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Star Wars Chicks: The Politics, Community, and Treatment of Female Fans of the Star Wars Universe

By | May 25, 2003

A wonderful paper by a Star Wars Chick named ARdeN LyN about Star Wars Chicks.

The following paper is reprinted with permission. Original text can be found at http://www.angelfire.com/ca/starofalderaan/swcpaper.html


The following is a research paper I wrote for my Mass Media and Society class. I interviewed members of the female Star Wars community and took my inspiration from them. Long live the Star Wars Chicks and female Star Wars fans everywhere! I couldn't have done this without you!


I would hope that I do not need to warn you of the evils and dangers of plagarism - taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own. I am more than happy to let anyone use this paper as a source provided it is duly cited in the paper or report. Also you must let me know that you are using my work. Do not even dream of passing off this paper, in whole or in part, as your own. You would be cheating yourself and your teachers/professors. I put my work up here to share with the community, not to have it stolen from me. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, email me at voodooglobe@hotmail.com.

Star Wars Chicks:

The Politics, Community, and Treatment of Female Fans of the Star Wars Universe

written May 2003 by Shawna Savitri Seth
(ARdeN LyN)

"Well, it's not 'Titanic.' This is the boy movie."

- George Lucas, quoted by Will Brooker, Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans

"According to surveys, chicks make up at least 40% of the fan base of the Star Wars movies. Why then, is it still referred to as a 'guy movie?!' Star Wars Chicks Unite!"

- description of the Star Wars Chicks email group list on Yahoo! Groups

Search for "star wars" on Google, scroll past the official sites, and you find that the majority of the quality sites returned are run by female fans. Go to any of the large fan fiction libraries online and you find that the authors are almost exclusively female. Why then are these incredibly active, involved, and even obsessive women ignored when the conversation turns to fans of the cult movie series, "Star Wars"?

"Star Wars" is perhaps best explained by the author of the recent book Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans, Will Brooker:

Star Wars is not just a film, or a trilogy, or a trilogy and two prequels. For many people, myself included, it is the single most important cultural text of their lives; it has meshed with their memories of childhood, with their home-made tributes - from the amateurish childhood comics to the professional product of an adult fan - with their choice of career or education, with their everyday experiences. Even in 1977, Star Wars was a phenomenon. For many people now, it is a culture: a sprawling, detailed mythos which they can pick through with their eyes closed, a group of characters who may have been more important role models than friends and family, and a set of codes - quotes, in-jokes, obscure references - which provide instant common ground for fellow fans meeting for the first time, and bind established communities together. [1]

I will do as he does, and as all we fans do, and refrain from using the quotation marks around Star Wars because it is so much more than a film. [2] The fans are involved; they participate to a degree in its appearance and the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars has impacted their life choices and continues to do so. The stereotypical fan is still a nine-year old boy or a 30-something male yet these are not the fans who are actively creating the community of fans on the internet, at the conventions, and in hometowns. Men may be members of the Fighting 501st, local stormtrooper squadrons that meet for socializing and costuming, or rabid players of RPG, role-playing games, but these arenas are increasingly being populated with large numbers of female fans as well. True, costuming has never been limited to women, but neither has collecting action figures been limited to men. What follows is my, albeit biased, look at the strong community of female "Star Wars" fans, their awareness of their secondary status in the fan community, and their solutions to being ignored or ridiculed.

In order to do my research on this topic, I felt I had to go to my community. I rely heavily upon Will Brooker's book, excerpted on the Star Wars Chicks homepage as the webmisstress of that site was interviewed for that text. In addition to looking at texts such as Henry Jenkin's classics Textual Poachers [3] and Science Fiction Audiences [4] with John Tulloch and Lisa Lewis' The Adoring Audience [5] , I created a questionnaire to distribute by email to the Star Wars Chicks email list as well as some female fans I have had occasion to contact in the past. The answers provided by my community have been more useful than any text. As Janice Radway did for her Reading the Romance [6] , I went directly to the audience in order to understand the community and its understanding of itself.

