It wasn't a surprise that fans were really excited for the Star Wars Force Friday in 2015. Not only did the event coincide with the release of the first Star Wars film in decades, but it would launch a ton of new merchandise with a focus onStar Wars: The Force Awakens. It was huge undertaking, with dozens of retailers and toy brands all working together. However, things didn't all go smoothly.
Let's just say, mistakes were made.
Chief among them was the shortage of merchandise available. Fans flocked to the stores and found themselves looking at empty shelves before the night was over. Even more frustrating was what happened when it came to the film's female protagonist, Rey. Female Star Wars fans were definitely ready to buy toys, clothes, games, accessories, and a whole lot more that featured Rey, but while they could find plenty of figures and other items for Kylo Ren, Finn, Poe, BB-8, and a character named Constable Zuvio (don't even get me started), finding Rey was nigh impossible.
To say Star Wars fangirls were disappointed would be an understatement. Fans hit social media along with prominent fangirl writers to ask the question "Where's Rey?"
This Force Friday, things were different, in a good way. First of all, there was a lot more Rey merchandise available, but what really stood out were things like the marketing campaign for Target. Force Friday fans who waited in line were given pins with the "Bring Your Rey Game" slogan used in the recent video Riley Silverman wrote so eloquently about, and employees were wearing T-shirts with the same message on them. Lenovo announced an AR headset and a game called Jedi Challenges that features a young girl facing Darth Maul and Vader in a lightsaber duel.
The message from retailers is clear. "We've noticed the power of the female Star Wars, fandom and we're ready to give you what you want" -- and female Star Wars fans are ready to buy it all.
It's also clear that Star Wars content itself has changed to include more women. The last two Star Wars films had female protagonists, and Rey's front and center again in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Lucasfilm created Forces of Destiny with female fans in mind and created and released figures similar to the DC Super Hero figures or Barbie dolls with extra accessories, fabric clothing, and multiple points of articulation. The entire Forces of Destiny campaign is made for fangirls of all ages, and it's already seen an extremely positive response.
With all of this in mind, I went out to several Force Friday midnight events in the San Fernando Valley to talk to fangirls about their love for Star Wars, how they became fans, and how they're passing it along to the next generation.
Maybe they're born with it.
Best friends Meghan, 28 and Megan 29, came out together and were first in line at the North Hollywood Target. Both credit their parents for not only introducing them to Star Wars but encouraging their love of it. Meghan says Star Wars "spoke to all of my sci-fi goodness."
Megan's dad took her to the 1997 re-release of the original trilogy and she fell in love, so much so that she made Star Wars home movies and played Star Wars music on a keyboard her parents bought her.
Fans of the prequels were also waiting to get new toys. 25-year-old Erica cut her teeth on Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and she loves Jar Jar Binks.
The women I talked to at the Force Friday store events all had one thing in common. They were all under 30 and Star Wars is just part of life. One fan put it perfectly by saying, "I've never known a world without Star Wars."
Plenty of male fans are happy to share Star Wars.
Many of the women I talked to at the Toys R Us in Burbank are still new to the fandom and were introduced by boyfriends or fiancés which shows that plenty of men are happy to share their Star Wars fandom with women, despite what you may read on the internet.
One of my favorite interviews was with Asheera, a soft-spoken 17-year-old who's dad is a fan himself. When I asked her when she became a Star Wars fan, she told me, "I was born into it". She also told me I'd never guess her favorite character and she was right. But her choice and reason for the choice may be the best one I've heard n a while. Asheera says her favorite character is the Stormtrooper who bangs his head on the door in Star Wars: A New Hope. Why? "Because I relate to him". I loved Asheera. You'd love her too.
10-year-old Kaylee is all about the cute factor. Her dad showed her Return of the Jedi and she's been an Ewok fan ever since. She even wore a Wicket t-shirt and an Ewok hooded pullover, but she said she skipped her Ewok socks because it's too hot (we're having a bit of a heatwave here in the Valley). Kaylee's love for Ewoks may be shifting to Porgs. She think's they're pretty cute. When I told her how many Porg Funko Pops there were, she told her dad she needed all of them.
Fangirls raising fangirls.
I also made sure to check in would a couple of fangirls on Twitter and heard some great stories. Amy was introduced to Star Wars with the VHS version of Star Wars: A New Hope as a kid and is now passing her love of Star Wars on to her daughter Emily who's nine. "When I showed them A New Hope my oldest was BLOWN AWAY", Amy told me. She went on to talk about seeing The Force Awakens with Emily and about her reaction to a very special moment. "And when the lightsaber flew into Rey's hand, the look of empowerment and strength on her face was just so amazing. It told me that she understood the importance. She got that this was for her, for us.". She went on to talk about what the recent changes to Star Wars and the inclusion of more female focused content has meant to her. "Thrilled for kids today and jealous I didn't have access to those things. I would've loved Forces of Destiny as a kid! There's a historical gender deficit in Star Wars, and it's time to start balancing the scales.".
Danielle, 41, has a 7 1/2-year-old daughter named Sloane (which is now a Star Wars name thanks to Chuck Wendig's Aftermath series!) who's 7 1/2. Danielle has been a fan since she was 5, "I picked a Star Wars sleeping bag at 5 when my sisters got flowery pink ones. I wanted to be Princess Leia I mean who doesn't." She says Sloane started humming The Imperial March at 15 months old and her favorite character is Ashoka. Danielle and Sloane share their fandom by reading the books and watching the movies and cartoons together. "It is amazing I love having this special thing to share with her. We do all sorts of mommy daughter dates going to events, cons, and Disneyland.". Danielle is also heartened by the shift toward more female Star Wars content. "It is about time the companies realize that Star Wars isn't just for boys. We are loving all the new Forces of Destiny items.".
I also found a case of a mom having her love of fandom renewed by her daughter. Veerle, 40, lives in Belgium and told me about her 10-year-old Ine. "She sparked my love for SW to a whole other level & because she wanted to know more about it, I started to look for more SW news online as well, read all the canon SW novels, started listening to numerous podcasts and we joined the Belgian SW fan club together, and so on... Shared SW is the best SW!".
Raising Star Wars fangirls family style.
Kayla and Andy Chavez brought their daughter Amaranth, 4 1/2, and son Orion, 9, to Target with them. Kayla and Andy are sci-fi and horror fans and they're raising those kids with one heck of a pop culture education. Both kids are steeped in Star Wars and genre knowledge. Amaranth thinks Rey is awesome. She's not wrong.
SYFY WIRE's Ernie Estrella was out in San Diego and sent me this fun snippet:
William and Renee Pitts 44 and 45 respectively from Poway just love Star Wars and have been fans forever and are big collectors. They got their kids as early as they could and started with the prequels to make sure they knew all the back story and built them up through to episode VII. Now all the kids love it, though only three of the four daughters attended Force Friday. But not the kids get offended when their friends don't like Star Wars, and ask them how could they not be a fan of Star Wars.
We are all Forces of Destiny.
With all the change we've seen out there when it comes to embracing female fandom, there's still a contingent of male fans who either doubt our existence or think Star Wars has decided to start "pandering" to women. To put this in language they'll understand, actually, the conversations I've had in the last 24 hours confirmed something I've known for decades. We've always been here. We've been here since 1977 and we're not going anywhere. It just took a while for some of the powers that be out there to notice us.
That's okay. We're patient. And resilient. And we're training our young ones in the ways of Star Wars. If you ask me, the female Star Wars fandom is doing just fine.