For International Women's Day, five StarWars.com writers sit down to talk about the women of Star Wars, on screen and behind the scenes.
On the Comlink is a feature in which StarWars.com writers hop on a call (virtual or old fashioned) and discuss a specific Star Wars topic. In this installment to celebrate International Women’s Day, Kristin Baver, Kelly Knox, Swapna Krishna, Jennifer Landa, and Amy Richau talk about their favorite women of the galaxy in front of the camera and behind it, how Star Wars books have changed the way they see favorite heroes, and how representation has shifted the way the next generation understands a galaxy far, far away.
Kristin Baver: We’re here because it’s International Women’s Day, which is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. And there are so many cool women of the galaxy -- both in Star Wars on screen, in the stories, but also behind the scenes with the people who are making it today, and the people who made it 40-plus years ago. There are just a wealth of women to celebrate who have some involvement in Star Wars.
Thank you all for joining today. Super appreciate it. You know, especially those of you with young ones, you have, like, 20 minutes to yourself every day? So thank you for spending that 20 minutes with us to have this conversation. To get us started, what do the women of the galaxy mean to you?
Swapna Krishna: Okay, I’ll go first. The women of the galaxy. It’s interesting because they’ve meant different things to me at different points in my life. I was a kid who grew up on Star Wars, so when I was young it was who did I want to be? What did I want to become? You know, when I was young, Princess Leia was just everything. She was the person I wanted to be, she was my role model, she was so strong. And as I’ve gotten older I’ve really enjoyed seeing the kind of cracks in that, and taking comfort in the insecurities, and the flaws, and the fleshing her out to really be a real person as Star Wars has done over the last few decades. I’ve really found comfort in that.
Kristin Baver: That’s a great answer and Princess Leia, of course, I knew we were going to talk about her today. I themed my shirt on this. [Points to General Leia shirt.] But also, she is the first woman of the galaxy in so many ways. It’s fascinating to me, looking back on it now, because I grew up with Star Wars and the whole original trilogy was already out by the time I discovered it. And so to think about Princess Leia breaking the model for female characters going forward and what they could be, and that they could be damsels in distress but definitely not needing anyone else’s help for that -- as long as you can unlock the door, they’ll take it from here -- is just so fascinating. Since I arrived at it after the original trilogy was fully released, it wasn’t until I was an adult looking back on it that I fully appreciated how ground breaking that really was when it first came out in 1977.
But also, Swapna to your point, I really do appreciate that she is so imperfect and flawed and you see that a lot in the sequel trilogy when she’s dealing with a whole new mess with the Resistance and her son and her estrangement from Han. That’s so relatable and also so important that we see these heroic figures that…in the original trilogy especially, I think she’s frequently shown just not backing down, and not falling apart, and not crying -- I love that line in A New Hope when she shows up at Yavin IV and she’s just like, “We don’t have time for our sorrows.” Essentially, we’ve got stuff to do. But then in the decades since, in the publishing and comics you start to see a little bit more of that personal side of Leia and those stories have really started to explore how she is when she’s not “on.” We see that she does break down and she is upset and she is crying and she is dealing with a lot of stuff, but she’s a woman who has a very public side and then the private side and she’s not gonna let those cracks show to Darth Vader or to Governor Tarkin. But when she does get to be alone, she does still fall apart. And I think when I first read that it sort of blew me away because I had seen her as this figure, someone who just never falls apart and it’s so important to show that, no, she does. But she knows that there is a time and a place and she can compartmentalize to still get the job done.
Jennifer Landa: I think that the books have been so great recently in rounding out the character -- getting to know more about what she’s thinking. In Last Shot, being a mom, how is she juggling her career with also being a new parent? It’s not easy! And in, of course, Leia, Princess of Alderaan, getting to know the young Leia. I hope we get a series! And getting to see more of her relationship with her mother Breha Organa was really exciting to read, and something that I had always wondered about. I think that the books have continued to evolve the character.
