These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For

I was a Star Wars geek growing up and I’m a semi-geek about it now, the kind of grown-ass adult with a Princess Leia action figure, an R2D2 pillowcase, a pair of underpants with “Han Shot First” on the butt. I grew up with those movies, with the crunch underfoot of my brother’s action figures, able to casually name most of the bounty hunters in the Mos Eisley Cantina during fourth-grade recess. (I can’t anymore, but that’s okay too — that information faded along the years and I’m perfectly OK being the casual kind of fan who didn’t watch past Jar Jar and doesn’t know the answer to the obscure stuff at Quizzo).

I could never have articulated it then, but those movies are pure classic mythology, digestible for kids in a way that makes sense: where a ragtag group of believers stands up against the big bad villains, where good triumphs over evil, where children question whether their parents’ failures are destined to become their own. Where a huge mechanical warship can be destroyed by a simple design flaw, or a walker with laser beams can be crippled not by shooting at it, but by tying its legs together. Where the reward goes, always, to the smart and savvy one who sees the big picture, not the immediate solution.

Ok, so like everybody else in the world, I watched the trailer for the new film and cried a little because I was so excited by it and then I decided to go back and re-watch all of the original movies from the first trilogy because I hadn’t seen them in YEARS and that’s exactly what I wanted to do in my free time. I did all the dumb voices I remembered along with the lines and I ate a lot of popcorn and pizza and then I started to notice something that I hadn’t noticed as a kid:

star wars women

There they are! That’s every single woman I saw throughout all six hours of film: Princess Leia, a random extra in the control room on Hoth; that lady with all the boobs in Jabba’s palace, the Rebel senator (?) who says, gravely, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information,” the dancer/sex slave who gets sent to her grisly Rancor death in Jabba’s palace, and Aunt Beru, whose denim jumpsuit/wide lapel combo are somehow the Tattooine equivalent of the 1977 JCPenney catalog.

That’s IT! That is IT! Do you know many dudes are in those films? Han and Luke and Chewie and Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine and Yoda and Jabba and Lando and Greedo and C-3PO and Obi Wan and Uncle Owen and Grand Moff Tarkin and every single Rebel pilot and the bartender in the Mos Eisley cantina and every stormtrooper, probably, and literally everyone else is a dude. Or implied to be a dude. I guess it’s possible that there are some creatures that could be ladies, but since it’s not specifically talked about in a Smurfette-principle kind of way, pretty much the rest of the universe is dudes.

And so I mention this to a friend and he thinks about it for a second and he says, “What about R2D2? I mean…. bear with me here, but: could R2D2 be a female?”

This theory was posited after I’d watched most of the movies and I couldn’t really go back to scour it and poke holes in this idea, but come to think of it…..

I mean…. Droid on a mission takes off with top-secret plans hidden inside. Finds an escape pod, lands on a sandy desert planet, gets purchased by scrap-metal Jawa bandits, gets sold to a farmhouse and manipulates his teenaged owner into releasing the restraining bolt — then takes off into the vast, terrifying desert in order to find the person who can save the Princess. R2 is the Swiss Army Knife of skills and abilities: if you need the garbage chutes in the Death Star to deactivate? R2D2. The Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive is broken? R2D2. Need that bunker shield door open on Endor before you can blow it up? Need to navigate to a distant star system? Repeatedly saves C-3PO from danger even though he’s endlessly irritating and won’t ever shut the hell up? R2-Motha-freaking-D2.

There’s no reason at all why R2D2 couldn’t be a female. Let’s indulge this thought experiment and use the pronoun “her” and “she” — she’s frequently ignored by those around her because she communicates in beeps and whistles, not in human language. Despite this, she is endlessly loyal, repeatedly broken and damaged but a strong fighter and survivor, and almost always a few steps ahead of everyone else in terms of “practical solutions for saving the day.”

AND, oh my god, she was also the droid equivalent of a cocktail waitress on Jabba’s barge:

So I get really excited by this theory and I turn to the internet about it and I get a few hits from other websites where this theory has been posited. But instead of the way that I’ve been thinking about it — that there’s no reason at all why we can’t swap the default assumption for the gender of this neutral, robot character — I find the following supplemental evidence to support the theory:

  • “When in an X-Wing or similar ship, R2 does not actually drive but instead offers assistance and encourages the pilot to stop and ask for directions when lost.”
  • “The noises R2 uses to communicate are similar to the sound 5 or more women make when gathered for coffee.”
  • “Loves C-3P0, against all odds/good judgement”

OKAY THAT’S FRUSTRATING AND OFFENSIVE, BUT MAYBE I JUST NEED DIFFERENT SEARCH TERMS:

Oh. Wait.

