This post has been coming for a little while. There is some history along with a rabbit hole or two: A week or so ago, it was International Women’s Day. In the past, I have written up some articles looking at the trends in gender representation in different LEGO themes over time. This year, I thought I would take a quick look at a couple of licensed themes and see how representation of female characters has changed over time. When I say representation, I probably really just mean ‘how many are presented to us in sets.’ I started with Harry Potter, Marvel and Star Wars. That’s actually quite enough.
In fact, I decided to leave it at that: ‘It shouldn’t take too long,’ I thought to myself. ‘Probably by tea time.’ It turns out that individual definitions of ‘not too long’ and ‘tea time’ might vary.
In the past, an annual update typically took about a day or so to complete. Of course, I failed to take into account that LEGO Star Wars has been running for over 20 years, and has had over 1000 different minifigures (including small, brick-built droids) associated with the theme over this time. Harry Potter has been running on and off for a similar period, albeit with a hiatus from 2012 – 2018. I have opted to present this information in a couple of articles. But before we begin, some background…
We have observed in recent years, since the introduction of LEGO® Friends, that the gender ratio of minifigures in LEGO City has become more balanced. In 2011, only 6 out of 64 minifgures released in the City theme were clearly defined as female (9.3%), while 23(36%) were clearly male. Thirty five of these figures were not clearly defined. Come forward to 2016, when I first examined this data: 41 minifigures out of 145 were clearly female (28%), while 61 were clearly male (42%). Last year, the situation was far more balanced: in the first half hear release of LEGO City, 35.3% of minifigures were female, 38.2 were clearly male and 26.5% of figures did not have clearly defined gender characteristics. This is focussed on figures released at that time. If you looked at LEGO City and Creator sets displayed in the print catalog for 1st half year 2020, the gender ratio was closer to 40%male; 40%female and 20% not clearly determined.
LEGO® Star Wars
Now, the Star Wars franchise has always had few issues as far as gender balance amongst the characters depicted on screen is concerned: With Aunt Beru, Leia, Mon Mothma, a few patrons in the Cantina and a couple of dancing girls in Jabba’s Palace being the only characters that stand to develop any form of story in the original trilogy – be it in the films, or extended universe.
The Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005) was not significantly better, with Amidala and her handmaidens, along with Shmi Skywalker being the primary female characters engaged in the narrative. A couple of silent female Jedi are present onscreen, but do not gain their voices in The Clone Wars. There is the bounty hunter Zem Wessel, but she is killed by Jango Fett before she extends to a second page of dialog. We do meet Aunt Beru, and she is the only one of these characters to survive past the end of The Revenge of the Sith!
The Sequel Trilogy (2015-2019) had a greater number of female characters central to the story, particularly Rey, but there were others, including Rose and the Stormtrooper Captain Phasma.
But it is outside the Skywalker Saga: The Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance, as well as Rogue One and Solo and, more recently, the Mandalorian that we see and increased number of interesting characters – including some strong female characters such as Asohka Tano, Hera Syndulla, Bo Katan, Sabine Wren and Jyn Erso, as well as speaking roles being given to Jedi who otherwise remained fairly quiet during the prequel trilogy. We also gain an insight into societies beyond the points of central government, as well as some of the different forms of political intrigue across the galaxy. I am grateful to my son for encouraging me to go back and watch these series that I might have missed at the time of their original screenings.
Minifigures have also appeared over the years tied into Electronic arts Star Wars Games (Knights of the Old Republic; Battlefront), as well as novelties tied into animated specials and advent calendars.
So, how have things changed over the years?
Unique Minifigures: Numbers
I used the Brickset Database to identify the number of female characters represented as minifigures. Starting with the list of minifigures (which includes some brick built droids), I also initially classified figures as unknown aliens, male human, droids and troopers. Where I was uncertain as to a character’s gender, I consulted Wookiepedia and a number of other online Star Wars resources. After consultation with external resources, the ‘unknown aliens’ were essentially revealed to be male. After I completed my count, I discovered that all of the female Star Wars minifigures in the Brickset database had already been tagged as such. There was one I had not picked up: the Captain of the Republic Cruiser represented in 7665. Given the use of the classic ‘smiley’ print with the flesh coloured head, and the traditionally male hair style, the character represented in this scene, on screen, is female (Maoi Madakor). Otherwise, my list was complete.
