Going back to the exceptions, let’s talk about writer/director James Cameron. Epic heroines who forge their paths to power are his bag, meaning he creates them with the skill of a mage. In the following, you’ll see how the feminine motivations we’ve been examining are established and then dissipated into smoke to leave an unquestioned warrior-woman behind.
First up is Ripley, the iconic heroine from the “Alien” franchise. In the first film, which is arguably a deep space horror movie, Ripley survives as the classic final girl or “the last woman or girl alive to confront the killer.” In the sequel, when Cameron takes over, Ripley’s transformation begins. Check the tropes in succession: she goes from the final girl (feminine trope) to mother/protector (borderline trope), and mid-movie she shifts to Lone Wolf and Cub, a traditionally masculine thematic framing. After that, although Cameron relinquishes the reins, Ripley is firmly established as an epic heroine and is no longer defined solely by thematically feminine motivations. Magic.
Cameron does it again with Sarah Conner in the “Terminator” franchise, taking her from damsel (feminine trope) to protective mother (feminine trope), and from there she metamorphoses into the bodyguard of THE ENTIRETY OF THE FUTURE. Once again, iconic. Finally, there’s Helen Tasker from “True Lies” (1994). At rise, she’s a disenchanted housewife (feminine trope), at the mid-point she becomes a pawn in the men’s games (feminine trope) but, by the end, she redefines herself as a sexy and unstoppable super spy (heroic trope). Bond who?
Fans were thrilled by Ripley, Sarah, and Helen, mostly likely because they start out in gender roles and transform over time and runtimes. These women are “in their place” initially but their growth forces them to “step out” and we witness their progression. Another point to consider, they were introduced at a time when they felt novel and less likely to shape the way women and girls see themselves in general. Sarah and Helen are also paired with strong male co-leads.
Either way, what her anti-fans don’t realize is, Young Galadriel as an elf, a survivor, a warrior, an egotist, a sap, a future magic wielder, and an angry princess, is also progressing toward the epic heroine we know she will become. Tolkien is not being betrayed. When we meet her in “The Rings of Power,” Young Galadriel is in the right place to begin a complex character arc. But she doesn’t have to be.