Disney won't begin rolling out new Star Wars movies until 2015, and the public has gotten only dribs and drabs of news. Even so, I'm already at DefCon 2 on the nerd-girl alarm-o-meter.
Indiewire points out that the Disney store offers, basically, jack-shit in terms of Star Wars swag for little girls. Admittedly, they've probably got plans to revamp everything for 2015, but the company acquired Lucasfilm in 2012; you'd think they might have rolled out a few offerings for Christmas 2013, at least. What they've got is either billed as "for adults" or "for boys." A film scholar tweeted at the company store asking specifically about Princess Leia merch and got this dispiriting response:
This comes on the heels of a disappointing initial casting announcement—six new male characters, and just one woman. When the Internet raised hue and cry, J.J. Abrams rushed to say that the casting wasn't over, and he's totally adding one more "substantial" female role. Oh, well, in THAT case. As our pals at io9 put it: "Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)?"
It's actually all the more surprising when you consider that the corporate overlord here is Disney.
For decades, the company has peddled old-fashioned narratives for little girls. But is there anybody better positioned to understand that yes, it is very profitable to include female characters and market to women? Reminder: According to the Huffington Post, Frozen is now the company's second highest grossing film of all time, and the fifth highest grossing film, period. And for all the stereotypes about boys and their toys and action-figure-collecting nerdbros, the great Frozen shortage of '14 demonstrates that nobody opens their wallets like the parents of a seven-year-old girl. I'm none too keen to see Princess Leia Disney'd up, but it's mystifying that this company seems blind to the opportunity, here.
But, on the other hand, it's sadly easy to imagine strategy meetings where polished, suit-wearing Wharton grads triumphantly inform their bosses that, "We've got Frozen and the princesses for the girls, and now with Marvel and Star Wars, we'll soon have the boys on lock." Synergy! Market penetration! Visions of PowerPoint presentations with slides color-coded by gender!
But that's such a limited way to see this story. I guess I'm partial, as someone who's still holding onto her battered VHS tapes from middle school, even though I haven't had access to a VCR in a decade. George Lucas obviously did not go out of his way to create a bunch of strong female characters, but Carrie Fisher managed to create a no-nonsense princess for all the short-tempered eye-rollers out there.
For the sequels, it would have been nice to see Princess Leia surrounded by a more diverse array of women. Part of what appeals about the original Star Wars is the characters get to be heroes in so many different ways. There's monk-like Luke, but there's roguish Han, too. It would be nice to see that same variety among the female cast members.
Sure, it's early days yet, and J.J. Abrams could always surprise me. But we're not off to a great start.
Photo via AP Images.