It’s a Trap: Why Loving ‘Star Wars’ as a Woman Is Endlessly Exhausting
‘The Mandalorian’ is another reminder that something vital is missing from a galaxy far, far away
All you ever want is for Star Wars to be good.
That’s it. That’s all you want. You want to watch great stories taking place in a galaxy far, far away, a galaxy which has felt like home to you since you were old enough to process stories. Like so many, you came to Star Wars as a child, and it still makes you feel that way, every time you hear the music or see an X-wing fighter. Your brain is filled with the names of fictional planets and characters and species. You know when to look for Willrow Hood in Empire Strikes Back. You took a motherfucking class on George Lucas in college, for which you read Joseph Campbell, and learned about Ray Harryhausen, and watched Kurosawa, and wrote a paper on the thematic connections between American Graffiti and A New Hope. You nearly started crying when you walked around Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, and definitely shed a tear while rushing through the Millennium Falcon there.
Because Star Wars is a vast media universe, you have your gaps. You’ve only read a few of the novels, haven’t finished watching all of the CGI Clone Wars series, know about the Knights of the Old Republic games largely through osmosis, and sometimes put too few “c’s” in “sarlacc pit.” (Fortunately, there’s Google.) You tend not to beat yourself up about that, largely because your brain is also packed with Doctor Who and Star Trek trivia, and also one of the best things about Star Wars is that vastness, how it contains more than anyone could possibly comprehend.
However, one thing you have been keenly aware of, from your earliest days on this planet, is that the Star Wars universe does not contain all that many girls.
The closest a female Jedi got to speaking in the prequels was to scream as she was murdered.
Of course there’s Princess Leia, the only Disney princess you ever needed, the woman who gave as good as she got to her torturers and rescuers alike, who got to be a part of adventures you yearned to enjoy. And you appreciated Padmé Amidala for her spunk and headdresses (even if you never really got over her dying because “she has lost the will to live”).
But for decades, when you watched the movies, you kept noticing how rarely women spoke, and how there were Mon Mothma and a few other non-princesses running around, sure, but the closest a female Jedi got to speaking in the prequels was to scream as she was murdered.
And yeah, you noticed that with the same part of your brain that grew up conditioned to think that one girl in a story was more than enough girls, thank you very much, and that no, instead of being a ninja turtle, you get to be the reporter who follows them around. April O’Neil wore a very cool jumpsuit, of course, it looked both stylish and comfortable, but sometimes, damn it, you wanted to be the one to swing the nunchucks or bo staff.
Growing up you wanted to swing a lightsaber too, a feeling that has never really gone away. You might have once, in your late 20s, gone to a public park to take a lightsaber class organized by a group known as LA Jedi. You might have even bought a PVC pipe at your local hardware store afterwards, so you could practice some of the moves you learned there. But you never really kept up with your lightsaber studies, and you regret it.
This is all to say that when you saw The Force Awakens, and you saw Rey wield the weapon of a Jedi Knight, a part of you inside that had been starving suddenly knew what it was like to be fed. And then The Last Jedi served up a fascinating banquet that made you feel seen, made you feel welcome. And then the trailer for The Rise of Skywalker came out and there was Rey holding a lightsaber again, and you did something really stupid and you tweeted about how happy that made you.
You got added to a Twitter moment, the most ironic of all punishments for tweeting, because it leads to so many fun strangers wanting to Tell You Things. (You are so sick of guys bringing up Ahsoka Tano, by the way. Yes, she’s a great character — A. Singular. Great. Character, in a series that has maybe a quarter of the impact that a live-action blockbuster film has on pop culture. Next up: “Why should there be any more black people in Star Wars? Lando’s already there!”)
Again: All you ever want is for Star Wars to be good. You have loved it your entire life, after all. Unconditional love, however, is not blind love. All you ever want is for Star Wars to be good. And sometimes, you want it to be better.
So you sit down to watch The Mandalorian on Disney+ this week, and you want to love it for so many reasons. You love the ways in which the franchise is looking beyond the Skywalker Saga to explore this universe. (Again, it’s not that you don’t like Clone Wars, and really you should finish watching it now that it’s also on Disney+, especially because apparently Ahsoka Tano is a great character.) You love the casting choices (please, God, let there eventually be a scene where Carl Weathers gets his stew going), and you love the inclusive filmmakers working behind the scenes.
You also know that this show isn’t called The Mandalorian and His Merry Band of Inclusive Pals.
And then you watch it, and you’re enjoying it... and then 20 minutes in, a woman speaks, and you realize that she’s the first woman to speak in the entire episode. And then you get to the end credits, and you see that character, voiced by Emily Swallow, is listed as “Armorer,” and she’s the only damn woman to speak in the entire episode.
You watch Episode 2, and, no spoilers, but while it’s great, it definitely doesn’t fix that problem. When you look up the show’s upcoming credits, you are reminded that there are some really exciting actors coming up, including Gina Carano and Ming-Na Wen and Natalia Tena. (You had a vague memory of this being the case, but you had also been trying to avoid learning anything about the show prior to its premiere, because you savor experiencing the thrill of a fresh new narrative, whenever you can manage it.)
You’re sure they’re going to play badass characters, and even if they’re not the focus of the story, you also know that this show isn’t called The Mandalorian and His Merry Band of Inclusive Pals. It may be set in a galaxy far, far away, but the damn thing is a Western, after all, and The Man With No Name always rode solo.
You know all this, because you think about tweeting something, and then you think about what kind of response you’ll get, reasonable or otherwise... and so you don’t. It’s exhausting, after all. You have decades of this frustration inside you, whetted just a tad by the fact that things are supposed to be better now, not just for Star Wars but in general, and you are exhausted by it.
So instead you write something very long and personal in the second person, because you happen to have a couple of spare hours this morning while waiting on emails, and what the hell, why not shout, just a little bit, about how all you want is for Star Wars to be good, and The Mandalorian is good, and that’s fantastic news...
...it’s just that when you’ve been hungry for decades, it sometimes seems impossible that you’ll ever feel full.