As some who follow me may know, I am quite the Star Wars fan. But Star Wars is supposed to be an escape for me — I never suspected my job providing political and social commentary would bring me to write about Star Wars. Yet here we are; the franchise’s cultural significance combined with response to the last two films by fans have prompted me to speak up.
The problem with both these films, according to a large, vocal group of angry fans, is the inclusion of strong, capable female leads. According to them, this is an affront to the series they love in the name of political correctness. Not only are they wrong, their bias is rooted in sexism. The very notion that a female lead could only be used to appease the PC crowds is sexist, as is the belief that a strong female character is nothing more than a cheap gimmick.
When the long awaited episode 7, The Force Awakens, trailer debuted, there was a different reaction, albeit an equally ugly one. Some fans (a noticeably smaller but just as vocal group) were up in arms that the John Boyega’s character, Finn, was a black Storm Trooper. Then extended trailers showed that Finn appeared to be the Jedi of the new trilogy — a black man. People bemoaned that having a black Jedi was a PC ploy and that this was proof that Disney had butchered their beloved franchise.
Of course, Finn isn’t the Jedi of the new trilogy — it’s Rey, played brilliantly be Daisy Ridley. This didn’t dispel the notions of a PC agenda behind the new Star Wars, it amplified it.
How dare they make the main hero a woman?! Where is our safe space for men who think all women in Star Wars should be barley clothed demur princesses in chains?!
Now Rogue One has been revealed to feature yet another strong female protagonist. If you’re keeping score at home that’s 6 movies with multiple strong male leads versus a whopping 2 films with female leads. Obviously, Star Wars is part of the feminist agenda.
The problem is that Star Wars is particularly popular with certain segment of the population sometimes known as nerds. Being a nerd isn’t so bad these days; it’s almost become chic and the popular success of superhero franchises, new Star Wars, and new Star Trek movies, has really made what was once consider nerd culture part of the mainstream. Nerds hate this.
For many these franchises were an escape — something that brought them immense joy when they struggled to fit in with the rest of the world. Now nerd culture is being dragged kicking and screaming from the shadowy basements of their parent’s homes into the light of day. And when you drag nerd culture out into the light of day, the fact that it routinely objectifies women is obvious.
I’m not going to venture into the psychology of it too much — though I suspect it has something to do with sexually charged adolescents who have an incredibly hard time talking to and relating with females. Are there female Star Wars fans? Absolutely. But until recently, the most common way for them to display their fandom was to dress up like slave Leia from Return of the Jedi.
I am by no means a political correctness warrior and I am no male feminist. But an objective examination of society and these films leads to an obvious conclusion: today’s younger women and girls are more empowered, have more independence, and in many ways are stronger than previous generations. Young girls deserve to have strong female characters in popular franchises; not to make some political statement, but rather to engage them in ways that slave Leia does not.
Nerd culture is no longer fringe culture, it’s become quite mainstream. As such, it is only reasonable (and wise from a marketing stand point) to expect that every lead character will not be a white male. The fact that this needs to be said is astonishing — but, don’t be too hard on them. There is a subconscious urge to keep that which is important to us (and especially to our childhoods) from changing. But change is good. New Star Wars are also good.
Let go of attachments; let your beloved franchises grow and become important to others as well. It’s going to be okay. I promise.