I was first introduced into the world of Star Wars by two female fans - one a classmate my age, the other my seventh-grade science teacher who during our physics and astronomy unit used Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine as an example of a binary star system in a lecture and assigned the films for homework. The preconception of female fans, when one exists, is that they were introduced by brothers, fathers, or male cousins or friends. I have found that this is not the case. I discovered the Star Wars Chicks group email list and webpage community in 1999, quite soon after its creation - July 3rd, 1999. The community seemed to have strong roots. Many of the women seemed to already know each other, through they had been limited to local communication before the internet made its entrance. Perhaps most importantly, many of the chicks on the Star Wars Chicks email list have been fans since they first saw the crawl type on the big screen in 1977 and have since named children, pets, and cars after the characters from the films. Some have chosen their profession because of a love of Star Wars - a physics teacher and an astronomer, for example. Though there are currently 198 members of the email list, a select few actually participate, the others of us claiming "lurker" status (i.e. we read the posts of others, but rarely post ourselves). This makes it difficult to determine the actual age and experience break-down of the group, but the majority who replied to my questionnaire were fans since 1977. Two were more recent fans about my own age with a similar story of discovering their interest in the films and culture. [7] What brings us together is a shared love of Star Wars and the community that that love has allowed us to build.

Unlike the Smithton women Radway writes about, Star Wars fans are rarely isolated in their fan activity, especially the female fans. [8] Though few, the communities built by female fans online have grown strong and continue to receive thousands of hits a week. Some of the more popular communities from days past have fallen into disrepair or disappeared altogether, such as Jedi Grrls. However, those that are still in existence are trying to foster community among female fans. The header for Sisters of the Force states: "Welcome fellow Sister of the Force! This page was designed to bring us all together to tell the world how much we admire, love, and understand the Star Wars Universe. Remember, we are not just a bunch of links...we are family!" [9]

Inevitably, the question is asked, as it is of every internet community: How can a group of individuals who have never met and may not even be familiar with each other's geographic location call themselves a "community?" I believe the best answer is arianaeirlys' response to that question in my questionnaire: "On the Internet you are not distant." [10] The Internet is becoming a new form of public sphere and its great innovation is managing this without being located in a physical space. Therefore, geographic distances are compressed and people in the United States can become good friends with people in Denmark, Germany, Japan, and Australia, for example. This takes pen pals to an extreme level. [11] arianaeirlys adds:

I have run a Duran Duran list since 1996,and I have good friends from there since that time period. Ones that have even offered me a place to live should I want to move to their city (which I had considered during my job change). Good friends, that I would trust with any information. I feel that the internet has expanded my world. (arianaeirlys, "Questionnaire")

Of course, there are face-to-face interactions as she stated she considered among the Star Wars Chicks, though these are often limited to conventions that occur rarely and offer only a short-term gathering. Despite this, the Internet allows for true relationships to be built among members of a group, which although never to be substituted for face-to-face interactions and relationships, are legitimate and should be recognized as such.

Other sites such as CSB, or Chicks Strike Back [12], focus less on building community yet manage to do so through being more actively political. CSB has a forum for discussion and its Features page from November, 1999 (six months after the first prequel, "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," appeared in theatres) has many pieces of interest to the female fan. These include an editorial rant on a "fanboy's" [13] response to a petition written by Sabé of CSB to encourage George Lucas to include more female characters in the prequels (a request granted in "Episode II: Attack of the Clones") and create more merchandise geared to female fans older than age six, a review of the few Star Wars t-shirts available, and a summary of the female fan response to the disappointing choice of a model to be the human face of strong, muscular, female comic book character, Mara Jade - the first female in the Star Wars Expanded Universe to wield a lightsaber.

