How 'Women of the Galaxy' Puts Spotlight on 'Star Wars' Favorites

Characters from Leia to Ahsoka to Sy Snootles appear in the new hardcover.
Sara Kipin/Chronicle Books

This week saw the release of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy, a hardcover celebration of the female characters of the massively successful space opera franchise. Written by Amy Ratcliffe, the book offers profiles of 75 characters from all corners of the galaxy — movies, books, comics and TV shows — with each entry accompanied by artwork from 18 female and nonbinary artists, including Elsa Charretier, Little Corvus, Annie Wu and Jen Bartel.

The result is something that is at once informative about characters both iconic — Leia and Rey get multiple pages — and obscure (prepare to meet R2-KT and learn all about the singer of Jabba’s house band from Return of the Jedi), and a reminder of the depth of the cast list of the Star Wars franchise. The Hollywood Reporter talked to Ratcliffe about the project.

How did Women of the Galaxy get started? I know that Lucasfilm has been increasing its promotion of womancentric Star Wars projects, most obviously with the Forces of Destiny campaign — was this book something that you had pitched or were you approached to write it?

Chronicle Books approached me about Women of the Galaxy. I was in disbelief when I received the email asking me if I was interested in maybe writing a book about 75 female characters in Star Wars. I didn’t have to think about the answer — like, of course. Once I spoke with my editor and found out about the art component and learned that they wanted to take a celebratory tone toward the characters rather than doing straightforward profiles, I couldn’t submit writing samples fast enough.

I'm wondering if you consider this project something that is targeted at female readers specifically, or if the fandom of Star Wars is more accepting of gender diversity than the cliches would have it. Who was your ideal reader while working on the book?

As I was writing the book, I tried to picture everyone as a potential reader, which was kind of intimidating. These characters are so fascinating and play such a variety of roles in this big galactic story that I believe all genders and ages are engaged by their stories and interested in reading more. I also wanted the text to be welcoming to longtime fans who have watched every movie and read all the novels and to fans who are only familiar with some of the stories. It was both a broad and specific target to aim for.

That said, it’s been especially heartwarming to have kids in costumes come up to me at signings and tell me how excited they are about the book. I love seeing Star Wars passed down to future generations.

What was the research process for the title like? The title works through characters well-known and more obscure. How did you choose who to write about, and how did you go about deciding what level to go into about each character?

Chronicle worked with Lucasfilm to come up with a long list of characters from not only the films but the animated series, the comics, the novels, the games — everything. And on top of pulling from various mediums of storytelling, the characters have a range of roles. The book, of course, includes Leia and Rey, but also villains, bounty hunters, barkeeps and even an archaeologist. As I dove into research, I was reminded a Star Wars story exists for everyone.

I keep up with as much Star Wars as I can, and that baseline was hugely helpful as I outlined each character. I reviewed my mental list of key scenes, moments and appearances for each character. I revisited all of that, pulled out the behind-the-scenes books I have on my shelf, and made piles of notes. Characters who have appeared in multiple stories, like Ahsoka Tano, had more meat to them than characters who have had a handful of scenes, such as Sy Snootles — yes, she’s in the book — so that helped guide my text, as did the fact that the goal was not to write an exhaustive biography including every single detail. I approached the bios as part dossier, part highlights reel.

Looking at the book as a whole, did you see any common themes emerging in terms of how the franchise treats female characters? Is there a shared attitude/dynamic that many women in Star Wars share, beyond the can-do personality of so many of the franchise's heroes?

An overall theme I noticed with many of the characters, whether they align with light or dark, is astounding persistence. They stay focused regardless of danger or previous failures. Whatever their goals may be, they scrap for them in selfless or selfish ways. Padme devotes her life to public service, doing whatever she can to stand for justice and make the galaxy a better place. Phasma knows she wants to leave her desolate homeworld so she manipulates others and disposes of them over and over to get her way. For the most part, they don’t sit around and wait for things to happen.

Are there characters who surprised you when you started looking into them? Did you find new favorites while working on the book?

I have a memory like a sieve, so I’ve forgotten specifics about the books and comics I’ve read in recent years. And I admit, I completely missed out on some of the comics issues and young reader titles. While revisiting various texts, I was reminded of so many stand-out moments: Kyrsta Agate [a character from the Star Wars: Aftermath novels] comes to mind. She’s responsible for turning the tide of the Battle of Jakku in the New Republic’s favor by bringing down a Super Star Destroyer with a tractor beam — a ship you can see on the surface of Rey’s homeworld in The Force Awakens.

When I got to a point where I learned more about Solo: A Star Wars Story, I fell hard for Enfys Nest. I couldn’t believe she was part of the early version, so to speak, of the Rebel Alliance. She takes on so much at such a young age and seems to have such a clear view of the galaxy. I hope we get to learn more about her.

The art in the book is amazing, and the lineup of talent working on it is breathtaking. Are there favorite or surprising pieces in terms of artwork?

I cannot get over how gorgeous the art is; that [in combination with] the layout makes the book practically glow. Every artist brought so much personality and panache to each illustration. I adore seeing all their individual styles come through the page. I’ve followed many of them through social media for years, so I was floored to see rough sketches start to come in and to learn Jen Bartel was doing the cover artwork. Ahsoka Tano is my favorite Star Wars character, so I was especially excited to see the piece depicting her fight with Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebels. The art by Sara Kipin took me right back to that moment and all the anxiety and awe I experienced while watching that duel. I truly believe the art makes the book.

Star Wars as a whole has increased the visibility and agency of its female leads in recent years, with both the new trilogy and Rogue One putting women at the heart of their stories. Even something like Solo gave Qi'ra more to do than, arguably, Leia in the first couple of movies. How impactful do you think this is in increasing the reach of the series in terms of audience? How important is it for audiences to see themselves represented in the stories they are told?

Representation matters more than I have the words to express. We can all picture ourselves in different roles — and have sometimes had to because the choices were limited — but nothing’s quite like seeing yourself in a story. It’s a type of recognition and even validation, seeing your personhood reflected back at you. There is always room for progress, but it’s meaningful that we have 75 female characters — more than that, really, since we couldn’t include everyone — to include in this book.

Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy is available now.