After moderating last year’s incredible Star Wars panel at GeekGirlCon, I was thrilled to host a panel about the franchise again this year. Four amazing ladies joined me onstage to talk about why Star Wars is more than a boys’ franchise. With cosplayers from the 501st and Rebel Legions in attendance and insightful questions from the audience, we had another great discussion about Star Wars and the important roles female fans play in the franchise.
Fans come to the Star Wars fandom in many different ways, and to help illustrate that point I asked the panelists to describe what brought them to Star Wars. Lisa had seen the Original Trilogy before and liked it, but was really sucked into being a hardcore Star Wars fan by seeing The Phantom Menace in the theater. For Amy, it was The Clone Wars television series that caused her fandom passion to accelerate. Meg has been a longtime reader of the Expanded Universe novels, and also has run the Star Wars panel track at SakuraCon in Seattle for many years. Linda had been a Star Wars fan for years, but became more active in the collective fandom after she started writing for FANgirl and playing The Old Republic MMO.
I then asked the panelists to share a bit about their respective passions within the fandom, and again each of them brought a different perspective. As a reporter with a particular interest in geek fashion, Lisa talked about the ways she has seen Star Wars influencing all areas of pop culture and fan expression. Fans sharing do-it-yourself Star Wars fashion on the internet is an emerging area of fandom. Linda talked about looking at Star Wars’ future as a mother, which has her excited for Disney’s influence. She noted that in Brave the mother character is literally a mama bear, whereas in most classic fairy tales the mother figure is dead. Meg has seen a big change in the visibility of female fans in the fandom. At the first SakuraCon Star Wars panel she led, she asked if attendees were surprised to see two women running the panel – and everyone in the room raised their hands. Now the dynamic is very different, and she emphasized that it’s important for existing fans to make the fandom community welcoming to new fans, especially those who haven’t read the books or comics before. Amy noted that The Clone Wars brought a lot more women into the onscreen Star Wars stories, with Ahsoka in the lead protagonist role and supporting characters like Asajj Ventress having great story arcs, too. With The Clone Wars drawing in more female fans and Her Universe launching its geek girl clothing line, the community of female fans grew rapidly. Amy is excited for Star Wars Rebels after seeing the New York Comic Con panel – and she’s hoping for important female characters to appear in the cast, just like The Clone Wars had.
Cosplay has been a prominent area of fandom for many years, so I next asked the cosplayers in attendance to come to the front of the room to show off their costumes. They included Luminara Unduli, Snow Bunny Padmé, Boba Fett, and a stormtrooper. Fortunately, there were no disintegrations during the panel, but I did end up with Boba Fett’s bucket after the panel. (Jaina made me do it.)
The perception that Star Wars is a boys’ franchise is belied by the fact that huge numbers of women have been fans since 1977. In fact, many women were Star Wars fans even before the movie’s release – because they’d read the novelization or the comics adaptation. I had the honor of meeting several women at the convention who were fans before the movies and participated in the earliest Star Wars fanzines. They have since provided me with some fascinating historical documents, so expect more on this topic later.
I asked the panelists about their experiences with this perception, and how to change it. Lisa described having to buy a boys’ t-shirt to wear to middle school to show off her Star Wars fandom. Now, with Her Universe and other vendors creating clothes especially for girls and women, female fans now have the chance to show that they’ll buy products created for them. Amy talked about her experience at The Clone Wars panel at Celebration VI, where a male fan asked her if she’d gotten her Rebel Alliance logo tattoo for her then-boyfriend (now-fiancé). Although it was hard not to react from frustration, she used it as a teachable moment to explain that she was a huge Star Wars fan too. Meg also has had people ask if her Star Wars tattoos were real, or just temporary. But she’s been waving her Star Wars pride flag for a long time – in fourth grade, her silent reading book was The Courtship of Princess Leia. Linda remarked that change starts with being able to express what you like from the franchise, so that the creators know what fans desire. In addition, vote with your dollars, because that’s what companies listen to when making their decisions. I also emphasized that it’s important for female fans to speak up about what they want from Star Wars.
