Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gender and the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Editorial and Analysis


A recent series of posts have highlighted the issue of gender in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, i.e. the lack of female characters or the lack of quality story telling involving female characters.  The following post will be broken down into two sections editorial and analysis, in the editorial section I will describe my perspective and how I am approaching the topic.  In the second section I will provide some data points that we may all use to further the discussion in a more productive manor.

Editorial:

While I am going to use measured language in this post, I will provide some framing so that the reader can understand my viewpoint.  One of my favorite maxims from Political Science is that, "Where we stand depends on where we sit."  Self interest works on a conscious and subconscious level and whether it is an individual or a group of individuals, how you view events, interpret them and react will depend on where you sit.

In Star Wars the universe was created by George Lucas and expanded by other authors and artists since it's creation.  There would be a number of ways to break it down, at the most basic level the Original Trilogy was massively male dominated.  You could say at best the ratio is 2:1 male to female if you only count Han, Luke and Leia as the main characters.  However if you count Obi-Wan and Vader as a main characters in Episode IV, Yoda and Vader in Episode V and Vader and the Emperor in Episode VI, you end up closer to 4:1.  That isn't even counting the presumably masculine droids C-3PO and R2-D2.

What Star Wars lacked in quantity of female characters it generally made up for in strength of those female characters.  The ladies in Star Wars both in the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy could more then hold their own with the men.  There is some legitimate criticism I think of how Padme's character develops over the course of the Prequel Trilogy, but that is more of an issue to address when talking about Lucas' vision instead of the Expanded Universe.

So as we explore the issue of women in the Expanded Universe I think it is important to keep the context of the Star Wars universe in mind.

One other issue that comes from my perspective as a male is the paternalistic notion that we don't like to see women harmed.  Whether in story telling or in life, generally speaking I think it is easier for men to witness physical violence and harm caused and directed by men at other men then it is to see the same action directed by and against women.  This is a reason that while men boxing doesn't bother me, seeing women do the same thing makes me uncomfortable.  That being said, I am not saying women should not be allowed to do this, just that I believe there is a cultural aversion to witnessing such behavior.   In storytelling this aversion is less pronounced, but I still would be more comfortable reading about Jacen being tortured then say Jaina, or more comfortable reading about Jaden Korr being maimed then Tenel Ka.   If this perspective that I have is a wide ranging one among audiences, then the nature of Star Wars story telling and it's violence perhaps limits in some small way the amount of female characters and situations that those characters can be used in for fear of turning off the audience.

All of that being said some of my favorite characters in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU) and out of it are female.  In the Harry Potter series, Ginny Weasley is easily my favorite character,  the moment she stands up for Harry to Lucius Malfoy, I fell in love with the character and was very happy with how her story wrapped up.

In Star Wars, we have a number of interesting and compelling female characters, sometimes these characters are supporting characters set up as love interests or friends to male leads, sometimes they are villains and sometimes they are leading characters themselves.

It does seem recently there has been a very mixed bag in terms of EU portrayals and use of female characters.  One of the most interesting characters to me is Tenel Ka, but largely lately she has been relegated to the background on the thrown of Hapes.  A little farther back we have had the on going love triangle of Jaina Solo with Jag and Zekk.  Jaina's love life was a running and fairly obnoxious subplot when it felt like resolution should be given to this, she is after all hardly someone who couldn't make up her mind.  More recently Jaina has become the "Sword of the Jedi" but this emphasis of her Jedi traits has in my view weakened  her character.  One of the most interesting aspects of Jaina in the early EU was her mechanical skills and traits that she got from her Dad.  The more of a traditional Jedi Jaina becomes the less of that Han Solo influence comes through in the character.

Then there is the case of Mara Jade Skywalker.  Probably the most prominent EU female character and possible most prominent EU character period.  Mara Jade was a great character and worked great as a foil to Luke Skywalker.  The way her character was taken in Sacrifice (by one of my favorite authors) didn't work for me and didn't seem proper for the character.  If you re-read the Hand of Thrawn duology and the subsequent EU the defining characteristic of the relationship between Luke and Mara is the depth of their love and total naked knowledge of each other.  To think that Mara would go off to chase down Jacen without Luke or even discussing it with him first was simply insane and out of character to me.

I could go on discussing other characters, but to end on a positive note, I think there is hope for fans hoping for better female centered stories.  The EU has set up Allana Solo as the most pivotal character to the fate of the galaxy in the future.  Jaina Solo is set up as potentially the next Grand Master of the Jedi and if not that then certainly a major character dominating the landscape.  What we need now is more new EU characters, there has been a staleness to the Post-NJO EU in terms of introducing new characters.  We need authors to consciously re-populate the galaxy with a new batch of characters for the next chapter of the EU, and lets hope that in that new wave of characters, a good portion of them are compelling female ones.

In the interest of furthering the discussion in a positive direction I have decided to compile some statistical information.  While this may not be the best methodology I think it at least gives us a legitimate framework to base the discussion off of.  In the end, I think the answer both with male characters and female characters is not a Title IX like equality of word counts, but a richer and more internally consistent character development regardless of gender.

Analysis:

Methodology:  To get a large sample, I have begun in 2006 when the previous mega-series (Legacy of the Force) began.  I have taken all of the adult novels released since January of 2006 and broken down their dramatis personae according to gender.  This is a rough way of delineating the most significant characters in each novel.

2006:

Outbound Flight: No DP
Republic Commando: Triple Zero: 21 Characters: 17* Male / 4 Female
Betrayal: 28 Characters: 13 Male / 13 Female / 2 Droids
Bloodlines: 20 Characters: 13 Male / 7 Female
Darth Bane: Path of Destruction: No DP
Tempest: 20 Characters: 8 Male / 10 Female / 2 Droids

Totals: Books w/ DPs: 4. Male Characters: 51(12.75 Avg) / Female Characters: 34 (8.5 Avg)

* RC: Triple Zero lists Qibbu the Hutt as Male, but Hutts can change gender.  If a Hutt is in DP I have gone with gender listed currently for the character.

