The latest addition to the Star Trek franchise – JJ Abrams’ Star Trek: Into Darkness – features everything you would expect: a shiny, all-American Kirk, a detached, steely Mr Spock, a comic, panic-stricken Scotty and an evil (British, natch) nemesis.
The only thing missing from this mix, considering Trek’s essentially progressive drive towards a better more equal future, is a strong female lead. The two key women disappointingly offer little to the narrative, and act mainly as love interests, wearers of mini-skirts, or bargaining chips for the men. I mean, come on! I know sex sells but if you’re going to get a girl to strip to her bra and knickers at least write it into the plot in some way.
Brazen titillation aside, as far as I can see Abrams only features one scene with a woman leading in a pivotal role, and even then she has to be rescued by the lads.
So what happened? It could be said that in times of economic strife writers and directors revert to type, behave conservatively with their casting and character development, rather than continuing to build on the small, allbeit inspiring, base of kick-ass sci-fi chicks. But if we want to raise a generation of girls who think that they too could fly spacecraft and “boldly go” – and I sure hope we do – then we need more of them on-screen. Here are some of the best.
Ellen Ripley: Alien series
Arguably one of the best female protagonists to ever appear on our screens, Ripley is a complex blend of straight-talking toughness and a tender maternal, protective nature, and remains defined on her own terms rather than through her relationships with male characters, challenging gender roles in a very male-dominated genre. Ripley was ranked eighth greatest in the American Film Institute’s list of American cinema heroes in 2011, and has been inspiring sc-fi fans since the mid 1980s.
Kick-ass quote: “Get away from her, you bitch!” (Aliens, 1986)
Princess Leia: Star Wars Trilogy
Often devisive (Is she a damsel in distress? Is she a feminist icon?), Leia is undoubtedly a pivotal character in the biggest sci-fi franchise of all time. Underneath that infamous golden bikini she is a female warrior, a skilled rebel combatant who gives as good as she gets, resisting torture and kicking some butt: driving the narrative rather than being a passive character sidelined by men. Given that she debuted on our screens in the 1970s she puts the recent Star Trek girls – over 30 years on – to shame.
Kick-ass quote: “I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you’ll do as I tell you, okay?” (Star Wars, 1977)
Sarah Connor: Terminator and Terminator 2
Matching Arnie in general buffness (have you ever seen such triceps?!), Connor is a single-minded fugitive who makes the journey from LA waitress to double-hard lioness protecting her cub (John Connor) and working in the Resistance, in order that he go on to save the world. Training herself in the arts of weaponry and warfare, her single-minded determination sets her apart from the usual female protagonists.
Kick-ass quote: “Men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative. You don’t know what it’s like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death…” (Terminator 2, 1991)
Agent Scully: The X-Files
Even though she came to us on the small screen, Scully was an equal to her male co-lead (Mulder) in this incredibly successful sci-fi series, running intellectual rings around him. Even thought the show’s writers finally succumbed and gave their initially platonic relationship a romantic ending, Scully presented a version of femininity to which girls could aspire: brainy, smart, confident, and a refusal to play second fiddle to a man.
Kick-ass quote: “So, Mulder, this supposed clandestine source who’s contacted you – how do we know that he’s not just another crackpot whose encyclopaedic knowledge of extra-terrestrial life isn’t derived exclusively from reruns of Star Trek?” (The X-Files, “Dreamland”, Season 6 episode 4, 1998)