“Does it Come with a Spear?” Commodity Activism, Plastic Representation, and Transmedia Story Strategies in Disney’s Star Wars: Forces of Destiny

Continuing on from my previous research on Star Wars (and other related activities), I’ve had an article published in a special issue of the open access journal Film Criticism. I write about the Forces of Destiny Star Wars series on YouTube, addressing the tensions between Disney’s presentation of this girl-focused arm of the Star Wars universe and its reception by fans and consumers. In particular, I look at the ‘Adventure figure’ line of toys marketed with the series, tracing its ‘plastic representation’ within the broader contexts of Star Wars transmedia, commodity activism, and paratextual erasure.

The article is open access and free to read—you can find it at this link. You can also read a short excerpt from the article below:

Few films are more iconic and widely recognized than Star Wars (1977).[1] Now an international franchise with a forty-year history and a multi-billion-dollar box office and merchandising legacy, Star Wars has become a global phenomenon. Amidst ever-intensifying waves of film and television content, transmedia tie-ins, and merchandising outreach, it has become common to speak of Star Wars as though it is a universal constant. Not only can it be found everywhere, the reasoning goes, it is also something that can be enjoyed together by people of diverse ages and backgrounds. As Rogue One (2016) reviewer Rohan Naahar writes for the Hindustan Times, “Star Wars is for everyone; every boy or girl who has ever looked up at the night sky and wondered if there are other worlds out there. It’s for every kid who has ever pretended to be a hero, saving the day, with his friends by his side. Star Wars belongs to us now.”[2] But what parts of the franchise are we talking about when we speak of Star Wars? And is it the franchise’s omnipresence that allows it to appeal to the kid—or the boy, as Naahar’s use of personal pronouns suggests—in everyone?

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Art vs Craft: Zine-Making as Feminist Practice

At the beginning of December, students and staff at Winchester School of Art (where I work) took part in a series of Critical Media Practice workshops, focused around the theme of ‘Gendering Technology’. The workshops developed practical skills, but also explored the gendered dimensions of technology’s access and use, and the framing of debates around gender identities and technology. Together with digital media scholar Mihaela Brebenel, I ran one of these workshops, and the topic of our session was ‘Zine-Making as Feminist Practice’. You can find the session slides here. The workshop was inspired by my previous experiences with zine-making at Feminist Archive South, by the fabulous work done by Anti-Precarity Cymru to raise awareness about casualisation and neoliberalisation in academia (including a 2019 calendar!), and by an article by Carly and Jennifer Jean Bagelman.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘Perpetual Night’ and ‘The Blessed Dark’ (Season 3 Finale, Episodes 8 and 9)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 8 July 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

In my very first post I rhetorically questioned whether any of the ‘monsters’ in Penny Dreadful would be able to come to terms with their past or their actions. I also asked to what extent the show could be labelled ‘Victorian’ or ‘neo-Victorian’.

When I started writing this week’s post, I had no idea that I would be writing about the end of entire series, as well as the end of the third season. Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to finish it is the way this ending has (unexpectedly) forced me to completely re-evaluate the show, and my expectations of it.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘Ebb Tide’ (Season 3, Episode 7)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 17 June 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

What does it mean to be true to yourself? What does it mean to be a good person? These are questions Penny Dreadful has frequently explored over its three seasons, but I’m not sure they ever felt as pressing or disturbing as they do in ‘Ebb Tide’. More than anything, the episode seems to suggest that the answers to these questions depend entirely on the person asking.

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘A Blade of Grass’ (Season 3, Episode 4)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 27 May 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

Last week I wished for a quieter episode that focused on one or two characters in a bit more depth. This week, that wish was granted. Seasons one and two both used an early episode to explore a part of Vanessa’s past, and this season does the same. ‘A Blade of Grass’ is a frame narrative that starts and ends as a hypnotherapy session between Vanessa Ives and Dr Seward, and the two women are attempting to discover where Vanessa first met The Master (a.k.a. Dracula).

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Penny Dreadful Review: ‘Predators Far and Near’ (Season 3, Episode 2)

As part of my forthcoming book project, I’ve been revisiting the Penny Dreadful series and comics. This included looking back at my online reviews of the show’s third and final season, which I will be posting here over the coming weeks. This post originally appeared on The Victorianist, 13 May 2016. It has been edited and corrected for reposting.

This post contains plot details for seasons 1-3 of Penny Dreadful, as well as a few minor comments on the HBO series Game of Thrones that might be construed as spoilers.

Penny Dreadful’s identity as a show hinges on a small number of key characteristics. One is its appropriation of Gothic monsters. Another is its status as a premium cable series, and a work of ‘quality television’. 

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‘Hail, Mary, the Mother of Science Fiction’: Popular Fictionalisations of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in Film and Television, 1935-2018

I’m very excited to announce a new special issue of Science Fiction Film and Television, focusing on Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and women in science fiction! I’ve got an article in this special issue on Shelley’s fictionalised appearances in popular film and television, including Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Highlander (TV; 1992–1998) and Frankenstein, MD (2014).

Mary Shelley in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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Space Bitches, Witches, and Kick-Ass Princesses: Star Wars and Popular Feminism

Regular readers may remember my call for testimonials from other Star Wars fans, in which I asked ‘is Star Wars a boys’ club?’. The result of this research is now available as ‘Space Bitches, Witches, and Kick-Ass Princesses: Star Wars and Popular Feminism’, a chapter in a new edited collection.

You can read the chapter in full at this link, where it is available courtesy of the Utrecht University Open Access fund.

Read an excerpt of the chapter below:

Over the past few years, the Star Wars franchise has been widely praised for its feminism—especially since its acquisition by Disney in 2012. New heroes like Jyn Erso and Rey are hailed as feminist triumphs not just for Star Wars, but for mainstream entertainment more broadly. New characters aimed at a new generation of fans, like Rebels’s pink-clad fighter-cum-artist, Sabine Wren, and new novels devoted to existing characters like Leia Organa and Ahsoka Tano (from the animated series The Clone Wars),[1]are often cited by mainstream news outlets as part of a growing commitment to female characters, and to feminism by association. Likewise, thanks partly to its alliance with Disney’s princess powerhouse, the marketing force of Star Wars can now be felt as strongly in female-targeted sectors (make-up, fashion, dolls) as it is outside of them.[2]Does all of this mean, as one reviewer put it, that starting with The Force Awakens, Star Wars “finally awakens to a feminist world”?[3]Such assertions have certainly rubbed some long-time fans the wrong way—after all, women have made up a significant and vocal portion of the Star Wars fanbase from the beginning.[4]Moreover, one source’s assessment of what constitutes a “feminist world” (and of who is responsible for building it) is often fundamentally different from another’s.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Roundtable on HenryJenkins.org

Last month I participated in an online roundtable discussion of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) on ‘Confessions of an Aca-Fan’ (the official weblog of Professor Henry Jenkins). Other participants included Dr William Proctor (who convened the roundtable), Dr Rebecca Harrison, Dr Suzanne Scott, Dr Mar Guerrero-Pico, and Professor Will Brooker. The first instalment can be found here. … Read more

Studying the Force: A Star Wars Symposium

Next month I’ll be speaking at a Star Wars symposium in Portsmouth, hosted by the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries and organised by Dr Lincoln Geraghty. Celebrating Star Wars Day (4 May 2018) through discussion and debate, this symposium will offer us the opportunity to interrogate why the franchise has been so successful and how much it … Read more