And, of course, Carrie Fisher herself, who has truly been -- was truly, and continues to be -- a wonderful ambassador for the character and for Star Wars. Carrie’s humanity and her honesty really made the character, I think, even more relatable and it made her relatable to fans. She was so accessible and open to fans in a way that is just -- it’s refreshing and not many celebrities are like that. She was a trailblazer.
Kristin Baver: Oh yeah. And she never shrank back from the things that other people might classify as struggles with flaws, or emotional baggage that they would hide, typically, especially in Hollywood. And she served it up with humor, which also just makes it so accessible and it almost makes it a little bit more inviting, I think, that she was allowed to laugh a little bit at herself. So it made you feel a bit less voyeuristic when she invited you in to those very personal struggles because she was making it a little performative. But you also can see that it’s raw and open and just so human.
Amy Richau: I think that both Carrie Fisher and Leia are both just so resilient and that’s something that I’ve always admired about them. But like, it doesn’t mean that they’re strong all the time. It just means that whatever comes at them, they’re going keep going, and they’re going to try to keep their sense of self preserved no matter how much tragedy they have. I mean, Leia had so much tragedy even just at the beginning of the original trilogy. But I really loved how they had the main [female] legacy character in the sequel trilogy, everyone else kind of..all the boys ran away! Like Luke went to Ahch-To, Han went back to being a smuggler, and she was the one who was kind of like, churning. She was the consistent one. And I think that the person who is consistent -- and is working behind the scenes, and just keeps going -- a lot of times isn’t the person who gets the fame or the acclaim. Like, it’s more the person who kind of like, makes a comeback or, you know, goes away and then makes the heroic return. But she was just always constantly there fighting the good fight.
Hera in Star Wars Rebels is a similar character who really is the heart and soul of the crew of the Ghost. She’s gonna get emotional because she’s not a robot. She’s gonna get emotional and she’s going to grieve, but she is just consistently there. If she would have left, I think the entire Ghost crew would have fallen apart. I’m not sure if that’s true with any of the other characters.
Kristin Baver: Yeah! And you’re right because especially -- spoilers -- after “Jedi Night,” once she loses Kanan, she does have that time where she falls apart and Chopper holds her hand and that always makes me cry. It’s going to make me cry talking about it a little bit! I can feel it starting.
But then she comes back out after she’s made her peace with it and added to her Kalikori and she gets back to work. So she’s very much like Leia in that way, and she just keeps things together.
Kelly Knox: It’s funny, Swapna said that they were role models for her when she was growing up but I still feel like they are for me now -- Hera and Leia and Rey and Jyn Erso -- because they keep fighting even after they lose everything. Like Amy was saying, they’re so resilient. They get knocked down and then they get back up and keep fighting because they believe in what they’re there for and they have hope that things can get better. And that one quote that Hera always said so beautifully, that said things will get better. So yeah, they’re still role models for me, I think.
Kristin Baver: Hera has a lot of great quotable quotes.
We already talked a little bit about Breha, but for the prequel trilogy, Padmé Amidala is really the focal point in terms of a heroine. And then in the sequel trilogy, Rey, who I just adore. I didn’t realize how much I needed the character of Rey until I was sitting in the movie theater for The Force Awakens and following along on this journey and recognizing aspects of myself in her. I think primarily, for me, it was those moments when you just feel really lost and like you’re just kind of spinning your wheels waiting for something good to happen but you don’t really know what direction to go so you kind of get stuck. I think we’ve all experienced that where you’re just kind of mired in something. And you’re probably not living in a bombed-out AT-AT, but you are kind of feeling a little bit lost and a little bit like you just have no idea where to go.
