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Nobody could have predicted that Stargirl, the newest entry in the DC television universe, would be premiering while the world was being ravaged by a pandemic. It's certainly not what Brec Bassinger, who plays the titular teen superhero, expected, but she's since realized that it's fitting, in a way. From the start, Stargirl has always been a figure of hope in the face of tragedy.
"At first, it was almost disheartening [premiering in a pandemic], because this just wasn't what I was expecting, and change can seem like a negative, naturally. But after talking with Geoff Johns [Stargirl's original creator and showrunner], I loved his perspective on it," Bassinger tells SYFY WIRE. "In a time, when things are so dark, a lot of people want to watch the news, and that's great, I love a well-informed person. But other people want distractions. Personally, I started watching a TV show and I had to stop because it was too negative. I wanted positive distractions, and I feel like Stargirl can be that, or I hope it can be that, for at least one person."
Rising as a figure of hope from a tragedy is nothing new to Stargirl. Johns originally created the character as a way to cope after his sister died in the TWA Flight 800 plane crash of 1996, even naming the character Courtney in his sister's memory.
"It's an honor," Bassinger says. "Talking to Geoff, I know what this role means to him. Even before I'd booked Stargirl, I'd read interviews with him about how this is such a special project to him, and so to even be considered, let alone be given the opportunity, is such an honor. I hope I do justice to what he wanted, and to the real Courtney."
In the show, Courtney Whitmore becomes Stargirl after discovering the cosmic staff, which previously belonged to her stepfather's crime-fighting partner, Starman. The staff chooses Courtney because it senses power and purity in her, with the show following Courtney from these origins as she forms the new Justice League of America, all while trying to navigate through her life as a high school student.
In part because of Stargirl's optimistic origins, the show has a warmer vibe and a more fun and flowing feel compared to most other DC shows. According to Bassinger, that was a very deliberate choice. "Just looking at who Stargirl is inspired by, and what she means — it's essential that it's positive with a more bright aesthetic," Bassinger says. "And I think Geoff wanted something where adults can enjoy it as well as kids, and I think there's very few shows out there which have that demographic."
Bassinger cites Back to the Future as a great example of this kind of "for adults and kids" vibe Stargirl is going for, along with Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Karate Kid — the latter of which Johns recommended she watch. "I'd seen the remake but not the original," she recalls. "And Geoff was like, 'No, you have to watch the original!'"
Clearly, Stargirl was heavily influenced by '80s teen movies (or in Homecoming's case, recent movies that were also inspired by '80s teen movies). "For sure there's a feeling of nostalgia, I know that was one of the goals of it," Bassinger confirms. The series begins with the death of the original Justice League of America, and there's a real sense of 'coming of age' to the whole thing; not just in Stargirl and the rest developing as heroes, but also developing as people in the classic '80s teen movie style.
Another huge trope of '80s high school movies was the bubblegum fresh, happy go lucky sentiments of their stars. In the '90s and through the 21st Century, movies centered around teenagers have often been more cynical and serious, a trend that perhaps hit its apex with the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
Stargirl, though, is much more vibrant, and despite the more serious tones, captures the essence of '80s nostalgia. This more preppy, positive feeling might be exactly what the world needs right now, with Bassinger adding, "You need to be informed, but also take care of your mental health. If Stargirl can help just one person, then I'm happy."
Stargirl is not a blockbuster DC character in the way of Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, but none of those heroes have as heartfelt an origin story. More than that, Stargirl is unique because she wasn't born with powers nor is she a genius inventor. She's just a normal girl, chosen by a cosmic staff to become a hero. "It's just as special for her to have this cosmic staff because it's like the staff chose her. Not for her heroic abilities, but her heart," Bassinger says, emphasizing that Stargirl became a hero because she's innately good.
It was a special moment when Bassinger got her hands on the staff for the first time, too. "I think the first time I put on the suit, meeting the costume designer [Laura Jean Shannon], seeing everyone who was a part of the project, measuring me for my super suit, that was a really special moment," Bassinger says. "And then also walking onto the set with my suit on. I was really exhausted and tired that day, I think it was about 2 a.m., and suddenly I just felt so blessed.
"Like, that super suit was made for me, that role was mine, and now I wasn't going to get recast!" she adds with a laugh.
When asked to describe Stargirl in a world, Bassinger comes back with: "Empowered. Because even when things get bleak around her, she always finds herself. She's a powerful outlet for her friends and family."
A bright character, elevated because of the goodness in her heart and born out of the ashes of tragedy? The world could do a lot worse than Stargirl right now.