In 1977, a sci-fi saga began that would reshape the way we look at films. The effects, story-telling, and sheer imagination of the series was unlike anything audiences had seen before.
Over four decades and 10 films later, the Star Wars saga has another aspect to its legacy – the strong female characters who have been at the heart of the original, prequel, and sequel trilogies, as well as the Star Wars anthology spin-offs.
As we anticipate Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, released this December, join us as we look at the seven women who left their mark on a galaxy far, far away…
1. Leia (Carrie Fisher)
We have to start where the saga began, with a figure in white quietly recording a message on a small droid. As Leia, Carrie Fisher was the fearless heart of the original trilogy, destroying the damsel in distress archetype and leading the rebellion against the Empire.
The performance and character became landmarks in science-fiction cinema, and General Leia returned to lead the fight once again in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
The world mourned Fisher’s untimely death in December 2016, but will have one last chance to see Leia when she appears in the forthcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Intriguingly, her footage is said to be comprised of unused scenes in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, so we can’t wait to see how that turns out.
2. Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman)
The story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia’s mother, Padme, is one that ends in tragedy, given she passes away moments after giving birth in Episode III: Revenge of The Sith. In her time on screen, however, we come to know her as one of the most interesting elements of George Lucas’s much-maligned prequel trilogy.
A noble and caring ruler of the planet Naboo, Padme, sensitively portrayed by Natalie Portman, watches in despair as the senate is overthrown, remarking "so this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause". She illustrates the frustration of leadership, struggling to defend the interests of the people against a corrupt system.
She also became the conscience of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), trying to steer him along the right path before the Dark Side took him and he transformed into Darth Vader.
3. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)
The connective tissue between the prequel and sequel trilogies, Rogue One is a thrilling intergalactic heist adventure. It centers on Jyn Erso, the young militant who takes on a mission to steal the plans for The Death Star, a pivotal moment in the franchise’s history.
Brilliantly brought to life by Felicity Jones as a tough, cynical hero, whom many have compared to Han Solo, she becomes the core of a story that fleshes out the history of the franchise. While the ending of the film makes a return to our screens unlikely, she will always be remembered as a hero of the rebellion.
4. Rey (Daisy Ridley)
The lead character of the current Star Wars trilogy has, to our understanding, no great family lineage or bloodline destiny. She is, as she remarked in The Last Jedi, "nobody".
It remains to be seen if that will change in this December’s The Rise of Skywalker, but it highlights the appeal of Daisy Ridley’s performance.
Ridley’s skill makes us sympathise with a scavenger from nowhere who finds herself in the middle of a fight for the galaxy, eventually seeking the tutelage of Luke Skywalker in her bid to become a Jedi.
What got her there was bravery, and her reliance on her own skills to keep herself safe. Behind the scenes, Oxfordshire native Ridley went from a few TV and film roles to international stardom thanks to the role, which has cemented her professional legacy.
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5. Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o)
Taking an Oscar-winning actor and making her unrecognisable via motion capture may not sound like the smartest of moves. However, Lupita Nyong’o looked very different when she debuted at Maz Katana in The Force Awakens.
In this world of thieves and scoundrels, it helps to have someone in the know, and Maz is exactly who people come to for information, or to keep something safe.
It’s in her tavern where Rey first finds Luke’s lightsaber and has her vision of Kylo Ren and his followers. Later in The Last Jedi, she shows her tough side talking via hologram in the middle of a fire fight!
6. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke)
Here’s one of the more mysterious characters in the Star Wars franchise. Qi'ra has a hand in crafting the fate of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) in Ron Howard’s all-action prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story.
While the pair start out as lovers, they are separated and Qi’ra eventually becomes a lieutenant of crime syndicate boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), before seeking to take his place at the end of the film as she addresses her superior, Darth Maul.
A character who lives between the light and shadow, she continues Star Wars’ tradition of female characters who are not just there to be saved.
7. Kathleen Kennedy (President of Lucasfilm)
While she doesn’t appear on screen, one woman is in charge of ushering in this new era of intergalactic adventures, and safeguarding the future of the franchise.
Making her name as a producer on the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park films among others, Kathleen Kennedy was named President of Lucasfilm in 2012 after Disney bought the company.
Since then she has solely worked on Star Wars related projects, including the episode movies, the spin-offs, and the forthcoming Mandalorian series, directed by Jon Favreau.
At a time when women are still under-represented behind the camera, Kennedy’s presence in the Star Wars saga ensures the franchise remains ahead of the curve.
James Luxford is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.