Amy Richau: I liked to see her journey go through, in The Rise of Skywalker at that moment when Rey…she wanted to get Leia’s approval for going on a mission. But she said that she was going to go whether she got it or not, I thought that was a great character moment for her, which was extremely impressive especially because of the situation of like, the Leia footage in that film. But that she had so much respect for her master -- who was Leia at this moment -- but she felt so strongly about what she was doing, and I think that she felt so secure about what she was doing that she would go ahead and do it even if she didn’t get her approval. I really liked that. I like it any time when two women speak in Star Wars! [Laughter]
Swapna Krishna: Yeah, I was going to say actually, similarly to that note…going back to the prequel trilogy with Padmé. E.K. Johnston has just done fantastic work bringing the handmaidens to life in her, I think she just had the third book announced? That is such a powerful, inspirational group of young women who are working hard and doing all this amazing stuff and making a difference. I love what the books have been doing to build out the women in this universe.
Kristin Baver: The books and the comics. Because I think the first Marvel Star Wars comic I ever read was the Princess Leia run. And to me that just blew the doors off of an aspect of Leia that I hadn’t ever even considered having watched the original trilogy.
Amy Richau: And why did it take so long to get that?
Kristin Baver: [Laughs] Good question! Good question.
Swapna Krishna: And Doctor Aphra, too, in the comics. Who in some ways, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like that was our first morally ambiguous woman as a major character? And so that added a really great depth to the women in the galaxy.
Kristin Baver: I think Ventress is a little morally ambiguous, less ambiguous than Aphra.
Swapna Krishna: Oh yeah. Forgot about Ventress. She’s amazing.
Kristin Baver: She is amazing, but she is a little more decidedly on the dark side of things. Less ambiguity, I think, with that one.
Jennifer Landa: Speaking of Ventress, one of my favorite characters is Mother Talzin, who was a character I never imagined would appear in Star Wars, never imagined I would enjoy so much because I agree with the things that she does. What? This dark side within me! But she’s loyal, she wants to protect her family, so to speak. And it was really kind of a little bit of a darker storyline for The Clone Wars. I remember watching that at a fan event in Los Angeles thinking, “Okay, I need to get back into this series because I didn’t realize that this is where we were going in terms of storylines.” It was really…those types of characters are fun in the galaxy because women are complex characters. We are not all these perfect heroines, right? And I think that Star Wars has been fantastic showing us more characters like that. Showing us the Ahsoka Tanos, the Doctor Aphras, the Mother Talzins, the Nightsisters, and now with The Mandalorian, seeing Bo-Katan in live action, that was incredible. And Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand...it’s just exciting.
And when I think about the women of the galaxy, I think about why I’ve been a fan all these years. It’s because of the women, because we’re getting more and more stories, and because now I can share these stories with my two young daughters. It’s exciting for them to be able to have heroines like Rey. To be able to dress up -- like, my 5-year-old daughter loves Queen Amidala. It’s thrilling and it makes me hopeful for the future.
Kristin Baver: Queen Amidala, hands down, best fashion in all of Star Wars for me. Everything looks like it just came off the runway, and also incredibly heavy, and a nightmare to have to put on, which is part of why she has handmaidens. Certainly not the only reason.
Jennifer Landa: And that’s the work of costume designer Trisha Biggar, a fantastic woman behind the scenes. Thirty costumes! I mean, her handiwork is just incredible.
Kristin Baver: Well, and speaking of Trisha Biggar and the Padmé costumes, I want to talk a little bit about behind the scenes for a minute. It never ceases to amaze me how much work and skill and craftsmanship Tricia Bigger and her team put into the costumes, not only for Queen Amidala, but for everybody involved in the prequel trilogy, to the extent that they were putting all of this amazing embroidery and detail into garments that were in the background or were on screen for all of one scene. It just impresses me so much that they took it so seriously and put so much into their work, regardless of whether it was going to be a blip or it was going to be the main showpiece on all of the poster artwork. Because, of course, you don't really know that when you're in production; you could be making something for a big scene and then the thing gets cut or something else shifts.
Jennifer Landa: And what’s genius is, which I'm going to plug Amy Ratcliffe's book, Star Wars: Women of The Galaxy.