Okay.

On one hand: it’s kind of nice that the stereotype of “Star Wars Fan” as mouth-breathing, hopeless, basement-dwelling dorkosaur has passed us. That it’s so delightfully mainstream now that everyone gets the references, that Target has a merchandising deal that makes my head spin, that Wookie sweatshirts and Stormtrooper hoodies on the street are pretty commonplace. And that swimsuit, to its credit, is AWESOME, and if I owned it, I’d wear it to the beach every day of my life.

But it made me sad, for a minute, to remember the kid that I was — dressing up as Princess Leia in my mom’s bedsheet, trying to braid my hair into cinnamon-bun updos, running around with a cardboard tube lightsaber — and also suddenly remember creating an outfit for my Barbie that was a replica of Leia’s slave outfit from Return of the Jedi. 

That I literally crafted a costume for “sex slave” as a nine-year-old and didn’t think twice about it.

That I never played an Ewok or Han Solo or a Stormtrooper with my brothers and his friends. Always Leia. That it never occurred to me to play anybody else, because I was a girl.

And Princess Leia is awesome, and a badass who grabs a blaster and saves the day on more than one occasion, and she’s a terrific role model…. and she’s not enough.

Look, I’m really excited for this new movie to come out. And I’m trusting JJ Abrams not to mess it up. And also….

Maybe this time we can populate the universe with more than just dudes.

Maybe when the costume choices around Halloween start to appear on shelves, not all of the ones marketed to adult women are designed to be explicitly sexual.

Maybe the little girls who grow up watching this new film will discover role models of their own gender to emulate.

Maybe I’ll stop feeling so lousy that those films, which were a cherished part of my childhood that I always imagined watching someday with my own children, is actually kinda sexist.

And seriously….

MAYBE … R2D2 is the most kickass lady warrior the world has ever known.

 

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15 thoughts on “These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For

  1. Interesting take on these classic movies. I just made my girlfriend watch all six movies – beginning with ANH obviously – and none of us realized that there were so few women. Maybe that was the way “army” and “war” were back in the 70’s and 80’s when these movies were made. I mean, how many women were actually taking part in wars and in the military then, as opposed to know? Same? Different? More? Less?

    I’m not saying this or that, I’m just speculating here. Surely, I agree there should and would be more women in those films. Lots more.

    Come to think of it – in the prequel trilogy, there are not that many women either. Hopefully this will be adressed or corrected in the new ones!

    Pretty darn excited.

    As always, keep up the good posts!

  2. Did you ever watch Star Trek? Though the original series was very much of its time — mid-60s — as evidenced by the network insisting that a woman could not play the Enterprise’s second in command (Majel Barrett, eventually the creator’s wife, was demoted to the role of Nurse Chapel), the other series show women in plenty of leadership and action roles. And I wouldn’t trust J.J. Abrams with your beloved Star Wars, since he made the Star Trek “reboot” movies into bland space shoot-em-ups.

    • yeah I did and if the female characters were well done I would accept them in different roles not the screaming being I need a man to save me type but the bad ass female roles like in James Cameron Aliens sarah conner and Ellen Ripley

  3. I grew up watching these films, and never noticed the lack of female characters either! Scary! As for potential Halloween costumes – the cynical side of me suspects that regardless of what the new films bring, we’ll still be greeted with ‘Sexy *character here*’ offerings. Ah well.

  4. This made me see R2D2 in a whole new light – I never thought of (the android) in this way. it has also just struck me about the lack of females in Star Wars – maybe I should give them all another watch.. popcorn at the ready! Thanks for this, it was a good read. 🙂

  5. Pingback: These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For | redsnest

  6. C3PO and R2D2 are both gender neutral characters. And proof of this is that so many people want to label C3PO as gay because of his/her (Do you refer to a gender neutral character as it?) effeminate characteristics.

  7. Fascinating (plus slightly tragic yet at times very funny) view of films that are a huge part of my childhood as well. As you say, thank God that the new films will be slightly different (I hope) and the next generation won’t have a realisation like you have just had.

    Great work, as always.

  8. Pingback: These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For | Film and TV Ramblings

  9. I have never looked at Star Wars from this perspective before – great post! Although now I am going to have to re-watch them all again……….
    What are your thoughts on C-3PO??

  10. Pingback: Sucks to be you, Jyn Erso. | I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog

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