Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Star War VII: More of the Same?

Like so many others today, I eagerly awaited the cast of the new Star Wars movie to be revealed. I was excited to see if what we all knew was true, would Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the original cast return? Also, who would the newbies be and would it give us clues of the direction the storyline would take?

Of course, a lot of my day was spent down memory lane with my beloved Star Wars. I remembered my very first encounter with the movie that would be a touchstone of my youth. I was in junior high and a Weekly Reader was talking about a new space movie that was coming out. There was a large picture of a Stormtrooper and a little picture of the main character, Luke Skywalker. I was instantly smitten (with the movie, not necessarily Luke Skywalker). At twelve, I was already a huge sci-fi fan. The local drive-in provided the venue for my first viewing. Believe me, IMAX and 3D have nothing on seeing the tip of a Star Destroyer coming into view on a drive-in screen. I saw Star Wars three times on the big screen! It was the first time I'd seen any movie multiple times before it showed up on the Friday Night Movie of the Week on TV. Then there was reading Splinters of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back. Between what happened in the book and the sequel, the Luke/Leia/Vader relationship totally jacked with my adolescent brain. Wait. What! Whoa. But, thinking back, the crazy thing for me was I never wanted to be Leia. I always wanted to be Luke. I wanted to get off my own personal Tatooine and have an adventure. Sure, Leia was cool but I already had Uhura, Jamie Summers, Colonel Wilma Deering, and Diana Prince filling the repertoire of my own imagined feminine consciousness.

HR: starwars.com

Like other female commentators, I had mixed feelings. Yay!, there's all of my old favorites. But the persistent question of the day seemed to be, as io9's Annalee Newitz put it, "Hey Star Wars--Where the Hell Are the Women?" I too was miffed at that. Seven new characters around that table and only one is female, Daisy Ridley. Many are guessing that she will be Han and Leia's daughter from the Extended Universe, Jaina, and that this is likely to be her story. That's great and all. In the tradition of Hermoine and Katniss, girls and young women will get what seems to becoming, dare I say, a token strong female character.

As I thought about it more, though, does this surprise us? The original trilogy had Leia. The second trilogy had Padmé Amidala. The Star Wars motion picture universe doesn't seem to be able to handle portraying more than one woman at a time, regardless of how dynamic she might be. I have no doubt that this character will be a kick ass, beautiful, late teen/early twenty-something because it's en vogue. But she will accomplish this all with the support of men. Cool, tough, wisecracking men to be sure but, unless there are some surprise characters coming in, all men nonetheless. I don't know about you all but, in my world, I do my ass kicking with the support of both men and women, across generations. For that matter, in watching in current blockbuster movies, it's hard to identify more than one female lead in a sea of the male ensemble (maybe with the exception of the X-Men movies). 

Why is that? I want to believe it's a time thing. Television (I'm thinking of Firefly, Defiance and BSG) seems much better at portraying men and women equally in their casts. But that's also an easy out. So then that brings us to questions about how can this be changed. Felicia Day said on Twitter today "Let's make more women writers and directors so we don't have to be upset there aren't more women parts written in big movies, ok?" How do you make that happen, though? That change won't occur by thinking Hollywood is going to get a magical clue. This has been a hot topic for the last two decade and we've only had four women nominated for Best Director for an Academy award and one win. We can't fool ourselves that all of a sudden the status quo of film making is going to hire women en masse into the positions they are obviously lacking. It will be a long time before the sex, race, and age of award-winning directors will not be a topic for discussion. The solution might lie in new media. Currently, it seems well suited to episodic television. As it becomes more mainstream, perhaps new media will serve as the by-pass to the traditional Hollywood machine in which executives who are already operating outside of the box will embrace the untapped resources of talented female filmmakers in sci-fi feature films.

But in the meantime, I'll put my new hope in Abrams and his team that they will awe me in ways they didn't with the Star Trek reboot and depict multiple dynamic females characters in a galaxy far, far away.