When the first picture of the Star Wars cast hit people noticed that the ensemble was very, very, very dude heavy. Star Wars has always been dude heavy, but it's the 21st century and we want more. After that uproar more casting happened, and we got Gwendoline Christie in a major role, and people who hate "SJW"s used this as evidence that everybody jumped the gun in complaining about the gender imbalance.
Except I had a hunch, based on some inside information, that we had not jumped the gun. Last year I published a piece that brought together that info I had with a bit of other informed speculation to put forth the idea that Captain Phasma had originally been a male character, and that Lucasfilm had been meeting with men - most notably Benedict Cumberbatch - for the part.
Turns out I was right.
While at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens junket Vulture managed to get writer Lawrence Kasdan to admit that Phasma had originally been conceived as a man. “Everything was happening simultaneously,” Kasdan told the site. “When the idea came up to make Phasma female, it was instantaneous: Everyone just said, ‘Yes. That’s great.’”
The timing here is key - Kasdan certainly makes it sound like the decision was made right when that first photo was released. It looks to me like the outcry made a difference. As Kasdan states in the interview, part of the reason it could make a difference is that the script was deeply in flux at all times (this is maybe the least reassuring piece of news coming out of this), but I believe fully that Lucasfilm heard what people online were saying. And I think that's really cool.
So does Gwendoline Christie, who only found out about the gender swap when Vulture told her.
“I think that’s great of them, don’t you?” she said. “That there was a discussion about that, and an evolution?”
Yeah, I do think it's great of them.