This 32-year-old feminist is a lifelong Star Wars fangirl and proud of it. I have a Star Wars tattoo proudly taking up space on my low back as an intentional tramp stamp (and to be honest, it reminds me to give no fucks). Naturally at first I was excited to read Kayla Goggin’s article “A Feminist Watches Star Wars for the First Time” because it included two of my favorite things, yet I was more than a bit dismayed after reading it.
I accept my friends who haven’t seen Star Wars (okay, maybe I have tried to get them to watch it). I was more concerned with this article’s use of feminism as a lens to view the movies. With The Force Awakens (AKA, Episode VII) coming out in a month and Lucasfilm’s inclusion of women in production and in key roles in the movies, I think it’s important to note the feminist values of the franchise and to view it through such a lens.
You can't watch these films in a vacuum. If we’re going to discuss them, we should consider when and why they were made and how they connect to a larger scope of mythology, storytelling, filmmaking, and also feminism.
Agreed, the metal bikini has its issues and Carrie Fisher has been very outspoken about her distaste. You don't like patriarchy? Well, how about the symbolism of Leia killing Jabba the Hutt with the chain he used to enslave her? In 1977 Star Wars broke a barrier with a Princess that was not in distress, who hijacked her own rescue, and was both a leader and warrior (and has the power of the Force!). She wasn't afraid to be vulnerable and accept love.
As a girl growing up in the 80's and 90's I rejected Barbies and Disney princesses but I proudly wore my hair like Leia and danced around in my church Christmas pageant angel costume pretending I was fighting stormtroopers and fleeing the Death Star.
Now, in 2015, the newest Star Wars highlights a female lead. Rey is not sexualized in any way in marketing or in the film itself. She is strong, self-sufficient, and -- spoiler alert -- possibly the daughter of Leia and Han.
Just because a film doesn't have more than a few female characters does not make it anti-feminist. Yet, The Force Awakens will have many women actors and rumor has it, droid BB-8 uses female pronouns! Gwendoline Christie portrays Captain Phasma - a character that my 10-year-old son saw not as male or female, but as an awesome part of the new film and wanted to wear her costume for Halloween (in the end the flame trooper won because of the giant fire-shooting weapon).
Feminism is not about categorizing our differences and highlighting a standardized oppression. It is understanding entangled contextuality in the time, space, and materiality of situations. Within these contexts, the relations of power as they exist in bodies, society, and politics are emergent and never fixed and, therefore, can be subverted. When we think that dichotomies of gender relations and oppression are a given and set reality, we reinforce the masculine and western European notions of duality (think of Descartes, the separation of mind and body, human centrality over Earth, domination of Men - i.e. humanism) which, in essence, is this patriarchy we speak of!
Feminism is an enactment of changing this dominant paradigm through actions. Through realizing the power of discourse -- and how it may oppress, and how it is embodied in materiality -- does oppression become something different.
It's like the idea of women's empowerment. Empowerment isn't given in a neat and tidy package to women. It involves a complex network of actors and relations (the women first of all) that shift the dominant patterns of thinking and action in one's life to implement an ethical change for the betterment of women's lives.
Star Wars isn't so cut and dry in that few women and a slave bikini mean it must not be feminist. It's a story that gives hope, it is a fantasy, it's creative, it has a reverence for storytelling, it is fun. It shows that even when one thinks there is no changing evil or that evil must die for there to be good, there can be change!
In a feminist analysis, Darth Vader did not need to die, he reconceptualized his presence and became good before succumbing to his injuries at the end of Return of the Jedi. Luke did not need to kill him, Vader just needed to enact change by saving his son from the evil Palpatine. He subverted oppression. There was no end and then another beginning; there were in his actions complexity and reconfiguration. If you like, here Vader can represent the patriarchy. Men, just as women, and everyone in between are a part of changing oppression.
Through the years, Star Wars has been an escape for me, whether it was reading the now defunct Expanded Universe books, writing bad fanfiction as a 14-year-old (I recently re-discovered it in a box of childhood relics from my parents house!), or as a point of bonding in the early days of my relationship with my husband, and currently an obsessive conversation topic as we near the sequel trilogy. I sat in line for tickets to all the Special Editions, and reluctantly viewed the prequels, but even found a way to appreciate them in the greater scheme of Star Wars lore.
Adventure is an important aspect of my life. Star Wars inspired that (among other things in my life). Even in my 30s I can roam through Angkor Wat pretending maybe, just maybe I’m a Jedi, or watch Empire Strikes Back on repeat as a break from the intensity of my Ph.D. studies. And when I’m stressed, and shit is hard (adulting is hard!), I can escape to a galaxy far, far away.
The “F” word is thrown around in so many contexts, I think sometimes we lose sight of what feminism is, and the complex and entangled history it has from social movements to academia and in this context, media and popular culture. This week, when asked by Entertainment Weekly what she hopes fans like me may take away from Leia in this new film, Carrie Fisher replied, “Never give up”. Moral of the story: Star Wars is awesome and feminist.