Clone troopers were all male, and we know that by the time of the First Order that female troopers were present, although we do not have any evidence of this on screen, beyond the presence of Captain Phasma.
I plotted ‘figure type’ against year, and got this result:
Now, given our focus today on female minifigures, we can simplify this (somewhat busy image) to just focus on female and non–female minifigures:
As you can see, in the period between 1999-2005, the period during which the Prequel Trilogy was getting its first screening, there were relatively few minifigures produced on an annual basis, compared to more recent years..
After this initial period (2006-2014), there was a period of steady increase in the number of minifigures produced per year: During this time, there were no new movies, but the Clone Wars Television series had gone into production, resulting in some new LEGO Sets each year, during this period. We also saw new content releated to video games (Force unleashed, Knights of the Old Republic), as well as the Yoda Chronicles, and the series Rebels.
After 2015, we also saw the arrival of the Sequel Trilogy, and more content relating to Video games (Battle Front/Battlefront II), the ‘Star Wars Story’ films, Rogue One and Solo, and finally, the Mandalorian.
With such a diverse number of sources now available for source material, there are so many more LEGO Star Wars Sets being produced, as well as an obviously greater number of female figures being released in recent years.
In his book Star Wars After Lucas (2019, Minnesota Press), author Dan Golding describes the way in which we see a much greater diversity in the cast and characters of films in this latter era, but there is still some way to go in the way in which we saw toys being depicted, especially with those released prior to The Force Awakens, as exemplified by the use of #wheresrey hashtag on social media at the time.
I thought I would look at the number of unique female figures, according to media epoch (Prequel trilogy; Clone Wars; Sequel Trilogy)
Media Epoch: Abosolute Number Of Unique Female Minifigures.
NOW: Looking at this data, There was a significant increase in the number of minifigures in the Clone Wars era – both female and non female. Now, this isn’t exactly a fair comparison, as the Clone wars Epoch lasts for 9 years, as opposed to 6 years for the prequel, and 6 years (and still continuing) for the sequel epochs.
So, let us average this information over the period: normalising for the number of years in each epoch (= number of figures/number of years):
This demonstrates to us that we see a definite increase in the number of new female minifigures per year – a nine-fold increase in recent years compared with the early years of the theme. But has there been an increase in the PROPORTION of new minifigures that are female, being released in each epoch? Lets look at the proportion of unique female minifigures, expressed as a proportion of the total number of ‘minifigure’ produced in a given year:
SO Over the years, we see a general increase in the number of new female minifigures released, as well as an overall increase in the number new female minifigures, as a percentage of the whole.
Over the Years, Has There Been A Change In The Number Of Female Minifigures Available In Sets?
Now, it is one thing for only one or two new figures to be produced each year, but if those figures are used in multiple sets, then perhaps there is a greater presentation of female figures. For these numbers, I looked at the number of minifigures presented in each epoch, but counted each minifigure’s appearance. Examples that will increase the overall appearance of female minifigures would be the fact that only one minfigure of Rey was released in 2015, but she appeared in 6 sets. Across the Sequel trilogy, there are four minifigures of Rey, and they appear in 12 sets. Of course, while this will affect the absolute number for female minifigures produced in these times, the repeated presentation of different stormtroopers and clone troopers will reduce the proportion of female minfigures
Some figures are reused – eg Rey. But also Troopers. How does this affect the number/proportion of female figures released across the collection.
So, looking at the absolute number of appearances of minifigures, as presented in sets:
These graphs demonstrate the number of ‘unique’ LEGO® Star Wars Minifigures (line) in comparision to the number of figures presented in all sets released in a given year. The Green takes all minifigures and droids into account, the purple graph represents the same data, but exclusively looking at the cumulative number of female minifigures. In both situations, the total number reflects a similar shape to the curve of unique minifigures.
In the graph looking at the data for female figures, the gradient for the solid line has become steeper in more recent years, suggesting that there has been an overall increase in the number of female figures being added every year. It closely follows the shape of the bar graph, suggesting that there is relatively little reuse of female minifigures, compared with others.
So, repeating the graph looking at number of female minifigures AVAILABLE in a year’s sets, categorised by ‘media epochs’ (as such, any figure that reappears, gets counted another time).
And when expressed as a percentage of total minifigures released during these periods, we find a similar trend continues: overall, a three fold increase in the proportion of minifigures released in LEGO Star Wars, during the sequel era, compared to the prequel era.