[She holds the book up to camera]
Kristin Baver: I love that you brought props, Jenn. [Laughter]
Jennifer Landa: But Amy made a great point about Trisha Biggar's costume design that I had forgotten, which is that when Padmé is the queen, her costumes are very rigid, very stiff, very heavy. They represent the weight of her responsibilities. Yet the moment that she is with Anakin, her dresses are more flowing. They're more organic looking. And I just thought that was such a great point and something that I had never really – like, subconsciously I felt it -- but then when Amy articulated it, I was like, yes! That’s why Trisha Biggar is a genius costume designer.
Amy Richau: And I think it's really important, speaking of Amy Ratcliffe, that more women are writing books about Star Wars in the nonfiction world. And, you know, I was really impressed with Debs Paterson, who I think was the first woman who ever directed a behind-the-scenes video documentary, I mean, for a Star Wars film. She did, what was it called? I wrote myself a note: The Skywalker Legacy. And I think that women telling the history of Star Wars is something that still hasn't happened all that much. And I think it's important to get a woman's viewpoint from that. In The Rise of Skywalker documentary, the clear standouts to me were Victoria Mahoney, who was the second unit director, and Eunice Huthart, who was the stunt coordinator. But I kind of wonder, if it wasn't a woman behind the scenes would they have gotten as much time? Would she have sought them out? Sometimes that really can change the history that is presented in a documentary or written about in a book. And that goes for the same for having diversity, all kinds of diversity and making sure that it's not just all white people writing the history of Star Wars as well.
Kristin Baver: And, of course, you have Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm. But Amy, to your point, having that across the board with representation matters so much to ensure that the stories that are being told are being reflected authentically. And you need to have multiple voices on all sides and from all across the spectrum to really get that across.
Kelly Knox: And it's really great how far we've come since A New Hope. I remember reading an interview with George Lucas and he said that he had to fight to get an action figure of Princess Leia made and he had to argue that she was the main character. She was the one who knew what was happening in Star Wars and the other guys, like we said earlier, were just kind of wandering around, not really sure what was going on. When The Force Awakens and then the others came out, I remember standing in the middle of Target and staring at a big Rey standee. And I was just like, “How cool is it now that the character that's front and center in the middle of the store is a woman?” And she's a Jedi and she's just amazing. It still gets me, but for my daughter -- she's 12 -- it's just how it is. I just think that's amazing.
Kristin Baver: Yeah. And another important aspect to me is that, you know, once we had Rey, pretty soon after we had Jyn Erso, who is a little morally ambiguous, at least at the start of Rogue One. But what really surprised -- and I guess inspired -- me was seeing some younger boys who were seeing these characters and were relating to them. I’m seeing a lot of nodding, but when I was a kid, I was a Han kid even more than I was a Leia kid --
Kelly Knox: I was a Leia kid!
Kristin Baver: And I loved Han, and I loved his one-liners. I loved his wit. And I was fortunate to be raised by feminist parents. I could be anybody or anything I wanted to be. So it didn't really occur to me as a child to be like, “Oh, the only option is to be like Leia.” I was like, “Oh, no. I want to be like Han.” But to now see that going the opposite direction with little boys seeing women of the galaxy and wanting to be like them is so cool to me. I don't know that we have seen that before.
Swapna Krishna: Yeah, I have a little boy. He's two and I always say that it is so important to me that it's not just little girls can see themselves, but little boys can see little girls…maybe for that generation it won't be revolutionary. It'll just be absolutely normal. And that's my hope for him.
Kristin Baver: Yeah, I think that's the goal that they're just like, “What are you talking about?” It stops being revolutionary.
Swapna Krishna: Yeah. Yeah.
Kristin Baver: “Of course, I can be anything.”
Jennifer Landa: Because kids respond to stories where the characters are well written and the characters are well acted. That's what they’re going to respond to. That’s what they gravitate towards. They don't really care so much about the way that the character looks, so to speak. As long as it's a good story, they’ll get immersed into it and then they’ll want to role-play as that character.
