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Why Koo Stark is the greatest female hero Star Wars never had

The Star Wars movies are renowned for their strong female leads… but that wasn’t always the case. And potentially the best one of all ended up on the cutting room floor. We pay tribute to the galaxy’s lost heroine

David Barnett
Friday 29 December 2017 16:26 GMT
Stark as Camie Marstrap, a young woman from Tattooine, in scenes which never made the final edit of ‘Edisode IV, A New Hope’
Stark as Camie Marstrap, a young woman from Tattooine, in scenes which never made the final edit of ‘Edisode IV, A New Hope’

If you’ve been to see The Last Jedi, the eighth and latest instalment of the Star Wars franchise which has spanned 40 Earth years and counting, you’d be forgiven for thinking that life was fairly progressive a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Female leads are the norm in The Last Jedi and its 2015 predecessor, The Force Awakens. The new trilogy within the greater galactic tapestry began with the story of Rey, a young woman abandoned by her parents as a child, scraping out a living as a salvager on a backwater planet. Leading the Resistance against the rise of the terrifying First Order was, of course, Leia Organa – a princess when we first met her in 1977, now a general. While weighing in for the baddies was the imposing figure of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, the First Order’s fright in shining armour.

The Last Jedi widens yet further the cast of women in key roles, introducing Laura Dern as a ball-breaking Resistance vice-admiral, along with unlikely hero Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), prompted into action by the death of her sister Paige. General Organa – the final role for Carrie Fisher, who died just a year ago – and Dern’s Holdo (complete with purple rinse) prove that in the world of Star Wars, women of a certain age can kick the Dark Side’s arse with the best of the young scrappers.

However, if we go back to the movies that started it all, beginning with what we oldies know as simply Star Wars in 1977, but which is more often these days known as Episode IV, A New Hope, it’s a different kettle of Naboo scalefish altogether.

In fact, Leia, back when she was a princess with headphone-hair buns and a long, flowing white dress (and no bra; Carrie Fisher famously told a story about how Star Wars creator George Lucas told her not only was there “no underwear in space”, but there was a scientific reason for it: a human body would expand and you’d be strangled by your bra) was pretty much the only female character in A New Hope, apart from Luke Skywalker’s Aunt Beru. But Beru and Luke’s Uncle Owen rapidly become smoking corpses as part of the inciting incident that sets Mark Hamill’s Skywalker off on his galactic voyage of discovery.

Daisy Ridley stars as Rey, the young heroine of ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘The Force Awakens’ (Rex)

In fact, when The Force Awakens first came out, the New York Magazine put together a video of all the times women, apart from Leia, speak in the three original trilogy films – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – and across the entire three movies it amounted to just 63 seconds of airtime… and the lion’s share of that was Aunt Beru’s.

But that was then, and this is now, and there’s no point crying over spilt blue milk. Apart from one thing; there was actually another woman featured in A New Hope, and she did have the potential to be an absolutely great character, one who could have easily made a comeback in the new series of films. Unfortunately, her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. The character was called Camie Marstrap, and she was played by none other than Koo Stark.

Koo – full name Kathleen Norris Stark – is primarily remembered these days for being, in tabloid-speak, the soft-porn actress who stole the heart of a prince. The royal in question was Prince Andrew, who dated Stark from 1981. The red-tops had a field day, especially when it was discovered that she had a role in the 1976 film The Awakening of Emily. Stark, as the eponymous Emily, gets her sexual awakening in 1920s England. It’s generally classed as avant-garde, but of course back in the 1980s it was soft porn for the purposes of tabloid headlines.

Stark was born in 1956 in New York to Wilbur Stark, a writer, and Kathi Norris, a writer and TV presenter. Stark schooled in both New York and London, and attended stage school afterwards. Her first film role was the British comedy farce All I Want Is You… And You… And You, followed by 1977’s Cruel Passion, based on the Marquis de Sade’s novel Justine.

