It was less than 30 seconds into the first episode when the crying started. Tears streamed down my face, the face of the woman next to me, and sniffles could be heard from the those sitting behind us. They weren’t tears of sadness though. For me at least, they were tears of connection, of recognition, of being moved. I wouldn’t be surprised if my fellow teary-eyed viewers felt the same. Looking for Leia is a documentary-series from filmmaker Annalise Ophelian about women and non-binary fans who found identity, connection, and purpose in their love of Star Wars. The first public preview of the series took place at this year’s Dragon Con. In a short introduction Ophelian stated that it was about shifting the narrative of who gets to tell the story.
The story itself? It’s a story of the ways people show love.
In the beginning of the first episode Ophelian’s narration talks of how she first came into contact with Star Wars as a child in the 70s and how she spent many years of her life believing that other women liking Star Wars was something few and far between. Then she went to Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2015 and it opened her eyes not only to there being a lot of women out there loving the galaxy far, far away but all the ways in which they expressed that love.
After the preview, the director shared that that trip to Celebration was around the time she wrapped on her previous project’s post-production and she wanted to work on something more culturally in her own lane. With the political environment she also really wanted something joyous to work on and to create from a space she can take up space in too. And thus, Looking for Leia was born.
This series is not just Ophelian’s story though. She and her crew really let their subjects shine, accepting them and celebrating them as they are. Interviews consist of talking heads as well as more active footage. Photos are shared and its all bolstered by art and motion graphics recruited and selected by Art Director Alyssa Bradley. Everything blends together nicely as each episode runs ten to fifteen minutes and focuses on a theme. I’ll admit, I feel like I could watch longer episodes of this but as-is they’re concise in a very satiating way.
The three episodes we got to view at Dragon Con are the first three of the series and revolved around fanzines, droid building, and the Navajo translation of Star Wars: A New Hope. They show that women have always been a part of the Star Wars fandom and have a way of making Star Wars their own. Determination and self-expression are on display. Culture is explored a little. And light gets shined on a concept close to my heart – Star Wars as self-care.
After the Looking for Leia first look Ophelian was joined on stage by the aforementioned Alyssa Bradley, as well as droid builders Naila Browne and Christina Cato who were featured in one of the episodes we watched, and YA author Tracy Deonn Walker who will appear in an as yet unreleased episode. The panel took a variety of questions from the audience which included asking the droid builders what was on their build list and the art director about her favorite art.
They also got more into the self-care concept with Cato talking about starting droid building in a time of her life when she really needed it. It helped her rework her own life as well as occasionally got her out of the house. Her father bought her first 3D printer for her because he saw how much she needed this project in her life. Browne spoke of her droid building as a grounding element for her as well as being proud to show her son how to build and create things – including that women can do these things too. Meanwhile Deonn Walker touched on the power of building up your sense of ability.
And there’s certainly a power in all the works featured in these first three episodes. Hopefully the series itself goes a long way in moving the slowly changing public narrative, opening the doors to more women and non-binary people being seen as a norm in fandom as well as expanding the variety of ways to interact with fandom seen as typical. Ophelian shared that she still felt press coverage doesn’t quiet line up. When The Force Awakens came out she got media requests that talked about how now that there’s the character Rey, women like Star Wars, but she knew that while Rey welcomed in many new fans it’s been going on much longer than that.
With a background in psychotherapy, she was also quick to point out that mapping ourselves onto stories is inherently positive and shows connection and empathy. Deonn Walker is also a fan studies scholar and she shared that generative fan work lets fans engage with identity in a different way. We’re constantly looking for ways to confirm our identity and she explained that claiming identify around something you love is empowering; it lets you choose instead of dealing with an identity that may have been placed on you.
Looking for Leia will be a web-based series and though no location for its public premiere was announced, the director did share that it will be out this fall. The episodes remind us that even if we don’t interact with Star Wars all in the same way, it can be for similar reasons. Luckily for us we have this and we don’t need Kylo Ren to tell us we are not alone.
Featured banner image for this article courtesy of Looking for Leia. Find out more about the documentary series at www.lookingforleia.com.
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