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How Star Wars Can Avoid Becoming Dude Wars: A Feminist Wish List

Well, friends, it is December of 2015. And, in the midst of the shrieking, writhing, hyperbole-spewing horror show that is the Internet (expressed any opinions about the US election lately? No? Good news, it’s exactly as pleasant as having your face chewed off by a guy who’s just snorted an economy-size tub of bath salts) there is one lone spot of shrieking, writhing, hyperbole-spewing glee.

I speak, of course, of Star Wars. Yes, after six straight Star Wars movies, and approximately two good ones, the Internet has a fevered conviction that this year, under the masterful hand of J.J. Abrams, Star Wars will be made great again. For months now, people have been reacting to Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers as if this movie were the second coming of Christ and/or Citizen Kane. People began to line up for the movie weeks before it opened.

It’s a big deal.

I feel left out. Despite loving pretty much any movie with a spaceship in it, I have never liked Star Wars. I don’t dislike it, either. That universally beloved original trilogy, well, I can take it or leave it: It’s not great enough to matter, not bad enough to leave a mark.

But maybe the Internet is right. Maybe this new Star Wars will be the one that saves the day. Maybe it will even be the Star Wars that I, personally, can love — the one where the Force Awakens, not only on screen, but in my heart.

I would like this to happen. I am hoping it will. In fact, I am so dedicated to its happening that I have created the following list of requests.

1) Please have girls in it. I assume we’ve all seen this important piece of journalism. It compiles every line spoken by a woman (who is not Princess Leia) in the original Star Wars trilogy. It is one minute and twenty-four seconds long, and most of the lines are spoken by Aunt Beru. Unfortunately, Aunt Beru, AKA “Flaming Skeleton #2,” is incinerated a few minutes into the first movie and never mentioned again.

There’s reason to believe things will be better in The Force Awakens. Leia is back, but also, the co-lead, Rey, is a girl; Carrie Fisher’s daughter, who is apparently in the film, is a girl; the villain Phasma, played by the ever-delightful Gwendoline Christie, is a girl; Lupita Nyong’o has been cast, and though she’s playing an orange CGI alien, I have every reason to believe that alien will be a girl.

That’s great. But if Lupita Nyong’o and Carrie Fisher’s daughter explode in a pod-racing accident five minutes into the movie, I’m going to nod, and call this a sad continuation of Star Wars tradition.

Do not continue Star Wars tradition. Have girls. Multiple girls. Keep them around for the whole movie. Let them talk.

2) End the plague of White Man Feelings. Once upon a time, there was Luke Skywalker, a white man whose thwarted desire to go to the Tosche Station and pick up some power converters was powerful enough for him to launch a full-on, high-pitched Whine Attack on his relatives. (As Aunt Beru was incinerated, the thought that she’d never hear Luke’s voice again must have been sweet relief.) We spent a whole trilogy putting Luke in situations more stressful than “not immediately getting power converters,” and — surprise! — he did not react any better. Nice kid. Not a model of stoic restraint.

To find our next protagonist, we went back in time, to the equally male, equally white Anakin Skywalker. And somehow, despite all logic, Anakin was even worse. You thought Luke was a complainer? This one had a monologue about how much he hated sand. When Anakin worried that the woman he loved might die, he responded by killing everyone he could get his hands on, including that woman. He single-handedly brought on the Evil Empire during a tantrum. The Feelings were strong in this one.

White men’s emotions are frequently less compelling than white men suppose. It’s not your fault, guys. It’s just that we’ve spent centuries being forced to listen to you, and you’ve gotten over-confident. But when white men get over-confident about the entertainment value of their self-pity, what we get is Star Wars: A legendary franchise in which every protagonist to date has been an insufferable, self-obsessed, sand-hating dink.

Again, we have the opportunity to course-correct. John Boyega as a former Stormtrooper joining the Rebels? Interesting protagonist! Oscar Isaac doing death-defying feats in a space plane? Very fun protagonist, would watch! Daisy Ridley being… someone who’s not a guy? OK! But Adam Driver as a miserable-looking Space Goth who frowns in the snow? No. No more sad white men for you, Star Wars. You have had more than enough.

