This article contains major spoilers for the Star Wars novels Battlefront: Twilight Company, Heir to the Jedi, Dark Disciple, and Lords of the Sith.
For a while, the rate of survival for female characters in Star Wars books seemed dangerously low. In three books in the new canon – Heir to the Jedi, Lords of the Sith, and Dark Disciple – the main female characters who serve as secondary leads or leads themselves perish as a capstone to the story. This wasn’t a concentrated effort. The books were written by different authors, and Dark Disciple was based on scripts from The Clone Wars animated series, generated by an entirely different writing team. It was disheartening to see, though, especially before Rey took center stage in the marketing for The Force Awakens. Female characters began to feel like props, shuffled on and off stage without becoming involved in the larger story of the new canon.
Why are so few new characters sticking around? Part of it is because the stories are constrained by the era in which they take place. If too many new characters are familiar with the heroes of the films near the time of the films, they create plot holes simply by existing. They all present the same problem that Ahsoka did after The Clone Wars. Never mentioned in the films, she was never given a conclusion anywhere else either, until her reappearance in Rebels.
Character deaths are also an easy way to create drama. Perhaps the writers wanted to have characters of two genders as their protagonists—Luke and Nekari in Heir to the Jedi, Quinlan and Asajj in Dark Disciple—and kill one off in order to create a dramatic, emotionally satisfying finale. When this is repeated, though, it becomes fridging, killing one character off in order to move the plot forward on the strength of the angst of another.
Star Wars doesn’t always fall into this trap. Characters like Jaina Solo or Leia Organa lived on and had their own stories. But others, like the very popular Mara Jade, are cut off. It’s more noticeable in the case of women than men, although it happens more rarely to male characters. This isn’t just any death, It’s one that is entirely inconsequential, except for one other character. In these recent plot developments, you can sense a false impression that female characters are more expendable than their male counterparts.
Of course, there have been other female characters who have lived to fight another day in recent EU offerings—Zaluuna from A New Dawn reached the end of that story, as did Hera Syndulla, who went on to recruit the ensemble cast on the television show Star Wars Rebels. But personally, as I read and reviewed every book, I was scared. Would we lose another female character in this one, thinning the already low numbers? Would we ever have another Rae Sloane? This Imperial Admiral, who is a main character in Aftermath, as well as multiple other books and short stories, is doing such a good job of connecting Star Wars stories together. Would someone else join her ranks in the EU?
Rae Sloane in particular is a good example of a strong female character because she grows and changes, from the rookie in the short story “Orientation” to the admiral in Aftermath. Sloane knows things the readers don’t know—the identity of her own mysterious superior officer, for example—and has her own good reasons for joining the Empire. Sloane wants to create order in the galaxy, and her desire for that is separate from any relationship she may have with other characters. Sloane stands alone.
On the other hand, Hera shows how a character can be used in many different Star Wars stories on the strength of her connection to other people. In Rebels, she leads a team, and A New Dawn shows part of how she put that team together.
Still, the examples are few and far between.
Everi Chalis, Survivor
And then there’s the case of Alexander Freed’s Battlefront: Twilight Company, in which every character seemed expendable, yet the book refuses to fridge Imperial turncoat Everi Chalis. When Chalis was first introduced, I was instantly afraid for her life. She isn’t a noble or even particularly sympathetic character—an Imperial information specialist and therefore essentially a warmonger, she learned the art of war from Count Vidian (the antagonist of A New Dawn). She isn’t connected to any other stories, so she has no safety net.
Chalis joins the Rebels in the story after she’s captured in her own palace. She thinks that she’s more likely to succeed among the Rebels than as a disgraced Imperial, and the soldiers of Twilight Company take her in reluctantly, although some think she ought to pay for the injustices she inflicted while ruling as governor.
Her main relationship in the book is with Hazram Namir, the darkly realist point of view character for most of the book. The two are hardly even friends—they develop a measure of trust, but Namir is too pragmatic and Chalis too opportunistic for their alliance to really be permanent. Her obsession with taking down an Imperial base puts Namir’s soldiers in pointless danger, and he has her detained. But this isn’t the end for her. She returns to the Empire because she knows that she can make the Imperials an offer they can’t refuse. And Chalis calculates that she can go about it on her own, instead of remaining a part of a Rebellion that, in her estimation, doesn’t want her ambition.
When Chalis returns to an Imperial ship, I thought for sure that she would die. This would be the moment when the female lead died to prove that war was terrible, I thought. If this book had been more moralizing, had not allowed its characters so much room to breathe, she would have tried and used the information she had, but she would have failed. Because the story needed to prove that the Empire was evil, that the Empire wouldn’t win.
Except that Twilight Company doesn’t prove anything with as unsubtle a story, and Chalis doesn’t die. Instead, she out-negotiates and out-thinks two Imperials, the mystic Prelate Verge and military man Tabor Seitaron. Just when she appears to be beaten, she unleashes the twenty ion bombs she stole from Twilight Company and almost takes an entire Star Destroyer down.
She doesn’t win the fight against Verge and Seitaron physically, although she holds her own against Verge, who is half her age. Instead, she talks her way out of the situation, outsmarting her enemies. Seitaron shoots Verge, for reasons laid out clearly throughout the book. And he almost shoots her, too. Throughout the fight, I was ready to sigh, to wonder whether there was some kind of lesson here: are all female characters only allowed to get so far before they’re killed off?
Instead, Chalis, her face bleeding, says, “Tell me. If I shot the prelate while you and your guards were trapped outside, how could I then shoot myself in the chest with my own pistol?” She has unarmed Seitaron perfectly.
It’s dark and brilliant. She thinks fast. Chalis couldn’t have known that Seitaron would kill his fellow Imperial. She figures out his best possible plan before he does and frames herself for Verge’s death. She convinces Seitaron to let her go, and she flies away to find a different—maybe even peaceful—life.
We don’t know that we’ll ever necessarily see Chalis in a Star Wars story again. While I wouldn’t mind, it’s enough to know she’s out there somewhere, in the new canon and in the video game world of Battlefront. Would she ally herself with the Rebellion if we ever saw her again? Maybe. But in trying to answer this question, we see how well Chalis’ fate reinforces the tone of the book. In the world of Twilight Company, nothing is guaranteed. There is good and evil, and Namir edges a little bit further toward the former when he decides to stop throwing his soldiers into a pointless battle. But Chalis remains solidly manipulative, Imperial to the core.
The end is masterfully written, not only in terms of it being an exciting conclusion to a book, but in terms of the context of the wider Star Wars universe. Everi Chalis’ survival isn’t the only thing interesting about her, of course, but it did make this book a very different experience from the others.
And in fact, Chalis is a perfect lead-up to a character like Rey, who serves as the hero of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, giving us both a strong light side character and a high-profile female role in the Sequel Trilogy. And of course, Chalis isn’t the be-all and end-all of female characters in Star Wars. There are other great characters and stories, like Rae Sloane’s. But for me, Chalis’ survival represents a particular kind of hope: a clawing, vicious proof of survival. Chalis wasn’t going to take no for an answer when it came to her own existence, and in doing so she upended what had begun to look dangerously like a trend in Star Wars books.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.