As both Will Brooker and Sabé point out, female roles are limited in the Star Wars films. The female main characters are limited to the roles of royalty (princess, queen), who though apparently perfectly capable of taking care of themselves require rescue by male protectors, and mother-figures (literal mother in the case of Shmi Skywalker, Anakin's mother, and figurative mother in the form of Mon Mothma from the Original Trilogy). I disagree with Brooker on certain aspects of this argument, though. Leia may lose her outward strength as the trilogy progresses, but this means nothing to a fan who does not limit her interpretation to the films. The handmaidens are silent, yet they are strong female characters in their devotion to their queen and their bravery in battle. Yes, there are problematic aspects to all the women in the Star Wars Universe, but as Rebadams7 replied to Lucas' statement about Star Wars as compared to "Titanic" [14], quoted above, "He's a guy - what can you expect?" [15] arianaeirlys explains her response to Lucas' comment: "It's sexist but not surprising. No love story, so to speak, and women don't traditionally like action/adventure. I love it, and thrive on it. I think that Lucas underestimates his love story and women who like action." [16] Of course, "Episode II" did have much more in the way of a love story, but George Lucas freely admits that that film is at its core a love story and in it we are lucky enough to see Padmé featured fighting in battle alongside several female Jedi in the largest contingent of female warriors Star Wars has ever seen. The perception of what female fans think of this has not changed, though. Samuel L. Jackson says of the expectations for the film:

There's romance for, you know, the kids who love romance stories - young girls. Young girls will be in love with Hayden [Christenson - the actor portraying a teenage Anakin Skywalker] and, you know, the guys are gonna be excited because Anakin's character is exciting, Obi-Wan's character is exciting..."[17]

He implies, as so many do, that female Star Wars fans are uninterested in deeper issues of character development, mythology, continuity, etc. and instead are "in it only for the cute guys."

Fans are trying to make themselves noticed by Lucasfilm in writing petitions, but also in working for change. The Star Wars Chicks have created a "Fight for the Cure" campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer and to try to raise money to help fund research. In August of 1999, the requests MissJedi, the webmistress of the Star Wars Chicks Official Site, had sent to Lucasfilm Licensing were answered; they were allowed the rights to create a Star Wars t-shirt and sell it for their non-profit organization, Fight for the Cure. JediGirl created the logo the Star Wars Chicks continue to use to this day, which, though it bears a strong resemblance to Leia, can be any female fan who ever wanted to wield a lightsaber.

 Star Wars Chicks

Figure 1: The Star Wars Chicks Logo (from www.starwarschicks.com/tshirt; drawn by JediGirl)

The t-shirt campaign was followed by sales of other Star Wars Chick labeled merchandise. The total donations made by the Star Wars Chicks to the Kansas Cancer Institute reach almost $10,000 to date. [18] The female fan community has the ability to come together to make a difference, whether or not the cause is Star Wars related.

An example of the former was mentioned by Brooker in his chapter on Star Wars Chicks. Victoria Hoke, webmistress of The Campaign for a Female Boba Fett [19], urges the female fan community to come together, using their sometime-effective power as a group to influence George Lucas' decision on whom to cast in the role of Boba Fett in the prequels. The notorious bounty hunter had appeared only in armor, complete with a voice synthesizer, before "Episode II," making the assumption that the character is male questionable. Before we saw him as a little boy, why did no one think to suggest Boba Fett was female? Hoke explains in her passion for seeing Fett as a woman in her essay:

My emphasis on Fett's gender rather than race comes from the fact that the series' females, Queen Amidala and Princess Leia, fall prey to female stereotypes, while Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu are examples of colorblind casting. Although Leia and Amidala wield weapons and kick enough ass to keep the plot moving, they prefer planning to acting, require protection and rescue, and serve primarily to continue the Jedi bloodline. Their royal privilege and youth make them difficult to take seriously, and the scripts of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi reflect that difficulty, as Leia is forced to trade the cranky barbs of A New Hope for Jabba love-garb and Ewok-befriending.

The character of Boba Fett is an ideal candidate to counteract Star Wars' female role rut. Fett has a strong presence in the initial trilogy and promises to play a larger part in the prequels. Plus, Fett is a potent and popular figure in the series, offers no evidence of being either gender within the films, and unlike Leia or Amidala has enough of the dark side to be interesting. In addition, such an interesting and strong female character would attract the viewership of women who otherwise would experience Star Wars only in the company of more enthusiastic boyfriends, brothers and sons. Star Wars' story is appealing and accessible to women; it is only its characters that are not. [20]