3) No more danger-induced stripping. This is a very specific complaint. But there is a scene in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones that I will never forgive.

It goes like this: Natalie Portman has been tossed into a fighting pit with an alien hell-beast. It mauls her, leaving foot-long gashes across her back. And then, as we cut away to show her screaming in pain, we realize that the alien has also somehow ripped the entire bottom half of her shirt off, so that she is now wearing a sexy midriff-baring top. Which she then wears for the rest of the scene, without seeming to be at all incapacitated by the fact that she was recently mauled by something twice the size of a grizzly bear.

I mean, you would not believe how neatly Natalie Portman’s shirt tears off. You can watch it happen here, at the 2:50 mark, and it is a goddamned miraculous transformation. With one animal attack, it instantly becomes a well-hemmed, stylish, skin-exposing crop top, of the sort you could find at Zara. Indeed, it’s as if that top were the entire point of the scene! Almost like George Lucas started with the intention of making Portman wear a sexy costume, and then invented some form of danger, solely as an excuse to “force” her into it!

In fact, it’s exactly like that, because that’s clearly what happened. It’s also why, when Princess Leia was captured by Jabba the Hutt, the first thing Jabba did with a major political figure, high-value military target and/or immensely valuable hostage was to put her in a string bikini and make her watch exotic dancers. It didn’t make any sense, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t get Leia a whole lot nakeder.

Look: If you want ladies in sexy costumes, write some. Put Oscar Isaac in a sexy costume, too, for that matter. I’d watch that. But for the love of God, Star Wars: Stop treating sexiness as something that “good” women have to be tricked or forced into, and stop positing sexual assault, kidnapping, and/or being mauled by a space bear as magical forces that conspire to get women into skimpy outfits. It’s insulting. If we want to put bikinis on, we can do it our goddamn selves.

4) More Ewoks. They’re cute, right? I always thought they were cute. Everybody likes them, I think. Definitely more Ewoks!

5) Keep our expectations down. Look: I may never get the intense, quasi-religious feelings some people have about Star Wars. I’m more of a Trek girl, and I’m definitely more of a “2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot” girl than anything else. I understand the desire to get totally lost in a fictional universe, but this was never the universe I wanted to get lost in. Too few girls; too many whiny white guys; too much stripping in the face of danger, too many swordfighting wizards, too many silly names. (“Kylo Ren?” Why does your villain sound like a Brooklyn #millennial who makes artisanal relishes for a living?) I understand loving Star Wars, but in the way you understand why a friend loves the person they married: You don’t want to marry her yourself, you just know that what they have is real.

Furthermore: Even for people who love Star Wars, there are reasons to be skeptical of all the love that Force Awakens is getting. As a Trek girl, I saw what J.J. Abrams did to that franchise: A universe that was originally meant to be slow, cerebral, and heavily philosophical and/or political got run through the Blockbuster Mill until it was just another mile-a-minute action franchise. It was a good action franchise — great cast, stylish, often very fun — but it also wasn’t really Star Trek any more. So no matter how much you love Star Wars, or how great those trailers look, you may never entirely capture the feeling you had as a small child, watching the original trilogy. You got to have that feeling once, with the original trilogy. As with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, you need to be prepared for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars to be its own thing.

But here’s what I do enjoy: I enjoy Gwendoline Christie punching dudes half her size. I enjoy Oscar Isaac being witty and likably masculine at things. I enjoy any opportunity for Carrie Fisher to give an interview, because when that woman talks, wonderful things happen. (Did you know that, in at least one scene of The Empire Strikes Back, Han and Leia were wasted on-camera because they’d been up all night drinking with the Rolling Stones? It’s this scene, and oh man, it’s really noticeable now. Thank you, Carrie Fisher!) And I enjoy movies with spaceships in them. This story, I am told, will have lots of spaceships.

So yes: Do what you’re going to do, Star Wars. As long as you include all these things I have requested, it will probably be fine. But stop telling me that you’re going to blow my mind and change my life. As someone entirely indifferent to Star Wars, I will be impressed enough if you just make a decent film.

Photo by Fidalwood, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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