I’ve been reading through Podblack Blog ever since the Podblack Cat hosted the Skeptic’s Circle (and kindly included an entry of mine). This is how I discovered that the Internets have a Carnival of Feminist SF, dedicated to feminist perspectives on science fiction. This is undeniably a good thing to have, although stumbling across it like this gives me an eerie feeling: for a kid who spent most of his teenage years reading SF, watching SF on the Tube or trying to write it himself, I know astonishingly little about SFnal happenings on the Internets. I fail at fandom.
(Or is that, in more modern parlance, “FANDOM: UR DOIN IT RONG”?)
Anyway, one of the entries in the carnival is Lisa Paitz Spindler‘s note on a new series of Star Wars merchandise based on Ralph McQuarrie’s early concept art. In one revision of the story which eventually became the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker was a girl named Luka Starkiller. First, I should note, “Starkiller” is an impossibly corny name, even for a movie about samurai in space. Second, Spindler asks,
how might it have influenced Hollywood if the most popular sci-fi adventure flick ever had starred a kick-arse female protagonist?
I can’t give an optimistic response. The portrayal of women in the Star Wars saga is perpetually dismal, varied only by slight interruptions which make the missed opportunities in the rest all the more unbearable. Speculating about how the series would have turned out if, say, the sexes of Luke and Leia had been swapped is rather beside the point: why not ask how the movies would have developed if an entirely different creator had been the driving force?
Just take a good look at Princess Leia.
Whatever good Leia’s role in A New Hope did for female characters in SF was surely undone by what happened to her character in The Empire Strikes Back. Instead of being a military leader, she’s pushed aside while men with no personality or character development make all the decisions. (Who is that guy who runs the Rebel base on Hoth?) Instead of helping her comrades survive their tough scrapes and narrow escapes, she becomes a whiny bitch â€” “This bucket of bolts is never gonna get us past that blockade!” â€” and lets Han come up with every single solution, make every decision. When they reach Cloud City, she paces around a penthouse apartment changing her hairstyle and trying new dresses, while she could be â€” oh, I dunno â€” making sure the Millennium Falcon gets fixed, or something like that.
While I think TESB is better than A New Hope in every other way â€” hell, it’s really the only Star Wars movie I’ll watch without somebody paying me â€” what it does to Leia’s character is awful, and Leia never recovers from it.
Which is the worse sin against art and storytelling: having the Evil Empire defeated by rock-throwing teddy bears, or having the brash and bold Princess let down her hair and change into a rustic dress the night before the battle which will decide the fate of the Galaxy?
“Bloody Star Wars,” as Warren Ellis said.
Given the experience of the first trilogy, what happens to Padme Amidala is not a surprise. From an inconsistent character in Episode 1, she devolves into a tool of the mythology in Episode 2, finding romance because the canon demands it (and I thought Rachel and Deckard’s romance in Blade Runner felt a little forced!). After that, hey presto, any last vestiges of independence or competence vanish the moment she gets knocked up.
So, what would have happened if Luke had been a girl? With George Lucas at the helm, exactly the same damn thing.