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Why the Future of Star Wars is Female

We’re on the cusp of a new dawn for the galaxy far, far away with Daisy Ridley’s recent blockbuster announcement of an upcoming film that will continue the story of Rey and the New Jedi Order. But while the world of sinister Sith and dueling Jedi started with Luke Skywalker’s daddy issues, let’s remember that the often-forgotten women of Star Wars have always been a cornerstone of the space opera.

Q’ira and the bun-haired Princess Leia Organa shaped Han Solo, Padmé was there for Anakin’s fall to the dark side, the Resistance would’ve been snuffed out without Amilyn Holdo’s sacrifice, and what would the Rebel Alliance be without Mon Mothma at its helm?

Women and Wookiees

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As far back as the original trilogy, it wasn’t just Carrie Fisher carrying Star Wars for women. Yet it’s baffling to think there are just three named female characters (Leia, Luke’s Aunt Beru, and Mon Mothma) in the first three movies. There’s also the often forgotten sci-fi writer Leigh Brackett, who turned in a script for a Star Wars sequel before her death in 1978.

Although Lucas reportedly disliked the script and handed it over to Lawrence Kasdan for rewrites, major elements like an ice planet and climactic duel between Luke and Darth Vader remained intact. Still, we’re not sure Yoda would’ve been as popular if he was named Buffy, nor would the second movie have remained as iconic if Vader didn’t turn out to be Luke and Leia’s father. Importantly, Brackett’s draft faced a Leia problem, casting her as a damsel in distress whose role was mainly to be part of a love triangle. Leia ultimately became far more complex in the finished screenplay.

The prequels upped the female factor with The Phantom Menace, but while Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala started out as a young and stoic leader, the Queen of Naboo was reduced to being a sappy love interest in Attack of the Clones, then a stereotypical Mary Sue in Revenge of the Sith. Taking it one step further, Luke and Leia’s mother was “fridged” in Episode III to truly set Anakin Skywalker onto the path of becoming Darth Vader.

Padmé’s a divisive but essential part of the prequels actually bucked a trend of more diverse female characters in Star Wars. The ragtag cast of Rogue One didn’t need Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso to be a secret Skywalker or Emperor’s granddaughter to strike out on her own as a well-rounded character. The Bad Batch animated television series might focus on the titular squadron of rogue clones, but Michelle Ang’s Omega is at its core. These days we’ve got everything from morally grey Inquisitors to Mandalorian queens.

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The (Female) Force Awakens

While Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker led the original trilogy and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin the prequels, there’s been a recent trend toward female-focused character stories. 2015’s The Force Awakens introduced us to Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a plucky little junker from the planet Jakku who gives us echoes of Luke. Despite some fumbles along the way, Rey was the de facto–and likable, overall–hero of the sequels, and much of her hostile reception can arguably be put down to the sometimes toxic Star Wars fandom.

The characters of the sequel trilogy were undoubtedly a mixed bag. Captain Phasma and Zorii Bliss haven’t become the marketable merch hits they were presumably created to be. But there were still standouts like Laura Dern’s Holdo and Lupita Nyong’o’s goggle-wearing pirate Maz Kanata, the latter a particularly fascinating addition to Star Wars lore. At over 1,000 years old, she could pop up in The Acolyte or many other projects.

The 1,000-year-old pirate Maz Kanata. Disney

Outside the nine-movie Skywalker Saga, the women of Star Wars have proven they’re not to be trifled with. Following a breakout role in The MandalorianMing Na-Wen’s Fennec Shand stood by Temuera Morrison’s side for The Book of Boba Fett. Tony Gilroy’s Andor might give Diego Luna top billing, but that hasn’t stopped Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma from stealing the show. Not bad for a character who had a fleeting appearance in Return of the Jedi and was largely cut from Revenge of the Sith. And let’s not forget that Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau had seemingly grand plans for Gina Carano’s Cara Dune before she was publicly ousted.

There’s also Rosario Dawson’s much-hyped turn as Ahsoka Tano. The talented Togruta was created by Filoni for The Clone Wars and has since gone on to become one of the Star Wars universe’s best-loved characters. Helping bridge the gap between eras, Ahsoka’s voice (Ashley Eckstein) was heard in The Rise of Skywalker before Dawson took over live-action duties in The Mandalorian Season 2. This was clearly leading to something much bigger, with the aptly named Ahsoka picking up the dangling plot threads of THAT Rebels cliffhanger.

Dawson has championed the importance of featuring more female characters in Star Wars, telling The Wrap, “We’ve long since been waiting; we knew what Leia was capable of, and now we’re getting to see it even better realized and actualized with this leaderful [sic] moment of women on screen.”

