Lucasfilm

Solo's fatal flaw is the fact that it has no idea how to handle its three female leads

May 25, 2018 11:00 am

Someone crunched the numbers, and did you know that 96% of the Star Wars universe is controlled by white men? Yes, this is true. In the 41 years since Star Wars first hit the big screen, between the writers, directors, and executive producers spanning three different trilogies — and now various one-off stand-alone stories — just about every single person calling the shots has been a white man.

This is, without a doubt, a problem, but it’s been masked for decades by strong female characters. Yes, the first time we meet Princess Leia in A New Hope, she is literally “saving [everyone’s] skins” as she fires a blaster into the trash chute so everyone can escape; and Rey has powers far unmatched to Kylo Ren. Even Rose Tico is a scrappy li’l hotshot helping save the resistance (and Finn), while Jyn Eros died to secure the Death Star blueprints. Once upon a time, even Padmé knew her way around a blaster.

There has been no lack of female characters in the Star Wars universe, and I’ve never had a major problem with them until Solo: A Star Wars Story came around. The movie features not one but three different female leads — Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Thandie Newton as Val, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3-37 — but it has literally no idea what to do with them. I’ve never felt so let down and hurt by the female representation in a Star Wars movie before, and yes, I’m looking to place blame, and I’m going to blame it on the fact that 96% of this galaxy is controlled by white dudes.

I understand that Solo is not about the three female leads, since the movie is called Solo, and obviously it’s about Han Solo. But there are three female leads in the movie, and (HERE ARE THE SPOILERS!) two of the three die almost immediately after being introduced. As for the surviving female character, Clarke’s Qi’ra, she’s spared till the end when she gets about 10 minutes to shine on screen before the reveal that she’s joined the Dark Side. And that’s it.

Val, perfectly played by Thandie Newton, is a criminal in cahoots with Woody Harrelson’s Beckette, who eventually goes on to become Han’s so-called “mentor.” Val doesn’t make it through the first act because in order to successfully smuggle some stuff, she has to sacrifice herself to get the job done. I most definitely remember whisper-yelling “OH HELL NO” during my Solo screening. You don’t introduce us to a badass Thandie Newton and kill her 20 minutes later, most definitely leaving the audience feeling bereft.

As for L3, she’s the *first* female droid in the Star Wars universe. That, right there, is something to celebrate. Even more exciting, L3 is a droid with a mind of her own, literally. She is a “self-made” droid, and does not hold back when clapping back at her “owner” Lando Calrissian. Also, even more exciting, L3 is looking for equal rights for droids. At one point Lando asks, “Can I get you anything else?” to which L3 actually quips, “Equal rights.” (During the Solo press conference, Waller-Bridge revealed that she actually ad-libbed that line. Nice.)

A droid looking for equal rights in the galaxy? That’s amazing, and I can’t help but read it as a reflection of the current state of our galaxy. However, no sooner does she make this stand for equality than L3 shares a scene with Qi’ra — and it is the ONLY scene in the entire movie that features one female character talking to another female character without any males present. So, do they talk about gender equality, feminism, or even dope space caps? NOPE. They talk about boys. 

In what is probably the lowest point of the movie for me, L3 and Qi’ra talk about Lando — and imply that Lando has figured out how to pleasure L3 even though she’s a droid (to be fair, Donald Glover has said that he believes Lando is pansexual, and this is space, after all). It’s a two minute scene, and these two strong, female character are reduced to gossip. It’s with this moment that Solo fails the Bechdel test, and it’s a huge disappointment. So is the fact that shortly after this, L3 is killed, which sends Lando into a tailspin. (But don’t worry — her “conscious” is uploaded into the Millennium Falcon, and she’s now the ship’s navigator, even though this is never mentioned throughout the rest of the movie…nor addressed in any other Star Wars movie ever made.) 

With two-thirds of the movie now done, there’s only one female character left.

Qi’ra is like a double-double spy, working for no one but herself — but she answers to Darth Maul (????????). This is honestly a downright bonkers reveal, and sign me up for whatever movie Clarke takes on as Qi’ra next. But the fact that this reveal is saved for the end of the third act, with little to no buildup and prior minimal screen time for Clarke when she’s not heavily flirting with Han Solo, is disappointing. Are we ever going to get a Qi’ra movie? No. Are we ever going to get a Qi’ra where she’s more than a supporting character? Nope. 

The Solo production is now one of legend, considering that with a month left to go of shooting, the original directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, were fired, and Ron Howard was brought in to finish everything up. I’m willing to bet that during this process of trying to “save” the movie, the female characters were pushed farther to the side — and honestly, okay. The movie is not about them. But it really would have only take one female behind-the-scenes to step up and go, “Hey, how about L3 and Qi’ra not talk about sex in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon…?” Paging you, Kathleen Kennedy.

Now keep all of this in mind, and let’s circle back to the fact that Star Wars is 96% made by white men. That number increased as the next stand-alone Star Wars movie has been announced. It’s going to be a Boba Fett movie, and GUESS WHAT, to the surprise of no one, it’s being helmed by a white dude. Another Star Wars movie about a dude being made by a dude. Someone’s going to have to crunch the numbers again, as the scale has tipped a little bit further, and not in the female favor.

I’m not saying that these white men aren’t doing an okay job with Star Wars, but the lack of representation — with both gender and race — is really starting to show. It’s not to say that men can’t tackle female characters: both J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson recently have with their trilogy installments and given us characters like Rey, Rose, and even Captain Phasma. But come on, guys. If Carrie Fisher were still around to see this, she would be pissed. The greatest tragedy in life is that we’re never getting a stand-alone Star Wars movie helmed by the late princess general because can you even IMAGINE? The least we can do, for the sake of Carrie, is try a little bit harder with our female characters.