For a while there, the Star Wars universe was a pretty male-heavy franchise. The original trilogy gave us the wonderful political leaders Princess Leia and Mon Mothma, the prequels brought us Queen Amidala, and last year's The Force Awakens gave us the series' first official lead female in Rey, but overall, the series has been led predominantly by men. Now, though, we not only have another leading woman in Rogue One's Jyn Erso, but several female fighter pilots, adding some much needed gender diversity to the Star Wars universe.
Like The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One prominently features female fighter pilots. This is a huge step forward from what happened with Return of the Jedi, when four women filmed scenes as fighter pilots during the Battle of Endor, but three of the women — Vivienne Chandler, Lynne Hazelden, and an unnamed actor — all had their shots cut from the final film. Just Poppy Hands' fighter pilot appears in the film, but her voice is dubbed over with a man's for the one line she delivers. You can see two of the cut pilots in action at the beginning of this behind-the-scenes video.
The Force Awakens, meanwhile featured the female pilot Jesikka Pava, who, after the movie premiered, promptly became a fan favorite and has been fleshed out in a number of accompanying novels and fan fiction. While that's certainly great, the fact that Rogue One features a whole bunch of women pilots is even more exciting. Some of them fly troop transports, some fly star fighters, and others Y-wing bombers. The big battle scene in which they appear comes late in the movie — I sat there watching the start of Rogue One thinking, "Are they seriously going to forget about the female pilots in this movie?!" But then, they were there, fighting alongside their male counterparts, some of whom came from cameo footage from the original movie, like Red Leader and Gold Leader.
That being said, Rogue One still could have used more women. Despite having a female lead in Jyn Erso, there aren't a lot of female rebels to be found when the crowd gathers. When Jyn recruits for her final mission, every face is male, and every person on her rebel team, as wonderful as they are, is a man. We're coming a long way with women in Star Wars, but full gender equality needs to come to a galaxy far, far away — and it's definitely doable. Recall Geena Davis' simple solution to Hollywood sexism: "Any time a script says, 'A crowd gathers,' add 'which is half female' after it." Hopefully, future Star Wars movies will follow that advice.
Images: Walt Disney Studios, Giphy