She’s a Princess but she’s no princess

leia The original Star Wars trilogy is often criticised for its lack of female characters, and while I agree that the cast is ‘male heavy’ I think the female characters represent quality over quantity.

“Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited.” – Princess Leia

Although Star Wars does not pass the Bechdel Test (in fact there is not one single scene in the entire trilogy where two women have a conversation alone) what we do have, particularly in Princess Leia is a great role model, and not a typical Princess. I have previously looked at the character of Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark and her decline from a strong independent woman to damsel in distress, however this isn’t something we see in Leia throughout the trilogy, which is in some respects, astonishing. Lucas has employed other stereotypes in Aunt Beru as the mother figure, and Oola as the whore, but even other female characters such as Mon Mothma have greater gender equality than most women in film. Even Luke Skywalker has his own stereotype as his journey can be seen to reflect the Oedipal Complex.

“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you’ll do as I tell you, okay?” – Princess Leia

Hollywood constantly reinforces gender stereotypes, and the ‘roles’ men and women play; husband, father, protector; wife, mother, care-giver. Women constantly need to be rescued and only men have the power to do so. The way we are introduced to Leia offers conflicting ideas about what to expect from her – she’s wearing white which historically symbolises innocence, virginity and naivety while on the other hand she has put herself in danger to retrieve the stolen plans of the Death Star to send back to the Rebellion. We soon learn she shows no fear from the way she talks to Vader and how she handles herself when in danger. It’s true that in every film she has to be rescued, but she in turn is also the rescuer. Not only does she imitate a bounty hunter to rescue Han Solo from his carbon cell (Return of the Jedi) she also saves Luke with twintuition (Empire Strikes Back) and chokes Jabba the Hutt to death (Return of the Jedi) – which receives no recognition from the other characters later in the film.

“Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” – Princess Leia leia_left

Is her status as a Princess a reason for her authority amongst others, and their respect for what she has to say? Maybe, but it is obvious she is a valuable member of the Rebellion because she wants to be involved in their missions, and not just from a safe distance. Something else which is interesting is that there is never any discussion or resistance of her facing dangerous situations. In Return of the Jedi she volunteers to go to Endor as part of Han’s crew and there is no opposition from anyone, not least the man she loves! This seems incredibly progressive for a Hollywood film. What we see is that she is respected, she gives commands, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She is passionate about the cause and she is part of The Force.

“Well somebody has to save our skins. Into the garbage, fly-boy!” – Princess Leia

I talked to someone the other day about this and how important Alien is in terms of it having the first female lead in a sci-fi film. He said “Well what about Sarah Connor in the Terminator films?” But when I asked him to name the actress who played her he couldn’t. When you think of Terminator you think Arnold Schwarzenegger, when you think of Alien you think of Sigourney Weaver. Maybe things are changing slowly, Sandra Bullock in Gravity is an example of this and we do get plenty of great female actors in the genre. 

So how will Leia’s character fare in the upcoming Star Wars film? I’m not sure if I will find out but I can’t imagine she’s lost any of her passion or spirit.

Image credits here and here.

The Silver Linings Playbook and the book to screen dichotomy

Usually when a book is turned into a film (and it happens a lot more often than you’d think) people fall on two sides of the fence: those who are fiercely loyal to the book, and those who love the film but will probably never read the book.

For the book lovers it seems almost impossible to make a good adaptation which conveys the full meaning of the story told. Unfortunately more often than not there is disappointment from reading a book to watching the film or vice versa. I found this with The Constant Gardener. I absolutely loved the film and decided to read the book while on holiday; the book is so rich in detail and extra plot that I no longer enjoy the film as much as I did which is a shame. While it is almost impossible to include everything which happens, it is unfortunate that other things will get left out. In some cases it appears that the only common link between the two is the name.

I saw the film adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook before I read the book and I really enjoyed the story, the relationship between Pat and Tiffany, and between Pat and his family, so it was with slight trepidation that I read the book the following week. What surprised me the most was that despite the fact that the are monumental differences between the book and the film’s narratives, I genuinely enjoyed both for their own merits. The film by definition of its medium is a lot more fluid than the book in terms of how the narrative progresses and has some funny moments not found in the book, while the book gives a much deeper insight into Pat’s psyche and personal relationships. Without giving anything away there are some very interesting changes to the story (not least changing Pat’s surname from Peoples to Solatano) which begs the question of what the writer of the screenplay and the director where trying to convey that they felt the book couldn’t, or didn’t. A common mistake Hollywood makes is to assume their audience is less intelligent than they actually are, thus saturating the marketing with ‘spectacle’ movies, rather than intelligent pieces of art. But I digress…

One way filmmakers have managed to get around the issue of ‘true’ adaptations is to use short stories as the basis for their films. Take Stephen King or JG Ballard, known for their short stories as well as being masters of genre, with adaptations of their work you are much more likely to see the full development of the original story. The other side of the coin is to turn a book into multiple films (I’m looking at you, Jackson) which started with the adaptation of the final Harry Potter book and has since been embraced by the Hollywood money-making machine to squeeze every extra penny out of the eager filmgoers who embrace these book to screen films.

There is an argument that book adaptations are best suited for TV, which can cover more ground (or text) allowing for real character development, and greater narrative detail. My argument for this is based on the infamous BBC 6 part series of Pride and Prejudice (1995) compared with Joe Wright’s adaptation in 2005. Although the BBC didn’t quite follow the book through to the very end, it was able to concentrate on more of the plot details which were so quickly glossed over or forgotten about in the 2005 version. The BBC have gone on to make many more adaptations (Little Dorrit, Tess of the D’Urberville’s, Jane Eyre…) of classics which would be lost on the time constraints of cinema.

In the same way that people will keep on writing books, others will keep making them into films and rarely does it go the other way. While we may not like the result of a book to screen adaptation, it is always interesting to see the interpretation and development of the origin into something new.