Leia Says Little In The Last Jedi (Women & Men in the Movies No. 9)

This week I’ll look at how women are portrayed, and how they interact with other characters, in the 2017 Star Wars film The Last Jedi.

(Find out more about 3 tests I’ll use to guide the conversation in Women, Men, and Movies or just read on.)

The Story

On an isolated island, young Rey tries to persuade unwilling Jedi Master Luke Skywalker to train her. General (and former princess) Leia struggles to lead what remains of the Resistance against the tyrannical First Order even as her son Kylo seeks to rise within it and grow his own dark power.

Quick Results

Bechdel:        P

Sexy Lamp:    P

Mako Mori:   P

Chasing Bechdel

(Does a (named) female character talk to another named female character about anything other than a man?)

The Last Jedi includes so many characters and conversations that I've grouped most of the ones among only male characters, or between male and female characters combined, together. Only those one-on-one conversations where the dialogue or characters are particularly significant are separated out.

I didn’t need to group female-to-female conversations because there are relatively few.

Where non-human characters are coded as one gender or the other, I’ve included them by the coded gender.

Who’s Talking To Whom

Women To Women:

Vice Admiral Holdo and Lieutenant Connix have two short conversations about:

  • Passing debris (Connix is covering for Resistance Commander Dameron Poe)
  • Fuel reserves and staying on course

General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo talk once about:

  • Poe
  • Boarding the transports
  • Who will stay behind to pilot the cruiser
  • Resistance losses
  • The Force

Lieutenant Connix and Commander D’acy have one conversation where Leia also chimes in. They talk about:

  • Distress signals
  • Lack of reinforcements
  • The Resistance

Also, Commander D’acy tells a group of Resistance fighters that Vice Admiral Holdo is next in command and Holdo thanks her.

Rey and Leia have one conversation, which includes about 6 lines, about:

  • Luke
  • Rebuilding the rebellion

Men To Men:

Poe and Finn (both of the Resistance), talk about:

  • Where Rey is
  • Surviving
  • The droid BB8
  • Battle strategy

Luke and Kylo talk about:

  • Forgiveness
  • Death
  • The Resistance
  • The Jedi

Yoda and Luke talk about:

  • Ending the Jedi legacy
  • Jedi texts
  • Rey
  • Failure

Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Renn talk about:

  • Hux
  • Kylo’s power
  • What Snoke saw in Kylo
  • Kylo’s bloodline
  • Kylo's mask/helmet
  • Han Solo
  • Kylo being unbalanced
  • Rey
  • Luke still being alive
  • The Jedi
  • Darth Vader
  • Destiny

Many other male characters talk with one another. Those characters include First Order General Hux, Captain Canady, Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Renn, other First Order officers, Poe, C-3PO, and Resistance fighters and officers. They talk about:

  • Snuffing out the Resistance
  • Battle strategy
  • Resistance shields
  • Snoke’s disappointment
  • Rebel forces
  • Battle strategy (numerous times)
  • Rey
  • The Supreme Leader
  • Who will rule
  • Luke
  • Threats to one another
  • Mutiny
  • Ways out of a cave

Women And Men:  

Rey and Luke talk about:

  • The Resistance
  • Leia
  • Who Rey is and her fears and dreams
  • The cave
  • The Jedi texts
  • The First Order
  • The Force
  • Luke’s refusal to train another Jedi
  • The island
  • Kylo
  • History of the Empire
  • Pride
  • Legends

And Rey and Kylo talk about:

  • Luke
  • Seeing each other in their minds
  • Kylo being a monster
  • Kylo’s father
  • Rey’s parents
  • Being alone
  • Kylo’s future
  • Supreme Leader Snoke

Rey also talks with Supreme Leader Snoke. Topics include:

  • Darkness and light
  • Kylo
  • Luke
  • Threats
  • The Resistance

Luke and Leia have one conversation about:

  • Leia’s hair
  • Kylo
  • Hope

Rose and Finn, both of the Resistance, talk about:

  • Finn being a Resistance hero
  • Escape pods
  • Finn leaving the First Order
  • Rose’s sister’s death
  • Rey finding Finn
  • Disabling tracking
  • Finding a code breaker
  • A casino
  • How Rose grew up
  • The Resistance
  • Love versus hate

Vice Admiral Holdo and Poe talk about:

  • Battle plans
  • Poe being trigger happy
  • Poe’s demotion
  • Following orders
  • Battle plans
  • Abandoning the cruiser
  • Mutiny

Chewbacca, Luke, and Rey talk about:

  • The Millenium Falcon
  • Han Solo
  • Kylo
  • The Jedi
  • Whether Resistance needs Luke
  • The First Order
  • Why Luke isolated himself
  • The fleet
  • Ruling the galaxy
  • Rey’s parents

Leia and Poe talk about:

  • Strategy
  • Returning to base or fighting on
  • Poe not following orders
  • Leadership
  • Admiral Holdo
  • Protecting the Resistance
  • Strategy

Many other conversations occur between male and female characters one-on-one and in groups. Characters in those conversations include General Hux, unnamed male and female First Order characters, Poe, Rose, C-3PO, Maz, Finn, unnamed Resistance fighters, Leia, and Holdo, child jockeys, and a code breaker. Topics include:

