How The Clone Wars Elevated Its Women While the Skywalker Saga Failed ThemTV Features The Clone Wars
Some slight spoilers within for the Star Wars movies and The Clone Wars
The Star Wars franchise is ever-expanding, with multiple new series in the works. Although some may claim that these are simply unnecessary money-making ventures for Disney, spinoff series, if done well, can really enhance their source material. While Disney is definitely using these projects for profit, many Star Wars spinoffs add meaningful contributions to the canon. The Clone Wars enhance the Skywalker Saga not only by filling in missing plot points in the prequels, but also by providing a quality and quantity of female characters the main saga lacks. Not only does The Clone Wars have significantly more women, but they are also generally better-written and have more depth than female characters in the movies.
Although Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was and remains a feminist icon, she is the only significant woman in the original trilogy. Minus “Episode I,” the same is true for Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the prequels, despite both trilogies having several significant male characters. The sequel trilogy tried to change that with a female protagonist, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and several other important women, including Leia. Though Rey cultivates a strong maternal relationship with Leia, her arc is often derailed by sexual tension with the main antagonist, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), which is arguably unnecessary except to fulfill a perceived need for a heterosexual relationship. In “Episode VIII,” Kelly Marie Tran became the first woman of color to play a leading Star Wars character but faced racist and sexist harassment from fans. Despite previously being a main character, she would only make a brief appearance in the following movie, allegedly due to difficulty with CGI effects.
The Clone Wars fills in a lot of information previously missing in the prequels, giving them a new life. One of the characters who benefited most from this was Padmé. In the prequels, Padmé’s main role, particularly in the later films, is as Anakin Skywalker’s love interest and the eventual mother of Luke and Leia. Although there are brief scenes showing her work as a politician, her appearances mainly revolve around Anakin. Once she accomplishes her narrative purpose of giving birth to Luke and Leia, she is killed off. Her death is used to cement Anakin’s transition to the dark side, following the trope of killing off women to fuel a man’s character development, known as fridging. However, The Clone Wars gives us more insight into Padmé as a politician trying her hardest to bring peace to the galaxy. She has many scenes independent of Anakin where she is shown to be tenacious, resourceful, and brave in the face of death—a side not emphasized enough in the movies.
The Clone Wars also introduced many new female characters that became very popular with viewers. The best example of this would be Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s new padawan. Ahsoka is slated to get her own live-action show, which is a testament to how popular her character is with fans. While she’s not technically the main character, many episodes are centered around her arc, and significant screentime is given not just to her relationship with Anakin, but also to her relationships with other female characters, including Padmé, Jedi mentors, and her friend and fellow padawan, Barris Offee. It’s a stark contrast to the Skywalker Saga movies which rarely even pass the Bechdel test.
The female character who Ahsoka has the most interesting relationship with is Asajj Ventress, a Sith assassin turned bounty hunter. Ventress is first introduced as Count Dooku’s force-sensitive assassin who aspires to be a Sith; however, they can only be two Sith at a time. She and Ahsoka are not only on opposite sides of the war but also on opposite sides of the force. They both occupy similar statuses in their respective organizations as both are training in their ways of the force, but are not yet full-fledged members. However, both characters end up leaving their factions once they are betrayed by the men in power. Darth Sidious forces Dooku to abandon Ventress when he fears she’s getting too powerful, and Ahsoka is removed from the Jedi Order when she’s suspected of being a traitor. Despite being former enemies, Ventress agrees to help Ahsoka, possibly due to their shared experience of being betrayed by male-dominated institutions.
The Clone Wars really give viewers a deeper look into the inner workings of the Jedi, leaving us, as well as Anakin, to realize that the Order is deeply flawed. It’s expected that the Sith would betray each other, but the Jedi are supposed to be better. Although the Jedi Council apologizes once Ahsoka is proved innocent, their apology is patronizing, implying that she should be grateful for this challenge which “made her a stronger person.” This experience undoubtedly contributed to Anakin’s disillusionment with the Jedi, but it is Ahsoka’s journey, not his, which is centered in this scene. It’s beautiful and inspiring to watch women leave patriarchal institutions and forge their own paths in the world. Ahsoka and Ventress’s experiences may also resonate with women who have been harmed by powerful male authorities, making their arcs even more compelling.
Star Wars will always have an important cultural legacy, but for many female viewers, the lack of women in these stories is disappointing, which is why The Clone Wars is a refreshing contrast. We want to see these female friendships, rivalries, and adventures driven by women instead of men, and although it’s not perfect, The Clone Wars was the first Star Wars series to really deliver that. It was the first time that female Jedi were given significant roles, and it introduced many fan-favorite characters who would return in other spinoffs. Ultimately, The Clone Wars was an incredible contribution to the Star Wars canon, not just because it provided detailed context to the prequels, but because it gave its female characters the writing they deserve.
Emma Bainbridge is a student journalist and freelance writer who covers politics, culture, and lifestyle. For more of her work, check out her portfolio or follow her on Twitter @emmakbainbridge
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