Even though we still know very little about Episode VII, the rumors are rampant. I asked the panel what their source is for Star Wars news. Everyone agreed that social media is their preferred way for keeping up with developments, but we reminded the audience that everything is just rumors until it appears officially on StarWars.com. The panelists each shared their favorite crazy rumor so far. Meg noted that no rumor is too crazy to possibly be true, though – because the EU shows that anything is possible in Star Wars.
I thought it was important to let the panelists give the audience advice and inspiration about being Star Wars fans. Lisa is always looking for interesting angles to include Star Wars in her professional work, not just writing news articles directly about Star Wars. Amy noted that she’s been able to write for a variety of websites, as well as for Lucasfilm on the Star Wars Blog and in Star Wars Insider, and gave the advice that it’s important to write well and cleanly so that when you do make connections with higher profile venues they’ll be impressed with your work. Meg encouraged fans to pursue their goals if when you’re nervous, and to not give up too soon on trying something new. Linda reminded us of the advice that if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
Before we concluded our discussion, I wanted to address an issue that arises with some frequency in discussions of the Star Wars fandom: the problem of gatekeepers. Many female fans I’ve talked to have experienced gatekeeping, particularly in the internet fandom. Two young ladies I met at New York Comic Con, for example, described a nearly identical gatekeeping experience to mine in the TFN Literature forum a few years back. So I asked the panelists to discuss how fans should deal with gatekeeping when they encounter it. Lisa finds that the best solution is just to ignore them and refuse to let their mindset keep you from enjoying the fandom. Amy encouraged responding with positivity in the face of their negativity, and being welcoming to new fans yourself to counteract them. Meg pointed out that some gatekeepers aren’t so much malicious as ignorant, as they just don’t realize that there are other ways to experience the fandom than their narrow-minded perspectives – so educating them on the wide breadth of fandom may open their eyes to the negative impact they’re having. Obviously, my experience with gatekeeping led me to create FANgirl. Dark clouds always have a silver lining. Sometimes it’s tough to see in the moment, but the important take-away is that the Star Wars community is awesome. If one place isn’t working for you, find someplace else to share your passion.
The panel wound up with questions from the audience. One young woman described her reaction to having her excitement that Revan was a girl in her experience of playing Knight of the Old Republic undercut by Lucasfilm’s decision to make Revan a male in the official canon, rather than leaving it open. To her, it felt like even the professionals were gatekeeping toward female fans. I commented that her story was a great example of why it’s important for female fans to engage with the professionals and let them know why you’re disappointed by their decisions. The more they hear from female fans, the more likely it is that they will take our interests into account in making decisions. Another fan who doesn’t have “real life” Star Wars fan friends asked about how to meet other fans in safe fandom spaces, especially online. The panelists agreed that social media, particularly Twitter, is a great place to meet and interact with like-minded fans, and to learn about other websites to go where you’ll feel welcome. The final question expressed concern about the impact of the Sequel Trilogy on the EU. Meg expressed her view that what her Star Wars is won’t change, whether the new movies use EU elements or not – even if the movies differ from the EU, it won’t take away the enjoyment she had reading all those stories over the years.
The panel came to a close on that positive note, reminding everyone that Star Wars fandom is as fun as you make it. The audience picked up some swag courtesy of Del Rey, took pictures with the cosplayers, and shared their collective passion for Star Wars.
With any luck, we’ll have even more exciting developments for female characters and female fans to discuss at next year’s GeekGirlCon, which is set for October 11 and 12!
Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and strong female characters. She also writes about Star Wars for Random House’s science fiction and fantasy blog Suvudu.com and Star Wars Insider magazine and is a contributor for Her Universe’s Year of the Fangirl.
Tricia is putting the finishing touches on her first novel, Wynde – a military science fiction with a fantastical twist that features heroines Vespa and Gemini. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.