Amy Richau: I think that's one of the great things about Ahsoka -- Ahsoka was kind of the character that we saw the Clone Wars through her eyes and the relationship between Anakin, you know, and all the other people around him. And it was an easy way to kind of latch onto her. And why, I mean, so many people -- I hear boys and men both, you know, you ask, “Who's your favorite character?” Ahsoka. It's a pretty common answer, which I think is amazing. She's still one of the most beloved characters. And it sounds like we're going to hear a lot more about her.
Kelly Knox: Yeah, I really loved her duel in The Mandalorian because I realized while I was watching it, it was the first live-action duel between two women and I just got even way more excited. My husband was like, “Why are you bouncing up and down? And I was like, “The ladies! The ladies are fighting!” [Laughter]
It had not occurred to him at all. And I was like, “Yeah, you kind of, you're used to it.” You don't realize what you're used to until maybe you look at it from a different point of view. I was so excited.
Kristin Baver: And it goes back to the idea of how much representation matters, because if you're viewing it and you've always seen yourself and you've always seen plenty of examples, it does seem commonplace. So to work our way to a point where everyone can see that, hopefully, and feel that, I know we have such a long way to go. But I think that is the end goal to making sure that, you know, the first isn't the last.
Oh, I wish we could transcribe your faces now. I’m seeing so many emphatic...
Swapna Krishna: I know, and I'm like, “OK, OK, I might start crying.”
Kelly Knox: I think I did literally shout ladies during this.
Kristin Baver: “Ladies!” Now I can't remember if it was you tweeting about it or someone else --
Kelly Knox: I did.
Kristin Baver: But I didn't even realize it while I was watching it at first that this was such a historic moment. And of course, a historic moment to have Ahsoka in live-action after so many years.
We've had such a great conversation already, but one other thing I definitely wanted to make sure we touched upon was underrated characters, because there are so many underrated women of the galaxy. When you held up Amy's book, Jenn, it reminded me that she covered a lot of them and even some that, like Kneesaa, which when I saw it in that book, I was like, “Oh, yeah, she is a woman of the galaxy.” But I wouldn't have thought to put her in there. I'm curious if you have a favorite underrated woman of Star Wars. And I can go first while you guys are thinking --
Swapna Krishna: Ventress!
Kristin Baver: There you go! OK. Why Ventress?
Swapna Krishna: Ventress by far. I just think she's so…I think her journey is one of the most fascinating ones. We see a lot of light to dark. We see light, tempted by dark, come back to light. We see a lot of dark. And she's not a big villain, you know, but we see through her a journey of how somebody can be manipulated and gaslighted and then reject that and try to figure out who she is on her own terms, and I just find it so powerful.
Kristin Baver: That's a great answer.
Kelly Knox: Mine is actually Aunt Beru, who I think gets no credit at all for raising Luke to being this amazing guy that, you know, saves the galaxy. All that compassion and thoughtfulness came from somewhere. And no offense to Uncle Owen, but I have a feeling it was from Aunt Beru. [Laughter]
I don't think she gets as near as much attention as she could. And then, we mentioned earlier, Breha Organa, who I would love to hear even more about. Because, you know, Luke and Leia’s moms -- they did something right.
Kristin Baver: I would love a young Breha story. Like I think there's so much fascinating stuff just from what we've gotten in Claudia Gray’s book of her going up, I think it’s Appenza Peak, and almost dying and then refusing to get the skin graft so she could be like, “Yeah, I'm partially bionic. What’s it to you? I'm still the queen.” I want to hear that story in full.
Kelly Knox: I love her.
Amy Richau: My pick would be Satine from The Clone Wars. I thought she was really fascinating and not just because of the Obi-Wan part, but that also is obviously the story that someone needs to tell. And hopefully someone -- maybe Claudia Gray -- is working on it right now.
Kelly Knox: I want that so bad.
Kristin Baver: Somewhere we’ve summoned her by now.