  • First Order Attacks
  • Getting everyone on a transport
  • Fighters
  • Targets
  • Bomber doors
  • Battle victories
  • Supreme Leader Snoke
  • First Order tracking Resistance
  • Battle plans
  • Resistance leaders
  • Leia’s condition
  • The Resistance’s symbol
  • Disabling tracking
  • Security shields
  • Battle strategy and victories
  • Breaking out of prison
  • Code breaking
  • Rey finding Resistance fighters

Humans and non-gendered droids:

Poe and BB8 talk about:

  • Strategy
  • Battle moves
  • Weapon systems
  • Targeting
  • Finn

And Luke and R2 (who I believe is referred to as “he” in other Star Wars movies, but I didn’t notice being referred to here as male or female) talk about:

  • Old friends
  • Not coming back to the Resistance
  • Old hologram message from Leia

Conclusion

There are far more conversations in mixed male/female groups than in the other categories, and more male-to-male than female-to-female conversations. These conversations cover a broad range of topics sometimes briefly, sometimes in depth and detail.

Most of the conversations the women have with one another are about a male Resistance member, sometimes plus another topic.

Whether all the women I list above are truly “named” characters is questionable. For two of them, I needed to hunt through IMDB for names. (And it was a hunt. The actors’ photos didn’t always match very well to how they looked in the film, so I checked other websites as well.)

But Leia and Rey are both clearly named, and they do have a conversation that, in addition to being about Luke, is also about the Resistance. And Vice Admiral Holdo and Leia similarly talk about Poe, but also about important Resistance strategy and choices.

Because of that, The Last Jedi passes the Bechdel Test.

Women v. Sexy Lamps

(can a female character be replaced by a sexy lamp without affecting the plot?)

The Last Jedi includes many female characters who are key to the plot.

Rose’s ideas and determination drive an entire side plot about an attempt to disable the First Order’s tracking system. Rey’s quest to become a Jedi both intersects with and affects the main Resistance versus First Order plot and forms a key storyline of its own. Leia has less to do, but she does make or influence some significant strategy decisions, and Vice Admiral Holdo’s choices drive the battle.

I can’t think of any female character who is simply there to be carted around, saved, or look good.

Conclusion

The Last Jedi passes the Sexy Lamp Test.

Mako Mori

(does a female character have her own narrative arc that does not support a man’s story line?)

While Rose’s actions affect the main plot, I don’t see her as having a true narrative of her own. I like her as a character. She’s steadfast, determined, and resourceful throughout. But I don’t see a journey other than perhaps in her feelings for Finn.

Leia doesn’t get much screen time. I also don’t see her evolving other than perhaps in her feelings about Kyle or Luke.

Rey is a tougher call.

She seeks Luke to train as a Jedi in her own right. Much of that storyline involves Luke, as he initially refuses to train her. Their storylines support each other’s. Without her, he wouldn’t know what was happening with the Resistance or consider reconnecting with the Jedi ways. Without him, she’d be on her own to train.

Interestingly, she does quite a bit to learn on her own, suggesting to me that perhaps she doesn’t personally need Luke as much as she believes she does.

She also tries to save Kylo, connecting with him even when she doesn’t intentionally try to do so.

Rey has an internal journey, too. As we saw in The Force Awakens, she holds out hope that her parents will return for her and that her bloodline makes her a Jedi, much like Luke and Leia. Her quest for answers and how she deals with that shows growth on her part.

Conclusion

Based on Rey’s quest to become a Jedi, much of which is self-directed, and her search for family, The Last Jedi passes the Mako Mori Test.

Did I Like It

Sometimes you just want a movie to be something it’s not. Knowing Rey and Leia would play important roles in The Last Jedi, I imagined a mentoring relationship much like Luke’s with Obi-Wan Kenobi. What a chance it would have been to see these women connect. A young woman trying to understand and master the Force and searching for her family. An older woman who has developed her own power and who faced challenging revelations about her own family.

Instead, we get one short conversation between Rey and Leia.

Also, while Leia clearly matters to the Resistance, she doesn’t do much in the movie. And Rey’s interactions are almost entirely with Luke and Kylo.

According to a December 19, 2017 Chicago Tribune article, “Lucasfilm had planned for the next episode, J.J. Abrams's 2019 release, to be ‘Leia's film.’” Perhaps that would have been the movie I’d been hoping for.

My disappointment on this front is about my hopes, not The Last Jedi as is, so I can see why other people loved it.

In addition, though, the extended battle scenes didn’t do a lot for me. I loved the original three Star Wars films. I liked The Force Awakens, but never became that invested in the characters. Because of that, when they're fighting it doesn't make that much difference to me who survives and how.

The training scenes and conflicts between Rey and Luke interested me more (though I found Luke, to my dismay, a bit whiny and annoying) and were my favorite part of the movie.

The Rey/Kylo relationship also is intriguing. I liked the twists it took and what it revealed about each of them.

Coming Soon

2014 sci-fi thriller Transcendence. This film prompted me to start thinking about the Bechdel Test in the first place.

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