So… If I bought all of the sets in a given era, I would find that 3% of the figures from the prequel era were female; , 5% of figures from the Clone wars era would be female, and if I owned every set released since 2015, 9% of those figures would be female. Given the number of trooper figures that are typically available in a given year, I was surprised to see that the overall proportion of figures that were female only dropped from 11 to 9%, when taking all minifigures, rather than unique, distinct minifgure designs into account.
How Many Sets Have Female Minifigures Included?
The final question that I want to ask is ‘ how many sets include a female min figure, and has this number improved over time. It is difficult when a toy company such as LEGO is, in part hamstrung in the representation of female characters, when the source material has so few female characters to run with. As a product of its time, 1977 was still a period where there were typically few female characters in a summer action blockbuster film. As time has passed, we have seen additional characters added, through supplemental media, as well as the new films. SO, If I grab one of the new LEGO star wars sets (from the mythical universe where all of the current sets are on the shelves), what are the chances of that set having a female mini figure in?
To calculate the numbers for this, I counted LEGO Star Wars sets with at least one minifigure included, BUT excluded them if there was no building associated with the set, or if it was a convention exclusive. ( essentially, I excluded gift with purchase polybags, and Comic Con/ Star Wars Celebration exclusives).
I found it interesting that just looking at this particular set of data seems to demonstrate the three silos I used earlier: During the Prequel trilogy, there were only one or two sets per year released that containined a female minifigure. Two to six per year during the ‘clone wars’ era. And finally, since the arrival of the prequel trilogy in 2015, we see at least 8 sets per year. Of course, this coincides with a rapid expansion of source material: including the ‘Star Wars Story’ movies, Rebels, BattleFront/ BattleFront II, the Mandalorian, and the final series of Clone wars returning after a five year hiatus.
So, as I have noted above, there is a dramatic increase in overall available source material from 2015 onwards. So it would be reasonable to expect an increase in the number of sets containing female minfigures. So, I found myself wondering if there was an overal increase in the proportion of sets containing female minifigures. So, I ploted the data as a percentage of the sets containing a female minifigure.
There appears to be an overall increase in the proportion of sets containing female characters, but the sets seem to come in fits and starts. To try and make the picture a little clearer, I applied a three year rolling average to the proportion of female minifigures:
If we consider this graph in terms of ‘clustered data’, we see that during the prequel era, around 1 in 10 LEGO® Star Wars containined a female figure. During the ‘Clone Wars,’ an average of around 20% of figures now contained a female minifigure. Finally, as we enter the post Disney period, we see an ongoing upward trend to include female minifigures in LEGO Star Wars.
Ultimately, around one third of recent LEGO Star Wars sets containing minifigures, contain at least one female character.
Representation of female characters in LEGO Star Wars is depended on the female representation of female characters in the source material. Certainly there are relatively few significant female characters related to both the original trilogy, or the prequels (essentially, episodes 1-6). I had the feeling that since the advent of the Clone Wars television series, there has been a significant increase in the representation of female characters in LEGO Star wars sets, both as an absolute number, and as a proportion of the total. I did a quick survey of the female minifigures to see if this feeling was actually correct:
Looking at the list of female minifigures, I looked at ‘essentially different’ figures. Variations variations on individual figure, as depicted in the same scene – for example: All versions of Leia in white gown (as she was in episode 4) – were counted as only one figure.
But, Leia in Episode 5 includes both Hoth and Bespin versions; Episode 6. There are 3 versions of Barriss Offee: listed as depicting the version from episode 2, 3 and The Clone Wars. Likewise, different costuming/as well as source of Ahsoka Tano means there are 4 variations of her to be found across the range (3 from clone wars, one from Rebels). Essentially, a costume change, or a new source.
Looking though the graph: we see The Prequel and Original trilogies have provided 19 different female minfigures, while the sequel trilogy produced a similar number. Solo and Rogue One both featured female characters, bringing us 7 distinct minifigures. Even if Qi’ra managed to change clothes more times in one film than Padme did in all of her Prequel trilogy minifigures. The Clone Wars, if only for its vast range of scenarios, as well as running for 7 seasons produced a wide and diverse range of female minifigures.
