The Feminist Politics of Star Wars

This week started off with some exciting news: I get to draft a chapter for Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling, a collection of academic essays on the franchise edited by Dan Hassler-Forest and Sean Guynes. This collection is scheduled for publication in 2017, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first film release.

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The Project

In forty years a lot has changed for Star Wars, and my chapter focuses on the franchise’s feminist politics.

A recent YouTube video cut together all the lines spoken by women in the original Star Wars film trilogy, apart from Princess Leia. The total runtime was just over a minute. Women have been well represented among the ranks of Lucasfilm and LucasArts, but historically the franchise is not known for its groundbreaking portrayal of female characters on-screen. Even so, women have made up a significant and vocal portion of the franchise’s fanbase from early on. Though Princess Leia’s example is a powerful one, what else draws women to Star Wars, and how has the franchise adapted itself to tap into this market?

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R2-KT, the pink astromech droid. First created for a little girl with cancer, later honoured with a place in Star Wars canon – to the chagrin of some uninformed fans.

As you can read in the original call for papers, the focus of the collection is on transmedia revision both in and outside of the films:

The chapters in this collection will ultimately demonstrate that Star Wars laid the foundations for the forms of convergence culture that rule the media industries today. As a commercial entertainment property and meaningful platform for audience participation, Star Wars created lifelong fans (and consumers) by continuing to develop characters and plots beyond the original text and by spreading that storyworld across as many media platforms as possible.

Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano and founder of HerUniverse.
Ashley Eckstein: Star Wars fan, voice of Ahsoka Tano, and founder of the clothing line HerUniverse.

From the myriad female-led stories in the Star Wars ‘Legends’ (Expanded Universe) novels, to the casting of stars Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in The Phantom Menace, to the popular success of female characters like Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars and Rey in The Force Awakens, the first half of my chapter will provide a survey of the tactics used to quietly cater to an imagined female audience, from the earliest days of Star Wars’ transmedia empire. This is a complex subject, and I won’t be able to cover everything in the 5,000 words I’m allotted, but I’ll be doing my best to highlight key examples.

'Encounter on Dathomir' © wraithdt on DeviantArt
‘Encounter on Dathomir’ © wraithdt on DeviantArt

In the second part of the chapter, I plan to tie things together by using the matriarchal planet of Dathomir – first depicted in the bonkers (and bestselling) ‘Legends’ novel The Courtship of Princess Leia (1994) and later re-imagined for the canonical Clone Wars animated series (2008-2014) – as an illustration of the franchise’s own evolving relationship with feminist discourse.

How You Can Help

While I have the wealth of the internet and my own experiences to draw on, as well as the invaluable research of people like Michael Kaminski, J.W. Rinzler, and Will Brooker, ideally I want to take this research further. 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 buy up all the paper fanzines, adverts, articles, and reports I would like for this project on a PhD student’s salary.

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So. Here’s where you come in. Do you remember reading anything that described Star Wars as a boys’ club, or recall seeing an appeal to female audiences either in storytelling or in marketing? What kinds characters, stories, or merchandise has the franchise marketed with a clear idea of ‘men’ or ‘women’ in mind? What are some of the ways (good, bad, and hilarious) in which the Star Wars franchise has tried to appeal to women over the years? What kinds of things have been perceived by the media as gender-pandering?

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I’m particularly interested in concrete examples from before the prequels (so 1977-1999), and am prioritising officially sanctioned attempts to sell Star Wars to women over grassroots projects, but would welcome anything you can send my way.

Now obviously, on the surface this description seems to ignore all the queer Star Wars fans out there. Please don’t think you’re not also important! Your fandom is a vital part of this research, especially because you’ve long been ignored by marketers. As the previous paragraph states, what I’m looking at here is the perceived audiences for canonical Star Wars products, not the actual ones. I will be on the lookout for slippage between these two groups. I’m also interested in the way the franchise queers itself over time – allowing for multiple readings of the same characters and stories – in order to adjust to changing ideas about gender.

Consuming (the) Victorians

Image from BBC One's The Paradise © BBC, photographer: Jonathan Ford
Image from BBC One’s The Paradise © BBC, photographer: Jonathan Ford

Are you a Victorianist, or do you just love all things Victorian?