Amy Richau: I don’t want to box anything in…but just her leading Mandalore when there were so many different clans, all of that history of Mandalore and just being so confident in her stance in things even when it didn't do her any favors, I thought that she was just a really great character. I also really, really need to know more about Merrin from Jedi: Fallen Order. So I need to shout that out in case.
Kristin Baver: Good pick.
Jennifer Landa: You all have such good ones…I'm going to go weird. I think of the droids, I think of the creatures, the aliens -- so like, Sy Snootles. I remember as a child watching her and immediately…from the way that she was kind of grooving to the music with her microphone [Jenn starts rocking back and forth with an imaginary microphone] I was just like, who is --
Kristin Baver: [Laughs] That is a great Sy interpretation, Jenn. Again, I wish we could transcribe that.
Jennifer Landa: To me it was like, “Oh, she's like a bar singer! I want to know more about that character.” I mean, or the Caretakers, who I love. They’re these weird creatures and yet you instantly know what it would be like to have an interaction with one of them.
Or L3-37, who was phenomenal. I don't think she's really underrated. I think everyone knows how awesome she is. And then the last one going to the books would be Kriki, the Chadra-Fan from Delilah Dawson's book Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire. Kriki is just the most vulnerable, sweetest, little bat-alien ever. I hope that we see her onscreen at some point.
Kristin Baver: I love the Chadra-Fans. Although I would have to say my pick is probably Bo-Katan if we can still qualify her as underrated. I don't know now that she's in The Mandalorian and she has transformed into live-action if she still counts. But I just love her -- it’s a little bit, I think, Swapna, why you love Ventress -- but I just love her journey of going from doing the wrong thing to seeing that things aren't black and white and realizing she doesn't want to be part of the Death Watch anymore, and making all these decisions and losing her sister. She goes through all this tremendous loss and still always goes back to her roots and tries to fight for Mandalore and unite Mandalore. And I hope we see a lot more of her, too.
So, what are you all doing for International Women's Day?
Kelly Knox: When is it actually?
Kristin Baver: It’s on March the 8th, which will be today when this conversation runs. [Laughter]
Kelly Knox: I totally blew it. [Laughs]
Kristin Baver: So for today…I'm thinking cake or brownies or, you know, whatever your delightful food of choice is. And maybe a Star Wars marathon. Star Wars is also always my sick-day movie, too. Any time I'm feeling lousy, I usually put on A New Hope because if you fall asleep in the middle then you wake up and you're like, I know exactly where we are. [Laughter]
Jennifer Landa: I am going to be patient like Aunt Beru. I'm going to make my children delicious food. I'm going to be diplomatic like Queen Amidala. And I am going to be resilient like Leia. All for my children, and then at the end, I'm going to collapse. [Laughter]
Kristin Baver: A little bit like Hera, but that's ok. You're going to get back up, also like Hera and Leia.
Jennifer Landa: Exactly!
Kristin Baver: Those are great. Those are also just everyday goals: let the women of the galaxy, behind the scenes and on screen, help inspire us to just do better and be better.
Kelly Knox: That’s why they’re hanging up in my office. [Points to artwork of Padmé, Leia, and other Star Wars heroines.]
Kristin Baver: Oh yes, that’s the theme behind Kelly!
Kelly Knox: Yup! That’s why I have them up there. I'll be laying on the floor like, “I don't want to get up,” and then I’ll see them and be like, “Okay, I can get up.”
Kristin Baver: “Okay, Padmé, stop looking at me like that.” [Laughter]
Kelly Knox: I get it!
Kristin Baver: Awesome. Alright. Well, this has been a lovely conversation. Thank you all so much for joining in. This was a great way...personally, I feel like this is my celebration of International Women's Day because this is just so lovely. And I miss good girlfriends and good conversation during this quarantine. We'll get back there. And I hope to see all of you at Celebration in the future times.
Jennifer Landa: [Sighs] Wow. [Laughter]
This discussion has been edited and condensed for clarity.