Star Wars Producer Kathleen Kennedy on Expanding the Franchise's Female Influence

JJ Abrams Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars The Force Awakens

As a unique and pervasive cultural phenomenon, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is bound to be picked apart and in extremis. One of the major complaints often lodged against the saga is the lack of powerful women in a galaxy far far away. With only Princess Leia, the watered-down Senator Amidala, and a handful of badass Jedi women – yet not many on the vaunted Jedi Council – to serve as positive female role models, this criticism rings sadly true.

But things are changing, both a long time ago and in modern times as well. Producer extraordinaire Kathleen Kennedy, the mastermind behind the expanding Star Wars Universe, is outspoken about the importance of women’s influence on it.

The LA Times recently sat down with Kennedy and several female Star Wars cast members to explore their expanding role in the franchise. Times have changed slowly since the original trilogy. Although Kennedy acknowledges George Lucas’ inclusion of Princess Leia as forward-thinking, she also recognizes its limited scope. Carrie Fisher’s Princess was undoubtedly a fierce warrior and a determined leader, but she fought an uphill battle, one which Daisy Ridley can appreciate as The Force Awakens’ primary female lead:

"Rey’s central role in the film, her independence, and her abilities aren’t just the result of changing times, but represent the new face of women in Star Wars. Rey's not important because she's a woman, she's just important. But obviously, having a woman like this in a film is hugely important."

Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens

And Kennedy, who’s watched the cinematic universe expand over the decades, understands the importance of women’s influence more than anyone. Both behind the scenes and in front of the cameras, a well-balanced perspective only expands the reach of the juggernaut franchise begins its further expansion.

"I have a story department up at Lucasfilm, and four out of the six people who make up that story department are women…I think that, in and of itself, is what really began to help [Rey] take shape in a way that was relevant to us. And hopefully relevant to other women seeing the film. I think having all those voices in the room, along with mine, was extremely important."

"Having a female point of view in the room — when you get into a discussion about behavior — who would say what and how they would interact with one another. In certain situations women are going to have a different opinion on that than men. It made for a really balanced conversation in the room."

Star Wars 7 - Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) Character Name

And it seems that Kennedy’s perspective is one that’s finally starting to permeate the industry as well:

"[Disney is] really, really making a huge effort across the company to put more focus around casting women and putting women in positions of responsibility, with directing and various other positions inside, different lines of business in the company. It's not just about casting female protagonists. It's gotta be across the board throughout the industry."

As a longtime Hollywood player, though, Kennedy does have a sense of frustration about the shifting power structure in the film and in the industry:

"Over the last several years that I've been in the business it seems to me that this has been a topic of conversation every few years. Then everybody thinks it's a trend or that it's a significant change. And then it doesn't really move the needle. I think that's — hopefully— what's going to begin to happen now. It's going to be real change. And not just perceived change."

Hopefully, Kennedy is correct about Hollywood’s shifting paradigm. The smattering of powerful women in previous Star Wars films made for great role models, but they certainly weren’t representative of our slowly evolving culture. Despite Hollywood’s progressive façade, the film and television industry seems like one of the last holdouts for the old boys club. As more women land positions as studio heads, writers, and directors, their influence is finally trickling into television and films – as well as our pop cultural collective consciousness. At Kennedy’s behest, Star Wars’ Expanded Universe may finally bring some balance to the force of gender inequality.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.

Source The LA Times

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