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And So It Begins…(Star Wars Episode VII)

Tonight at midnight is the release of the long-awaited Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The midnight tickets have all sold out already, so I won’t be seeing it for a couple of days. However, I do recognize that this is a bit of a landmark moment in geek history, so I do want to document it.

This is the first time that I’m around for a Star Wars release and actually conscious of the series’ existence. I wasn’t born when the first three movies were released, and was a very precocious child who had no interested in Star Wars when the new trilogy was released. Thus, episode VII will be the first time I’m going to see a new movie in theaters, and the first time I’ll be able to experience the excitement first-hand and actually be able to comprehend it. I’m incredibly excited.

Excitement for the new episode has been building up for quite a while. Mostly, that excitement appeared in the form of merchandise of BB8, the adorable new droid that became plastered on EVERYTHING, kind of how R2D2 has bee plastered on everything for eternity. I can see why: he’s tiny and adorable, and I, too, have my own. Sphero released a small but accurate replica that actually move and can be controlled, which was advertised everywhere:

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In fact, when Omaze had their Star Wars premiere attendance campaign, one of the prize badges was, of course, BB8:

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In fact, BB8 was so popular that he attended the premiere, producing wonderful pictures of journalists trying to take a photo of him on the red carpet:

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Still, though we all love and adore BB8, I think it’s only in the past few weeks leading up to its release that I realized quite how excited everyone was about things besides the adorable little droid. . My first clue was when I walked into my local Barnes and Noble to see it packed with Star Wars stuff. I mean, it usually has a lot of Star Wars stuff, because that space opera thing is popular, but this time it was like walking into a Lucasfilm storehouse. And if, years from now, fandom historians wonder, “what did the excitement around episode VII look like?” I’ll be able to say, like this:

In addition to merchandise, pretty much every magazine out there is publishing some sort of special or collector’s edition relating to the new movie:

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(This sampling from Barnes and Noble is actually quite small). Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I went out and bought a bunch of “collector’s” editions of magazines. I don’t know how collectible they actually are, or whether they’ll be worth any kind of money a few decades down the line, but I”m the kind of person who buys anything apparently “collectible,” provided it’s geeky, hoping it’ll be worth something in the future. (Plus, I have a bunch of free subscriptions to magazines via targeted offers, so a bunch of issues came in the mail). Thus, I now have what I hope will one day be a collectible colletion of Star Wars themed magazines:

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Still, it wouldn’t be a true geek milestone event without any kind of controversy, and of course it’s there. First, there’s the whole fiasco of John Boyega being cast as one of the protagonists, as white fans rose up against the “oppression” that casting a black character as a hero in the movies represented. Yes, I kid you not.

And then there’s Princess Leia. Luckily, we get to see Princess Leia come back for this movie, this time as General Leia and thankfully not in a bikini- rather significant, given Carrie Fisher’s comments about how hard it is for a woman in Hollywood over the age of 40 to get cast in anything (unless you’re Meryl Streep). Plus, there were JJ Abrams’ recent comments about how “Star Wars used to be something fathers took their sons to,” because apparently girls didn’t watch Star Wars until he came along to make the movies girl-friendly and pat himself in the back for it. (Which, by the way, is exactly what he said about Star Trek, despite the fact that Star Trek pretty much exists in any significant form today because of women, thank you very much).

So, with all of that history, and seeing all that merchandise in stores, I started thinking. A fascinating article was recently published called “Where the Fuck is Princess Leia?” point out the lack of Princess Leia in Star Wars merchandise. This is a trend that isn’t limited to Star Wars – in the Marvel fandom, Black Widow and Gamora figurines are pretty non-existence, they’re not on the posters, and they’re probably never going to get their own movies. It all has to do with gendered marketing: franchises like to market to a particular demographic (a particular gender, a particular age). Hence the lack of, say, Gamora.

But Star Wars has such universal appeal, you say. It’s something everybody watches. Just because girls watch Star Wars doesn’t mean they’ll stop watching “girly” things, I mean, Star Wars is one of those cult movies. It can’t hurt to make a few Princess Leia toys for the girls, right?

…apparently not. Wading through all the Star Wars merchandise pictured above, I found three Princess Leias. Yes, three. There were dozens and dozens of Darth Vaders, R2D2s, wookies, Yodas, Jedi, Han Solos…..but as for the ladies? Here’s what I found:

Yes, that’s it. Leia in a slave bikini (because if we’re going to make Princess Leia figurines, we should make sure to objectify her – though Carrie Fisher’s comments on the subject are a breath of fresh air), a Princess Leia that is part of a figurine pack, and a keychain. Well, I guess you could count the Leia on the clock, though that’s part of a poster.

And, looking through, for example, the standees offered by Barnes and Noble (which had a lot of Star Wars stuff, as pictured above), these were the offers:

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I mean, there’s Daisy Ridley’s character, who is in the new Star Wars, but please note that of the above ten characters, one is a woman. the rest are male (or in the case of stormtroopers, we don’t really know their genders, but…)

Needless to say, I am both unsurprised and disappointed. I don’t collect a lot of merchandise or action figures and the like, and as a little girl, I was never really troubled by the lack of a Princess Leia figurine, because I had plenty of other female characters I admired, like Xena and Hermione Granger. Still, I think this says a lot about who we expect to be watching these movies, and who we expect to be fans of these movies – and The Powers That Be clearly still think that the people who are going to be geeky and fannish enough to buy merchandise are goings to be boys…or only care about the male characters.

So, with my expectations tempered by both JJ Abrams’ inane comments and my own exploration into the world of Star Wars merchandise, I can still say that I am incredibly excited for Episode VII, which comes out exactly 17 minutes from now as of this writing. 🙂