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Wednesday
Jun042014

I'm changing the name of this blog, and #WeWantLeia is why

Image credit: RebelScum.comFor some time now I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the original name of this blog, "This Sort of Thing: Star Wars for men old enough to know better". The subtitle was intended to emphasize my experience with men of my generation--men in the their late 30s to mid 40s who, like me, grew up as devoted Star Wars fans. My book, A Long Time Ago: Growing Up with and Out of Star Wars, was intended to speak mainly to that audience. It came of my experience with men of my age. Throughout my adulthood, I have been repeatedly struck by how easily I can talk about Star Wars with men who grew up in the late 1970s, whether I have anything else in common with them or not. As I say in the prologue to my book, 

Star Wars—the movie, the sequels, the toys, the books, the trading cards, the comics, the arcade games, the galaxy of myths and merchandise—dominated my youth. In this I am the same as so many other boys I knew then, and so many men I know today. It is a common reference point for my gender and generation. 

Not long after my book was published, however, I started getting feedback from women of the same generation. They mostly liked my book, but some were annoyed by the male focus. Star Wars wasn't just a boy thing, they said, and I knew they were right. When I first unwrapped Kenner Star Wars figures on Christmas morning, 1978, my four-year-old sister was there doing the same. I would call her my first Star Wars playmate, if the original meaning of that word had not been so totally corrupted. 

I was sensitive to these readers' criticisms from the outset. In fact I revised my book a few months after first publishing it to add more inclusive language, although I left the male focus largely in place. As the book became better known, I got more traffic to this blog. Again the (entirely fair) question arose, based on the blog's subtitle: Is this blog just for men? My answer was no, as I tried to explain in this post. But was it enough?

On 19 May, this happened:

Disney's answer was surprising and disappointing to Natalie, a mum and PhD student at King's College, London. She wasn't the only one who felt that way. The hashtag #WeWantLeia quickly became the latest Twitter phenomenon. The Daily Dot explains: 

Star Wars fans come in all shapes and sizes, in every gender and race, and are found in all corners of the world. The diversity of the fanbase is one of the most exciting aspects of being a part of the Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately the Star Wars films have never really reflected that diversity and while hopes were high that things may change with new movies and TV show being released under Disney, signs keep leading fans to believe they’ll be disappointed.

Female fans in particular have been consistently let down by recent news—especially the lack of women in the new Star Wars: Episode VII cast. That disappointment continued this week when it was revealed the Disney Store has no plans to create products inspired by Princess Leia. The revelation came last Tuesday when King’s College London graduate student Natalie Wreyford asked the Disney Store why there weren’t any Princess Leia products in the store. The store responded on Twitter with a cheery signoff that has done little to pacify fans.

Jezebel adds: 

This comes on the heels of a disappointing initial casting announcement—six new male characters, and just one woman. When the Internet raised hue and cry, J.J. Abrams rushed to say that the casting wasn't over, and he's totally adding one more "substantial" female role. Oh, well, in THAT case. As our pals at io9 put it: "Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)?"

Reading all this on Twitter and the web, I found myself strongly on the pro-Leia side. She is one of the leading (and best) characters in Star Wars.

But this isn't just about toys. As has so often happened in the course of the Star Wars franchise, a story about space heroes has again become a story about what we want to be. George Lucas first encountered this (likely very surprising) phenomenon in the aftermath of the first film, when he faced criticism for not featuring blacks and other minorities in his film. He responded with Lando Calrissian--another great Star Wars character who often does not get the attention he deserves. (In fact it seems to me that very few of the human-played characters of the original Star Wars trilogy are featured in the prequel and post-prequel era of Star Wars content and merchandise. Lucasfilm seems to prefer to let the faces of its franchise be the easily CGI'd characters: Vader, Yoda, Artoo, Threepio, Boba Fett, etc.) 

As I retweeted supportive and insightful #WeWantLeia tweets and blog posts (like this one from Natacha Guyot), the old embarrassment about this blog's subtitle hit me again. Yes, my experience of Star Wars in the 1970s and '80s was boy-focussed. But it wasn't boy-only even then, and it certainly is not now. Like so many Twitter users and Star Wars fans, I want Leia. To be clear, it's not more Disney toys I want--I stopped collecting toys at about 13. What I want is a world that isn't subjected to outmoded notions of what boys and girls are supposed to be. 

All of which is to say that I've changed the name of this blog--for the better.

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