Hope van Dyne and Leia Skywalker Are The Same
What do Hope van Dyne and Leia Skywalker have in common?
In one way, they are both strong-minded women in powerful positions. In another way, these two women are pushed into secondary roles to make room for male characters to be the protagonists of their respective stories.
With Leia Skywalker in the Star Wars films, we are introduced to a character that has diplomatic agility, martial talents, and natural resourcefulness. With Janet van Dyne in Marvel’s new Ant-Man film, we are introduced to a character that is skilled in combat, deeply protective of her father Hank Pym’s legacy, and is knowledgeable of her father’s superhero technology.
Despite the qualities of these two women, they still seem to find themselves as secondary characters to male characters that embody the Unlikely Hero trope to the letter whether it be Luke Skywalker the moisture farm boy from the desert planet or Scott Lang the resourceful thief that is struggling to get the reins on his life after prison.
Now of course, there is an important factor to consider in this examination. There are two lenses that can be used to examining any story. The first lens deals with the internal logic of the narrative. What are the rules or laws of the story? Who are the good guys and the bad guys? What is the reason behind the characters actions? In other words, the internal logic of story is the logic that the characters are forced to adhere to as they go about their storylines. It’s the thing that decides what happens and why, and it’s all dictated by the writer and/or director depending on the medium of the narrative.
For example, the internal logic of the movie Ant-Man dictates that Scott was chosen to be Ant-Man because Hank needed someone who wasn’t connected to the company to steal his technology back, and Hank didn’t want to put his daughter Hope in danger. Hope doesn’t become the Wasp in this movie because her father is still grieving over the perceived death of his wife, Janet van Dyne.
The internal logic of the Star Wars movies is that Obi-Wan was already in contact with Luke Skywalker and died before he encountered Leia Skywalker in Episode IV. During the attack on Hoth, Leia and Luke split up with Leia going with Han in the Millenium Falcon and Luke going with R2-D2 in his own jet to Dagobah. By the time Luke discovers that Leia is connected to the Force, Obi-Wan and Yoda are dead and not able to teach her like Yoda did with Luke.
Now the internal logic of these stories is well constructed. However, there is the second lens of the stories which deals with how the audience receives the narrative and the characters within the narrative. This lens is much more closely associated with the audience member’s background and can often deal with viewing the story from a socio-critical standpoint. That is the audience receives the story the author has given, but whether or not there is approval of the messages within the story is dependent on the audience member. The approval is also dependent on what other works are present to compare with the specific story.
Now I say all of this to emphasize that I am in no way arguing that Ant-Man and Star Wars and other films are terrible films because they don’t have women occupying the roles of protagonist. Ant-Man and Star Wars are well crafted and incredibly entertaining as stories. However, I am saying that the way in which these stories are constructed further perpetuates the pattern of diminishing women characters to secondary roles and keeps men characters at the center of the audience’s focus. In essence, the construction of these stories is the equivalent of a micro-aggression.
In Star Wars: Episode V when Luke Skywalker is leaving to save his friends from the imminent danger, Obi-Wan comments that Luke is their only hope. Yoda corrects the Jedi in saying “No, there is another.” This “other hope” turns out to be Leia Skywalker confirmed by both Obi-Wan and Yoda in Episode VI. Now with this revelation, the question arises. Why didn’t Obi-Wan send Leia Skywalker to receive training from Yoda on Dagobah?
The situation is similar in Ant-Man where Hope van Dyne who has illustrated her aptitude for using her father’s technology, an extensive knowledge of ants, and the desire to help her father reclaim his legacy. Scott and Hank both recognize that Hope is the superior candidate for the mission Hank wants done. Now in the story, Hank won’t allow Hope do it because of what happened to Janet. With all this in mind, it is still reasonable to ask why Hope didn’t appear as the Wasp within this movie. Throughout the movie, she has no problem challenging her father’s authority, so why didn’t she simply take the technology that for all intents and purposes is her birthright?
In both of these films, we see writers constructing women characters with great abilities, yet the stories are constructed to place the men characters as the central heroes. Both films forgo an opportunity to display at the very least a partnership between two main characters.
Of course, the creators of these films cannot and should not be forced to consider every possible way the audience can interpret their work. However, it would be nice for the creators to consider which socio-cultural patterns their creation is pushing. If the writer or director of a story decides to compose their protagonist and their narrative in a particular way, then they ought to ask if that composition challenges any established ideas that many would deem detrimental.
It is important to note that these socio-cultural criticisms are focused less on the intrinsic artistic qualities of the story, but focused on how the story fits within the overarching social system. These stories don’t exist within a vacuum. The stories are influenced by whichever social system the author resides in, and they also influence the social system.
It is also important to note that a creation can be progressive and regressive at the same time. However, the regressive aspects of a creation become highlighted since there is a belief in creative works being required to push society forward. With this belief in mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize a work as a great when it carries elements that promote oppressive tropes. If these creative works are expected to represent, explore, and/or frame ideas in a way that can change public opinion, then that makes the socio-cultural lens important to use.
As I’ve mentioned before, Luke Skywalker and Scott Lang both have all of the characteristics to identify them as the Unlikely Hero trope within their stories. For example, when George Lucas wrote the Star Wars films, did he consider the possibility of having Luke and Leia both showcase their abilities in the Force and fight Darth Vader? As I referenced, Obi-Wan and Yoda both recognize her as a possible back up plan should Luke fail in defeating Darth Vader and the Emperor.
Sure the position Leia has within Star Wars can be considered radical, but when compared to the film Alien that was directed by Ridley Scott in 1979, Princess Leia’s presentation seems less radical. Alien was released in the same time period as the Star Wars movies and featured the character Ripley, a woman who was an officer and the character that inevitably fought the main antagonist in the end.
I don’t draw this comparison to say Lucas should be like Scott in an artistic way. I bring it up to remind how creative works must inevitably be compared with others in order for their socio-cultural aspects to be addressed.
While Star Wars has moments of subverting a few tropes such as the Damsel in Distress or Passive Princess trope with Princess Leia Skywalker’s proficiency with a blaster and her comfort in taking command of hectic situations, Star Wars overall doesn’t allow her to take the central savior role that Luke carries. If she’s regarded as the “other hope” for defeating the Sith and subsequently, the empire, then why is she not placed on the same level as Luke within the narrative? Or a better question, why is she not placed as the primary of hope the Jedi have of defeating the Empire and restoring balance to the Force?
The same goes for Hope in Ant-Man. Ant-Man is just one of many Marvel films has created that features a male character as the central hero character, and Marvel has yet to create a film with woman as the central character. Now given this film is titled Ant-Man, so it’s inevitable for the main character to be Ant-Man. Also Marvel has announced plans for a Captain Marvel movie featuring Carol Danvers as the central character. However, Ant-Man could have been called Ant-Man & Wasp and featured a cinematic moment of partnership between a superhero and super heroine that would have done great job of counteracting the idea that superheroes have to all be males.
It also important to recognize how patterns are much better for considering socio-cultural perspectives as opposed to individual instances since creative works are meant to carry a uniqueness about them. The situation of a highly skilled woman being pushed aside for an under qualified man to occupy the savior role has occurred in various other films over the course of decades. I’ll leave you with the following:
Films that also illustrate the Unlikely Hero over the Overqualified Heroine Trope
- The Matrix (Neo instead of Trinity)
- Wanted (Wesley Gibson instead of Fox)
- Kick Ass (Kick Ass instead of Hit Girl)
- Bulletproof Monk (Kar instead of Jade)
- Harry Potter (Harry Potter instead of Hermione Granger)