An Actress's Thoughts

STAR WARS – Empiricism Strikes Back

Today’s text is about two Star Wars films and their casts, the first, which premiered as STAR WARS in 1977 (and received the subtitle „“Episode IV – A NEW HOPE“ in 1981) and the so far last, episode VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS – from 2015. Today’s photographs are by ARS, the statistics and painted figures by SchspIN.

STAR WARS – The Empiricism Strikes Back

The first image shows all speaking roles and their share of spoken text – the further to the front a figure is standing the more text it will speak in the film. As always, female characters are blue and males in dark pink.schspin_star-wars-1Two men at 18 % and a woman at 15 % – no, it’s not Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia from the first film of the franchise, but it’s Finn, Han Solo and Rey, three protagonists from THE FORCE AWAKENS.
Image 2 shows the same set from a different, more vertical angle. The characters in the last three rows are the ones with less than 1 % of the text. The overall share of women among all speaking roles is just under 23 %.


THE FORCE AWAKENS – Star Wars VII. Speaking roles according to %-age of total text. F = blue, M = pink. Photo: ARS

The very first Star Wars film (written and directed by George Lucas) only had two female speaking parts, Princess Leia and Luke’s Aunt Beru. Two. In a speaking cast of nearly 60 roles. So compared to that the 22,9 % in the 7th instalment of the saga is a vast increase and on top of that there’s a female lead in this science fiction film. But since I wasn’t raised on Hollywood films somehow this does not trigger fits of ecstasy in me. It’s not bad of course, but why do they continue shooting science fiction films in the 21st century where women are exceptio to the rule features in a male world?
Back to talking about the leads. In my last text (And Dream of Sheep) I discussed how leading roles are not really an objective category in itself and that the level of celebritiness or a simple definition can turn a smaller role into a leading one.
Let’s have a look at the closing titles which are at the base of the film’s entry in the IMDB database. It’s Han Solo, Luke (no text, roughly one scene) and Leia, followed by Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn as the first six on the list. OK, the first three, heroes and heroine of the first films, are audience pullers, aber even they are not followed directly by Rey. Be this as it may, she is the central character of the film, this can be deduced from press releases and the film poster where she is found in a central position. However, not everyone at Disney’s seems to be aware of this female protagonist in this genre, – the merchandise department certainly left her out at first when the action figures were produced.
This is not the first time a Star Wars heroine got left out: It happened to Princess Leia in the late seventies when the first STAR WARS film hit the cinemas. And even in 2014, when the old action figures were re-produced they left her out. Fortunately not least to the efforts by UK-scientist Natalie Wreyford and her #WeWantLeia campaign fans, boys and girls, women and men alike, were able to buy a Leia figure in the end, whose place was first taken up by an anonymous white faceless storm trooper.

So who’s the Protagonist then?

There’s a lovely piece of dialogue in Woody Allen’s THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) which I always think of when leads are being discussed. Here the characters of a film in the film talk about it:

Tom was the linchpin of the story.

That’s right, although this is basically my story.

What do you mean, your story? It’s the story of a man’s quest for self-fulfilment.

It’s the story of a complex, tortured soul.

Oh stop that. It’s the story of the effect of money on true romance.

I don’t think money comes into it…

My upbringing, my wealth, my private schools…

I’m the one who marries royalty. I’m the one, a humble kid..

Nobody cares.

What do you mean nobody cares? They wouldn’t sell a ticket if it were your story….

(They all talk at once.)

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. 1985. Director / Writer Woody Allen.

Every like is not the same

Here’s some food for thought: Would we be able to make a case for Finn (and not Rey) being the protagonist of THE FORCE AWAKENS? Not only, because he has the most words, but also because of the plot (it would be the story of a man who – as will surely be explained in upcoming episodes – ended up with the bad guys when little for some tragic reason, becoming a soldier / storm trooper. And now he deserted from the army, helps a man from the resistance (Poe) to escape, becomes good mates with Rey, travels through the galaxy with her (helping her and being helped by her), is able to handle a light saber intuitively and fight with it, grows up, takes responsibility, wants to rescue “his princes” etc. etc.? That’s possible.
Especially when on top of all this we read how actor John Boyega tells the story of how he was cast to the Hollywood Reporter: “They wanted to make sure they got the right person for the job. I learned that I got the part over a nice breakfast in Mayfair. J.J. said, ‚John, you’re the new star of Star Wars,‘ and everything froze for a moment.“ (bold words by SchspIN).
Mind you, he said “the new star“ of Star Wars, not „“a new star“. But no worries, I won’t challenge Rey being the protagonist, also since on top of everything else Finn seems to be responsible for comic relief in the fiilm every now and then. However – and this is something the statistical analyses of the script show as well as that of the end titles – Rey is not quite the protagonist in the centre as Luke was was in George Lucas’ first film. The next three images (by ARS) show the categories text, speaking scenes and total scenes and the share each character holds. We see all characters with at least a 2 % share.

Finn is leading in the categories text and – by a short margin – talking scenes. Rey by a greater margin ahead of Finn in total scenes. In that image you may notice more characters than in the other two, that is because two more males, Chewbacca and BB-8, are in there as well – who indeed talk but aren’t included in the script with uuaaah and beepbeepboink dialouges. In comparison look at Luke’s protagonistic situation in the first film: he leads all three categories in a distinct way (photos by ARS). This could indicate that heroines aren’t allowed the same scope for action and importance as the heroes of a story.