Hoke, though falling into the same assumptions about what brings female fans to Star Wars, creates a political argument around Star Wars with this webpage. Hoke goes on in the rest of her site to take a pre-existing character and see the possibilities for a different version - either in prequels or perhaps in an alternate universe. [21]

Taking existing characters and creating alternate possibilities for them is called "textual poaching" by Henry Jenkins in his book of the same name. In a later interview with media journal Intensities, he discusses whether or not the distance between the text and the reader is so large as to warrant the term "poacher," suggesting that the reader is infringing on a geographic property that does not belong to her. The interviewer, Matt Hills, author of Fan Cultures (2002), tries to get Jenkins to admit his error in choosing terms, but Jenkins is firm:

I think it still matters what is in the commercial product and what is in the grass roots or fan-produced product. It's important to hold on to some distinction because I think most fans operate with a distinction between the authority granted a textual producer and the tentativeness with which fan interpretation or fan fiction is greeted. There are occasions where that tentativeness gives way to moral outrage, in which fans will position their own views over that of the commercial producer. Those are interesting ruptures in the relationship, but I would say that much of the time there is a tendency to say 'it may be true if it's in a fan text, it is true if it's in a commercial text'. [22]

Fans agree. Jenkins' last statement is where the idea of "canon" comes from in fan culture. The films are the only true texts - even the Expanded Universe books and comics pre-approved by Lucasfilm, sometimes with their very plot-lines delineated by Lucasfilm, are not completely accepted by fans as "real." The very term "Expanded Universe" is used with the understanding that there is a certain Star Wars Universe filled by the content of the films, but what is beyond is merely an expansion on a pre-existing theme - the true text.

As far as fan-created material goes, virtually all fan productions, be they fan fiction, art, essay writing or a webpage in general, has some form of disclaimer on it, freely admitting that the source is not their own and all characters, places, etc. are exclusive property of George Lucas. Some go so far as to say something to the affect of: "All rights and characters and names and anything else I might mention belongs to and was created by God, or in more frank terms, George Lucas, Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox," [23] as Miss Jedi does at the bottom of every page on the Star Wars Chicks server. The original creator, the author of the text, is for all intents and purposes, God to most fans.

All the same, textual poaching does occur with high frequency. It is, some might say, the main form of expressing one's identity as a fan. Even those who do not ever create webpages often begin their career on the web by creating an alias - a screenname. For most this the first section of their email address, customized to exhibit their status as a fan of a particular genre; for others it is simply a name to use when writing in forums, leaving messages in guestbooks, or participating in email group lists. One has to "poach" in order to have a name worthy of attention. Having simply the name of a character from a film or series is seen as boring and unimaginative; fellow fans are unlikely to read your posts or take you seriously, thinking you are a "newbie," or simply a young fan - usually both in age and in duration of fan status. For a brief period of time my screenname was the same as my email address, but I quickly graduated to a new identity - poaching my own piece of the Star Wars Universe. In 1999 I saw an early sketch for a new character named Arden Lyn.

Figure 2: Arden Lyn, the early sketch (scanned from page 61 of the Star Wars Insider Issue #36)

She later became a villain in a computer game, but I held on to the original image in my mind and built a story around her. Now the Star Wars Chicks and those who know me online know me as ARdeN LyN. I changed the case both because I thought it looked good and because I wanted to differentiate my character from the one with which others might be familiar. My character is the young girl she appears to be in the sketch, a seventeen-year-old Jedi who was the first to kill a Sith warrior. Seeing no female Jedi role models portrayed in canon or EU, I created my own. This type of textual poaching is as creative as writing fan fiction and making fan art. My character exists in what fans call Alternate Universe. That is, what George Lucas has chosen to do does not mesh with what we would like to see. Therefore, we change it. Saying our creations reside in an "alternate universe" recognizes the authority of the original creator, yet gives our creation legitimacy as well.

