Why Felicity Jones’s Rogue One takes Star Wars into the 21st century

Putting a woman at the centre of the story is a massive step forward for the franchise, says Sarah Doran

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there weren’t very many women leading the charge against the Galactic Empire.

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There are plenty of strong women in the Star Wars universe, granted – Mara Jade, Jaina Solo and Aurra Sing to name but a few – but rarely, if ever, do they take centre stage. In the original trilogy there were a handful of female characters but only three of them ever had the chance to even speak.

Of course we can’t forget about Princess Leia – even if the spunky secret Skywalker is best remembered not for her rebellious nature, but for a skimpy gold bikini and spiral hair buns.

When the prequel trilogy was released, Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala stepped into the limelight.

Luke and Leia’s mother certainly proved she had guts in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones but by the time we reached Revenge of the Sith she’d been reduced to a simpering ever-so-slightly hormonal senator who couldn’t cope with the idea that her fella had turned to the Dark Side.

“Maybe I’m so beautiful because I’m so in love,” she cheesily cooed from her Coruscant balcony. “Or maybe it’s because I’m so in love with you,” a tortured, miscast Anakin Skywalked replied. Dear Disney, for future reference that’s definitely not the kind of dialogue we’re looking for.

I’m rather excited to see the Star Wars film franchise choosing a woman to lead the first spin-off. For me, the confirmation of Felicity Jones’s casting signals that the sci-fi franchise really is ready to step into the 21st Century.

The fact that Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie and Christina Chong will join Daisy Ridley and Carrie Fisher in the upcoming Episode VII: The Force Awakens is hopefully another positive sign too.

Rogue One finally puts a female at the heart of a Star Wars movie and will hopefully end the franchise’s trend of relegating the girls to supporting roles. Could she be the next Squadron Leader? A wonderful X-Wing pilot? Or do the Kessel Run in less than 11 par secs and beat the Millennium Falcon? We’ll have to wait until 2016 to find out.

The Hunger Games and Divergent have already proven that there’s an appetite for strong female leads. And not just among teenage girls either.

According to audience statistics gathered by the Motion Picture Association of America there was about a 60/40 female/male split for Catching Fire: Part 1, proving Katniss’s toughness didn’t exactly deter men from making their way to the cinema.

So hats off to the folks at Disney and Lucasfilm. The girls, much like the Sand People, are returning. And they’re doing so in greater numbers.

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens will be released in cinemas on 18th December, with Rogue One following on 16th December 2016 and Episode VIII set to land on 26th May 2017