Fisher returns as General Organa in ‘The Force Awakens’ before her final bittersweet performance in the latest instalment (Rex)

How Stark came to be in Star Wars, albeit briefly, is a story lost to the mists of time, but in one interview conducted with her at a science fiction convention many years ago, and which was doing the rounds on YouTube more recently (though is difficult to find now), it was suggested that while Carrie Fisher was still deciding on whether or not to take the part of Princess Leia, Stark was signed up as a potential back-up in case Fisher said no. How much of this is Hollywood apocrypha is hard to say, but the fact is that Stark was signed for Star Wars, and when Fisher did in fact take the role of Leia, Stark remained in the cast list… for a while.

Notwithstanding speculation that if Fisher had, for any reason, not taken the part we might now be feting Koo Stark as the leader of the Rebellion/Resistance, a part was found for her in the shape of Camie Marstrap. Camie was one of Luke Skywalker’s group of friends when he was just a moisture farmer stuck on the desert planet of Tattooine, before the grand adventure begins. Scenes were shot in Tunisia – doubling for Tattooine – which gave some interesting texture to Luke’s backstory, but which ultimately never made it into the final movie.

One of these was a scene in which Luke goes to the town of Anchorhead to meet up with his old friend Biggs Darklighter, who has recently left Tattooine to sign up for the Imperial Academy – learning to fly for the bad guys, basically. But in this scene, Biggs confides to Luke that as soon as he graduates he’s jumping ship and joining the Rebellion. Also in this scene are Laze “Fixer” Loneozner and Camie Marstrap – Stark’s character. She’s dressed in similar clothes to Luke; grubby Tattooine whites, and is bursting with attitude… when an excitable Luke drags his friends outside to look at a space battle going on in the atmosphere, she is dismissive of Luke, calls him by a disparaging nickname, “Wormie” (we can only guess why…) and generally looks like the sort of woman the original movie could have so done with to add to Carrie Fisher’s kick-ass sass quotient.

If any of the above sounds familiar at all, it might be that as a kid you read the Star Wars comic adaptations, which actually included this action. The comic writers and artists were working off the original script, and it was only later that this, and other scenes, were deleted from the final cut.

Why the Anchorhead scene doesn’t make it is a mystery. Perhaps director George Lucas thought it slowed down the action, though removing it does somewhat lessen the impact of when Luke meets up with Biggs (Garrick Hagon) again at the film’s finale, during the attack on the Empire’s Death Star, when Luke is nearing the end of his hero’s journey from farm boy to Rebel fighter ace.

Could Princess Leia have been bolstered by another strong female character like Camie Marstrap? (Rex)

Maybe Stark’s Camie character was cut because of her previous performances in The Awakening of Emily and Cruel Passion, and worries about what was essentially being marketed as a kids’ film featuring someone who had starred in more adult fare. Or possibly George Lucas didn’t want too many scenes of teenagers hanging out together, as he’d already been there and done that with American Graffiti, the film he directed and co-wrote, in 1973, which also starred a young Harrison Ford who Lucas would invite to play scene-stealing smuggler Han Solo.

Whatever the reason, Camie ended up on the cutting room floor, which is a great shame. The original trilogy was bereft of strong female characters, and Camie could have righted that balance somewhat. There was also a tradition within the story, of characters from Luke’s home planet of Tattooine heading off into space; after the loss of Biggs Darklighter in the attack on the Death Star, maybe Camie could have stepped up to the plate instead, and given an alternative role model to young girl fans of the series to Carrie Fisher’s admittedly brilliant but still pretty lonesome Princess Leia.

And maybe all is not too late. As The Last Jedi shows with the final appearance of Carrie Fisher as Leia (who was 60 when she sadly died last year) and Laura Dern (aged 50), the new Star Wars universe isn’t a place where women are packed off to the sidelines when they hit a certain age.

Dern’s Vice-Admiral Holdo was a previously-unseen character who was given a backstory that she had fought with Leia during the glory days of the Rebel Alliance; why can’t they do the same for Camie Marstrap? Koo Stark is 61, and wouldn’t it be perfect if director JJ Abrams gave her a call and brought her, finally, back into the Star Wars fold for Episode IX, 40 years after her brief part ended up in the bin?

I can see her now, climbing into the cockpit of an X-Wing Fighter and taking on the First Order, maybe even wielding a light-sabre and showing Rey, Rose and the rest of the young ones that you’re never too old to take on the bad guys. Or, to put it another way: “May the force be with Koo.”

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