Star Wars’ Forgotten Women #1: Zam Wesell

The Attack of the Clones was the first Star Wars movie I got to see in the cinema, after an extensive campaign for the chance to. Walking out of the cinema I was all about the Clones, the Battle of Geonosis and Yoda wielding a light-saber. In the days after though, I kept going back to “the assassin”, to Zam. I wondered who she was, what she did and, let’s face it, I wanted to be her. I decided it was finally time to shed some light on this character which is usually over-looked. She hardly ever features in discussions about female characters in Star Wars although she deserves to be.

In Zam Wesell, George Lucas gave us a rather inspirational female character, despite her not making it for long. Here was a badass character that could change her physical shape into whatever she wanted but she didn’t decide to look like a man. In a universe which largely seemed filled with men ruling and deciding things, Zam decided to be a woman who dealt with some of the most influential characters of her time.

Zam’s Characterization

As I mentioned, one of my favourite things about Zam was that she didn’t hide her femininity in her changing appearance but also didn’t overtly rely on it. As you can see in the picture above, she is probably one of the most covered-up people in the film. Her armour is one which looks usable and, to a certain extent, realistic. There is no “space-babe” idea here, although they easily could have gone with that as well. Instead Zam looks like she could be a real menace. She is armed and ready to go from being a sniper to jumping into her ship and start a wild chase through Coruscant’s skyline. Zam’s actions throughout the beginning of AotC show her as a very capable bounty hunter and assassin. Her initial plan to blow Padme up shows that she was able to get access to the information on where and when she would land and had the skills to plant explosive devices without being detected. 

Throughout her confrontation with the two Jedi she seems to be in control of what is happening and where she is going. She takes advantage of her surroundings and of her knowledge of Coruscant’s landscape to try and get rid of them. Not until she realizes her opponents are Jedis do we see Zam get nervous. But who wouldn’t be if a lightsaber-wielding man jumped on top of your ship? Despite Anakin’s seeming advantage from being a Jedi and one of the best pilots in Star Wars, he has trouble keeping up with Zam. Although her ship crashes, she presents him with one hell of a challenge and makes him lose his lightsaber. Her decision to hide in a night-club was also an ingenious choice since two Jedi would most definitely stick out in that crowd. Her subsequent choice to target Obi-Wan rather than Anakin also shows her awareness of their ranks and their respective skills. Although she potentially overestimates her ability to handle two Jedi, Lucas makes Zam a real challenge for Obi-Wan and Anakin. Considering all of this, it is easy to guess why Jango chose Zam as his accomplice on this mission.

Zam, Anakin and Obi-Wan

In Attack of the Clones, Zam’s second assassination attempt leads to an exciting chase scene and some great character exploration as well. As Obi-Wan and Anakin chase Zam through Coruscant we not only get a fun insight into how their teacher-Padawan relationship works but also see how they respond to a situation likes this. When Obi-Wan catches up with Anakin outside the club, the following exchange takes place:

Do you see him?’
‘I think he is a she. And I think she is a changeling.’

Obi-wan’s initial assumption is that they are chasing a man. I’m not arguing that he doesn’t think a woman is capable since he clearly has a lot of respect for characters like Padme and Luminara Unduli. He is, however, making a judgement based on his own experience, which suggests that this line of work is one mainly populated by men, no matter which species. Lucas and co. could easily have chosen a male character for this, especially since the Original Trilogy has seemingly only males as bounty hunters. Anakin, who got a closer look at Zam recognized she was a woman and a changeling, yet this didn’t affect how he viewed her. She was still his opponent and no less dangerous because of her gender. My guess would be that growing up on Tattooine he would have seen his fair share of female pilots, bounty hunters etc.

Although Obi-Wan responds in surprise to Anakin’s statement, he accepts this new information with no hesitation. Again, Zam’s gender is no problem and not something that has to be emphasized. She simply is a she. When she is captured by the two Jedi Jango decides to kill her rather than let her betray him. He clearly understands that Zam is in this for herself, not for him. She is an independent bounty-hunter moving from job to job, with none of the alliances and ties that he or the other characters have. For an independent agent, Zam causes a lot of problems and sets the whole plot of AotC in motion.

Zam WesellZam in the Legends

Much of her story recently became demoted to Legends along with many others, but I decided to take you all along on my journey of the discovery of Zam. In AotC Zam seems to be working for Jango and this relationship always interested me. Jango Fett is one of the major background players of the Star Wars prequels but their relationship is one which predates the films in a number of novels. They have a friendly rivalry going on which is based on the fact that they are equally strong. They work for the same people, they both have their own specific sets of skills but are seemingly matched in every way. In Legends: Jango Fett and Legends: Zam Wessel Ron Marz has the two on a mission to retrieve the Infant of Shaa, a statuette which could harness the power of the Force and rip planets apart. In this story, Zam and Jango are initially pitted against each other until they decide to work together. Zam, however, is the one who understands the gravity of the situation:

Look, Jango, you put the artifact in Khorda’s hands. But it could just as easily have been me. I won’t be responsible for an entire planet being wiped out…
You know how this works, Zam. It’s a job. We don’t get personally involved. As far as that goes, there’s plenty of blood on both our hands.
Not like this. Executing a mark, someone who probably deserves it anyway, is a lot different than looking the other way while a world dies.

This is some really interesting characterization. Unlike Jango, Zam seems to combine assassination with a consciousness. Going from bounty-hunter to someone who works with a Jedi to save a planet is quite a leap.

Both Marz and Lucas give us a female character that can move between roles. She can be a friend and a rival, a flirt and a killer, a bounty-hunter and a saviour. Zam isn’t restricted to a single purpose, which many “token female characters” are, and as such becomes a well-rounded character that plays an important role within Star Wars. After reading up on her I am incredibly glad that we were given such an interesting and inspiring female character in Star Wars and I think she deserves a lot more attention than she is getting.

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8 thoughts on “Star Wars’ Forgotten Women #1: Zam Wesell

  1. I remember feeling excited seeing Zam for the first time on the big screen. I thought, “cool another female bounty hunter!” and the first person to start the film’s first exciting action scene. She was also one of the first AOTC sneak peak action figures for the “Power of the Jedi” line in ’01 (or was it early ’02?) along with some clone troopers and Jango. She is another character I have in my action figure collection along with Aurra Sing (they’re from the Vintage Collection).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember how excited I was to see another female bounty hunter in Star Wars. I also remember when the “Power of the Jedi” released some “sneak peek” action figures of Episode 2 in early ’02 and Zam was among them. I have Zam Wessell in my action figure collection along with Aurra Sing (they’re part of the “Vintage Collection”).

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  3. Can’t we just pretend the dart that hit her was just a dummy? Like it only made her appear to be dead and she slipped away? If Darth Maul could come back from HAVING HIS LOWER TORSO CHOPPED OFF I think Zam could’ve been revived. Because like Maul she was another wasted opportunity. Like Maul before her, Fett beside her and Grievous after her the prequels really liked to kill its villains before they could do much of anything….

    Grrr and it looks like Phasma has joined this club, albeit momentarily.

    Like

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