Gender Roles - Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles - Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 4.5 Stars
Leia is the same driven leader that she was in the first film. But unfortunately, her role in the action is greatly diminished and she becomes more of a love interest for Han than an independent player. Thankfully her feelings for Han don't change her spirited personality. She is still as smart and commanding as ever - and there is nothing wrong with smart, commanding women falling in love. It's just unfortunate that when they do, the romance seems to take up all of their screen time - leaving little room for anything else.
Plot: 3 Stars
Unlike the first film, Leia has only limited opportunities to influence the action in The Empire Strikes Back. She delivers an empowering speech to the rebel fighters as the Empire is launching its attack, and towards the end, she manages to hear Luke's pleas for help in time to come to his rescue. But for everything in between, she is primarily a passenger and a passive observer. She is still quick with her commands and her antagonism and is still the driving force behind the rebellion, but unlike the Leia we came to appreciate in the original film, this time around she's better remembered for her status and title than for her brave participation in the fight.
Gender Roles - Men: 2.5 Stars
Luke Skywalker remains the same, soft-spoken hero that we remember. He is still struggling to earn his place as a true Jedi and still capable of making mistakes. He is fiercely dedicated to the rebel cause and loyal to his friends, and uniquely unchanged by the fame and honor that has followed his heroic destruction of the Death Star. Luke remains a powerful and timeless role model for audiences of all ages.
Likewise, Han Solo is the same swaggering showboat as before, but unfortunately this time around, his bravado is less focused on his ability to pilot a ship and get out of scrapes than his prowess in charming the unimpressed Princess Leia. It's a bit uncomfortable to admit, but most of his flirtatious gestures could easily qualify as sexual harassment in a modern context. Perhaps the only reason he gets away with it is that he turns out to be right, and Leia turns out to be as drawn to him as he believes. The unfortunate result is that this film, intentionally or not, may leave men with the incorrect impression that continuous, aggressive and bawdy come-ons will eventually win a woman over, and that even if she says no, she may not truly mean it.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
The Empire Strikes Back sees to it that Leia has a far more practical wardrobe this time around. She isn't restricted by gowns or accessories and is well equipped to participate in firefights and last minute escapes.
But despite the welcome wardrobe changes, she seems to receive a lot less respect from her male peers. Leia is not only subjected to Han's constant advances, but is also forced to tolerate the snake-like compliments and stares of Lando Calrissian. Thankfully, Leia is far too strong a character to truly be reduced to a sexual object - but it's still disappointing to see that the film goes as far as it does in reminding us that she's beautiful and desireable, rather than a brave and heroic leader.
Character Development: 2.5 Stars
We learn little that is new or insightful about Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, though some might be surprised to find that a woman like Leia is eventually taken in by Han's arrogant attitude. If we dug beneath the layers we might find a very complicated woman. Someone who has devoted her life to maintaining her pride, fighting for a cause and living for other people - and is understandably seduced by Han's reckless approach to life. But none of this rich detail percolates to the surface. In the end, it's up to audiences to make sense of Leia's conflicting emotions towards Han, and (forgetting for a moment what we know about her relationship to Luke Skywalker), why she might prefer the company of someone like Han to the other dashing hero who came into her life - the one who is clearly more likely to share her ideals and worldview.
Love: 2 Stars
Leia and Han have a certain chemistry together. They both have personalities that are confident and controlling and they share the same passion for independence and victory, but the film doesn't spend much time developing their relationship. Audiences can easily imagine that Leia and Han have developed a deeper bond during the time that they've spent together on Hoth, but this is something that audiences will have to furnish themselves. Their onscreen interactions alone don't necessarily spell out true love.
Perhaps the more distrubing element of Han and Leia's romance is that Leia's assertive behavior towards him is a bit more subdued and tame after they share their first kiss. It's a subtle but noticeable shift in the power dynamic between them. There is almost a suggestion that she is willing to cede some of her authority and let him take the reins now that she's fallen in love - despite the fact that she's been coordinating and leading rebel missions since long before she heard the name Han Solo.