'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Sex Change: This Character Wasn't Always a Woman

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Sex Change: This Character Wasn't Always a Woman

Dec 08, 2015

Game of Thrones / Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Diversity is the key to the casting in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Asked about the issue of including Asian characters in the Star Wars universe at Comic-Con this past summer, for example, Abrams noted that he did cast Asian actors in the upcoming movie and added: "I think it's important people see themselves represented in film. … I think it's not a small thing."

Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm president, has also stated that "really strong women" would be featured in the Star Wars universe, and everything we've seen so far indicates that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will revolve around the heroic Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), with Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) making a return appearance in a slightly different role.

There's at least one more significant woman in the cast, namely, Captain Phasma (played by Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones fame). She's described in very simple terms at the official Star Wars site: "Clad in distinctive metallic armor, Captain Phasma commands the First Order’s legions of troopers." She's made several notable, if fleeting, appearances in the trailers and movie clips that have been released so far. She also has a fascinating origin story, perhaps the most intriguing of all the characters in the movie: she began life as a man.

According to co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi), pre-production had already begun when it was decided that Abrams and Kasdan would write a new script. "We were just casting about for all the characters,” Kasdan told Vulture. “I mean, we were making them up at that moment, as costuming and everything else was happening! It’s not like there was a finished script sitting around for months.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When the actors who had been cast at that point -- three weeks before production began -- were gathered to read the script, a photo of the session quickly spread like wildfire. Many noted, however, that the group was distinctly lacking in new female stars, beyond Ridley. "Everything was happening simultaneously,” Kasdan said. “When the idea came up to make Phasma female, it was instantaneous: Everyone just said, ‘Yes. That’s great.’”

Lupita Nyong'o / Gwendoline Christie

The casting of Christie and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) was announced a bit later, although Christie wasn't aware at the time that Captain Phasma had been envisioned as a man. Told about the character's orginal sex, she said: “I think that’s great of them, don’t you? That there was a discussion about that, and an evolution?”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on Friday, December 18.

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