Posted on Tue, May. 31, 2005
Star Wars: Galaxy needs men - and women, too
By Gina Barreca
The one female character with a speaking part in the latest and last Star Wars film does exactly two important things: She gets pregnant and dies. That's it. I never thought I'd say this, but I really miss Carrie Fisher.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (a title with the unhappy effect of making everyone who discusses the movie sound in desperate need of speech therapy) has the one female character say things such as "Hold me, Anakin. Hold me like you did on Naboo."
That's how you know the movie is science fiction: On this planet, if you ever say things like that to men, they run away so fast they leave skid marks. What else does she say? She says, in a moment of great turmoil, "You've changed!" This is what she whines when she notices her love interest becoming the Prince of Darkness, the Embodiment of Evil, the Vessel of the Dark Side. I use stronger language when my husband says I should use more garlic in the sauce. If I should ever notice that my husband's eyes were becoming radioactive, as do the eyes of the spoiled, grumpy boy-hero Anakin, I might speak a little more firmly.
Certainly Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia would have used a less pleading, less wimpy tone. As I remember, Leia not only kicked butt (sometimes quite literally), but also had some terrific lines. She was an active, crucial, irreplaceable part of the trio of triumphant characters, right alongside Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. She was, in fact, the smart one in that group. Leia didn't whine and snivel like Luke, and she was smart enough to choose Han Solo instead of her brother.
Apart from having bagels over her ears, Leia seems to exercise good judgment.
For example, when Han Solo pats himself on the back by announcing, "Not a bad bit of rescuing, huh? You know, sometimes I amaze even myself," Princess Leia instantly replies, "That doesn't sound too hard." Embodying the wit of Dorothy Parker and the timing of Mae West, the original Star Wars babe had a feisty, sexy, competitive, complex personality that made a whole generation of little girls want to be her when they ran the galaxy. Who wouldn't want to be the one with the punch line in the following exchange?:
Han Solo: Look, Your Worshipfulness, let's get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: me.
Princess Leia: It's a wonder you're still alive.
When little girls want to be the new heroine, Padmé (even the name sounds like a new line of ladies' bras), what is it precisely they'll be doing?
As far as I can tell, she gets knocked up, pops out twins like English muffins from a toaster, and then expires, like a carton of old milk.
The reason Padmé dies, according to the droid doctors who look after her during childbirth, is "she has lost the will to live."
Believe me, if women dropped dead every time they lost the will to live, they'd be sweeping out the bodies from the TJ Maxx dressing room on an hourly basis during bathing suit season. (To clarify: Women do not die because we lose the will to live. We drop because we get inadequate health care, with inadequate funding, and because a lot of us have to choose droid doctors approved by our HMO health-care plans. Do I sound bitter? Oh, just hold me like you did on Naboo ... )
Padmé is neurasthenic, weird, passive, an annoying character. Not a lot of action for an action-figure character - and yet there is indeed an action-figure available: a lady with skinny legs, a gun, and an untucked blouse obviously symbolizing advanced pregnancy (the gestation period on this planet being about three weeks - Padmé gets those twins ready for birth quickly and without the addition of any unsightly pounds). Skinny, armed, and pregnant: This is the effect of 40 years of the women's movement on American cinema.
And this isn't getting at the larger issue: that the simple presence of the feminine in Anakin Skywalker's life is the catalyst for his turn to the Dark Side. It is because our hero falls in love with Padmé that Anakin goes all weak and evil. So I guess the Catholic Church, John Milton's Paradise Lost, and Rush Limbaugh are all proved correct - it's women who plant the seed of disharmony and cause the wreckage of masculine community. Terrific.
I'm tired of heroines being dead. I'm tired of martyrdom. I'm tired of self-sacrificing pretty broads. And I'm tired of being coerced into feeling sorry for the men who cause their deaths.
Gina Barreca (email@example.com) is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut and author of "Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League."