Representation of Female Characters in Star Wars

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2018

10 Pages, Grade: 2

Sven Frueh (Author)


Table of contents:

1 Introduction

2 Padme Amidala
2.1 Sexualization and Objectification
2.1.1 Characterization
2.1.2 Power

3 Leia Organa
3.1 Sexualization
3.2 Characterization
3.3 Power

4 Rey
4.1 Sexualization and objectification
4.2 Characterization
4.3 Power

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

The American science fiction franchise Star Wars was created by George Lucas and presented to the world in 1977 with the release of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Unexpectedly, the movie became the highest-grossing film of all time until 1982 (Vainikka, 2018, p. 2). Five out of the seven consecutive Star Wars movies, excluding all other standalone Star Wars films, are found on the top 100 list of highest grossing films of all time in Canada and the USA (Box Office Mojo, 2018). Despite the popularity of the franchise, it is increasingly criticized for its portrayal of women in a stereotypical fashion; critics claim that the story evolves predominantly around male heroes while objectifying women and giving them only a passive role in the plot (White & Baldwin, 2018).

To evaluate these claims, this paper will introduce and compare the most important female characters and their roles throughout the saga. The Star Wars movies are divided into three separate trilogies, each of them having a main female character. The paper will examine if the portrayal of each of those women in their respective trilogy depends on sexist stereotypes or if they are represented negatively in terms of power, sexualization, and characterization. The three female heroines will be discussed in the chronological order of the canonical Star Wars timeline, starting with Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, and ending with Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. Due to the limitations of this paper, the representation of the numerous other female characters throughout the movies will not be analyzed.

2 Padme Amidala

In the prequel trilogy (I-III), Padme Amidala is the most important female character; she is married to Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi that turns into Darth Vader, and the mother of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. As the queen of the planet Naboo and a member of the Galactic Senate, she shapes the story of the whole Star Wars saga.

2.1 Sexualization and Objectification

Throughout the trilogy, Padme wears a variety of clothes; when she presents herself as the queen of Naboo, she is shown in very extravagant robes that were inspired by historical highborn fashion worn by different female royals like queens and duchesses around the real world (Fabric Films, 2014). Whenever she is not in her function as a political leader, she wears dresses covering her whole body. However, there is one scene in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones where her costume is ripped, exposing her stomach and lower back. Apart from this scene, she is not shown in revealing or short clothing at all, and even though she is dressed in a feminine way, she is not sexualized.

A story defining component of her character is her love for the Jedi Anakin Skywalker; their relationship develops over the course of the trilogy whereby Anakin reveals his feeling towards her first. Padme, however, rejects his first advances due to political reasons and only gradually allows herself to build a relationship with him. Thereby, she does not fit the stereotype of women clinging desperately to strong men. However, she serves as a sideline character and as the love interest of the male protagonist, which could be viewed as a kind of objectification.

2.1.1 Characterization

Padme Amidala is introduced in the first part of the trilogy, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, as the queen, and thus, the political and military leader of the planet Naboo, which is surrounded by battleships of the Trade Federation that initiated an unwarranted trade blockade. Padme is seen negotiating with the aggressors in a calm but determined way. She continuously mentions that she wants to avoid war at all costs and she is depicted as an advocate of peace and diplomacy. This is empathized by a scene in which she persuades the Galactic Senate to aid her cause. Another example is when she successfully negotiates a military alliance with the autonomous inhabitants of her home planet.

During the trilogy and especially in the third part, she finds herself in hazardous situations. When she is captured by the Trade Federation, she, alongside two male heroes, is forced to fight against feral beasts in an arena. Without help from her male heroes, she manages to slay the beast, and a few scenes later, she picks up a gun and starts shooting at the enemy soldiers. Due to Padme’s ability to defend herself, she is not a typical “damsel in distress” – “a young woman who is in trouble and needs a man’s help” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019).

