The Design, Illustration & Adventures of Nancy Steinman
Neither Rey nor Finn were the first.
So many articles about Star Wars: The Force Awakens are saying things similar to the following statement, but it is blatantly untrue:
“There’s an obvious inclusivity mission in these [new] films that wasn’t present in the originals, where women and people of color are on the front lines.” (The Verge)
It makes me wonder why these bloggers are completely disregarding the original movies. Most likely they are jumping on the PC bandwagon in order to get more attention. I am all for equality, and the recent revelations about pay inequity and the lack of good roles for actresses makes me as angry as the next woman, but in my opinion, George Lucas was ahead of the curve when it came to filling important roles in film.
Leia Organa (born Leia Amidala Skywalker). Should be enough said, but apparently, it’s not. How can you say there were no female heroes in the original films in the light of her glare. Played by Carrie Fisher, Leia was a female leading hero on the front lines in all three of the original movies, the first of which was released in 1977. Her role was every bit as significant as Luke and Han’s if not more so.
Leia was the Princess of Alderaan, one of the core world planets with a population of 2 billion. Decades before Disney princesses showed that girls can be strong, she was a member of the Imperial Senate and the leader of the Rebel Alliance. It was Leia who led the plan to destroy the Death Star. Luke, a farm boy, and Han, a smuggler, were drawn into her orbit, not the other way around. If you think Luke is more significant because he became a Jedi, don’t forget Leia had the same parents as Luke, and as Yoda said, the same force potential… “there is another”. And she was kick ass handy with a blaster.
“But it is she who leads the battle, yes, hmm…Princess Leia Organa. Bold. Strong…her mother’s blood flows through her.”
Another strong female in the original Star Wars Saga was Mon Mothma. We see her briefly before the Battle of Endor, but she is a significant leader in the resistance and becomes the first chancellor of the New Republic.
As far as “people of color” having important roles in the original movies, what about Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian? The Trilogy would have been a different universe without him. If you know anything about Lando, you’ll know he is a powerful man in the verse.
Although he never actually got screen time, it really didn’t matter; the voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, pervaded the first three films and is one of the most iconic things about the Star Wars films universe.
Episodes 1-3 are not given much love, and this may have diminished their characters in film goers’ eyes, but they also had heroes of significance.
Padmé Amidala, played by Natalie Portman, has a resumé that could arguably surpass Leia’s, which would make sense since she was Leia’s (and Luke’s) mother. She was the Princess of Theed, the capital city of the planet Naboo, and was elected Queen of the planet at the age of 14! She led her people during the Trade Federation’s invasion of the planet and helped to liberate them, becoming one of the most respected political figures in the galaxy. When her two terms as Queen were over, her people tried to pass a law so she could continue as Queen, but she declined and accepted the position as Naboo’s senator in the Galactic Senate. She was politically savvy, a leader and a fighter, in the senate and on the battle field. She could also wield a mean blaster. You can find some interesting insights about her here: Queen, Senator, Mother, Hero: In Defense of Padme Amidala
Neither were Episodes 1-3 devoid of important characters of color. Captain Panaka who was the head of the Royal Naboo Security Forces was played by Hugh Quarshie, and the character people love to hate, Jar Jar Binks, was voiced by Ahmed Best. And how dare we forget the great Mace Windu played by Samuel L. Jackson!
With Star Wars, George Lucas created films (and books) that were infinitely diverse. There are many strong female heroes to aspire to – in fact, one of the most inspirational in film history. Go to Comic-con and count how many Leia’s you see walking around if you have doubts. And there was racial diversity – including alien races – long before Episode VII which only continues the legacy and doesn’t invent it. Rey and Finn are new heroes for sure, but they are not the first, nor the most significant.