Sunday, September 29, 2013

THOUGHTS: Female Design in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV)

Like many geeks of the past forty or so years, I consider myself interested in the Star Wars universe, if not quite reaching the levels of 'fan' that others do. I don't own any Star Wars novels, posters or collectables (beyond my Ahsoka figure and a LEGO set), I don't buy Insider, I've got a small collection of the comics and games, and I have all six main films (and the two LEGO spin-offs) on DVD. And as a fan of animation, it's only natural that I have Star Wars: The Clone Wars on DVD - I bought the Season 1-4 boxset earlier this year after watching the movie. And, to be honest, I don't think it does anything new. Whilst I have enjoyed various episodes (I'm currently in the second half of Season 2), it's felt flawed from the start though it hasn't quite reached the lows of the prequel trilogy. Yet. But I have one big problem. And I have to ask 'Why?'. And post a gif that contains my reaction to each occurrence of it.

The problem is not entirely within the contradictory messages, the hypocrisy of the Jedi order and the handwaving of major details, nor the restrictive niche into which the series fills, it's how it portrays women - in more specific terms, my problem is with the visual design of the female characters. Of course, it must be pointed out that Star Wars has never exactly been excellent when it comes to women, but The Clone Wars arguably reaches a low point for the franchise. The main 'good' female cast is Padmé Amidala and Ahsoka Tano, Anakin's lover and padawan respectively, and occasionally characters such as Aayla Secura, Luminara Unduli and Barriss Offee appear in either supporting or (co-)lead roles. On the 'bad' side, we have Asajj Ventress and Aurra Sing, with other less well-known characters again appearing in supporting or short roles. The female cast is rather vastly outnumbered by the male cast, even when you count most of the Clone Troopers as a singular entity (due to their shared history and voice actor).

And yet, again, this is not uncommon for Star Wars, and whilst problematic, isn't really part of the issue. Almost (if not) every female character is wearing tight clothing. I mean really tight. There's also a focus on breasts, too, and that becomes quite unsettling when you realise there's droids with breasts walking around and a 13 year old girl wearing a top that puts the focus entirely on her chest. There's also not much variety with respect to how women look. Even with the more... eccentric-looking alien species, they've almost got 'attractive' characteristics, whether it's their face, a large bust, wide hips & a big butt, etc., these attributes are present in the vast majority of the female characters.

A lot of this comes down to the clothing that the characters are dressed in. It's tight, it's revealing, it's largely a bit daft. Let me make a simple comparison. This is a shot of a number of the main characters. Which characters have bare skin?
Indeed, it's the two female characters. Ahsoka has an almost completely bare torso (bar her bandeau top), and Asajj has a hefty amount of her décolletage on display. All other characters are covered. Still think I'm barking? How about Aayla Secura? She's got a LOT on display there. Ahsoka's redesign covered her front up a lot more, but it added a cleavage window that Daenerys would be proud of, not to mention leaving her back almost bare.

This is a shot I took during an episode where Barriss and Luminara are present, and it gives - in a single shot - a rough idea of what I meant by tight clothing.
Both Luminara and Barriss appear to have been vacuum-sealed into their tops. Despite their clothes being covering, they leave utterly nothing to the imagination. And yet, Anakin's top doesn't conform to his chest, instead fitting comfortably. And it's everywhere in the show.

It isn't even limited to the show, it moved into the supporting material such as the comics, comics being a medium well known (ha) for excellent and tasteful portrayals of women, and even the children's magazines. At times we see how badass characters like Ahsoka can look, but on the whole it's painted over with designs that don't apply equally to all characters, and instead it seems like the males get the respectful designs and the females get the scraps left over from making the male costumes, or at least clothes that are a size too small.

It's a shame, because this is genuinely affecting my enjoyment of the show. I find myself distracted by these issues frequently in almost every episode, and that annoys me somewhat.


  1. You bring up some good points, but they honestly don't bother me, nor would they stop me from enjoying the show when the plot of the series is so much more than the clothing. Ahsoka's attire is something that the Togruta people would wear based on culture. The same can be applied to Barriss and Luminara. The tightness you see, especially on Ventress, I see as functionality. Besides Barriss and Luminara's capes, which could get in the way of a battle, I wouldn't want to wear loose clothing. Ventress reminded me of a gymnast with little and tight clothing to easily glide through the air. In my view, the clothing reflect grace and power. I honestly really like the window on Ahsoka's shirt. It didn't show definition of the cleavage, but it added character to the attire and it kept with the theme of the holes on the side of her pants. I want those pants! I want that outfit! haha!

    I find it interesting when people focus on the exterior because it never really bothered me and I never really gave it thought when it came to TCW. There are times when I say "Oh come on! That is ridiculous!" when I see a scantily clad woman on a comic book cover. Other times, I don't mind because it would be something I would wear. If others sexualize me, then that's something they've grown up with and no one corrected. I could wear a tube top and short shorts and I shouldn't be given shame or made to feel like an object. That's my choice of attire based on comfort. For people to tell me that I shouldn't wear that or gawk at me, they've been taught to think that that's wrong or sexy. Anyway, I digress!

    Last year I got into a real argument over Ahsoka's attire and I don't want to do that here. All I have to say is that you should continue to watch the show and put the exterior of each character aside because it certainly doesn't affect the character's story or the story in general. The series only gets better from season two and I'd love for other fans to enjoy the series the way I did. :)

  2. Stop the presses! There's a scantily clad female alien animated in a Star Wars based television show!

    Just as I stumbled upon you're rant for some reason, I also found this, from the voice of Ahsoka:

    Question: You’ve been with the Star Wars universe for three years now. How does it feel to be the new first lady of Star Wars?

    Ashley: (humbly laughs) that’s an honor. Thanks for putting it that way. I don’t look at it as the first lady of Star Wars. I look at it as I get to be another strong female character for Star Wars. The one thing I think is so amazing about The Clone Wars is that there are so many kick-butt female characters. You have Ahsoka, but you have Ventress and she is such a strong female character. We had the Night Sisters last year: Shaak Tii and Aayla Secura. There are just so many. For Ahsoka, it is just such an honor to be the first female Jedi that has been really focused on as a lead. I’m very proud of that because I think she is such a positive character and a positive role model."

    All I wanted to know was what was up with that second light saber!