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Of course, it isn’t the female force of Ahsoka’s Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Natasha Liu Bordizzo ultimately leading the way.

For that we can jump behind the camera.

“A New Hope”

In 2023 Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Deborah Chow found her footing directing episodes of The Mandalorian, while Bryce Dallas Howard similarly directed many of its most beloved installments, including Season 2’s “The Heiress.” The Jurassic World actor even had the honor of voicing the obscure character Jedi Council member Yaddle in the Tales of the Jedi anthology.

As we mentioned at the outset, Ridley is also getting another opportunity to shine, with director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy confirmed to be moving her story forward in a new movie — some 15 years after the events of Episode IX. No matter what you think of Rey as a character, it sounds like Ridley could be settling back into her robes. Speaking to Collider about what comes next, she said the story is “not what I expected, but I’m very excited.” In further comments, she explained, “I know the storyline for one film. That’s not to say that that’s all it is, but that’s what I was told about.” Although she admits that she doesn’t know how things are looking after the SAG-AFTRA strikes, it’s whispered another Rey-centric trilogy could be born from Obaid-Chinoy’s first outing.

Yet another female powerhouse is waiting in the wings thanks to Russian Doll’s Leslye Headland leading the charge on The Acolyte. This ambitious series is set during the High Republic era and will once again feature a female lead in Amandla Stenberg’s former padawan.

Despite the possibility of multiple Rey movies, other Star Wars film projects are in a state of flux. Marvel Cinematic Universe overlord Kevin Feige is the latest to confirm that his proposed live-action movie is joining the likes of Patty “Wonder Woman” Jenkins’ aborted Rogue Squadron on the cinematic scrap heap. Still, Disney’s continued focus on the expanding TV universe is good news for those championing a Bo-Katan Kryze spin-off set on Mandalore. Much as the MCU was rumored to be working on an all-female Avengers movie, it occasionally felt like The Mandalorian was heading that way thanks to Bo-Katan’s increased screen time. Add Ahsoka’s Hera and Sabine into the mix, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

Cue the small-minded outrage.

We’re reminded of Winstead telling The Wrap how “gender doesn’t matter,” adding, “It’s ‘Star Wars’. We’re all in this together.” At the helm of this TV universe is the legendary Filoni, who proved from the strength of women in Ahsoka that this isn’t a man’s world anymore. We’re not sure we need a Mon Mothma origin story, but for those who want more of Hera or are hoping to see Asajj Ventress in live action, these sprawling series have much more potential than cramming everyone into a two-hour movie.

The Dark Side of Fandom

For some scruffy nerf herders the increased presence of female directors, and female character-led projects, is rattling. Like those manufacturing rage over the MCU’s She-Hulk, a number of them have already uploaded TikTok rants about how Star Wars has “lost its way.” YouTuber Isabella Amidala has spoken out about the negativity she faced when reviewing a line of Ahsoka toys, some of which came from a fellow content creator who dedicated an entire video to mocking her. As you can imagine, this was accompanied by a slew of comments claiming Star Wars is for men.

Others are angrier than a Rancor with a sore head that Ubisoft’s Star Wars Outlaws has a smuggler called Kay Vess as its protagonist. Calling out the inability to pick a male lead, they seem to forget we’ve had two Cal Kestis games, not to mention Force UnleashedDark Forces, and the various other male-led games set in the galaxy. Thankfully, we had Luke Skywalker himself to remnd us Star Wars is for everyone.

Addressing the vocal minority that claims “woke” Disney has lost its way, Kennedy promises Yahoo it’s a natural evolution. “We don’t set out to say, ‘OK, this is going to be a project led by women’ — it evolves that way,” she said. “And I’m pleasantly surprised to see there’s a balance in the Force, let’s put it that way. Because in everything that we’ve been doing, I think we have attracted some really strong women both in front of the camera and behind the camera. And that’s been thrilling.”

While it’s unlikely we’ll ever have a pop culture icon quite like Princess Leia again (outdated gold bikini and all), you can bet that won’t stop Grand Moff Kennedy from trying to recapture that magic of the early days with more strong female characters. Forget officially making Starkiller canon, we need Samara Weaving as a live-action Mara Jade.


Based in Manchester, UK, Tom Chapman has over seven years’ experience covering everything from dragons to Demogorgons. Starting out with a stint at Movie Pilot in Berlin, Tom has since branched out to indulge his love of all things Star Wars and the MCU at Digital Spy, Den of Geek, IGN, Yahoo! and more. These days, you’ll find Tom channelling his inner Gale Weathers and ranting about how HBO did us dirty with Game of Thrones Season Eight.

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