Star Wars and the third wave

I’m obsessed with Star Wars. Sometimes I've felt a bit alone in this—my younger brother shares my obsession and sends me online information on the latest releases as well as every Star Wars tribute or parody he comes across—but I’ve never seen it as a particularly feminist obsession.

Until lately.

In the course of doing research for my book on zines by girls and women, I’ve begun to see a bit of a pattern among third wave feminists. Sarah Dyer, creator of the influential Action Girl Newsletter in the early ‘90s, makes reference in one zine to “our generation—by which I mean, of course, the Star Wars generation.” She’s recently recanted due to intense hatred of what she calls “the abomination that is George Lucas.” When I interviewed her last summer, we had a long digression in which we both ranted about what a jerk Lucas is, but even this is a sign of dedication, right? You don’t despise someone who isn’t living in your head already—it would be too much work.

I’ve recently come across another reference: Judy Superstar in Bust #5 (1995) offers ruminations on Star Wars as part of her teen development. She says, “I wanted to be Leia. And I wanted to fuck Han.” Didn’t we all. Her love for Han coincided with her struggles with her weight and body image; as she grew thinner and thinner, she longed for Han—and his “perfect blend of anti-establishment attitude and foolish heroics.” And then as she grew up, she became her own Han: “I changed schools and discovered punk rock, booze and the social possibilities of bulimia. I bleached my hair and became a new sort of worry for my parents.”

I never did become my own Han in the particular way Judy Superstar describes, but over the years I have found touchstones for my sense of identity in the Star Wars movies. Leia was a great example of a tough-talking, competent leader who was female but didn’t shriek in horror anytime a fight broke out. She could shoot a blaster like the rest of them. She remained competent even in the face of fear. She said, “Because I’m holding a thermal detonator” with complete calm. I have aspired to Leia-like qualities in my professional life.

Han was my official movie boyfriend for many, many years, and I seem to have married someone with his own personal blend of anti-establishment attitude and foolish heroics (like a redneck Wendell Berry-ish Han Solo). And I love the community in the movies, the solidarity, the intense battles followed by sappy togetherness. As six-year-old Adam Krasnoff said on seeing Han swoop in and shoot Darth Vader’s ship at the end of A New Hope, “He came back for his friend! That was so nice!” This gets at a lot of what I love about Star Wars.

I don’t know that any of this has anything to do with feminist politics, but I do think Star Wars functions as a generational dividing line between second and third wave feminists. Joanna Russ, the quintessential second waver who Conseula and I interviewed this weekend, despises Star Wars because of its celebration of authoritarian government and its hypermasculine vibe. Meanwhile, third wavers like Sarah Dyer, Judy Superstar, the Afrogeeks, and I are big fans and experience the films as something beyond their literal plot-level message.

So here, as everyone from the television networks to the Post Office tries to hop on the Star Wars thirty-year anniversary bandwagon and make a buck off of tightfisted, crazy-ass George Lucas, I’ll offer my own little shout out to Star Wars. I acknowledge that Lucas is a wank stain, but the universe he created—especially in the first three films—is a really cool place to hang out.


Conseula said...

I'm glad you acknowledged that the first three films (the *actual* first three) are what we love--Leia's all badass with her blaster and her crazy dedicated sense of mission; Han is gorgeous and shifty and begrudgingly loyal and noble; Luke's whiny but we forgive him because his father's Darth Vader and that has to suck; and Obi-Wan is a big fat liar but wise and right all along.

God I love those movies.

You're right though--Lucas is a wank stein. Just look at Phantom Menace and Clone Wars for proof.

femme fortis said...

wank stain

Claire said...

ok folks -- Luke is not whiny -- he has the force! He is the one! Luke's the sensitive guy whose also hot and wields a mean light sabre. Oh as a twelve year old no one was better than Luke -- Han, all that anti-establishment broodingness is so obvious....Luke is subtle.

Julie said...

Okay, you guys need to get a life. it's a freakin' movie!!! Lucas is not a wank stein. if he was, do you think he would have put two powerful women in the movies. No. He would have made them stupid and slutty. Not everything is about anti feminism. Get over yourself!

Blogless Reader said...

Julie beat me to the punch! Why do people insist on reading so much into profit motivated mass produced so called pieces of art.

"Wank stain" ?? To borrow a word from one of Star Wars own villains: "Charming"

Biffle said...

wow, alison, i thought it was the feminists who weren't supposed to have a sense of humor!

Erk said...

It's true: What's wonderful about the Star Wars oeuvre -- indeed, about all for-profit, mass-produced art -- is how it strenuously defies analysis.

Kenneth said...

Sorry, that was me, not erk. This is what comes of sharing a computer.

Kenneth said...

But while I'm at it: Actually it is all art that defies analysis, along with everything else.

Anonymous said...

It is not analysis that is denied but truth (except to the satisfaction of the analyst).