I really don’t write about Star Wars nearly enough. For a franchise that’s consistently held my attention far longer than any other, I’ve only gotten IN YOUR FACE about Star Wars once before, back when Disney announced its purchase of a galaxy far, far away and their intent to return there in new films. So what better time to revisit my Star Wars fandom than the day after they announce the cast of “Episode VII”? And in true IN YOUR FACE JAM style, I even have a tauntaun-sized bone to pick with the first official “Episode VII” photo.
But I want to focus on the light before I hop in my landspeeder and travel to Mos Gripey — a wretched hive of disappointment and complaints. I love Star Wars, and around these parts I always feel the need to back up a statement like that with a picture of something in my apartment. Is it bragging? Is it pride? Is it proof? I don’t know, but I do know that us comic book people just like to show off — so there’s my Millennium Falcon coffee table. I know that being a Star Wars fan is nothing out of the ordinary, not like how I’m also a big fan of the short-lived and grossly named X-Man Maggott. Still, I think I feel deeply connected to Star Wars because of the circumstances under which I was first exposed to it.
I’m just over two months away from my thirtieth birthday, so I am not old enough to have seen any of the original trilogy in the theater. Instead, my pop culture identity formed in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the only stretch of time since “Star Wars'” big screen debut in May 1977 when the franchise was not a force to be reckoned with. When I first met Star Wars, the toy line had been shoved off shelves in favor of G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, the Expanded Universe had yet to fully form, and no one my age could recognize a Wookiee howl. When I first saw Han, Luke, and Leia in the fall of 1990, I had no idea who they were.
I was in the first grade when my older sister’s boyfriend introduced me to Star Wars. I surprised that I had never heard of a movie that great. Even though it was 13 years-old at the time, “Star Wars'” special effects easily stood alongside my other childhood favorites — “Batman,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Back to the Future,” and “Ghostbusters.” I felt completely blindsided by it, as if I was a six year-old seeing the film in the theater in 1977.
Because there was absolutely no merchandise for Star Wars in any store in middle Tennessee, my sister and her boyfriend — who had both been very little when “Star Wars” first came out — gave me all of their toys and collectibles. I got action figures of Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, and C-3PO from my sister; I would use G.I. Joes as stand-ins for the rest of the characters. The boyfriend gave me so much stuff there’s no way he doesn’t regret the decision today. A companion book for “The Empire Strikes Back,” a poster book from “Return of the Jedi,” oversized “ESB” trading cards, and — most pertinent to this column’s interests — every “Star Wars” Marvel comic he owned. Prior to this gift, I owned approximately zero comic books; after this gift, well, you know…
I like that even though I got my hands on them 13 years after they were originally published, those “Star Wars” issues still introduced me to comics. I would read them after being put to bed, pushed up against my nightlight so as to not alert my parents while I had nighttime adventures in the Millennium Falcon. Sometimes I felt like a junior historian reading them, as I puzzled over the ads for sea monkeys and muscle formulas during elementary school reading time. No one else in my class had comics as old as those, and also none of them seemed to know what Star Wars was either.
By the time the Power of the Force toyline was relaunched in 1995 and the Special Editions hit in 1997, I already considered myself a seasoned Star Wars fan. The sudden influx of official toys — not repurposed G.I. Joes! — kept me playing with action figures well into middle school. And you know what, I’ll even go so far as to say that I’m thankful I was only 14 when “Episode I – The Phantom Menace” arrived in 1999. I was young enough to actually enjoy that film when it was released and get swept up in prequel mania. I may not like those movies now, but I’m not so cynical that I regret how much fun I had with them when I was in high school. Yes, I did have a Watto big gulp topper and a bunch of Pepsi character cans on display in my bedroom.
So where am I now, nine years after “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” sorta-delighted college-aged Brett? Well, I’m still a huge Star Wars fan. You remember that coffee table, right? Do I need to put it in here twice? Am I that insecure? But where am I regarding “Episode VII,” the film I’ve really been waiting for since I was in the first grade? I’m excited, but that excitement is tempered by a specific breed of disappointment that I’ve felt all too often in recent years.
Why are there only two women in “Episode VII’s” principle cast and eleven men?
Two and eleven.
This isn’t new for Star Wars movies. One can count the number of women with speaking roles in six films on two hands (Princess Leia, Aunt Beru, Toryn Farr, Oola, Sy Snootles, Mon Mothma, Padme Amidala, Shmi Skywalker, Zam Wesell, maybe a handmaiden?). That’s hardly fifty percent, especially when you consider that every Imperial officer and Rebel pilot are men — even the ones that were played by women in “Return of the Jedi” had their voices overdubbed by men! This wasn’t something that I was aware of until I became an Adult On the Internet, and now I can’t unsee it. I can’t unsee gender bias, and for some reason, the makers of our media don’t want to help out at all.
This lack of balance comes at horrible time, too, as attacks against women in the comic book industry have become disgustingly commonplace. I do feel that masses of new fans focused more on inclusion than exclusion are overwhelming the nerd cred gatekeepers. This diverse fan base isn’t going anywhere, and movements like Rachel Edidin’s We Are Comics one are doing a great job of celebrating the medium and its wide appeal. Now, I just wish that the people behind “Episode VII” would get on board.
Compassion and logic have maybe done all the good they’re gonna do when it comes to the portion of fandom that still thinks it’s a-okay to make rape threats in response to a comic book critique. The only option left, the only option that might force them to change their brains, is for every franchise they hold dear to leave them behind. These men devalue or undervalue women partially because their favorite stories do too. Their stories tokenize women, or ignore women, or rob them of agency, or make them nothing more than love interests, or force them to undress for no reason. If comics and films represented the actual demographics of the real world, these cretins would be forced — through sheer persistence of truth — to realize that they’re wrong, right? If half of every “Avengers” team identified as female, if every other super hero film had a woman in the lead role, if every one of their favorite shows had a gender-balanced writing staff, things would have to get better, right? Imagine a world where female Starfleet officers wear pants, where Warner Bros. pushes Wonder Woman as much as they pushed Batman, and where multiple female characters get to swing lightsabers at killer droids and fire laser pistols at bounty hunters. If every big franchise acknowledged the importance of female representation, female empowerment, and the female audience, just imagine how that would shape future generations raised on pop culture where people of every gender are equally depicted in a variety of roles.
I love Star Wars and I’m excited about the upcoming film. I just can’t help but be disappointed when I watch something I care deeply for pass up an opportunity to really do some good, especially right now when we all need it most. There’s an Empire of misogyny (which, come to think of it, is pretty much just the Empire) lashing out at freedom fighters because they feel threatened. I want Star Wars to fight against that Empire; I want to see female X-Wing pilots and female Jedis with speaking roles in “Episode VII,” in addition to the returning Carrie Fisher and newcomer Daisy Ridley. The fact that there’s already a rumor that another substantial female role has yet to be cast — one that could go to Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o — bodes well for the film and this new trilogy. “Episode VII” isn’t our only hope for equal representation, but it would be a powerful ally.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).