By my calculations, it’s been 37 years since Star Wars: A New Hope transformed the geek and cinema landscape. Calculations are not hard–I was born mere weeks before the movie premiered, and I have grown up emulating one Princess Leia Organa, Senator from Alderaan and Leader of the Rebel Alliance. Before I hit grade school, I was inspired by Leia’s self-confidence, resourcefulness, leadership, courage, and forthrightness, and I spent much of my play time pretending to be her. She could both mouth-off and embrace in celebration an 8 ft. Wookie. Who wouldn’t want to be her?
But looking back, she’s a complicated heroine, probably due to the time in which she was created. In all three films, she gets captured and must be rescued by Luke and company. In some ways that was balanced by scenes in which she was in the “war room” strategizing the destruction of the first Death Star or the evacuation of Hoth, but in other ways it wasn’t. In Return of the Jedi, her stealthy entry into Jabba’s Palace is ruined when she’s discovered freeing Han, gets captured, and becomes “Slave” Leia, the object of desire of geek boys and men everywhere. That’s just the first half of the movie. In the second half, she jumps a speeder bike to thwart stormtroopers announcing the rebel presence, gets captured again, this time by teddy bears, and once again has to be rescued. Then, as they attempt to set explosives in the shield generator, she gets grazed by a laser in the arm and has to be rescued again. Sheesh.
None of these issues bothered me as a child though. For the 1980’s, she was it as far as strong, intelligent, and confident role models went. The fact that she was also a princess (with most of the tropes associated) hardly mattered at all.
Now, however, it’s 2014. Post-Xena. Post-Buffy. Post-Leia even. Disney, known for its princesses, is now the showrunner of all things Star Wars, from new films and television shows to new merchandise, and they don’t seem to understand the gender scrutiny they’re under. When a cast photo hit the internet from a script read-through, a backlash arose regarding the very few females with major roles–only Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Daisy Ridley are shown. Perhaps in response to the uproar, two more female castmembers have been announced–Game of Thrones‘s Gwendoline Christie and 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o. I’m excited about both of those women being involved, but I fear their roles will be minor. Heck, it’s likely Carrie Fisher’s role will be minor–think about how little of either of Abrams’s Star Treks Leonard Nimoy graced the screen. J.J. Abrams and Disney understand the need to feed the fan face, but Abrams is going to reboot the franchise like he did with Trek. The upcoming trilogy is not going to be about Luke, Han, and Leia.
In addition to this concern, Disney has underestimated the desire for Leia merch. (Here I am reminded of their lack of faith in the salability of Frozen.) Apparently the Disney Store was only stocking items featuring the male characters until a Twitter hashtag told them they’d misread Leia’s popularity. Now, Disney reps are assuring fans the new merch featuring Leia is on its way. Oh, good.
Disney best get with the program. The monster they face was created in 1977 when a spunky chick in white shot first, mouthed off to a giant dude in black robo-skull mask, and kept her secrets even under intense interrogation. This monster has only grown in the 37 years since, now birthing and buying for a new generation of girls and boys who are about to have the Star Wars universe re-introduced to them. This monster has money and a strong desire to keep the love alive for self-rescuing princesses and a science fiction mythology that everyone can identify with. If you appease the monster, Disney, you will be well rewarded.
By ignoring female fans and fans of the females, you’re creating an alternate market. Enter http://www.heruniverse.com/, an online merchant specializing in catering to the she-geeks. I *heart* Her Universe and would like to own several of their items; however, this is a website you have to be fairly internet savvy to find. This is not the mainstream, in your 6-year old’s face, of the Disney store. And that’s where the women of strength, intelligence, leadership, and sci-fi need to be.