Who’s that beautiful woman on the cover of Timothy Zahn’s new novel Star Wars: Choices of One? That’s Mara Jade.
Ah, Mara Jade: the tough-as-nails, Force-using, Lightsaber-wielding Hand of the Emperor and later wife of Luke Skywalker. She’s a total bad-ass, there’s no question about it, and men who underestimate her because of her gender usually learn that the hard way. Say what you will about the Emperor, but at least he’s no male chauvinist when it comes to hiring the best special operator the galaxy has to offer. Luke Skywalker’s a lucky man, and I imagine there are plenty of Star Wars fans who would like to be in his place. Sadly, that’s not likely to happen without a little cosplay involved…
While Mara Jade is pure fiction – pure, beautiful, deadly fiction – she has real life counterparts just as tough as she is. When it comes to these women, Rudyard Kipling had it right: “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
In no particular order, here are five real women warriors as tough as Mara Jade:
1. Lyudmila Pavlichenko
Soviet Sniper, World War II
When the Nazis began their invasion of the Soviet Union Ukranian grad student and recreational shooter Lyudmila Pavlichenko beat a path to her local Army recruiter’s office. The recruiter offered her the opportunity to server her country as a nurse, but Pavlichenko refused and requested infantry instead. After she finished her training Pavlichenko set her deadly sights on the German army, racking up an impressive 309 confirmed kills, 36 of whom were enemy snipers. Even German artillery wasn’t enough to stop Pavlichenko: after receiving a serious injury in the field, she went to work training other snipers to continue her one-woman war against the Nazis. After the war was over, she returned to university, finished her degree and became a history professor. I wouldn’t want to be caught talking in her classroom.
Sad but true: when Pavlichenko toured the United States the American press told her that her uniform made her look fat. Sigh.
2. Monica Lin Brown
Medic, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army
Tough in combat doesn’t always mean killing the bad guys. Sgt. Monica Lin Brown is a great example of what it means to be tough woman…or tough person in general, for that matter. While serving in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb blew through a convoy of Humvees. Sgt. Brown exited the vehicle and dragged five wounded men to cover while using her own body as a shield against enemy fire. Think about this: she didn’t do this once. She did it five times, dodging mortar fire the entire time. She’s the first woman to receive the Silver Star for Valor since World War II, and lest you think that this was a one-time deal for Brown, she’s continuing to serve her country to this day.
3. Emily Landau
Jewish freedom fighter, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
After the Nazis invaded Poland they started relocating the nation’s Jewish citizens into crowded ghettos located in various cities. Thousands of men, women and children died of disease and starvation, and those who didn’t soon did after being relocated in concentration camps as part of the Nazi’s “Final Solution”. When members of Warsaw’s Jewish resistance learned of this, they led a revolt. Most of them were armed only pistols and other improvised weapons. A lucky few had automatic rifles smuggled into the city. When these brave warriors struck back against their Nazi oppressors it set off a popular uprising. One of those who chose to fight in the uprising was 17 year-old Emily Landau, who threw a grenade from her building’s rooftop, killing several Nazis. Determined not to go down without a fight, Emily was shot and killed while wresting a pistol out of the hands of one of her attackers.
4. Harriet Tubman
Former Slave, Abolitionist, Union Spy
Born Amarinta “Minty” Ross, the slave who would become known as Harriet Tubman slipped her bonds and fled into the night sometime in the year 1849. Following the North Star, Tubman traveled over 90 miles to reach safety and freedom in Pennsylvania. Nobody would have blamed Tubman if she had chosen to settle down and try to enjoy the rest of her life. Instead, Tubman, by now a wanted fugitive, slipped behind the lines over and over to rescue other slaves. Her route of safe houses, some of them run by freed slaves and sympathetic white Abolitionists, became known as the Underground Railroad. Tubman used various subterfuges to throw slave catchers and law enforcement off her track, and would often disguise herself as a house slave on an errand. She preferred to travel during winter when people were more likely to stay inside. In all, she was directly responsible for rescuing around 70 slaves, and indirectly responsible for rescuing many more by aiding them with information and other resources. During the Civil War Tubman served the Union as an armed soldier and spy, gathering valuable intelligence on reconnaissance missions deep into enemy territory. After the end of the war and the abolition of slavery Tubman became an activist in the women’s suffrage movement. In her later life, she donated some of her land to open a home for the elderly.
5. Violette Szabo
Spy, World War II
Following the death of her soldier husband, the glamorous, brilliant Parisian Violette Szabo offered her services to the British Special Operations Executive. Recognizing her potential use in espionage against the Germans, the SOE trained Szabo in weaponry, unarmed combat, demolitions, night time operations, cryptography and more. One of her missions saw her parachuting behind enemy lines to help organize the French Resistance and participate in demolishing railroad lines and other targets of strategic importance. During Szabo’s second mission she sabotaged German communications lines in order to keep them from preventing the Normandy invasion. Sadly, this would be Szabo’s last mission. Suspicious German soldiers stopped a car carrying Szabo and several members of the Resistance. A firefight broke out, and Szabo engaged the enemy with her Sten gun allowing her comrades to slip away. Despite her fierce resistance, Szabo was eventually captured by the Germans. After four days of interrogation and torture, she was shipped to a concentration camp and executed, but not before she helped fellow prisoner Hortense Clews – a Belgian Resistance fighter – escape.
Interesting Fact: The protagonist of World War II video game Velvet Assassin is female secret agent Violette Summer, undoubtedly inspired by Szabo.