‘Star Wars’ has presented many strong female leads, starting with the incomparable Princess/General Leia Organa, and continuing with Rey, Jyn Erso, and many more, especially if you start branching out into animation, novels, comic books, and other outlets. But with Carasynthia “Cara” Dune, Gina Carano’s character on the Disney+ series ‘The Mandalorian’, the brand has presented what I believe may be the best female ‘Star Wars’ character yet. Baby Yoda gets all the memes, but when it comes to characters that have… y’know dialogue and stuff, Dune is seriously the best thing to emerge from this series. So why aren’t we all talking about her? Let’s begin!
Cara Dune, very much like ‘The Mandalorian’, the show itself, benefits from freedom. The show is set within the same Galaxy Far, Far Away as the movies, but is unencumbered in a way that even ‘Rogue One‘ isn’t. While the events of the movies have an impact on ‘The Mandalorian’s storyline, that isn’t necessarily reciprocal. While, yes, it does now seem that there is a greater purpose to the show than it originally seemed, it’s generally free to just tell a fun adventure story in a familiar setting, but without the burden of having to serve the quagmire that is “The Skywalker Saga.” And fans have reacted quite favorably. It is one of the most-watched shows on any streaming service ever.
Cara Dune was a Rebel drop soldier, the toughest, most battle-hardened troops the Alliance had to offer. They were men and women of action and without a galactic war to fight, Cara and some of her fellows found themselves without purpose, as they felt unsuited to the life of chaperoning dignitaries and the like. Thus her current status as a gun for hire, which brought her into the acquaintance of the titular Mandalorian.
There are tons of “kick-ass” and/or “badass” female characters in genre fiction. But there is something rather fresh about Cara Dune that separates her from the Sarah Connors, Ellen Ripleys, and, yes, Leias out there. And oddly, I think it’s the fact that she isn’t written as a “female” character. She wasn’t chosen to care for Baby Yoda. In fact, I think she’s the last character on the show to even be shown picking him up.
She’s also not at all presented as a love interest to the male lead (or to any male character for that matter). Perhaps she benefited from debuting in “Chapter 4: Sanctuary” (directed by a woman, mind you, Bryce Dallas Howard), the same episode that DID introduce Julia Jones as Omera, a character that is the closest this series presents to a love interest. But that dichotomy is very clear, particularly when Cara encourages Mando to stay in hiding on Sorgan, and to settle down with “that beautiful widow” Omera. That scene firmly establishes Cara as a “buddy” figure.
Further, she isn’t a glamazon. I’m not saying Gina Carano isn’t beautiful, but Cara isn’t presented in a way that accentuates her feminine attributes. The only skin exposed is her biceps. She’s not wearing high heels or any other impractical clothing meant to make her “prettier” for a male gaze. And yet, she also doesn’t come across as “butch” either. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I don’t predict many drag queens putting together their Cara Dune looks for Halloween next year.
While she has a war-scarred past, she isn’t “damaged” in the same way so many female characters tend to be. Sure she’s seen things no one should, but she isn’t struggling to hang on to her sanity or drowning her sorrows in liquor like some (i.e. Jessica Jones).
Now feminity is a strength. A character like Wonder Woman is essentially powered by love and that works perfectly for her. And Wonder Woman kicks ass! But very often, female heroes are saddled with burdens (like Rey) or have to prove themselves (or at least feel that they must). It’s rare that a female character simply walks in already established without the baggage.
It’s the norm for female heroes to exude confidence. But in most cases, it comes across as a struggle. In others, it’s forced. Go ahead and hate on me, but that kind of sums up the movies’ take on Captain Marvel. As much as I love female heroes, her depiction so far has felt stale.
The true difference is that the character of Cara Dune could just as easily have been male and he wouldn’t have been written any differently. What Carano so deftly exudes in Cara Dune is ease. She doesn’t showboat. She doesn’t have to be THE hero. She’s just there, and she’s reliable and that’s all that’s needed.
So here’s looking forward to ‘The Mandalorian’ Season Two, and hopefully more Cara Dune!