Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Luke Skywalker is not a strong female character

As Episode VII looms with no plot details in sight, some bloggers are hoping for a female lead like Black Widow or Katniss Everdeen. A female Jedi - a Skywalker, perhaps? - could lead a powerhouse of a trilogy and send the loud and clear message that sci-fi isn’t just for guys. Star Wars could be a fangirl’s dream.

But I think that when the moviemakers are looking to design a female hero, they could do worse than to examine the male lead that started it all.

Luke Skywalker was a farmboy with no military experience, and except when Obi-Wan Kenobi lead him to the miraculous destruction of the Death Star, he wasn’t particularly skilled. Luke required a lot of saving. I noted in my review of the new Legacy comic that he was saved by Han, Leia, and Obi-Wan (multiple times). The whole cast was saved by C-3PO of all people. Luke was not a “strong” character.

And Luke was a successful hero for me because he took his time becoming one. He had two movies in which to grow, so that he’s a very different person on Tatooine in Return of the Jedi than he was on Tatooine in A New Hope. His success is so powerful because we saw his failure beforehand. I’d rather have a heroine who is that rather than a female version of a bland action hero who already knows how to use every kind of weapon.

Women in sci-fi often have to be the strongest warriors, the fiercest, most renowned fighters, as if there’s this underlying idea that the average woman can never stand on equal footing with the average man.

I want to see Star Wars show the important distinction between strength and perfection. I could imagine myself in Luke’s shoes. He wasn’t privileged, he wasn’t invulnerable, he wasn’t glamorous. But he was still a hero.

I’m not going to say that Luke was androgynous, or sexless, in A New Hope. Of all things it may have been his youth rather than his gender which made him most relateable to me. Both Han and Leia were adult figures, with careers - Luke was still figuring things out, and Star Wars for me was and still is a lot about an idealized version of growing up. A female hero could be that for the next generation.

But wait...

But once we reach the end of Return of the Jedi, I don’t think she should be like Luke at all.

I would like for a hypothetical hero to really claim her victory. Darth Vader claimed Luke’s victory over the Emperor by being the one to throw Palpatine to his death, but Luke saved the day by his less violent, more Jedi belief in Vader’s redemption. (Of course the two trilogies are all ultimately Anakin Skywalker’s story.)

I’m not arguing that Luke should have shoved Palpatine himself - Vader’s act was good storytelling, and also kept Luke as the nonviolent, monkish character he was supposed to be.

But I want my hypothetical hero to be triumphant, moreso than Luke was in the scene with the Emperor and Darth Vader. That triumph will of course have to develop over all three movies (or however many will make up one character’s arc), but it’s one way in which I don’t want her to be like Luke.

I would like for her to be rewarded, not saddened, by the end. A friend of mine once said that oftentimes men are praised for what they achieve, while women are praised for what they survive. That was an eye-opener for me because I was suddenly seeing the truth of it everywhere.

So here’s my little request, which will probably never get to Michael Arndt’s eyes, but it’s my little prayer out into the blogosphere.

I want the hero of the new films to be strong but also to start out as a kid who still has a lot to learn, not someone cocky and invulnerable. More like Luke, and less like Han.

Because Luke is not a strong female character.

And we keep going back to his story anyway.

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