“Incredible,” “intimidating” and “hope” were the three words repeated most often during an hour-long panel on the forthcoming book Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy at New York Comic Con yesterday. (More on that last one in a few.)
It was almost a mantra as part of the creative team — author Amy Ratcliffe and artists Sara Alfageeh, Cryssy Cheung, Karen Hallion, Annie Stoll, Sarah Wilkinson, and Jen Bartel — spoke about the project profiling 75 formidable female characters in the Star Wars galaxy. Moderated by the voice of Ahsoka Tano, Ashley Eckstein, the book’s creators took us through the process of collaborating and spoke about what Star Wars has meant to them through the years.
Here are five things we learned from the panel discussion and some new art revealed:
1. Leia comes with the burden of legacy. Perhaps more so than with any other character in the saga, creators found themselves a bit in awe of getting to work on the legendary princess. “[Leia] is the character who started it all,” Eckstein noted. Ratcliffe left writing the pages on Leia almost to the very end because there was so much to cover. And the character was clearly an inspiration for many of the women in the room, both on the panel and in the audience. Hallion said drawing General Organa was, “terrifying. I hyperventilated a bit.”
2. The creative process for each piece of art varied. The creative process for artists varied. Sometimes they were asked for a specific scene or else just told “have fun!” Bartel herself had a different in process for each of her pieces — an image of a classic A New Hope Leia and the cover art featuring Rey). For Leia, she was originally asked for a more action-focused pose, but also submitted one portrait along with the three action variations. The calmer pose ultimately turned into the final piece. In contrast, Chronicle and Lucasfilm gave very specific guidance for how they wanted the cover image to look.
3. Working on the book gave creators an all-new appreciation for some lesser-known characters. With such a sprawling galaxy, it’s hard to know about every character. Alfageeh spoke passionately about her incredible battle portrait of Depa Billaba, a character she hadn’t really known until Chronicle sent her some comics to review. “She seemed like this all-powerful mentor figure. On top of that, she ended up being very self-sacrificing,” Alfageeh said. After doing her research, she really wanted to capture of mythology of the Jedi with this strong, dynamic character.
4. The project led to wisdom, passed on to anyone who wants to write or make art professionally. Each panelist had some words of wisdom with the audience. From Alfageeh: “It’s okay to be terrified of something and do it anyways.” Bartel offered, “One thing every successful person has in common is that they just didn’t give up.” Cheung and Wilkinson offered variations on the theme of always learning and always trying to do better than you did before while Ratcliffe and Stoll both expressed the importance of always asking questions.
5. As a brave princess once said, it comes down to one thing: “Hope.” Hope was a word that came up frequently throughout the panel. For some, like Stoll and Alfageeh, hope comes from characters like Sabine and Rey and how they deal with challenges. Eckstein said that Ahsoka gives her hope because the Jedi taught her how to put others first. Ratcliffe finds inspiration from Ahsoka but for a different reason. She said she is inspired by the way Ahsoka was able to make the hard decision between what’s easy and what’s right when she left the Jedi Order. “Fictional characters have that power. We can use them to look at our own lives,” Ratcliffe said. And those are words we can all take a little inspiration (and even hope) from.
Bria LaVorgna is a writer who doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t love Star Wars. She also really loves Alderaan, Doctor Aphra, and Inferno Squad. You can follow her on Twitter @chaosbria.