Padme Amidala is depicted as an advocate for democracy, diplomacy, and peace; as a political and military leader, she succeeds due to her competence. In action-scenes, she bravely defends herself without the need of being rescued by any male heroes.

2.1.2 Power

As the queen of Naboo, Padme holds substantial political power and unlike her daughter Leia, she was not born into royalty as the planet Naboo democratically elects their leaders. Furthermore, she is an elected senator of the Galactic Senate and thus her political influence extends to farther reaches of the galaxy. In addition to her wealth and influence, she is depicted as a capable and self-sufficient woman that does not shy away from using lethal force to protect herself and others. Furthermore, she is capable of handling her love life in a responsible and self-determined way.

However, Padme is the only one of the three women discussed in this paper that is not force-sensitive. The force is portrayed as the ultimate power in the Star Wars universe; it enables a person to move objects, manipulate minds, and even glance into the future. It is the quality that defines the Jedi. Because Padme is not force-sensitive, she is excluded from the possibility of controlling the ultimate power as the male heroes do. Overall, Padme is highly influential and powerful throughout the prequel trilogy although she lacks the capability of using the force or fighting with a lightsaber.

3 Leia Organa

Princess Leia Organa is one of the most important characters in the Star Wars movies. She occupies a leading role in the original Star Wars trilogy (IV-VI) and serves as a side character in the sequel trilogy (VII-VIII). She is essential for the plotlines of the original- and the sequel trilogy where she leads the so-called Alliance to Restore the Republic and later on the Resistance in opposition to the Galactic Empire and then the First Order.

3.1 Sexualization and Objectification

Leia is introduced in the first scenes of the first Star Wars movie, Star Wars IV: A New Hope. She is wearing a white robe that is covering her whole body up to the neck. During the first and the second movie of the trilogy, she is only seen in similar clothing. This disqualifies claims of sexualization in terms of clothing during the first two movies of the original trilogy. This also applies to her depiction in terms of clothing during the prequel trilogy (VII-VIII). However, in Star Wars III: Return of the Jedi she is captured by organized criminals and is forced to wear a metal bikini while being chained by a collar around her neck; the chain is held by a slug-creature that holds her close to his body in uncomfortable positions. This portrayal of Leia as a slave in skimpy clothing serves as an example of sexualization and objectification; there is no story-related reason for these depictions and her male associates, which are captured by the same criminals, not being forced into similar clothing.

3.2 Characterization

During the first scenes of the first part of the original trilogy, Princess Leia is trying to hide in her spaceship while it is being invaded by the Imperial Army; when she stumbles upon enemy soldiers, she is making use of her blaster by shooting and killing one of them before being captured. After that, she is confronted by her gruesome opponent Darth Vader who tortures her to no avail. Shortly after, she is brought to one of the most feared villains in the Star Wars universe, Whilhuff Tarkin. Boldly she taunts him: “Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” (Lucas, 1977) The first fifteen minutes of the movie depict Leia as a strong, fearless heroine, and a formidable leader. However, due to her imprisonment, the movie shows a stereotypical princess ready to be rescued by the male heroes. This serves as an example of a “damsel in distress”. However, when the male heroes come to her rescue, this depiction is heavily mitigated; right after her release, she starts devising an escape plan while giving orders to her liberators. She even grabs the male hero’s gun and starts shooting at the approaching enemies.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Representation of Female Characters in Star Wars
University of Linz  (Department of English)
Drama and Film
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Star Wars, Padme Amidala, Padme, Leia Organa, Leia, Princess Leia, Characterization, Objectification, Sexualization, Power, Sexism, Portrayal of Characters, A New Hope, prequel, sequel, Jedi, Darth Vader, Clothing, Rey, Trilogy, The Portrayal of the Female Main Characters throughout the Eight Star Wars Movies, portrayal of female characters, Star Wars sexism, starwars, star wars female
Quote paper
Sven Frueh (Author), 2018, Representation of Female Characters in Star Wars, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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