This is not the post I set out to write when I asked the other day which Star Wars ladies should be headlining novels. After all, Nanci already quite eloquently laid out why we need more women in the Expanded Universe. But on Friday, EUC posted a rebuttal to her post, titled Let’s Stop Thinking About Gender and it seems there’s still more work to do on the ground level. I know, I was shocked, too. Though I probably shouldn’t be.
Clearly we’ve forgotten that Star Wars is aimed at boys! And that by asking for something as minor as a female characters whose functions include something other than being Big Bad Lady Cthulu or Confused Teenage Girlfriend makes us the sexist ones! For shame, ladies. For shame. Because we’ve never heard anything like this before.
But seriously, the most offensive part of the column is all that misplaced vitrol at ladies – and lady-friendly guys – who actually want things in the Expanded Universe to change. Just a little. Because what our argument really boils down to is that we need more female characters who are developed and engaging. But there’s no lack of trying at that for male characters. Let’s take a look at the non-reprint Star Wars books published by Del Rey in the last two years, May 2012 to May 2010.
Scourge, Darth Plagueis, Shadow Games, Riptide, Revan, Deceived, Red Harvest, and The Force Unleashed II are all novels headlining men. Some of them are brand-new characters, some of them are expanding on characters from games and other areas of the fandom, but all of them are guys. If there are women in major roles in any of these books, I couldn’t really tell from the release materials, with the exception of Ahsoka in Clone Wars: Gambit, the ‘holostar’ Javul Charn in Shadow Games (starring Dash Rendar) and Juno Eclipse in The Force Unleashed II. In fact, I had to ask on Twitter to find out if Scourge had any women in major roles. Apparently there are two! Would have been nice to know that from the blurb.
Only one of the three women on those covers is actually carrying her book: Kerra Holt in Knight Errant. Mara Jade in Choices of One and Tahiri in Conviction are both part of ensembles.
And that’s why we’re not asking so much about the about male characters. As Del Rey and Lucasfilm show more interest in greenlighting novels featuring no movie characters at all in the major roles, it would be nice to see some new or lesser-known EU ladies get their due. Of all those books, Knight Errant is the only one indisputably starring a brand-new woman protagonist. (And even she started in the comics, which seem to have become much better at featuring ladies these days, despite an environment that may be even more male-dominated than the bookstore.)
As far as the novels go, there are about two women who’ve managed to garner something resembling an actual fanbase through the years. Two women who could conceivably ‘carry’ a novel. One of them is Mara. (And she’s dead.) The other, Jaina Solo, has yet to shine outside of the cast-of-thousands megaseries approach, thought I suspect that’s only a matter of time. Her niece Allana was a main character throughout Fate of the Jedi, and she may have possibilities as well – hopefully she, like Ben Skywalker, will benefit from all Lucasbooks have learned from the mistakes they made with child characters in the past.
Jaina is an interesting case. She is, of course, the only daughter and sole surviving child of Leia Organa and Han Solo. She’s not a favorite of mine – none of the Solo kids were – but she is, without a doubt, a major character in the EU. She a small but vocal fanbase of her own, like Mara. And yet, approximately 50% of her ‘plot’ has involved her love life. Sure, the other half has been, oh, killing her twin brother (another post entirely) and other action stuff. But mostly? Her love life.
They never did that to Luke. You never saw, in the 90’s, an entire series where half of Luke’s role was to ponder his love life and pal around with girls. His two most romance oriented-storylines – Children of the Jedi/Darksaber and Specter of the Past/Visions of the Future – both feature actual plots for him! And, in the case of the Zahns, Mara too! Of course, for Jaina, it’s Movie Character vs. EU Character, Bantam vs. Del Rey, Undisputed Main Character vs. One Of A Cast Of Thousands. And Luke’s other love interests certainly got plenty of short shift along the way. (Poor Callista: “I just want to be worthy of the Jedi Master that I love.”) For Mara, getting hitched simply cemented the character’s rise to the official big leagues. But it’s Jaina’s birthright, and the romance stuff was old before the New Jedi Order was over. She hasn’t been a teenager for a long time, and deserves far more respect – and plot – than she’s gotten through the years.
Neither Mara nor Jaina have been treated particularly fairly. One of them is dead. They’ve wasted many of the other great ladies they’ve had – see also Shira Brie, who had a lot more story possibilities when she was killed off in the same book as Mara. Tahiri, who I’ve been not-so-patiently waiting to get interesting and might actually do something after Apocalypse. (Might.) See Tionne, a character who’s been around since nearly the beginning of the modern EU, who’s been constantly shunted off to the background. See the many ladies of the X-Wing books like Mirax and Winter. (One bright spot in the coming year may be Myri Antilles in X-Wing: Mercy Kill.) Tell that to Nomi Sunrider, who was going to star in a now-canceled book.
Male characters get killed off too, they have out-of-character experiences, they go in directions we don’t like. Of course: Club Jade has been complaining about that since the early 90’s. Prozac Luke, anyone? Welcome to the Expanded Universe. Hell, welcome to the world of licensed fiction. Characterization has been an issue in these books from the very beginning. No one here is denying that. But the men have had far, far more chances to shine.
So, yes: We need more women in prominent roles, we need more Leias and Maras and Jainas. We need female characters that engage people, not because they wear metal bikinis or skintight leather, but because they are interesting characters in their own right.
And, yes, let’s talk about Padme Amidala Naberrie Skywalker. Poor Padme, perhaps the most unexpanded-upon movie character in all of Star Wars. (I’m pretty sure that all the bounty hunters in Empire have had more EU ‘screentime’ than she has.) Padme, who we’re constantly told is great politician, but rarely shown. The politics of the prequel era have gotten a lot of guff, but they’ve been completely ignored by the format that is perhaps the best-suited to explore and display them: The novel.
No one is asking for a 9-book-series on Padme’s political career. We don’t want Fate of the Senator; we’re saying ‘Hey, a Padme book like Darth Plagueis might be nice.’ Stover is probably not the writer for this, but how about a book like Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Minor, which takes all that disparate canon of the era, fits it together, and makes the character shine. I want a book that makes me, if not like, understand Padme and the choices she made in the movies. It’s a tall order, and probably a pipe dream, at least while The Clone Wars is still soldiering on. Lucasfilm may have plenty of reasons for not doing a Padme book. Or a young Leia book, for that matter. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to quit asking.
A politics book would bore some to tears? Elicit the eyerolls? Welcome to how I feel every time they announce another Scourge or, better yet, an Old Republic novel. Yeah, I think I’d rather read about politics. At least it would be something new.
Are we a vocal majority? Oh, yes: But all of us doing this, running fansites that focus on this minor part of a major franchise, are nothing but a vocal minority. Most fans, as far as I can tell, are happily uncritical and will eat up anything that has a big shiny Star Wars label with a spoon and love it. That’s never been me, that’s never been Club Jade, and I am not going to regret that or apologize for it. Or stop demanding better.
The EU is by no means lacking in women. They’re just not getting all that much of the spotlight. And that’s all we’re asking for. As another fandomer, Bryan Young, told me on Friday, “We should all be saying, ‘We want more diversity in our Star Wars.'” Believe it or not, but fandom is more than musclebound white dudes, and we all have a desire to see ourselves represented. It isn’t the 70’s anymore: We won’t be satisfied with just one awesome token lady. We’re not going to shut up. Deal with it.