Certainly, while a similar number of figures might have their origins in the ‘Prequel /original trilogy era’ of production to the Clone wars era (2006-2014), we have seen a surge in the number of figures originating from media produced during the ‘Sequel era’ – the sequels themselves, Solo and Rogue One, as well as a number of figures based on the Mandalorian, Resistance and Battlefront. I have listed a couple of characters as ‘Other’: this category includes 2 figures: one from the Disneyland Attraction, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and the other being the Sand Speeder Pilot, which did not seem to have firm origins, as far as I can tell.
Representation: Opportunities Squandered.
While the improvement in representation is to be congratulated to an extent, we should also look at missed opportunities: The 2018 set 75201 First Order AT-ST features a battle damaged walker. This model has been widely criticised, and the set derided for its unfinished appearance, and poor playability. But the minifigure selection is relatively special: we have Rose Tico, and Finn, disguised to infiltrate the First Order Star Destroyer, as well as Captain Phasma – one of the few female stormtroopers identified in the Skywalker Saga. Two women, and a person of colour. It is a shame that this set ended up putting such a diverse minifigure selection in a set that ultimately disappointed a lot of people due to the overall build experience.
We have seen LEGO City approach parity as far as the availability of male and female characters are concerned. , a dramatic implorvement from a decade ago. However we still have some way to go before we see these licences will be reliably seen representing gender and skin colour as we tend to see in real life.
Of course, it is not just by putting diverse characters into sets that do not appeal to the audience that can be divisive. It can also be the affirmative or neutral way in which the figures are included in the sets. I am not really considering the facial expressions here, but more the head piece itself. For all of the helmetted figures listed as female, they have a black head included. This includes characters that are virtually always hidden, such as Captain Phasma, the Mandalorian figures listed as female and Zorii Bliss in The Rise of Skywalker. I think this is particularly disappointing in the case of the latter character, as she has significant time onscreen, unmaked. Maoi Madakor, the Republic Cruiser captain discussed earlier is also represented with a gender neutral, classic smiley face. This is particularly disappointing, when you look at many of the First Order trooper figures released in association with the sequel trilogy: They all feature the same head, which seems a little unrealistic in the post-clone era. Some of the others may have unmarked heads, but I do think it is inexcusable that the characters that are explicitly listed as female in the source material are not identifiable as such in their LEGO forms.
Keeping Up With Your Friends
We have seen that around 1/10 new minifigures in LEGO Star Wars are female characters, and that around 30% of sets produced during the sequel epoch contain at least one female minifigure. In LEGO Friends, a theme designed to skew interests towards young girls, one in four characters is male.
However, a more interesting metric to apply than this might be to see what is currently listed (either available, out of stock or back order, BUT NOT retired) on LEGO.com. I found around 33-38% of LEGO Star Wars sets listed contained at least one female min figure, while only one in five listed LEGO Friends sets contains a male minifigure. Given the nature of the storytelling in LEGO friends, and the stated goals of appealing to a female audience I am not going to criticise it too loudly. But I do find this comparision interesting!
We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of new female minifigures introduced each year in the LEGO Star Wars Universe, since the theme debuted in 1999. There has been an approximately 8 fold increase in the absolute number of figures being released in sets each year, as well as an overall three fold increase in proportional representation of LEGO Star Wars figures overall, despite limitations of early source material. Films, video games and television series released since 2015 have seen a great increase in the overall number of female characters available for inclusion as minifigures, and this has been reflected in LEGO sets released during this time. That said, fewer that 10% of the minifigures available in LEGO sets released from 2015 to the end of 2020 are female. That said, female characters are available in between 20 and 40% of LEGO Star Wars sets on LEGO.com today.
After 20 years, we are yet to see a minifigure depicting Luke Skywalker’s Aunt Beru. Surely as one of three named female characters in Episode 4, she deserves the opportunity to make the move to minifigures? Even Kabe, the non speaking mouse like character from the Cantina scene was released as a minifigure last year!
We have new Star Wars television series ahead of us on the Disney time line: Rangers of the New Republic, Obi Wan, Book of Boba Fett and Ahsoka. There are some great oppotunities for strong female characters in all of these, and I hope, going forward, that we will see these characters appearing in LEGO sets as well.
How do you feel about the female representation in LEGO Star Wars, and LEGO licensed sets in general? I hope to look at LEGO Harry Potter as well as Marvel Super Heroes before too long, to see how female representation has evolved in those over the years. Sorry, not sorry about all the graphs. Why not leave you comments below, and until next time,