‘Star Wars’: Why Female Heroes Were Removed From ‘Return of the Jedi’

Star Wars has received more academic attention than most other franchises throughout history. And much of the attention has to deal with gender. Many commentators have noted the first six Star Wars films have only two major female characters: Princess Leia and Padmé Amidala.

Return of the Jedi was going to have some female heroes. Though briefly glimpsed, these characters were going to help attack the Death Star near the climax of the film. However, the characters were ultimately cut from the film.

A scene from Return of the Jedi
A scene from Return of the Jedi | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

What we know about these heroines

Much like the original Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi features an attack on the Death Star. Fighters of different races and species take part in the heroic assault. However, they’re all male.

Originally, a trio of female pilots appeared in the film during the Death Star attack. One was played by actress Vivienne Chandler, and she had a page of dialogue in the film. Chandler is primarily known for her roles in acclaimed films, such as A Clockwork Orange, Victor/Victoria, and Young Sherlock Holmes. Yahoo Entertainment reports Chandler’s excised role in Return of the Jedi made her a regular presence at fan conventions.

Some of the excised footage of female Rebel pilots

Another of the female pilots had a single line of dialogue. Oddly enough, her line was dubbed over by a man, perhaps due to a technical issue. The third female pilot was significantly older. This is a contrast to most other pilots in the Star Wars films. Audiences wouldn’t get to see an older pilot save the day in a Star Wars film until Lando Calrissian reappeared in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The legacy of these ‘Star Wars’ characters

The latter two pilots can be seen in the Blu-ray extras of Return of the Jedi. Chandler’s character was not included in the Blu-ray release. This is somewhat surprising, as Chandler spent several days on set filming her scenes.

The famous Death Star assault from the climax of Return of the Jedi
The famous Death Star assault from the climax of Return of the Jedi | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Why were the characters removed from the film? No one knows for sure. However, Stuff says the characters might have been cut because audiences didn’t want to watch women die in battle. This is interesting, as other female Star Wars characters die horribly in the original trilogy, including Aunt Beru and Jabba’s green dancer. They just don’t die in battle.

Things have changed in recent years. Since Disney took over the franchise, it has produced lots of Star Wars content with female leads. The sequel trilogy, Rogue One, and the Forces of Destiny web series all center on women.

Maybe these pilots could make a comeback in some way. New Star Wars content is constantly being produced. Perhaps these characters could get cameo roles in an upcoming film, television episode, or comic book. It would certainly be fascinating to see them return to the fold.

Also see: ‘Star Wars’: The Secret Symbolism in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’