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J. J. Abrams recently said:
“Star Wars was always a boys’ thing, and a movie that dads could take their sons to,” he told Good Morning America. “And although that is still very much the case, I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers could take their daughters to as well.”
A lot of people are unhappy with this statement. My own feelings are mixed. As a former* lifelong, extremely devoted fan who knew every detail of the films and how they were made, I know the original trilogy appealed to some girls, sure.
But back in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t many of us. Girls told me it was “weird” that I was into those “boys’ movies”. Girls told me they just couldn’t keep up with the run on the Death Star in A New Hope, like it was just all too fast for their delicate little minds. In the 70s and 80s, I was a budding sexist because, at least in terms of Star Wars, girls everywhere seemed to be fulfilling the worst stereotypes of our gender (I, of course, was an “exceptional” female human). Now, let me acknowledge that some girls in some regions may have had a very different experience. I’m just describing my own experience, which could lead one to think Star Wars was intended to be a “boys’ thing.” And apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
Then the 90s came, and with it the first Timothy Zahn books and the Expanded Universe, and then fan fiction appearing online, and then the new trilogy, and suddenly girls and young women were everywhere in the fandom. By that time, Star Wars wasn’t a “boys’ thing” anymore.
But there remained a very strong perception that girls didn’t, and shouldn’t, like Star Wars. In 1999, not knowing how disappointing it would be, I stood in line to see The Phantom Menace. Two guys in front of me asked why I was there. I told them I was a lifelong fan.
One of them paused a second and said, “Okay, but who got you into it?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. “I got myself into it,” I replied.
“No, I mean, was it a boyfriend?” he asked.
I gave him a bemused look. “I was seven years old, so no, not a boyfriend.”
“I’m an only child.”
“No, my parents had been told it was sacrilegious, and I had to beg them to take me.”
He and his friend exchanged a glance that I could swear was worried. You’d think they were cops, and I’d just casually mentioned seeing an unattended bag in an airport terminal.
“Look,” I said, “ask me anything. About the movies, about how they were made.”
He asked me something about an obscure character – I can’t recall which one, but I remember he got the name wrong. “You mean [correct name], played by [actor]? Yeah, he was a [whatever] from [somewhere], and did you hear the story about what happened on the set the day they were filming his scene?”
After that, they just turned away and ignored me. To this day, I can’t help imagining them talking themselves out of what they’d just witnessed, as you might if you thought you’d just had a chat with a green alien from Alpha Centauri. It’s even possible they had to seek therapy after the movie to make sure they weren’t delusional.
And let’s face it: George Lucas might as well have tried to alienate girls from his movies, he did such a good job of it. All the dialog spoken by women, not including Leia, takes only one minute and three seconds of screen time. Lucas’ original trilogy failed the Bechdel-Wallace test with all the spectacle of a train crash, and thus ushered in a new formula for blockbusters in which women need not apply unless they look hot in a gold bikini. And when Lucas originally cast Carrie Fisher for the original Star Wars, he told her to lose ten pounds.
Q: What was your reaction when George Lucas told you that, at 105 pounds, you needed to lose 10 more to star in “Star Wars”?
A: I was 19. What was my reaction going to be? It was to go to a fat farm in Texas with Lady Bird Johnson and Dear Abby. And I remember Lady Bird saying: “What’s the name of the film again? Car Wars?” I didn’t lose the 10 pounds.
In the 70s at least, George Lucas was about a thousand light years from being a feminist or anti-racist. I doubt it ever occurred to him whether or not girls would come to see the films, and I doubt he cared one way or the other. So in a way, I feel like Abrams was just stating a fact, and also his intent to change that fact once and for all. Certainly the casting of the new film looks radically more inclusive in terms of both gender and race. And we know Disney recognizes the power of little girls in buying movie tie-ins.
For the new films, Carrie Fisher was pressured by to lose thirty-five pounds:
“They don’t want to hire all of me – only about three-quarters!” Fisher told Good Housekeeping, which reported the number in its January 2016 cover story, writing Fisher “was pressured” to lose the weight. “Nothing changes, it’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger, because that’s how easy it is.”
But this time around, Mark Hamill got the same treatment, and at least both actors were actually visibly heavier than they had been in the original trilogy. Progress?
I’m not defending Abrams. I’m not a particular fan of his work (he’s okay, some stuff I liked). I’m just saying his assessment of the original films certainly matches my experience as a “weird” girl who’s been all but told to her face she couldn’t possibly like Star Wars without a boy or man easing her into it.
*I say “former” lifelong devoted fan because as the years went by, I grew up. Lucas made some terrible prequels, and I found myself perceiving the original trilogy very differently. Especially after seeing for myself that A New Hope really is almost a scene-for-scene remake of The Hidden Fortress.