I have a special request for all my fellow Star Wars fans – but especially the ones who remember when it all started.
I’ve got a couple of questions about the fandom and marketing that, as much as I already know, I’m just not up to speed on. It’s partly for a work project (more info below), but also just out of interest.
- Do you remember reading anything that described Star Wars as a boys’ club – or, on the flip side, recall seeing an appeal to female audiences either in storytelling or in marketing?
- If you’re a female fan, what first drew you to Star Wars?
- What kinds characters, stories, or merchandise has the franchise marketed with a clear idea of men/boys or women/girls in mind?
- What are some of the ways (good, bad, and hilarious) in which Star Wars has tried to appeal to women/girls?
- What kinds of things have been perceived as gender-pandering, by fans or by the media?
I’m especially interested in concrete examples from before the prequels, but would welcome anything you can send my way. Films, toys, EU, Happy Meal tie-ins. The more specific, the better.
I’m too young (1987) and too foreign (grew up on US military bases) to remember examples from 1977-1990, and I’ve probably missed out on some recent ones as well. The information available online about Star Wars marketing and mythmaking is pretty sparse before 1995 – no surprise, given that the internet wasn’t really a big thing until then – and there’s no way I can afford all the paper fanzines, adverts, articles, and reports I would ideally like for this project.
Here’s a list of some topics I’m already looking at [updated 13 November 2016]:
- Princess Leia action figures (OT era)
- Covergirl’s TFA make-up line
- Responses to the casting of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in TPM
- OT early screening invitees
- Female employees at Lucasfilm and LucasArts
- Wear Star Wars Share Star Wars
- Dathomir and the Nightsisters (in The Courtship of Princess Leia and The Clone Wars)
- The ‘Tales from’ EU anthologies (Jabba’s Palace, Mos Eisley Cantina, etc)
- Marcia Lucas
- Leigh Brackett
- Kathleen Kennedy
- Comparisons between Leia and Padmé
- Characters explicitly used as young adult role models (Ahsoka Tano, Sabeen Wren, Tenel Ka, Jaina Solo, etc.)
- The #WheresRey campaign
- Discussions about BB-8’s gender
I would hugely, hugely appreciate any info you can give me. Tips for where to look or who else to ask are also very welcome.
You can get in touch with questions or suggestions on Twitter (@MegenJM), via e-mail (DeBruinMJ@cf.ac.uk), or just by commenting on this post.
May the Force be with you!
A little background info / disclaimer
I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1994, and have been hanging around TFN since 2001. I even penned and beta-read some fanfic on the TFN forums, though I can’t for the life of me remember my original login password. Now I’m a teacher and academic researching popular culture (more here: www.frankenfiction.com). Although my fandom is a huge part of who I am, and why I ended up doing this kind of work in the first place, I haven’t had the chance to write about or research Star Wars – until now.
I’ve just been chosen to write a chapter for the upcoming book Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling. It’s scheduled for publication in 2017, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ANH. The point of this book is to argue that Star Wars ‘laid the foundations for the forms of convergence culture that rule the media industries today […] spreading that storyworld across as many media platforms as possible’.
My chapter will argue that even though the news media tends to pitch Star Wars as a boys’ club, it actually did a remarkable job of inspiring female fans from the very beginning. Rey has gotten a lot of attention lately, but she’s only the latest in a long list of reasons a woman might want to watch Star Wars. Even aside from Princess Leia, there have been lots of ways the franchise has gone out of its way to try and appeal to women, and even though some of its early attempts fell flat or flew under the radar, it helped to pioneer a lot of the storytelling and marketing strategies that have taken over twenty-first-century culture.
I will obviously ask for your permission before I even think of using anything you say in the book, so feel free to speak your mind. I’m mainly interested in whether other people’s experiences overlap with mine.
If you’re looking for more of a technical explanation of what the chapter is about, you can check out my other blog post on it: http://frankenfiction.com/feminist-politics-star-wars/.
4 thoughts on “Is Star Wars a Boys’ Club?”
So I grew up on the original trilogy, watched Empire Strikes Back with my little brother in the theater and cried on my dad’s shoulder when Han Solo was put into carbonite freezing. My barbie dolls never got along well with Ken, either — they all wanted to date my brother’s Luke Skywalker figures. But when I was fully grown, it was Boba Fett who completely beguiled me. I think it was the quiet and deadly warrior figure the Mandalorian seemed to me that was utterly enchanting.
Now I am introducing the worlds of Star Wars to my own daughters, and it’s a richly beautiful world to them, too. It somehow seems more rich and gorgeous even, with female figures they can ohhh and ahhh over far besides the Princess in her pretty white dress and neat side buns. I adore the character of Rey and look forward to sitting next to my girls as we are introduced to Jyn. My daughters think Poe is “soo cute” and Finn makes them laugh; BB-8 is adorable; and Kylo Ren is “really sad, mom”. And I love them even more for every whispered comment they share with me in the movie theater.
Hey, I still love Boba Fett and Han Solo and Luke Skywalker the bestest. And I’m not sure there’s anything in the world wrong with showing my daughters what it means to be a complex and dynamic hero figure, maybe one that struggles with feelings of anger, bitterness, despair, self-doubt and fear. And somehow overcomes it all to be a stronger character before it’s all done. I want my daughters to find themselves, to define their will and their own character not in opposition to men but alongside them. They’re our brothers and our fathers and our heroes, too.
And Star Wars gives all of that to us, I think.
Thanks for this great comment! I too have memories of playing Jedi with my Barbies and Boba Fett has a special place in my heart (and on my keychain).
So glad you’re able to share Star Wars with your kids now as well!
I’m a fan from the 1977 period. I’ve sent a link to this to another friend of that period. I’ll send you an email later.
Thank you! Looking forward to reading it.