South of the River – Starship Trooper

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Like many of you I imagine, I trekked to the cinema with my family in tow to see Star Wars – The Force Awakens over the Christmas break.

This isn’t a review and I’m not going to give away any plot twists, so there’s no need for a spoiler alert, except to say that it’s very similar to the first Star Wars film. In fact it reminded me of nothing so much as a huge band from the seventies getting back together to re-record their greatest hits.

There are plenty of references to that film, even quoting the dialogue. I was very upset to see the quote about how fast the Millennium Falcon had done the ‘Kessell Run’ because it repeated the error from the first film. As every astrophysicist knows, a Parsec is unit of distance, not of time.

Anyway, moving on, some things have changed since 1977, most notably the role of women in the story. The only female character of note back then was a white-clad princess who needed rescuing. OK Princess Leia could be feisty sometimes, I always enjoy the scene in The Empire Strikes Back when she calls Han Solo a ” stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder!”

Now Leia is a mature woman and a General in the Rebel Alliance. She is in charge this time. More importantly the lead character, Rey, is a) a woman and b) strong; at one point shouting to the male lead that she can run perfectly well without him holding her hand.

So what’s changed between 1977 and 2015. I don’t think the change in Director from George Lucas to JJ Abrams is the reason, although overall it makes for a better film. It seems to me this is a reflection of society and shows that equality is taken more seriously 38 years later.

I say ‘more’ seriously, because there’s still a long way to go. You’ll notice that this blockbuster film wasn’t directed by a woman, hardly surprising when women make up only 5% of Hollywood directors. There was also the outrageous demand on Carrie Fisher (Leia) to lose weight for the part.

The modern feminist movement got going in the sixties and ten years later mainstream opinion had yet to be shifted. This was the time of the Yorkshire Ripper when the Police advice was directed at women telling them not to go out, rather than at men to make the streets safer. Things moved on in the 1980s despite, rather than because Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Women’s sections were set up in the Labour Party and many trade unions, followed by all women shortlists for Labour Party candidates. As a result when Labour won the 1997 election there was a jump in the number of women MPs from 60 to 120 (out of 630). However, the fact that these politicians were referred to as ‘Blair’s Babes’ shows how much further there was to go to achieve equality.

I want to be clear that whilst social attitudes have changed over the last forty years, there is nothing inevitable about that progress. These things ebb and flow over time.

Just sticking with the film industry – who were the big stars in the 1930s and 40s? Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Bette Davies, Joan Crawford and Britain’s now forgotten Margaret Lockwood (look her up). All of these film actors were as much of a box office draw as the leading men. Yet by the 60s and 70s it was all about the men. I don’t know the answer as to why this happened, but I suspect it has something to do with demobilising the female workforce after the Second World War. Women were drafted into the factories, offices and to agriculture during the war to fill the gap left by men joining the forces. At the end of the war the government needed to be put the returning soldiers back into these jobs. After all the last enemy you need as a government is a mass of young, fit, disgruntled men … with battle experience.

Women were pushed back into ‘women’s work’ and paid a lot less than their men folk. If you’ve seen the film Made In Dagenham you’ll understand what I mean. And whilst the women at Fords won their fight and Barbara Castle put through the Equal Pay Act in 1975, look at women’s earnings today, on average women earn about 10% less than men, whilst in top jobs that figure rises to 50%.

So let’s take inspiration from Rey and Leia in a galaxy far, far, away and keep up the fight for equality here and now.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.



One Reply to “South of the River – Starship Trooper”

  1. I thought it was a fantastic article although there is one mistake in it.

    You refer to Han Solo repeating the claim that the Millenuim Falcon did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs and that every one knows that a parsec is a unit of distance not time.

    The quote is meant as distance not time. the Kessel Run is a large asteroid field measuring aprox 10 parsecs across and used by smugglers to avoid Imperial patrols. It is a treacherous route and the generally accepted “safe route” is a cumalative distance of 25 parsecs due to taken a winding route through the asteroid field.

    The Falcon’s amazing maneuverability combined with Han and Chewie’s pilot skills and their bravodo and courage enabled the Falcon to take a more direct route and complete the Kessel Run in a cumulative distance of 12 parsecs making the Falcon legendary.

    Hope that clears things up!

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