2007:

Allegiance: 25 Characters: 22 Male / 3 Female
Exile:  23 Characters: 11 Male / 11 Female / 1 Droid
Sacrifice: 19 Characters: 12 Male / 7 Female
Inferno:  15 Characters: 9 Male / 6 Female
Death Star:  13 Characters: 10 Male / 3 Female
Republic Commando: True Colors: 25 Characters: 21 Male / 4 Female
Fury: 21 Characters: 14 Male / 7 Female
Darth Bane: Rule of Two: No DP

Totals: Books: 7 Male Characters: 99 (14.14 Avg) / Female Characters: 41 (5.86 Avg)

2008:

Revelation:  21 Characters: 15 Male / 6 Female
Invincible: 17  Characters: 9 Male / 8 Female
Coruscant Nights I: Jedi Twilight:  11 Characters: 9 Male / 1 Female / 1 Droid
The Clone Wars: No DP
The Force Unleashed: No DP
Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows: 12 Characters: 7 Male / 4 Female / 1 Droid
Order 66: A Republic Commando Novel:  29 Characters: 24 Male / 5 Female*
Millennium Falcon:  No DP
The Clone Wars: Wild Space: No DP
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor:  No DP

Totals: Books: 5 Male Characters: 64 (12.8) / Female Characters 24 (4.8)

*In Order 66: Jedi General Etain Tur-Mukan is misidentified as "male human" in the DP.

2009:

Coruscant Nights III: Patterns of Force:  12 Characters: 9 Male / 2 Female / 1 Droid
Outcast: 11 Characters: 7 Male / 4 Female
The Clone Wars: No Prisoners: No DP
Omen:  17 Characters: 9 Male / 8 Female
Abyss:  10 Characters: 6 Male / 4 Female
Death Troopers: 6 Characters: 4 Male / 1 Female / 1 Droid
Imperial Commando: 501st: No DP
Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil: 6 Characters: 2 Male / 4 Female

Totals: Books: 6: Male Characters: 37 (6.17 Avg) / Female Characters: 23 (3.83 Avg)

2010:

Crosscurrent:  7 Characters: 7 Male / 0 Female
Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth: 11 Characters: 7 Male / 4 Female
Backlash:  15 Characters: 6 Male / 7 Female / 2 Droids
Allies:  15 Characters: 8 Male / 7 Female
Clone Wars Gambit: Siege: 14 Characters: 8 Male / 6 Female
The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance: 8 Characters 5 Male* / 3 Female
The Force Unleashed II:  14 Characters: 10 Male / 3 Female / 1 Droid
Vortex:  19 Characters: 9 Male / 8 Female / 2 Droids*
Red Harvest: 15 characters: 13 Male / 2 Female

Totals: Books: 9 Male Characters: 73 (8.11 Avg) / Female Characters: 40 (4.44 Avg)

*In Fatal Alliance Dao Stryver is intentionally misidentified as Male when she is actually female.  
*In Vortex, R2 and C-3PO are identified as "masculine droids."

2011:

Knight Errant:  No DP
The Old Republic: Deceived:  9 Characters: 6 Male / 3 Female
Conviction:  16 Characters: 7 Male / 9 Female
Choices of One:  17 Characters 15 Male / 2 Female
Ascension: 19 Characters: 10 Male / 8 Female*
Riptide: 6 Characters: 4 Male / 2 Female
The Old Republic: Revan: 10 Characters: 6 Male / 3 Female / 1 Droid
Shadow Games:  17 Characters: 11 Male / 4 Female / 2 Droids*

Totals: Books: 7 Male Characters: 59 (8.43 Avg) / Female Characters: 31 (4.43 Avg)

*In Shadow Games, Leebo & Oto are listed as "masculine droids."
*In the Ascension preview copy that I have a few of the female characters are listed without gender listing, here I have included them where they were listed gender wise in the rest of the series.

2012:

Darth Plagueis: No DP
Apocalypse: 16 Characters: 7 Male / 7 Female / 2 Droids
Scourge: 11 Characters: 6 Male / 5 Female*

Totals: Books: 2 Male Characters: 13 (6.5 Avg) / Female Characters: 12 ( 6.0 Avg)

* Scourge lists 4 Hutts in it's DP, 3 masculine and 1 feminine in their current states.

Combined 2006-2012 Totals:

Books with dramatis personae: 40  
Male Characters: 396 
Female Characters: 205 
Male Character Per Novel Average: 9.9 
Female Character Per Novel Average: 5.13  
Ratio of Male to Female Characters: 1.93 to 1. 
Concluding Thoughts:

While this is an imperfect methodology, I think it provides us some insight and at least a more factual way of discussing the quantity of female characters in the Expanded Universe.  In the end we have what amounts to two male characters for every female character.  There are some novels like the Republic Commando series by featuring so many clones skews the numbers a bit.  I am encouraged with just how many female characters there are, but as the numbers show those complaining about there not being "enough" female characters have grounds to argue their point.  In the end as I stated earlier I think the key is in the quality and consistency of characters rather then the gender of those characters.


1 comment:

  1. Nobody should be confused the women of star wars are complex characters that are heavily borrowed from and really are what makes the universe great. During vong war Leia, Mara and jaina were major characters. Cilgal,Saba sebytine and Tahiri veila not to mention the countless females who have made appearance one way or another.
    People don't give eu a chance because they know highlights but if they knew the real complexity of the story they would embrace the saga as it has been written.

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