Spoilers for Star Wars Battlefront II ahead. On Nov. 17, the game that ruffled the feathers of a few angry fanboys when its female protagonist-focused first trailer dropped finally debuted, and gamers met the woman at the center of it. Star Wars Battlefront II's protagonist Iden Versio is a canon hero, so her story officially takes place within the fabric of the Star Wars universe we've come to know through official movies, books, and TV series like Star Wars Rebels. Luckily, the strong, cunning Imperial Commander is also pretty freaking great. And ahead of the game's official launch, I spoke with Iden Versio voice actor Janina Gavankar, who also happens to be the perfect person to bring her to life.
"OK, so I'm nerdy — but I also think it's important to define the word 'geek.' To geek is to love on 11," she carefully clarifies when we speak at EA headquarters a few weeks before the game's launch. She leans forward as if holding a phantom controller, and waxes poetic about her love of video games — she's even been known to create art dedicated to one of her favorite games, Portal (this includes a cross-stitch version of a Companion Cube). She first had her gamer awakening back when she moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000s to become an actress (yes, you may recognize her as Shiva from FX's The League). "I had a lot of pop culture blind spots, and then suddenly I got to LA and I met this cute boy who handed me a game controller. Suddenly, I was like, 'Video games have existed for this long and I never [experienced them]'?" she says.
And sure, that may be the road to gaming that so many women get teased for (the "oh, did your boyfriend get you into it" refrain is an age-old "insult" lobbed at women gamers), but a little prattle from the opposite sex hasn't stopped Gavankar so far. But back in April 2017, the trailer for the game leaked and depicted Gavankar's character, sending a vocal (see: obnoxiously vocal) minority of fanboys into a tizzy, immediately objecting to Battlefront II having another female protagonist (the last two Star Wars stories, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, feature female leads as well). But much like her determined, focused character, Gavankar is barely willing to let those haters register on her radar.
"Yeah, but you have to [ignore them]. You must. They are irrelevant," she says. The way Gavankar sees it, anyone who doesn't think there's room in gaming for men and women (something so obvious it feels ridiculous to even type it out), just isn't representative of the community, no matter how loud they may be. "I am very lucky to say that I've had a really positive experience in the games industry. You know there's an obvious and loud vocal minority, but they're a minority," she says. "Change is coming. It's already here. It would happen without me, but I'm happy to see it happening and be a tiny part of a huge movement."
And the movement can only get stronger with a story mode character like Iden Versio to get behind. The Imperial Special Forces commander is engrossing from the moment she steps onto the screen — and Gavankar has a few ideas as to why.
"Her identity and her self respect come from how capable and agile she is," she says, adding that Versio's fierce loyalty for the Empire comes from family (a true Star Wars hero trait). "She's a literal poster child for The Empire. Her father is an admiral and her mother was a propaganda artist," she adds.
But as those who've traversed a few missions in Battlefront II may already know, Versio may not be quite Dark Side for Life — which adds redemption, and another hallmark of a true Star Wars story, to her trajectory. Add to that the fact that Versio fights, shoots, sneaks, spies, and flies tie fighters (and even a few more X-shaped vehicles) with ease, and you've got a hero any Star Wars fan should be able to get behind.
Granted, the game itself wasn't always so perfect. Ahead of launch, Battlefront II was criticized for reportedly requiring 40 hours of play to unlock classic heroes like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader for the multiplayer levels of the game (outside of Versio's Campaign Mode), or offering gamers those characters for $4.99 a piece, not unlike so many wallet-draining mobile games. Since then, EA has issued an apology, reduced the number of gameplay credits needed to earn characters, removed the pay option, and promised to "keep listening." But the controversy may have dampened the game's sales a bit, as Forbes reported that the sequel game's sales had gone down since Battlefront I.
It's a bit unfortunate, seeing as the new game has a seriously badass new warrior to be discovered (and lived vicariously through) by women and men alike. But there's still time to change all that and give Versio the due she, and Gavankar, deserve.