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