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November 5, 2012

How women can save the 'Star Wars' franchise

(Continued)

Mara is only the beginning. "The Rogue Squadron" quartet, a series of fighter pilot novels by Michael A. Stackpole, may have had a male main character, Corran Horn. But, unlike in the original "Star Wars" movies, Stackpole's lineup featured lots of female pilots who came from backgrounds as diverse as a prison planet, an alien race with a particular talent for spying, and the spoiled scion of a powerful industrial family. It's a world where, unlike action stories in which women are supposed to be able to shoot guns and crush throats in high heels, a woman's ability to rock an evening dress or willingness to date an alien lawyer had no impact on her performance when she hopped into an orange jumpsuit and climbed into the cockpit of an X-Wing.

Women don't just get to be impressive stand-alone characters. In fact, one of the strengths of the "Expanded Universe" is that it tells so many stories about relationships between men and women who are equally competent and equally complex. In the "Rogue Squadron" novels, the big romance is between ace pilot Corran and Mirax Terrik, the daughter of a smuggler Corran once sent to prison, who turned her father's business legitimate and is a pretty hot hand in a spaceship herself.

There's also Jaina Solo, Princess Leia's daughter with Han Solo, who becomes not just a Jedi Knight, but takes pride of place as the best of the order. She ends up married, after the standard amount of "Star Wars" tsuris, to Jagged Fel, a pilot and eventual head of a revived Empire.

It's striking to compare "Expanded Universe" to Disney's adaptations of Marvel comics, in which women are secretary-girlfriend hybrids (like Pepper Potts), adjuncts to the men who are really in charge (like Maria Hill is to Nick Fury), or fearless spies, but not actual superheroines (like Black Widow).

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