For decades, little girls who wanted to pretend to be Star Wars characters were left with only two options, one per trilogy: Leia or Padmé. Though both were relatively strong female characters, they certainly didn’t wield the power of Jedis. Executives at Lucasfilm made it clear during a Thursday event that all the future flicks in the franchise will work hard to close that gender gap, beginning with Daisy Ridley playing Rey, the female protagonist of the sevenths episode in the series, The Force Awakens.
Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said at a Star Wars panel in Anaheim, Calif., that the three upcoming standalone films and the spinoffs would feature “really strong women.” Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the original and will reprise her role in the next film, echoed Kennedy’s sentiments when she took the stage. “I liked being the only [woman] when I was 19,” she said. “Now I need a little help.”
The dearth of female characters in the popular series has been a major frustration for fans and parents alike, and Disney—which owns Lucasfilm—has desperately been trying to keep up with demand. When the initial casting was announced for Star Wars: Episode VII last year, there were only two women and 11 men in the cast. Disney announced another two female actors to the cast within weeks of the backlash. Less than a month after that, people protested the Disney Store’s paltry Star Wars options for girls and the complete absence of Leia action figures with the hashtag #WeWantLeia. Disney Stores responded by rolling out new Leia toys and gear.
Adding more female protagonists to the many upcoming Star Wars movies will be one step in closing Hollywood’s gender gap. Just 12% of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films last year were women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, even though female-centric films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Maleficent and Lucy ruled the box office. But Disney has been a leader in the industry, especially since Frozen, a princess movie that substituted damsels in distress with two powerful sisters, became a sensation in 2013.