Saturday, May 28, 2016

Yoda, Lucas' friends in the '70s on the dearth of women in the original Star Wars trilogy.

I was not a fan of Droids, the 1985-86 Saturday morning cartoon that followed the adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2, and that my now 30-year-old low opinion of that particular show made me reluctant to watch Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales. I recently gave it a chance–all of these Lego DVDs make fairly excellent dinner companions for bachelors, I've found–and was pleasantly surprised. It essentially re-tells the entire Star Wars saga in chronological order from Threepio's perspective–including the TV shows Clone Wars and Rebels–and while a lot of the humor falls a little flat, there were some genuinely funny moments ("'Danger' is not your middle name," the Anthony Daniels-voiced Lego Threepio yells at Artoo after the droid bleeps something in response to Threepio warning him of danger, "Your middle name is 'hyphen'" Ah ha!).

It was also surprisingly sharp, even savage in its critique of the films, especially the second, prequel trilogy, although the original trilogy receives plenty of parodic attention as well.

I found to be this exchange between Lego Yoda and Lego Luke, during the re-telling of the events of Return of The Jedi, particularly surprising, given its acknowledgment of what many have long seen as a key weakness of the franchise. The filmmakers couch it in a joke, of course, but that just provides rhetorical sugar for the medicine.

Here are some terrible cellphone photos of my laptop:

While that may seem like a pretty 21st Century reaction to the original trilogy, and while the same people who fumed online for months about the fact that Force Awakens starred a lady and that women and black guys were now allowed to be Stormtroopers, it's worth noting that as far back as the mid-seventies George Lucas was being made aware of an over-abundance of Y chromosomes.

Coincidentally, I've been reading (i.e. listening to the audiobook in my car on long trips) Chris Taylor's 2014 How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, and it's been a great read (i.e. listen) so far (I'm only up to the point in Taylor's history of George Lucas, his franchise and its cultural impact where Empire is being produced).

In the chapter "My Little Space Thing," Taylor walks readers (and listeners) through the drafting process and its many, many, many revisions (while reading this, I thought back to that graphic novel Dark Horse produced based on an early draft of Lucas' The Star Wars, and realized they could have done, like a whole line of those, given how much the drafts changed over the years).

Check it out:
The concept paintings [by Ralph McQuarrie] helped clear up some of the confusion over Lucas's vision, but there was one more complicating factor: Lucas's second draft was embarrassingly croded with men. He'd already gotten a lot of heat over the fact that [American] Graffiti ended with on-screen text catching us up with the next ten years in the lives of the male characters, and nothing about the women. With the feminist movement growing more powerful with eaching passing month, Star Wars seemed on track for similar criticism, In March, 1975, Lucas decided to fix that at a stroke: Luke Starkiller became an eighteen-year-old woman. After all, hed's been reading an awful lot of fairy tales as research into the mechanics of storytelling, and it's rather hard to ignore the convention that the protagonist of fairy tales is almost always female.


This gender reversal lasted for a couple of months, long enough for the female Luke to show up in a McQuarrie painting of the main characters. By May 1975, when Lucas wrote a crucial six-page synopsis for Fox executives–a synopsis not of the second draft, but of an entirely new story–Luke was back to being a boy. But Princess Leia had returned from the purgatory of the first draft, and in a much more prominent role. Now she was a leader of the rebellion from the outset, replacing Deak Starkiller in the opening scene and in the prison on Alderaan.
Wow. This is, of course, one of the thousands of different things that could have happened during the creations of those three films, had Lucas or others not made a particular choice at a particular time, but try to imagine for a moment if rather than Luke Skywalker as the child of destiny and Jedi knight of the original trilogy, we had gotten a Leia Skywalker.

Later in the book, in a passage explaining how Lucas was planning contingency plans so that his universe wouldn't be beholden to any particular actor should he lose them for any reason, Taylor says that at one point the plan was to reveal that Luke had a twin sister–who was training to be a Jedi on the other side of the universe. If Mark Hamil ever wanted out, or was forced out by circumstance (like, if he had died in that terrible car accident, or if he ever had another terrible car accident), Lucas and company would be able to introduce a new, female Skywalker in future Star Wars films.

Rey as the hero of Episode VII doesn't sound that radical now, does it, Internet People Who Thought Having A Lady In The Luke/Anakin Role Of The Third Trilogy Was Cuckoo Banana Bonkers...?


William Burns said...

The protagonist of fairy tales is always female? Jack and the Beanstalk? Puss in Boots? The Brave Little Tailor? I think Taylor means the protagonist of Disney movies based on fairy tales is always female.

Caleb said...

ALMOST always. And note the ellipses. The part I cut out was:

"(Think Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and Goldilocks–as much as they have to be saved by prnices or woodcutters, we at least see the story through their eyes.)"