilogies/series progressed. Even worse, they were both practically demoted and went from being leaders to followers and damsels-in-distress. She presents plenty of examples for this for both characters, and she also includes her thoughts on how the story could have been changed to allow Leia and Padme to remain strong individuals while still letting the plot progress. It's kind of funny, because from what I saw, it seemed like once they got love interests, their intelligence and other skills went south. Not exactly a good message.

Here are some quotes:

"While on Cloud City, Leia seems unable to act. All she can do is complain and worry. When Leia expresses her concern, Han treats her like a child. He kisses her on the forehead, pats her on the cheek and tells her to "relax," he'll handle it. This is not how a person treats his leader. This is not how a person treats his equal. This is how a person treats a misguided inferior."
"Her [Padme's] passivity reaches a character-crushing extreme as the Jedi temple burns. She knows Anakin, her one true love, is there. She knows the temple is on fire. Yet she just stands there - in a new dress - and cries. Can you imagine Han Solo standing there when Leia could be burning? Amidala should be rushing to Anakin's rescue. Or at least calling the fire department. How can this possibly be the same woman who picked locks, rode monsters and shot droids? It can't be. This is not a coherent character; it's a paper doll with too many outfits."
I was also very impressed with Ms. Cavelos' answers during the cross-examination. From what I saw, she had a very good grasp not only of Star Wars, but other female SF characters as well. She's also quite sassy. This one quote, in particular, made me laugh.

"Whether Anakin has powers of prophecy is arguable. Many Star Wars viewers believe Palpatine planted Anakin's dreams of Amidala's death to manipulate him. But to focus on the subject of Leia's decision making, you have my condolences. In the attempt to make her seem wise and helpful, you've contorted yourself into more knots than a Twister champion."
To be honest, after that, I fully expected that the defense would be done for. However, Mr. Bill Spangler, does a fine job himself. He cites plenty of references (mostly Star Wars literature) that mention female Star Wars characters that are skilled and admirable. Of course, I haven't read the books so I wouldn't know if they are strong throughout, get stronger as the book progresses, or the opposite. There are some attempts to prove Leia and Amidala were actually strong female characters, and while I agree for the most part, I didn't feel like they answered the biggest question about how Leia and Amidala became essentially useless (other than as damsels-in-distress) over the course of the series.

Here are a few quotes:

"I think Leia maintains her strength and independence in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the former, she leads the evacuation of Hoth and spars verbally with Han Solo during the long evacuation of Hoth and spars verbally with Han Solo during the long trip to Cloud City. In the latter, Leia takes part in a clever reworking of the Orpheus myth. She enters the metaphorical underworld of Jabbe the Hutt, in a daring attempt to rescue Han."
"Leia displays some remarkable talents in these books, though. In The Joiner King, she shifts a cloud bank to provide cover for the Millenium Falcon and in The Unseen Queen, she's able to enter a mind meld with other Jedi during a battle (both of which seem to be fairly advanced techniques)." 
"[...] Also, many of these characters are developed in the Expanded Universe stories.
For instance, a Jedi Master named Luminara Unduli and her Padawan, Barriss Offee, appeared in novels, comic book stories and the Clone Wars animated series. [...]
Yaddle, a member of the Jedi Council, is featured in The Shadow Trap, a middle-reader book by Jude Watson. A female from Yoda's homeworld, Yaddle can be seen in The Phantom Menace - if you don't blink. [...]
One of the newest female Jedi is Olee Starstone, who is introduced in James Luceno's novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. Olee is a Padawan, and Luceno allows her to be young. [...] Even Shryne admits - to himself, anyway - that Olee "demonstrated remarkable courage and was as deft at handling a lightsaber as many full-fledged Jedi Knights."
Now, which side do I think won? Frankly, it's hard to say. I agree that Leia and Padme's decreasing importance, contribution and skills are a problem. The movies also don't have a lot of prominent female characters, other than the two and perhaps Anakin's mother. Expanded universe-wise, though, there do seem to be strong female characters. Perhaps women aren't fundamentally weak in Star Wars, however, I do worry about why the most prominent females in the franchise went from bad-ass leaders to weaklings.

What about you? Do you think women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak? You can vote YES or NO here.


Order in the Court!  
Star Wars: the most significant, powerful myth of the twenty-first century or morally bankrupt military fantasy? 
Six films. Countless books. $20 billion in revenue. No one can question the financial value or cultural impact of the Star Wars film franchise. But has the impact been for the good? 
In Star Wars on Trial’s courtroom—Droid Judge presiding—Star Wars stands accused of elitist politics and sexism, religious and ethical lapses, the destruction of literary science fiction and science fiction film, and numerous plot holes and logical gaps. 
Supported by a witness list of bestselling science fiction authors, David Brin (for the prosecution) and Matthew Woodring Stover (for the defense) debate these charges and more before delivering their closing statements. 
The verdict? That’s up to you. 
The release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the perfect time to look back at George Lucas’ crimes, and new introductions by Brin and Stover discuss the newest generation of Star Wars films and what JJ Abrams must do to live up to—or redeem—the franchise.


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