With the debut of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just a couple of weeks away, there’s plenty of speculation on how the standalone tale of the rebels who stole the original Death Star plans will fare with audiences. While the 1970s/80s Star Wars trilogy could be considered to have an ensemble cast with a trio of leads — Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo — the main story centered on Luke’s journey. Now, nearly 40 years later, the latest movies in the Star Wars universe feature ensemble casts with the most focus on the main female character.
Last year’s The Force Awakens was a triumphant return for the franchise, earning over $2 billion in box office receipts and plenty of excited anticipation for the follow-ups. That would seem a good indicator that audiences weren’t bothered by having Daisy Ridley’s Rey character at the forefront of the sci-fi epic, but the film also cashed in on the return of original cast members and a long-awaited continuation of their story.
While Rogue One is itself projected to open at $130 million, there’s still been some skepticism about the “political correctness” of having yet another female lead in a historically male-dominated series and genre. Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, recently told The New York Times that she felt no pressure to consider those skeptics, however:
“I have a responsibility to the company that I work with. I don’t feel that I have a responsibility to cater in some way. I would never just seize on saying, ‘Well, this is a franchise that’s appealed primarily to men for many, many years, and therefore I owe men something.’”
While Star Wars creator George Lucas originally conceived of expanding the universe with standalone stories, the current filmmakers had their own ideas about how they wanted to proceed. As Rogue One director Gareth Edwards explained, the new movie is yet another spin on the original trilogy:
“A New Hope is the story of a boy who grows up in a tranquil home and dreams of joining a war. What if we have the story of a girl who grows up in a war and dreams of returning to the tranquillity of home?”
The long-enduring love fans have for Star Wars has always been an appreciation for the ground-breaking special effects, the epic good versus evil story, and heroic characters to cheer for. The adoration for Leia, metal bikini notwithstanding, hopefully shows that it doesn’t matter if those heroes are male or female. Actress Felicity Jones, who plays the leader of the rebel team at the center of the new film, stated that her character Jyn Erso is meant to be a universal character:
“Like all of us, she’s trying to work out what the hell to do. We wanted the audience to relate to Jyn as a person, whether you’re a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.”
Considering the backlash for women-led films like the new Ghostbusters, some concern over the potential success of a female lead in a less-of-a-sure-thing Star Wars story seems warranted. The odds are better with Rogue One being an original story, rather than a reboot, and one look at the film’s posters and trailers shows that the film still has plenty of male energy for those viewers concerned about an abundance of political correctness. A bigger test for this franchise would actually come when and if a those film posters ever feature more women than men.