Three days ago, director Colin Hanks posted the following note on his Instagram account:
So, the other night, on May the 4th to be exact, I sat down with my 4 year old daughter and showed her Star Wars: A New Hope. It was her first time watching it. She loved it. Her favorite character was Princess Leia. She kept asking “Where is Princess Leia? Where is Princes Leia?” A few nights later, I show her Empire Strikes Back (or as she called it “The Emperor stripes back) and within four minutes of watching the movie she says, “It’s so tiring watching these movies. It’s always boys, boys, boys and there’s only one girl.” I could not of been more proud of her. So today I take her to Toys “R” Us to buy her a light saber and a Princess Leia toy. After being told that light sabers were “in the boys section”, she picks out the light saber of her choosing and asks about the Princess Leia toy. One problem: they only had the “slave Leia”. As you can see, sad depressing, “slave Leia”. So wrong. The only good to come from this is that, once again, my daughter makes me look at the world in a new light. #HelpusJJyoureouronlyhope
Hanks’ post has garnered a lot of attention, rightfully so, and joins the increased media attention for the severe lack of female merchandise. After the release of The Guardians of the Galaxy the hashtag #WheresGamora was started and since Age of Ultron came out there has been justified outrage over the lack of Black Widow merchandise. With The Force Awakens film coming out this year, Star Wars will be bringing out new merchandise as well and this is an issue that Disney should be very aware of. Before going into it more, I want to share a personal experience.
I am a twenty-one year old, female Star Wars-fan. Star Wars, like the Force, is strong in my family and I have been watching the films from the tender age of two. However, when I was seven I had an experience in a toystore which left me feeling marginalized and excluded without even knowing what those words meant. I walked in, looking for either a knight or a storm trooper. As I was looking up and down the walls covered in amazing toys, I was incredibly excited. Shortly afterwards, a male cashier came up to me and asked me whether I was looking for something. When I responded with an enthusiastic ‘yes’ he continued to guide me away from all the toys I wanted to the “girls”-section which was full of barbies and everything pink. Not only did I not like pink, but the male cashier made it very clear that this was where I belonged and that the other section was for boys, no matter what I liked. I was crushed and when I told my father, he was furious. If it hadn’t been for him, I might have accepted what I had been told rather than continue to love Star Wars. Instead, I got the toys I wanted and continued to be a raging Star Wars fan.
Hanks mentions two different issues in his post above. On the one hand he addresses the under representation of female characters, which is not just a problem of the canon Star Wars films, but he also addresses the merchandising side of the film business. I will gladly agree that in the original films there is only one female character of note: Leia Organa. Although she is amazing, you’d wish for a lot more. In the prequel films I’d argue there are two: Padme Amidala and Shmi Skywalker. Even then, two women out of however many character is still close to shameful. But I do not think that J.J. Abrams is the one who has the sole responsibility for saving us, since some amazing work has already been done by others within the recent Star Wars prequel-era tv shows.
Dave Filoni and his team have done some real ground work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. As a female fan, seeing Ahsoka Tano fighting alongside Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi made my heart soar. Equally, Satine Kryze was a character that was both bad-ass and inspiring. They also gave us Asajj Vetress and the Night-Sisters, Bo-Katan Kryze as a crucial member to Death Watch and Barriss Offee, a Jedi who grows disillusioned with the Jedi Order. Each of these women was crucial to the story-line of The Clone Wars. On Star Wars: Rebels the main team of five includes two women, Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren who, in their own way, run the show. As such, Star Wars has made major leaps towards improving its number of female characters. With the casting news of The Force Awakens including not only the return of Carrie Fisher but also the arrival of Daisy Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie, I am very confident that this new film will contain a number of amazing female characters. With Rogue One said to feature a main female character, played by Felicity Jones, already in the works, the future of Star Wars looks very good.
Now, the real issue is the merchandising and publicity campaigns that are led by big production companies. Instead of recognizing the untapped potential that is the huge amount of female fans, production companies continue to focus blindly on their male audiences. Whether it’s the conviction that it’s still just boys who read comics, buy toys or play games, or whether it’s the conscious refusal to engage female fans, it is becoming increasingly frustrating. The fact that the only Leia Organa toy to be found is the one wearing the slave-outfit and a suffering expression is also a sign that the powers above still need to catch up with the female empowerment that has been growing in the last year or so. Representation within films is important, but it needs to be spread across all layers of media. The only way to make sure that the message that we need Star Wars toys for girls as well is by continuously making ourselves heard. Whether you do this by supporting Star Wars own Ashley Eckstein’s Her Universe or by petitioning online, is up to you.
And crucially, never tell the young girls in your life that something isn’t for them, that knights, dragons, Jedi masters and light sabers aren’t for them. Whether you’re a father, a mother, a sister or a brother, support your girls in their passion!