Film Forward

One Study Shows When ‘Star Wars’ Films Give Female Characters Screen Time, It Pays Off

Making Princess Leia proud.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

Thanks to the tireless work of a woman named Becca Harrison, we have a new lens through which to view the diversity in the Star Wars franchise — specifically the way in which the series treats its female characters and represents them onscreen, and how it pays off. 

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Harrison — who is a Scottish author, lecturer, and founder of the Glasgow Feminist Arts Fest — recently ranked the main canon movies, minus Solo: A Star Wars Story, by how much screen time they give the women in them. The unofficial study provided some interesting results that speak to the films of then and now, as well as their box office success.

The screen-time findings are as follows:

2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) — 43 percent
2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII) — 37 percent
2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — 35 percent
1983's Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) — 23 percent
1980's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) — 22 percent
1999's Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode I) — 20 percent
2002's Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (Episode II) — 18 percent
2005's Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (Episode III) — 17 percent
1977's Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV) — 15 percent

As IndieWire points out, the top three Star Wars offerings on the list — which coincidentally happen to be the three most recent ones (again, minus Solo) — are also the top three earners when looking at Box Office Mojo domestic numbers. This is just yet another example of the proven truth that diversity does pay off in the long run, specifically when it comes to depicting women as strong female leads. The latest installments have been big wins for women, showcasing female characters such as Rey (Daisy Ridley), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Jyn (Felicity Jones), and others. Previous ones, such as Padmé (Natalie Portman) didn't fare as well as you'd think, though. (Additionally, the study did not appear to account for inflation.)

Harrison explained the methodology she used on her website, Writing on Reels. She edited the male characters out as much as possible but her findings could adjust (likely down) upon further honing. Essentially, Harrison has done the reverse of what some men did to cut women out of the movie. There were many things she had to work through for this, mostly in terms of what counts as screen time (i.e. speaking or not), as well as determining the gender of droids and aliens. Her next goal is to tackle female characters of color in Star Wars.

"My hope is that by telling you the odds of women being onscreen in Star Wars, we can keep having useful conversations about identity and representation in the franchise," Harrison concluded.

Cover image: Lucasfilm

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