Star Wars Was Always for the Girls
In my constant quest to uncover successful storytelling, I’m always fascinated by those stories that have worked their way into our cultural fabric. Think Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein. And of course, Star Wars.
The original Star Wars came out in 1977. I was six years old—prime age to be snagged into a lifetime of fandom. I don’t remember literally sitting in the theater with my parents and brother, but I do remember that two scenes made a big impact on me—probably because they were scary. The first was the garbage compactor. As if the collapsing walls weren’t enough, a monster lurked in the muck below. The other was the breathless moment when Luke grabbed Leia and swung her cross the chasm in the Death Star to escape the Stormtroopers. After we saw the movie, I can’t remember if I begged for Star Wars merchandise, but I do remember the fabulous long plastic light sabers my parents bought for my brother and me. His was red, mine was green.
With the release of the J.J. Abrams reboot, I’ve been reading the conversation about how girls finally have an “in” to the Star Wars universe through Rey, the heroine of The Force Awakens. Folks have been discussing that she’s a great role model, that women are better represented in this new incarnation of the movies, and that Star Wars doesn’t have to be an exclusive boys club anymore. I love that conversation.
But for me, Star Wars was never for the boys.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, my best friend Eileen lived right across the street. We played plenty of girly games, like Barbies, Holly Hobby, and dress up. She had a brother like me, but she also had seven sisters. And they all shared a fierce passion for Star Wars. Unlike my sole light saber, they had all the best merchandise. I remember a Star Wars board game, Star Wars cards with a puzzle on the back. They had tons of action figures and a slick black-plastic Darth Vader suitcase to hold them in. And they owned the best toy—a Millennium Falcon. We swooped it around her family room, trying to keep Han Solo from falling out of his little seat.
For us, Star Wars was always for the girls.
Our backyards were a universe to fill, and we reenacted movie scenes, retold the stories, and revised them to fit our whims and mood. Just because we were girls, we weren’t all relegated to playing Leia. We made Star Wars and its characters our own.
Two more movies came out, of course, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. I remember snacking on tea and toast in Eileen’s kitchen with whichever sisters were passing through, speculating and discussing the movies. (Darth Vader revealing he was Luke’s father was HUGE!)
When Eileen and I hit middle school, and VCRs came on the scene, we could watch Star Wars whenever we wanted. We would hang out after school or on weekend nights and wear out all three movies. Star Wars quotes scrawled all over our notebooks were our secret language. And by then, we both majorly crushed on Harrison Ford. (We went to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade instead of going to our senior prom, but that’s a whole other story!)
Of course I married a Star Wars fan, and we immersed our kids in the Star Wars Canon. But my love for Star Wars started with my best girl friend, a pile of action figures, and a story we felt we owned to play with to our hearts content.