Star Wars has introduced us to many amazing female characters over the years, both in canon and in Legends, but unfortunately, many of them live in obscurity if their names aren’t Padmé, Leia, Ahsoka, or Mara Jade. Despite the clear lack of women in the main films, The Clone Wars has helped to bring in a lot of fresh lady faces, and Rebels is already following in those footsteps with Hera, Sabine, and even Minister Maketh Tua.
One of these lesser-known women is Senator Riyo Chuchi, a Pantoran like George Lucas’ cameo character in Revenge of the Sith, Baron Papanoida. We first meet her as a timid and somewhat naive senator, but she eventually grows to be brave and determined with a penchant for getting into dangerous situations—not unlike another senator we all know and love. Chuchi successfully negotiates peace between her people and the Talz of Orto Plutonia—the planet that the moon of Pantora orbits—helps rescue Baron Papanoida’s kidnapped daughters, and even finds valuable dirt on the Trade Federation that ends their blockade of Pantora. First appearing in “Trespass”, the fifteenth episode of season one of The Clone Wars, she can be seen both in the forefront and the background of many other episodes.
When we’re first introduced to Padmé as Queen Amidala, she is already capable and bold in the face of danger—though still obviously young at times—and Chuchi shows us another side of being a young politician in that galaxy far, far away. While Padmé was younger in The Phantom Menace than we ever see Chuchi, it’s possible that the blue-skinned senator even gives us a glimpse at what her colleague was like before being elected as Queen of Naboo early in her political career: more soft-spoken, less sure of herself, but still with a compassionate heart. These traits and feelings are recognizable for many young women and girls in a world where beauty is often prized above intelligence both in media and in real life, and to see Chuchi grow into such a strong political figure is a great thing.
Just as in Star Wars, the real world lacks women in its politics. While efforts are being made in many places, with 34 countries having quotas that encourage female participation in their respective governments, women are still a minority a majority of the time. Having well-rounded and strong political women on shows aimed primarily at children may help to change this—it was Padmé in part that got me interested in politics as a teenager, and there’s a hope that characters like her and Chuchi both inspire girls to try and become involved in politics and teach boys that seeing women in leadership roles and government is a good thing.
In “Trespass”, Chuchi finds herself butting heads with Chairman Chi Cho of Pantora, her superior and a man vastly less empathetic than her, as she tries to avoid war with the more primitive Talz whose planet they have accidentally invaded. Chi Cho speaks down to a more timid Chuchi throughout the episode until his death, and unfortunately, his treatment of her also isn’t confined just to the GFFA. Women in any career, especially ones seen as more male-driven such as politics, are often demeaned and spoken down to like children in much the same way.
An easy example of this is the way both the current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the media treated his predecessor, Julia Gillard. According to a survey by the University of Adelaide and YWCA, 57 percent of women aged between 18 and 21 were turned off of political careers by the treatment of Gillard by the media, which is a big influence on young women. Characters like Riyo Chuchi, who are strong both politically and emotionally, can help to form positive ideas about following such a career at a young age. Her courage to go behind Chi Cho’s back, “without his authorization,” as she says, to establish peace shows that she’s willing to sacrifice for the greater good. She puts both her job and her life on the line to avoid bloodshed, and ultimately, it pays off.
Her career and personal growth aren’t the only great things about Chuchi, however. In a series dominated by male friendships, her and Ahsoka being close friends is a breath of fresh air. I’ve written previously about Ahsoka and her ability to forge bonds with many different women, and Chuchi is another example of this. Having the two befriend each other off-screen also shows that these characters have lives beyond the episodes where danger isn’t necessary to bring people together. They’re just friends.
Female friendships and positive interactions between women in a universe that is largely male-driven are amazing things for all audiences to see, and it’s especially important for younger girls who might watch the show. To see Ahsoka and Chuchi form a strong friendship with only positive interactions can help to do away with internalized misogyny that can impact relationships between girls, as well as welcome girls into science fiction without isolation. On top of that, more female characters in general is never a bad thing, especially when they’re strong forces for what they believe in, like both Chuchi and Ahsoka.
Despite only having a speaking role in two episodes (“Trespass” and “Sphere of Influence”, the third episode of season four), Chuchi can be seen in the background of many more, such as being present as at Ahsoka’s trial—no doubt difficult given their friendship—and voting for Clovis to head the Banking Clan in episode six of season six, “The Rise of Clovis”. She was also one of the senators held hostage in “Hostage Crisis”, the twenty-second episode of season one, in which a continuity error causes her poncho to disappear when falling through a hole Anakin cuts in the ground, only to reappear at a later shot.
Riyo Chuchi is someone I’d personally love to see return to Star Wars, particularly as a cameo in Rebels. We can only speculate as to where she is now after the rise of the Empire. Did she remain in the corrupt Senate, or did she, like Padmé and Mon Mothma, know that something was wrong and become part of Organa’s network? She may not have been a main character, or a well-remembered one, but she was a woman who brought strength and determination to a largely male show, and she was the kind of senator the Republic of that era needed: someone who would choose peace over needless war.
“I choose to live for my people,” she said, and she most definitely did.