What Twilight Has That Star Wars Doesn’t

Ph: Andrew Cooper
? 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo: Andrew Cooper/? 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Fanboys haven’t been fond of the Twilight movies, never more so than at Comic-Con a few years ago, when Twi-hards squatted in Hall H so early for the New Moon panel that the comparatively less ardent geeks hoping to catch a glimpse at Tron Legacy were shut out. Both movies were equally wooden, but ever since, fanboys with no stake in the Twilight franchise have assumed a condescending position toward the women who love it, insisting that the relationship-heavy lessons imparted in the Kristen Stewart series (and especially the latest installment, Breaking Dawn - Part 1) are actually damaging to girls. And look, Vulture isn’t inclined to disagree with the haters: There is plenty of not-great stuff in Twilight, including the actual filmmaking! But the thing that gets our goat is when these fanboys exclaim that Twilight sets a bad example for women, despite the fact that their own cherished franchises like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings have one significant failing in that regard.

You can analyze why women respond to Twilight all you want — is it the vampire thing, or is it Taylor Lautner’s abs? — but one irrefutable reason why they go to these movies should be obvious: Women like to watch other women onscreen, and Twilight has lots of them. Compare that franchise to the Holy Grail of fantasy/sci-fi, the original Star Wars trilogy. You’ve got a saga that spans the entire universe, and yet Princess Leia is the only woman in sight for parsecs? In The Empire Strikes Back, there are 37 credited roles in the cast, and only two of them are played by actresses (and aside from Carrie Fisher, the other is Brigitte Kahn, listed second-to-last in the nameless role of “Other Rebel Officer”).

When it comes to the Bechdel Test — which movies only pass if they have two or more female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man — the original trilogy fails miserably, and though two of the prequels rated all right, by the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around, Natalie Portman was the only actress in the film who actually got to say anything. None of the three movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy pass the Bechdel test, either. There are three female characters of note, but none of them ever meet each other, let alone get to talking. What kind of message does that send? If turnabout was fair play and you stripped Star Wars or Lord of the Rings of any interaction between men, there’d be nothing left.

Your tastes may run more to Leia or Galadriel than any of the women in Twilight, but at least Kristen Stewart gets to interact with Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Ashley Greene, Sarah Clarke, Dakota Fanning, and Rachelle Lefevre — and yes, sometimes they talk about subjects other than boys. Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon have both done stellar work with female protagonists on the small screen, but when it comes to their megabudget movie franchises like Star Trek and The Avengers, Uhura and Black Widow have to go it alone as the token woman on their male-dominated teams. It’s no wonder that women like vampire stories, because aside from Twilight, shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries are among the only genre properties to acknowledge that more than one woman may exist!

Quibble all you want with the effect that the Twilight franchise may have on young girls, but the unspoken message sent out by other franchises deserves a little scrutiny, too, especially when it comes from the fanboy sites who report on every bit of news for the gleefully sexist Transformers franchise. Those same geeks were up in arms when big-screen adaptations of The Last Airbender and Akira began casting non-Asian actors, but how come they never complain about the flicks that refuse to cast more than one actress? Sometimes women just want to watch other women, whether the project is good or not, so let fans have Twilight instead of treating them with such condescension. We’re all allowed to enjoy bad movies!

What Twilight Has That Star Wars Doesn’t