RTF professor says Star Wars has never been just for boys

Marisa Charpentier

When radio-television-film assistant professor Suzanne Scott got married, she cut her Battle of Hoth-themed wedding cake with a knife shaped like a lightsaber. One year at Comic-Con, she dressed up as a deleted scenes version of Luke Skywalker. Ever since she saw her first “Star Wars” film in theaters as a young girl, she’s been hooked.   

“It’s never been a ‘boy’s thing’ to me,” Scott said. “I never treated it as such. I would play epic “Star Wars” battles with both male and female friends when I was young.”

Since her days recreating the galaxy far, far away as a child, Scott has incorporated her love of “Star Wars” into her career, researching fan culture and teaching film courses that draw on the popular franchise. With a female protagonist in the newest film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Scott said fans are properly celebrating the added diversity. While the “Star Wars” series has always had strong female characters such as Princess Leia, Scott said they were often relegated to a love interest position, unlike the new female lead, Rey.

“I think there was a frustration, and I think there is a frustration generally, with these kind of big blockbuster franchises that there’s a tendency to place men at the center,” Scott said. “If women are there, they tend to assist or sort of make that particular male character work instead of having stories of their own.”

Much of the merchandise released based on the film, though, left out the new female star. When Hasbro released a “Star Wars”-themed Monopoly game, the toy company did not include a Rey character, and packages of character action figures also omitted the woman protagonist. Fans of the series turned to social media, using the hashtag “#WheresRey” to draw attention to the missing piece.

“You’ll get multiple characters and Stormtroopers and no Rey,” Scott said. “That suggests that there is a presumption among toy manufacturers that their audience for these toys is predominantly boys, and that boys overwhelmingly will actively refuse to purchase something that even includes a female character, even if she’s one of eight.”

Before the movie’s release in December 2015, director J.J. Abrams told the press one of his goals was to make the film more appealing to female audiences. In an interview with “Good Morning America,” he said, “‘Star Wars’ was always a boys’ thing,” and he “was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers could take their daughters to.”

Scott said while more diversity on the screen is apparent, female “Star Wars” fans have always existed. 

“Mothers have been taking their daughters to see ‘Star Wars’ for a long time,” Scott said. “That’s not the shift that’s happening. There has always been a female demographic that has loved these characters, this story, this world.”

Radio-television-film senior Jessica Buentello gained an interest in the intergalactic saga at a young age. Despite being raised by her mom and aunt, she still watched all the movies and collected memorabilia.

“I think [‘Star Wars’] falls into the stereotype that girls aren’t into action films,” Buentello said. “I’ve never really understood why that’s a thing.”

While “The Force Awakens” brings a female to the forefront unlike past episodes, Scott said adding more diversity in large blockbusters by bringing in queer main characters or protagonists of color is still possible.

“This representation doesn’t begin and end with women,” Scott said. “It seems like the easiest and most obvious access point of something to change, but it’s part of a much bigger conversation happening right now in geek culture.”