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Listening to: Star Wars Main Theme – John Williams (Star Wars OST)

As you may have guessed from my general habits, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Thursday night. And let me tell you, it was awesome. The visuals were beautiful without going over the top, the characters were fantastic, the dialogue was not written by George Lucas… all in all, this was the movie we were looking for.

Now, I’m not going to spoil anything, because when else will you get to see a Star Wars movie without knowing what’s going to happen? (Once a year for the next… while.) Nor am I going to write a full review right now–I think I need to watch it at least one more time, to take the edge off some of the excitement and calibrate my critical eye. But I am going to talk about something that made me especially excited, and that’s the casting of background extras and minor characters.

Let’s go back, for a moment, to Episode IV, and take a look at the bit roles. Rebel troopers? All male. Tantive IV’s captain? Male. Imperial officers? All male. Assorted admirals? All male. Death star gunners? Also male. (You see where I’m going with this.) In short, it is assumed that if a character isn’t particularly important, they’ll probably be male.

If we compare that to Episode VII, we see an immediate difference. The first stormtrooper that we hear speak is Gwendoline Christie’s fantastically intimidating Captain Phasma, and her presence as the force’s commanding officer is a major challenge to the assumption of male as default. Later on in the film, a generic trooper reporting to Kylo Ren has a clearly female voice even if her armor isn’t signposting her gender—because in-universe, it doesn’t matter.

There are similar placements of female extras in the background throughout the film, from Imperial bridge officers to Resistance pilots. While (to quote Avatar’s Bryke) I don’t think this was “a slam-dunk victory for representation,” it’s nice to see this kind of intentionality in a film as notable as The Force Awakens. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the films handle this.