The Future is Female. But in a galaxy far, far away, so is a “A Long Time Ago.”
There’s no question the Star Wars universe has taken great strides to open up its fandom by casting women in the leads of its new films and TV shows and now a new book by journalist Amy Ratcliffe aims to celebrate nearly all of them.
Women of the Galaxy gives Leia Organa, Rey, Rose Tico, Jyn Erso and 71 other female heroes, villains, droids, and creatures their own moment in the spotlight.
The book is full of original illustrations of everyone from Jedi knight Aayla Secura to shape-shifting bounty hunter Zam Wesell, accompanying Ratcliffe’s retelling of the inspiring, tragic, and hopeful stories of these characters, both famous and obscure.
There are a lot of ways you could chronicle the adventures of the women of Star Wars. How would you describe your approach?
Amy Ratcliffe: We wanted to do part dossier, but also fangirl enthusiasm, so it wasn’t just straight, ‘Leia is saved on this day and then on that day…’
Yeah, this book isn’t just facts about the characters. It’s more … inspirational. Even for the bad guys — why they’re cool.
Exactly. Sometimes you can find at traits you like. Phasma is pretty terrible, but she was really ambitious, really persistent. Just … not for good ends. [Laughs.] Hearing about the tone [Chronicle Books] wanted to take, I use the word ‘celebrate’ a lot.
It’s not a photo book. Each character gets original pieces of art. How did you recruit your group of illustrators?
They brought in 18 female and non-binary artists to do portraits of all of these characters as we’ve never seen them before. And in some cases, like for characters from the novels, maybe we haven’t seen them ever. This is my dream, and we went from there. It all happened very quickly.
It couldn’t have been too quick. You said there are 75 characters in the book? You wrote a feature story about each one!
Yeah 75, and we had to do the first draft in seven weeks. The Last Jedi came out right at the end, but then I had to revisit first drafts to add Star Wars characters from Solo and then Star Wars Resistance as well.
I know you probably had a fair amount of this at your fingertips, but you’ve also just got to spend time getting your facts and names and information right. And you’re going through books, and comics, and TV shows, and the movies…
That is 100% it, and the danger of that was like, okay, I have in my head I know I want to revisit, say, the Night Sisters episodes of The Clone Wars. So I can get more information to refresh my memory. But I also love all those stories, so it was like, ‘Man, did I just read that entire graphic novel, when I only needed to read two issues? Cool.’ It was the best and worst kind of research, I like to say.
The book is dedicated to Carrie Fisher, and obviously Leia — she was the general, and a princess, but also the queen of Star Wars, the center of this universe. How do you find something new to say about a character who has touched almost every iteration of Star Wars storytelling?
I agree, she is the queen of Star Wars. She was there at the beginning, and she was such a revolutionary character when that film came out in 1977. And in some ways, still is. And now when you add in the Carrie Fisher factor, who was just an incredible woman, and really inspiring, and eloquent, and open about all her struggles, the two are hard to separate. It’s like what do I say about this character that people don’t already know? And how do I do her justice? She was the character I put off for as long as I could to write. I was intimidated because you don’t want to mess up— especially Leia.
So how did you find that new ground to cover?
I thought, ‘Well, maybe people who are reading this know the films and they haven’t been as familiar with the novels and comics.’ And in those stories, we’ve now seen Leia from a teenager, and then [middle age] in book form, between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. And there’s a lot of material there, and she does a lot of incredible, smart, and difficult things.
There’s always a debate in fandom about what’s canon and what’s not. Did you stick strictly to canon in your profiles?
For fictional references, I absolutely stuck to canon. But if you look at characters like Aayla Secura, who is a Jedi who was in Attack of the Clones, and then in the animated series, Clone Wars, she had her beginning in Dark Horse Comics expanded the universe in the ‘90s. So you kind of had to consider some of that, and it was definitely a balance.
You mentioned that you wanted there to be an inspirational quality to this, but how do you find meaning in the dark side female characters?
I definitely got guidance from my editor because I have a Rebel Alliance tattoo, so there were definitely times I’d be writing like, Asajj Ventress, or Barriss Offee from The Clone Wars, who ends up betraying the Jedi, and my editor would be like, “’ think you’re showing some bias here.’ [Laughs.] I’m like, ‘You know what? Fair.’ I probably am. But with Captain Phasma or Rae Sloane, who is this Imperial Officer that was introduced in novels, I tried to not ignore the bad things they’ve done — because you can’t. So you kind of try to find where did they go astray?
You are such an authority on Star Wars, and people probably know you host panels at Star Wars Celebration. you write for StarWars.com. But was there a character you had to profile who even you were unfamiliar with?
Definitely in a few cases. I admit I don’t keep up with the comics as well as I should because I like to wait for trade paperbacks to come out. And I also have made the mistake of not reading the stuff geared towards children, like the young reader novels. There’s this character named Lena Groff, who stars in this series called Adventures in Wild Space, and they’re really short chapter books. So they’re geared towards pretty young kids, and they have some illustrations. And when I was looking at the list, I’m like, “I don’t know who this is.” But it was an excuse to buy some more Star Wars books, so that was cool. And her parents have been taken by the Empire, and she and her brother are left on their own with this funny droid and their pet lizard monkey. It’s still lighthearted, but it is a lot of survival.
You’ve been a lifelong Star Wars fan, and I think it’s fair to say even the Lucasfilm people acknowledge that the early iterations of Star Wars didn’t have that much female representation. You know you had Mon Mothma leading the rebellion. You have Princess Leia. In the prequels, Padme Amidala. But now, we have Jyn. We have Rey. We have Rose. We have Admiral Holdo. There are so many more women in major roles, and in fact, most of the new movies are built around women lead characters, including droids like L3-37. How have things changed since you were a little girl versus being a grown up fan of Star Wars? How has the atmosphere changed for women?
We certainly had Leia, like you said, and that can’t be discounted. And Padme, I think is an incredible character. But I don’t think we started on the screen seeing more female characters until The Clone Wars with Ahsoka Tano. And by the time that came out, that’s when I was just starting to get comfortable with being publicly outward about being into geeky things in pop culture. Ten or so years ago, it was still like, “Women like geek things to some degree?” And you would get asked weird trivia questions to prove it. That’s, thankfully, not as much the case anymore.
To test whether you’re a true fan, right?
Ugh. “True fan” just makes me instantly angry — regardless of the context that it’s used in. So Clone Wars came about right when I was being more open about it, and then I connected, mainly through Twitter, with a lot of fellow female fans, and then it was right at the time that Ashley Eckstein started Her Universe, the clothing company.
And Ashley, of course, is the voice of Ahsoka, too. She’s a character and a feminist activist for geekdom with the clothing line.
It’s something that really struck me when I was writing this book: There are stories for just about anything you want. If you want a story about bounty hunters. If you want a story about an archeologist going on adventures, you have that with Doctor Aphra. We have women and female characters in all different shades. And that was desperately needed. On one hand, I’m like, “It took us a while to get here,” but you know what? I’m glad we’re here, and there can only be more progress. I hope.