Then feast your eyes on the 2016 British Association for Victorian Studies’ Call for Papers: ‘Consuming (the) Victorians’, brought to you with the help of the invaluable Tom de Bruin! At this 3-day conference, hosted by Cardiff University, we’ll be looking at Victorians practices of consumption, as well as how the Victorians are consumed today. Send your proposal to BAVS2016@cardiff.ac.uk by 1 March, 2016:

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The Victorian age saw the emergence of ‘modern’ consumer culture: in urban life, commerce, literature, art, science and medicine, entertainment, the leisure and tourist industries. The expansion and proliferation of new mass markets and inessential goods opened up pleasurable and democratising forms of consumption while also raising anxieties about urban space, the collapse of social and gendered boundaries, the pollution of domestic and public life, the degeneration of the moral and social health of the nation. This conference is concerned with the complexity and diversity of Victorian consumer cultures and also seeks to consider our contemporary consumption of the Victorian/s.

We welcome proposals for individual papers, and encourage proposals for panels (3-paper sessions), on, but not limited to, the following topics:

Urban spaces and city life: the flâneur/flâneuse, the steam/trolley bus, the rise of suburbia, street cultures

Transformations of the countryside: the Victorian pastoral, the country retreat, the farm, garden cities and model villages, alternative communities

Commerce: the department store, fashion, retail and advertising

Politics: new political mass movements, Chartism, feminism, Fabianism, ‘Victorian values’ in the present

Art: Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, arts and crafts, photography, illustration

Science and technology: the railway, the Great Exhibition and exhibition cultures, the lecture, the gramophone, physics, biology

Science, spectacle and performance: taxidermy, the magic lantern, the diorama, the cinematograph

Literature: the magazine, newspaper, sensation, railway, crime and other popular fiction markets, self-help, religious tracts

Consuming life styles: the Girl of the Period, the Aesthete, the Dandy, the Decadent, the New Woman, the Lion/ess, the fashionable author, interview cultures

Cultures of entertainment and leisure: oper(ett)a, theatre and melodrama, the recital, music halls and concert halls, sheet music and instrument manufacture, the amateur, the club and associational culture, the bicycle, sports, boating

The tourist industry: sightseeing, the preservation of and popular attraction to historical buildings (e.g. National Trust), Baedeker, new (imperial) travel cultures

Medicine and the market place: medical treatments and therapeutics, medical advertising, professional practices, public and private treatment practices, institutional medicine, alternative therapies

The pleasures and perils of consumption: music, food cultures, cooking, chocolate, alcohol, addiction, opium, fashion, smoking, sex

Consuming bodies, moral contagion, social reform and the law: the city at night, prostitution, homosexuality, pornography, the ‘Maiden Tribute’ and trafficking; censorship, temperance, Obscene Publications Acts, Contagious Diseases Acts, National Purity Association, social purity activism, feminism, social welfare movements

The ‘other’ Victorians: the Victorians through the lens of their 19th-century contemporaries; the Victorians and 19th-century Europe; European Victorians

The Victorians and their pasts/Victorian consumption of earlier periods: Victorian medievalism in art and architecture, the Victorian Renaissance

Victorian afterlives: how the Victorian/s have been consumed by subsequent periods, such as the Modernists, Leavisites, faux/retro/post- and neo-Victorianism, heritage film and costume drama, the Victorians in contemporary architecture, art, interior decoration, music

Reception in the Impressionist galleries, with access to the Victorian art gallery, followed by an organ recital and conference dinner, National Museum Cardiff.
House tour of Cardiff Castle, with interior decoration by Victorian architect William Burges.

 

For further details consult our website: BAVS2016.co.uk

All conference presenters are required to be members of BAVS or an affiliated organisation (e.g. AVSA, NAVSA).

Please submit an individual proposal of 250-300 words OR a 3-4 page outline for a 3 paper panel proposal (including panel title, abstracts with titles, affiliations and all contact details, identifying the panel chair), to BAVS2016@cardiff.ac.uk by the deadline of 1 March 2016. Papers will be limited to 20 minutes. All proposals should include your name, academic affiliation (if applicable) and email address.

Enquiries should be directed to Professor Ann Heilmann (BAVS2016@cardiff.ac.uk).

Conference organisers
Megen de Bruin-Molé (PGR, Cardiff), Rachel Cowgill (Music, Huddersfield), Daný van Dam (PGR, Cardiff), Holly Furneaux (English, Cardiff), Kate Griffiths (French, Cardiff), Catherine Han (PGR, Cardiff), Ann Heilmann (English, Cardiff), Anthony Mandal (English, Cardiff), Akira Suwa (PGR, Cardiff), Julia Thomas (English, Cardiff), Keir Waddington (History, Cardiff), Martin Willis (English, Cardiff)

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