Alternate reality is perhaps more commonly found in fan fiction where an author will take a scene possibly from a book, but usually from one of the films, and narrate an alternate possibility. arianaeirlys responded to my question, "Why do you write fan fiction?": "I have always written fan fiction about my obsessions, whether they have been rock stars or movies, or books. It is a great creative outlet. How many times have we seen or read something and said 'Oh, that's not right.' So I like to change it." (arianaeirlys, "Questionnaire") This opinion is an example of what Jenkins mentioned, fan-creations overriding canon text information. The text is "not right" so it is up to the fan to "correct" it. Calthea expresses a similar opinion of what she likes about reading fan fiction: "People are making these characters come alive in their own universe and expanding on the basic characters. Plus, it is great to see what kind of stories come out of people's minds." [24] This calling the textual characters "basic" implies that they are there for the fans. And in a way, they are. What are the characters of a cult film without a following to want to be them and to add to their histories? Making movies, especially science-fiction movies, is still seen to be a form of adult make-believe. In the realm of cult films such as Star Wars, the audience has to be invited to play along. Thus, appropriating the text in order to add to it and flesh out "basic characters" is a necessity in fan communities. It is a giving back in thanks for what has been received and has touched so many people. Thus, being an invested fan is to be a creative person.

Female Star Wars fans, though primarily ignored or patronized by the media, have formed tight communities through the Internet, in which they can creatively politicize their fandom, create new identities for themselves and participate in the world of make-believe that is science-fiction film. They are an involved audience that still hopes their actions will make a difference and impact the series they love.

The Bibliography & Questionnaire

Back to Home

Footnotes:

[1] Brooker, Will. Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans. Introduction. Online: http://starwarschicks.com/2002/05/using-the-force-creativity-community-and-star-wars-fans/ Found 18 April, 2003.

[2] In doing this, I wish in no way to ignore or draw attention away from the fact that "Star Wars" and its related names and materials are exclusive property of Lucasfilm Limited and their creator, George Lucas.

[3] Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers. New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, Inc., 1992.

[4] Tulloch, John and Henry Jenkins. Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek. London: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, Inc., 1995.

[5] The Adoring Audience: Fan Cultural and Popular Media. ed. Lisa A. Lewis. London: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, Inc., 1992.

[6] Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

[7] "Yahoo! Groups: StarWarsChicks." Online: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/StarWarsChicks/ May require password for entry. Found 28 April, 2003.

[8] Since I am doing no research on male fans and I do not have firsthand experience with many of them, assume from this point forward that when I write of "fans" I am writing of female fans unless it is a blatant generalization.

[9] "Welcome to Sisters of the Force." Online: http://members.tripod.com/sisterforce/main.html Found 30 April, 2003.

[10] arianaeirlys. "Questionnaire" [Personal Email]. 14 April, 2003.

[11] Class Lecture and Discussion, 5/1/03.

[12] "CSB | | Features." Online: http://csb.virtualave.net/features.html Found 18 April, 2003.

[13] A slightly derogatory term to denote male fans. Not always derogatory (some males use it to describe themselves), but often so when used by a female fan.

[14] "Titanic." Dir. James Cameron. Paramount/Fox, 1997.

[15] Rebadams7. "Re: [SWC] (unknown) your needed followoup [sic] questions - answered." [Personal email] 25 April, 2003.

[16] arianaeirlys. "Quiz, extra questions." [Personal email] 24 April, 2003.

[17] "Episode II: Attack of the Clones." Dir. George Lucas. DVD. Lucasfilm, Ltd., 2002. Samuel L. Jackson. DVD Featurette: "Love." 3:56-4:10. Transcribed 5/5/03.

[18] "Fight for the Cure!" Online: http://starwarschicks.com/tshirt Found 18 April, 2003.

[19] Hoke, Victoria. "The Campaign for a Female Boba Fett." Online: http://www.hostmaker.com/femalefett/index.htm Found 2 May, 2003.

[20] Hoke, Victoria. "The Essay on behalf of a female boba fett." Online: http://www.hostmaker.com/femalefett/essay.htm Found 2 May, 2003.

[21] This term will be defined later.

[22] Hills, Matt. "Interview with Henry Jenkins." Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media. 7 July, 2001: Online: http://www.cult-media.com/issue2/CMRjenk.htmFound 18 April, 2003.

[23] "Welcome to StarWarsChicks." Online: http://www.starwarschicks.com Found 18 April, 2003.

[24] Calthea. "SWC research project." [Personal Email] 16 April, 2003.

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