Star Wars Is for Everyone
Guest post written by Tricia Barr
Last August, when my GeekGirlCon Star Wars panel explored the fairy tale archetypes of princesses and witches that are prominent in the galaxy far, far away, I had no idea what was about to unfold two months later. The Disney purchase of Lucasfilm coincided with the announcement that there would be more Star Wars movies. Not just a sequel trilogy, but also new stand-alones. Almost immediately rumors swirled about a female lead protagonist for the sequel trilogy from a franchise that is often considered one for the boys. A recent Slate article by Libby Copeland revealed that Disney programs like Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First are turning on its head the entertainment industry’s notion that boys supposedly won’t watch shows about girls. It’s still too early to say what the future of Star Wars movies and media tie-in products will be, but undoubtedly this is a time when female fans are more prominent than ever.
For all the talk surrounding the lack of a female-led superhero movie or television show after the recent round of announcements from DC Comics and Marvel, it’s easy to forget that Jedi are superheroes too. That was one topic of discussion at last year’s panel. While Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is proving that a female-led action heroine movie can draw impressive box office tallies, she is still just a girl and not a supergirl in the minds of studio executives who greenlight movies. Following up on rumors that Soairse Ronan has read for the lead role in Episode VII, Bleeding Cool commented: “Years of genre films living under a cloud on this front and Star Wars is coming back swinging with at least a pair of great leading roles for young ladies. It almost feels like a grand statement you wish nobody had to make.”
Having been a fan from 1977, I’m proof that Star Wars was never just a boys’ franchise. In 1980 the president of the Star Wars fan club was a woman, Maureen Garrett. The Star Ladies are a fan group invaluable in the running of the Star Wars conventions known as Celebration. Not to mention the simple fact that movies don’t become worldwide phenomena without engaging a broad base of fans. As a young woman I was sold from A New Hope’s opening scroll, which didn’t mention the saga’s hero but rather a princess who was “custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.” In her first on-screen moments Princess Leia transferred the stolen plans to R2-D2 and engaged stormtroopers as a diversion for the droid’s escape. That was the moment I realized girls could be heroes too.
As a blogger covering the franchise, I see plenty of signals coming from Lucasfilm and its parent company Disney that both corporations don’t view their audience as just boys, either. IndieWire reported from the exclusive Disney event at the Las Vegas Licensing Expo that Star Wars “content presents stellar licensing opportunities and deepens Disney’s portfolio across consumer segments, particularly with boys and collectors, but also opens up the Star Wars world to new fans.” We are entering an era that will be very similar to the first return of Star Wars movies when The Phantom Menace hit screens. Old fans were reenergized and new fans were born. It was both an exciting and daunting time. Fanzines and local fan groups were replaced by message boards and chat rooms. The fan community grew exponentially and shared its passion at computer terminals. Think of how much larger and more connected internet communities are today than they were a decade ago.
The internet allowed fans to foster many new friendships, but also created greater opportunities for bullies to lash out. My fandom almost came to a screeching halt in 2003, when I had the good fortune to win the first of many fanfiction awards—and my success earned me the ire of a certain subset of the fandom called movie purists, who were not happy that stories about characters found in the Star Wars Expanded Universe books had garnered more awards than stories about the movie characters. At the time I was very naïve about gatekeeping and the dynamics of geek culture. Luckily, as I struggled with individuals who thought Star Wars only needed certain types of fans, other fans reached out. I began to form a circle of friends who shared the same passion for the books, comics, and movies, or who were willing to be open about how others enjoyed the fictional universe. Although the problem hasn’t gone away completely, the anti-bullying message is carrying the day, and female fans have many opportunities to find safe spaces to discuss the franchise and their fandom.
In 2010, after years of trying to work within the established message board environment and noting that the products coming from Star Wars licensees were being aimed more toward the men who managed and moderated these sites, I decided women needed a place to voice their opinions as fans and consumers. Having already created a small message board community that promoted respectful discussion, I dove into the world of blogging and started advocating for female fans and the stories they wanted told. The success of my blog led to opportunities to write about Star Wars for Random House’s blog Suvudu, Action Flick Chick, Lucasfilm’s official Star Wars Blog, and the print magazine Star Wars Insider.
Both The Clone Wars supervising director Dave Filoni and voice actress Ashley Eckstein have personally emphasized to me that one of the most important things fans can do is to speak up and ask for what we want. Ultimately, too, fans then have to support their likes by putting their money behind their passions. Her Universe, with its line of geek merchandise, gives female fans a chance to double down on their passion—first by buying geek products, then by displaying our passion by wearing it loud and proud. Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein used the Year of the Fangirl to help foster a community for female fans.
When I considered the upcoming opportunities for new and old Star Wars fans in the next few years, GeekGirlCon seemed to be a perfect venue to help share the experience of women who had been enjoying adventures in the galaxy far, far away for some time. Our panel “Star Wars: More Than A Boys’ Franchise” will be in Room 301/302 on Sunday, October 20 at 3 p.m. If you are in the mood to share Star Wars with like-minded fans before them, Star Wars Reads Day is Saturday, October 5. For more details of events and locations check StarWars.com.
If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, feel free to leave a comment here. We’ll try to incorporate them into the panel discussion.
Tricia Barr discusses Star Wars, fandom, and strong female characters at FANgirl Blog. Her first novel, Wynde, is a military science fiction tale with a fantastical twist exploring a heroine’s journey. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com. For updates on all things FANgirl, follow @FANgirlcantina on Twitter.