Despite the legions of fanboys, the stereotype of the pasty nerd in the Stormtrooper suit or even the crazy talk that came out of director J.J. Abrams’ mouth, “Star Wars” was never just for boys.
Even in that gold bikini from “Return of the Jedi,” Princess Leia rocked feminism. I’m tired of the outrage over the Leia action figure in that outfit, with a chain around her neck. Pay attention: Jabba the Hutt forced her to wear it. She choked that slug to death with that very chain. Context, folks. Context.
And I’m over people acting like now, all of a sudden, “Star Wars” is welcoming to women. I’ve had a Yoda on my desk my entire career.
“ ‘Star Wars’ was always a boys’ thing,” Abrams, the Force behind “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” told “Good Morning America” last month. “I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers could take their daughters to as well.”
He has since said it was a slip of the tongue, and he was just tired. He meant to say the franchise was perceived as a boys club. OK.
Women and girls have always loved “Star Wars.” The only thing new is that merchandisers are finally starting to recognize it.
It’s true that “Star Wars” has been portrayed as a fanboy cult. It’s also true that “The Force Awakens” is charging up the girl power. When the film takes over theaters next weekend, we will see more kick-ass women in the “Star Wars” universe than ever before. I’m excited to see Rey (Daisy Ridley) pilot the Millennium Falcon, to find out how villainous Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) really is, to meet the mysterious ancient space pirate Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). And even though she was always in command, I’m ready to see Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) as General Leia.
But we’re not suddenly flocking to the franchise because the cast finally reflects our geeky allegiance. Just as women and girls make up about half of the comic book-loving population, they make up just as much of the sci-fi fandom, says Ashley Eckstein, the founder of Her Universe, a clothing brand catering to fangirls.
The fangirls who felt ignored and bullied can now step into the spotlight and say, yes, I like “Star Wars.
This isn’t the #WheresNatasha Avengers debacle from earlier this year, when Marvel mysteriously left Black Widow off toy shelves and T-shirts. No longer do the fangirls have to shop on the boys racks for “Star Wars” tees.
Ashley remembers playing “Star Wars” with her siblings when she was just 3 years old. In 2008, she joined the “Star Wars” universe when she voiced Ahsoka Tano in TV’s animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
It was then that she realized the drastic shortage of fan gear for women. “I was going to all of these ‘Star Wars’ events and I only had one shirt made for a girl,” she told me by phone from California. “I looked in my husband’s closet and he had 10, but I am the bigger fan. So after looking for stuff to wear and coming up empty-handed, I started doing my research.
“I went to Lucasfilm and said, ‘Hey, I am one of your actresses, and I would love to help design and promote female merchandise. Eighty-five percent of all consumer purchases are made by women. If you make us stuff, we will buy it.”
They turned her down. Twice. But they did give her some advice. Lucasfilm licenses to reputable companies. So she teamed up with brand management company Araca Group and launched Her Universe in 2010.
Now the 34-year-old designs cute tees, dresses, hoodies and costumes featuring “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” Transformers, Doctor Who and Marvel, too. Hot Topic regularly carries the brand. There’s already a tee featuring Phasma and a raglan with Rey front and center.
It’s not just the fangirls who appreciate Ashley’s creations.
“There have been fanboys who watched it with their mom, girlfriend or daughter and thanked me for doing this,” she says. “The fangirls who felt ignored and bullied can now step into the spotlight and say, yes, I like ‘Star Wars.’ For so long ‘Star Trek,’ Marvel and ‘Star Wars’ have been treated as boys’ properties. We all knew it wasn’t true. We all knew it was a stereotype. But now we need to debunk the myth by stepping forward and letting our voices be heard and celebrated.”
We still have work to do, but things are changing. There are tons of options for girls and women at Disney Store, Target, Lego, Kohl’s –– even Kay Jewelers is carrying “Star Wars”-inspired jewelry.
“We were all looking at this situation and saying no, with ‘Star Wars’ we have to change this,” Kathleen Kennedy, producer and president of Lucasfilm, said at a recent summit. “We have to make sure that we create products that are … appealing to both boys and girls.”
It worked. According to the National Retail Federation, “Star Wars” toys are on the Top 10 list for both genders this holiday season.
Sean Ishum, a lifelong “Star Wars” fan and south Kansas City father of 4-year-old quadruplets, says he’s happy to see more inclusion for girls. His two daughters and two sons all play with Ewoks and X-Wings.
“I do like that in all the trailers for ‘Star Wars,’ Rey has been featured just as much as Finn (another new character, played by John Boyega). She deserves just as much screen time,” says Sean, 36. “I would like to see women in the sci-fi world not be portrayed as the damsel in distress. I also wish there were more original female characters like Ahsoka who are not just female counterparts to the males. I would like to see the women holding their own to men and not just be secondary characters.”
Ashley, the voice of Ahsoka, says the change is happening now.
“Top executives are taking notice,” she says. “The power of social media is creating an impact. They are listening to the bloggers and voices on Twitter and Instagram. ‘Star Wars’ is not just for boys. It’s not just for girls. It’s a story about hope, a story about good overcoming evil. That is a universal story and for everyone to enjoy.”
Take a lightsaber to the stereotypes. Blast the boys club. The Force transcends gender. #LeiaTaughtMe.