A Galaxy of One’s Own

Not so long ago in a galaxy close to home science fiction was purely the realm of geek testosterone, but the Broads have invaded. As more and more women enter scientific and technology fields, more and more of them are writing, reading and watching science fiction books and movies. Female science fiction writers are changing the face of science fiction and men don’t seem to mind.

Mostly gone are the days when female characters in science fiction were simply “trophies to be rescued, or smoldering, sexual beings that really didn’t contribute to the overall plot other than as the hero’s love interest.” (Michaela Drapes, Burgundy Nails and Rose Tattoos: The Women of Cyberpunk)

When Star Wars A New Hope came out in 1977, this shift was just beginning and the Princess Leia character was a woman who could rescue as well as be rescued, shoot a blaster better than just about anyone, and in the next breath negotiate a treaty. (About the only thing that might have made Leia better would have been to give her a lightsaber, but I digress.) In any book or movie the writer creates expectations about her work. Audiences expect sequels to continue in the same vein as the first installment. That’s why many Star Wars fans skim over the stilted dialogue and overblown special effects of the second trilogy – that’s what we expect from George.

I also expected Padmé to be from a similar feminist mold as Princess Leia, not the simpering gestator she turned into in Revenge of the Sith. I expected George to once again be at the forefront of writing about strong female heroines, but he fell far short of the mark. Not only did Padmé not stack up, but other female characters were poorly representated as well.

Case in point, Lucas repeatedly missed opportunities to show female characters as equal in power to their male counterparts and often these changes would not have altered the overall story. Not once do any of the female Jedi on the Council speak – all of the lines spoken by Jedi Council members are from male members.

I also found it a bit too coincidental that the Twi’lek female Jedi, Aayla Secura, is dressed nearly as scantily as any other Twi’lek female in the Star Wars movies, but all of the other female Twi’leks are slave girls or part of the Coruscant “entertainment industry.” One assumes that slave girls don’t have much choice in how skimpy their attire is, but a Jedi would. Maybe Secura chose the skimpy outfit, but the coincidence makes me wonder. There are two male Twi’leks in the movies; both are clothed in long robes.

Back to Padmé. In Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Padmé showed promise. Like Leia, she still didn’t have a lightsaber, but other women in Star-Warsland did, which was a step forward. Padmé was highly educated, had reached the pinnacle of political success on her homeworld at a very young age, stormed her own palace with her handmaidens a la Artemis and fought off nasty monsters on Geonosis.

Once Padmé became pregnant, though, all that changed and all she did was sit around wringing her hands over Anakin’s fate and talking about losing her job because of the pregnancy. This latter point seems totally out of sync with what is supposed to be a near-post-utopian society. Also, Padmé’s inaction is completely out of character as is dying of a broken heart without seeing to the welfare of her children. Truer to character would have been a heartbroken Padmé going on for the sake of keeping her twins safe and to continue her opposition to Palpatine by being integral to the forming of the Rebellion.

I suspect that George wanted to have an Ophelia moment for Padme (floating on that coffin-barge with flowers in her hair) despite the fact that in Return of the Jedi Leia remembers her mother. How that’s possible if Padmé died when Leia and Luke were minutes old, I don’t know. I suppose you could attribute it to the Force, but neither Padmé nor Leia are ever considered to be particular Force adepts in the movies.

Still, I could let that go if Padmé had had a better end. It would have been much more poignant if Anakin had actually hurt Padmé in some way (domestic violence during pregnancy is much more common than one might think), but she manages to survive long enough to deliver, then to ask her trusted colleague Bail Organa to adopt Leia, ask Ben to take Luke to Tatooine – and then dies. A broken heart could even have been a contributing factor, but the difference is she would have taken care of loose ends instead of ending her life in an act of selfish suicide, which is essentially what she did.

Last Thoughts

Where the heck was Mon Mothma? She had an action figure, why wasn’t she in the movie? Evidently, in the novelization, Padmé is busy working with Bail Organa organizing a coalition of Senators who are against Palpatine being invested with more power, but that it was cut. If that’s the case, you know it’s going to end up in another DVD version down the road. Maybe that’s what happened to Mon Mothma as well. That bit of the story would have gone far to make Padmé seem less like a doormat.

My friend Snickle over at Random Piffle brought up the interesting notion of the German Spieltod, “which is basically a death in a play that must occur for dramatic purposes, but is carried out in a silly way. In Buddenbrooks, a main character dies suddenly of a toothache at the point where it was most dramatically necessary for him to be dead. Padmé’s death by losing the will to live was supremely silly and lame.”

I have a hard time believing even the Force couldn’t help a woman deliver a child in the contraption George concocted for the delivery scene. Women in reality are fighting tooth-and-nail for dignity during childbirth, and here’s 1950s-style childbirth depicted in a near-utopian society. The message is, no matter what girls, you can’t ever deliver your own babies under your own steam.

I wore my “Someone’s got to save your skins” Princess Leia t-shirt to see Revenge of the Sith and am so glad I did, if only to remember what potential Star Wars had for females in science fiction.