When I read the 1978 Star Wars Storybook aloud to my 6-year-old daughter, she loves all the characters. Even Darth Vader and Chewbacca are relatable, because George Lucas, artist Ralph McQuarrie, and other Star Wars folks clearly knew what they were doing way back when. Regardless of gender, kids dig Star Wars. Whether or not the dysfunctional family dynamics are totally appropriate for every age is super debatable, but the sheer cool factor isn’t. All kids can root for characters of any gender in Star Wars because Star Wars activates fairy-tale magic in everyone.
And yet. In the classic trilogy, Leia is the only woman who can qualify as a main character. In the prequels, the heroic female protagonist Padmé Amidala goes from a strong-willed queen to a mother who dies in childbirth while this fact is covered up by men. Even the introduction of Rey in The Force Awakens has her fighting for dominance in a series of films mostly populated by men, while Rose, in The Last Jedi, is shoved to the background in The Rise of Skywalker.
In the live-action versions of Star Wars, when young girls look for a variety of female heroes, the Force sometimes comes up short. This isn’t to say that Leia, Rey, or Rogue One’s Jyn Erso aren’t strong women — they most certainly are. But, historically, live-action Star Wars stories have often had a Smurfette problem — one woman among a cast of mostly men. The Clone Wars and Rebels animated shows certainly did better on this front, but even in those shows, it sometimes felt like the male characters were given the spotlight more often.
But, with the release of Ahsoka, Star Wars has begun to reflect a new reality for young girls: There doesn’t have to be just one Princess Leia or Rey among a gang of space dudes. Non-male characters can, and should, exist on a spectrum of different personalities, and not be relegated d to being “the girl” in the character ensemble. With Ahsoka, the Star Wars franchise is giving girls an action-adventure series in which the three protagonists are women — Hera, Sabine, and Ahsoka herself — as well as two of the antagonists — Morgan Elsbeth and Shin Hati — too. Unlike your average Star Wars story, that’s a lot of girl power.
While some folks might have a reflexively cynical attitude to a Girl Dad like me, praising a hashtag-feminism approach to Star Wars, the reality is, for families, a gaggle of genuine girl bosses in a live-action Star Wars feels groundbreaking. Better still, none of the three main leads is required to seem like the “Chosen One,” meaning any kind of pre-ordained storyline for Hera, Ahsoka, or Sabine isn’t driving the story. These women are making their own choices and not being bullied by a fatalist narrative, or men.
This narrative freshness feels especially true of Sabine. Like the bulk of the characters in Ahsoka, Sabine’s backstory comes from Rebels, but that doesn’t mean her new fate is controlled by all that complicated Star Wars canon. In fact, the first two episodes of Ahsoka make it clear that what makes Sabine special is that she isn’t unusually gifted in the Force. Instead, her abilities and strengths are more innate, and related to her personality and will, rather than a mystical energy field. In a crowded media world of magical princesses and superheroes, Sabine’s lack of traditional chosen-one baggage is amazing for young girls, and combined with the fact that her mentors and friends are also women, it feels like, in some ways, a brand new start for Star Wars.
Ahsoka may not be perfect, and it may not pass the Bechdel test as often as some feminist families might like. It also may not be the exact Star Wars show longtime ’80s and ’90s Star Wars fans were hoping for. But for those of us with Star Wars-obsessed daughters, Ahsoka presents something better than nostalgia: A future in which the Force isn’t just a boys’ club, and that non-male characters are afforded a galaxy of possibilities. For young girls, probably age 10 and up, the future of the Force begins here.