Looking at the IMDB-entry for the film – which again is based on the official credits’ list – we see the first three leads Luke, Han Solo and Leia as top of the list; even if possibly the actors and actress were just as unknown as the young leads of 2015 (Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn), who had other names ahead of them.

I’d have liked to add a diagram depicting the wages for the male and female leads, both for 1977 and 2015, but I can’t find open accessible, trustworthy figures for this. So it’s a topic for another day.

Today’s statistical analysis were done with the help of DramaQueen Scriptwriting Software.


The Joke-Test: ROGUE ONE

In 2016 another film from the STAR WARS universe came to the cinemas which is not part of the official franchise though. ROGUE ONE or ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. This film had one female lead as well, .Jyn (played by Felicty Jones), alongside seven men:


Tweet from 14.10.16 with a screengrab of the wikipedia entry for ROGUE ONE. Blue and pink dots were added by SchspIN

So where are all the women in this Star Wars world, are their foetuses aborted? And the few that manage to grow up to adulthood die in childbirth? Or – big exceptions! they are allowed to be involved as singular, lonely figures, e.g. at the military or in resistance movements? Or in parliaments as the 5 % token women? The Jedi Council (of the 3 prequel films) did not even have those, they were all men and male creatures.
Who comes up with these stories? Yes, I know, it’s fiction. But that does not place it above criticism or make it less unpleasant.

There is this simple definition of misogynous jokes. According to it, those jokes that don’t work any longer when you replace the women by men. So how about applying the Joke-Test to ROGUE ONE and the Star Wars films. Could they still work if women and men swapped their roles? Would the audience, the Star War fans and those who favour the “It’s only fiction” argument, would they all want to see a version of ROGUE ONE where there is only one man, a man who has a latent mother complex and who joins a women’s resistance group? Or (THE FORCE AWAKENS) would they be satistied with a young man – Rey – as identification figure and for projecting their dreams, a man who travels through the galaxies with all sorts of women to fight various bad women? Or (the first three Star Wars films of 1977, 1980 and 1983) would they want to see the story of a young woman who becomes a Jedi, is trained by old mistresses, has girl-friends to travel through space with or fight air battle alongside them and in the end face her evil mother? Wouldn’t they be bothered at all that there are hardly any men? And that one of these very few men appears as a near naked, humiliated slave with a strong iron round his neck – but loads of women in the audiene just think that is sexy? Are they content that one of the still very few women in the chronologically earlier parts of the stories (the prequels of 1999, 2002 and 2005) starts out as a king and a diplomant, but from the second film onwards only seems to be chaning his clothes and hairstyle every time he appears on screen and spends his time waiting for the lady of his heart and appropiately dies of a broken heart in the end?
Knowing it was all only fiction?

Better than doing the Joke-Test would have been of course if all these films had undergone a NEROPA check, meaing that the gender of all 50 to 60 roles of a film would have been questioned. Does this role have to be male? – Yes? Why? – No? Alright, so we declare it neutral – and all neutral roles will be defined as female and male characters alternatively in the end, before shooting.

It is quite obvious that no NEROPA Check took place (a method which I only invented in 2016), and certainly not for ROGUE ONE, a film that film critic Sophie Charlotte Rieger comments on in her German blog Filmlöwin (film lioness):

The absence of women* in this film is such a flagrant feature that I find it hard to believe. Did really no one notice while writing or reading the script, during the castings, when costumes were designed, make-up prepared, indeed in any of the many, many steps of a film production, – that other than Felicity Jones it’s only men* in the room?
Blockbuster Check: ROGUE ONE – A Star Wars Story (translation by SchspIN)

I can think of at least two answers to this question. Yes, someone did notice, but they did not are. And No, no one noticed. A case for the second answer could be made when regarding the biographies of script writers and director and thinking of the masses of Hollywood films on which they most probably were raised.
ROGUE ONE was directed by British director Gareth Edwards who said on the subject of the first STAR WARS (1977), that this film was “definitely the reason that I wanted to become a film-maker”. the Guardian article THE FILM THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: GARETH EDWARDS (Text. Jessica Hopkins) quotes him further:

From the age of about six I watched it every day for at least a couple of years. I must have seen it more than 200 times. My mum remembers me quoting it word for word on long car journeys. I once did the entire script. They couldn’t work out whether I was a massive film fan or autistic. (…)
For so many people my age it was the ultimate classic. It really hit a nerve. It’s exactly the story you want to hear about when you’re a little boy: that you can somehow get a weapon and learn off your elders and mentors; that you’re meant for something greater; that one day you’ll win the girl and kill the bad guy and save the universe.

Yes of course, maybe this is the kind of story that many little boys like to hear. But what about the girls? What is shown to them, what are they promised?
Interestingly enough, Edwards wanted to become Luke Skywalker originally and join a rebellion and blow up a death star. When he found out years later that this would not be possible because the whole thing was only fiction he decided to become a film-maker. And connects his incredibly male biased ROGUE ONE to the very first STAR WARS by George Lucas.
The drama continues. The script of the 8th episode titled THE LAST JEDI which will come to the cinema in late 2017 was written by men, as were all other scripts so far. Also again there will be no female director. The same has to be said about the second spin-off, for 2018 a Han Solo prequel has been announced, his story leading up to the first STAR WARS, – and as always script and director’s position are still firmly in the hands of men only.

More than nothing is not enough

`Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

`I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, `so I can’t take more.’

`You mean you can’t take LESS,’ said the Hatter: `it’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.’

Lewis Carroll: ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (1865). Chapter 7 – A Mad Tea-Party.

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