Be like Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back

To me, this is the defining image of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Continue reading Be like Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back

Review – Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

How did The First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire? How did Princess Leia become a General? Why did her accent waver from English to American in Star Wars (1977). All these questions and more are answered in Star Wars: Bloodline, the terrific new Princess Leia novel by Claudia Gray.

The politics of the Star Wars movies have never stood up to much scrutiny. They were scarcely mentioned in the original trilogy, and superficially explored in the prequels. The politics of The Force Awakens are very much down the list of important plot elements.

But in longer form, such as The Clone Wars cartoon, the intrigue of the Senate, the Jedi Council, and the galactic infrastructure have proven to be a rich seam of drama.

Books are another format where this aspect gets a chance to be explored, and in Star Wars: Bloodline author Claudia Gray has crafted a terrific political thriller.

Despite being a childhood Star Wars fan, I never ventured into the world of the extended universe (EU) books. Growing up, I became frustrated that Marvel’s Star Wars comics had no relationship with the larger saga, and I felt the same about the flood of EU novels post-1990’s.

There is now a different approach to tie in books, comics, and TV shows – new stories are now part of Star Wars canon. If it happens in a book, it happened to the characters you see onscreen. So any secrets, background, or relationships revealed in these spin-offs are part of the larger Star Wars saga.

In short, this means is that these stories matter again. So whatever we learn about Leia in this novel – set a couple of decades after Return of the Jedi – happened to the character in The Force Awakens, and beyond.

In Bloodline, Leia is yet to be a General, but is an elected representative (not many princesses you can say that about) – a Galactic Senator. She is tiring of the divisions that have engulfed her time on Hosnian Prime, the new administrative center of the galaxy.

But Senator Leia is a highly revered figure – war hero, princess, and daughter of renowned enemy of the Empire, Bail Organa. But little is spoken about her other father – Darth Vader.

Two main plotlines emerge. Firstly, Leia – seeking a little more adventure – begins to uncover a plot occurring in the outer rim of the galaxy. It may be just local crime lords filling their coffers – but could be something more. There is also the intrigue of the new Galactic Senate, and how Leia emerges as perhaps the only person who can unite the divided house – who are split into opposing Populist and Centrist factions. Think Left vs Right, or small government vs big.

Of the main cast of Star Wars characters, Leia is the really only one to make much of an appearance. Han cameos – but is off-world (we learn he runs a very successful racing team). The book does offer glimpses of Han & Leia as a couple, the kind of pairing I had hoped to see in The Force Awakens. In Bloodline, we find a couple very much in love after many decades together – seemingly longing for an extended retirement together

Of the other main characters, Ben is away training at Uncle Luke’s School for Gifted Jedi (or whatever it’s called), but Threepio is a constant presence by Leia’s side. She is also supported by various new characters such as Leia’s assistant Greer, Joph an enthusiastic young X-Wing flier, Korry a 16-year-old intern, and most prominently ambitious rival senator Ransolm Casterfo – from the opposite side of the senate and a collector of Imperial memorabilia. His clipped tones and flamboyant wardrobe a bring to mind Tom Hiddleston (‘Loki’) – the author has admitted as much herself.

This is Leia as we have never seen her before in the movies – the protagonist: a leader of great intelligence, experience, and authority. That’s nothing against Carrie Fisher, but how her character has been written previously for the screen. Here she is at the heart of a story that no other character could have driven.

I don’t know what fans of previous Star Wars Legends/EU books will make of this, but for me this was a terrific Leia story. There was a recent Princess Leia Marvel comic, that despite being written by Mark Waid, was ultimately disappointing.

This book is a much more satisfying tale, allowing us to experience her keen political mind as well as the many other aspects of her character such as her charm, compassion, and temper.

There are many revelations that inform our understanding of The Force Awakens, and there are plenty of easter eggs that the keen eyed reader will spot. Even more tantalisingly, Lucasfilm have stated that “some of the story ideas and elements in this novel came straight from Rian Johnson (writer/director of Star Wars: Episode 8)”. After reading the book, I am excited to discover which of the many fascinating threads of this story will play out in Episode VIII.

Star Wars: Bloodline contains parallels with both modern and historical political upheaval. If that sounds a bit serious, let’s not forget, that one of George Lucas’s inspirations for Star Wars was the Vietnam War – where an economically and technologically superior power (America) was unable to overcome the Vietcong.

The pace and content of this book will not be for everyone. There are no lightsaber duels, very few dogfights, and only a couple of out and out action scenes. This is a mature, character driven, political thriller – and I hope for many more Star Wars books like it.

And the reason why Princess Leia’s accent wavered between posh Brit and Californian American? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray is published by Century (UK) and Del Rey (US). It has a UK RRP of £19.99.

A Review copy of the book was provided free of charge.

“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” (Unless You Want To)

This picture depicts a classic scene of a father berating his daughter for wearing a revealing outfit. The intergalactic twist is that the father is Darth Vader, his daughter is Princess Leia, and she’s wearing her ‘Slave’ costume from Return of the Jedi.

It’s one of the many memorable panels from Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown, the second in his series of books set in a parallel Star Wars universe where Vader is an involved father to his twin children. The calendar is one of the many Princess Leia things my daughter has in her room.

From my 3yo daughters room. #WeWantLeia

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Vader’s Little Princess takes a rather stereotypical view of girls – Leia is shown chatting endlessly on the phone, obsessing over boys (a certain scoundrel in particular), being bored by sports, having tantrums, and being preoccupied with clothes. While the author treated Luke as just a child in the preceding book Darth Vader and Son, here Brown – who is the father of two boys – makes some seemingly lazy assumptions about young girls.

Despite being able to see these sexist flaws, I still love the book. It highlights the most high profile female character in Star Wars, is full of delightful & funny vignettes, and at its heart it’s about a loving father/daughter relationship.

This was one of the first Star Wars ‘things’ I showed my daughter, and frankly I credit it with hooking her interest in Star Wars at a young age (she was 21 months old at the time). She often chose it for us to read to her. Soon, she spotted my old Star Wars toys, instantly recognised familiar characters and vehicles, and they never left her grasp. I always thought I wouldn’t show her the movies until she was at least 5, but at age 2 we were watching them. We continue to do so and her love of Star Wars gets stronger as she gets older.

Every time we watch a Star Wars movie or cartoon, she picks up on something new. Eventually the ‘Slave Leia’ outfit was referenced:

My way of talking to her about it was this: Jabba had taken Leia prisoner, and made her wear what her wanted her to wear, because he had that power and that’s how he wanted her to look. I continued that it was wrong because Princess Leia should choose what she wants to wear herself.

We carried on watching, and whenever Princess Leia appeared subsequently in the movie, my daughter declared “Leia decided to wear that herself!”

It’s still a part of the story that she frequently references, including with her our Star Wars toys.

For instance, here Vader is unhappy that Leia has been treated so badly by Jabba:

"Give my daughter her helmet back too Jabba!"

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Another time, Leia shows she’s none too happy with Jabba either:

‘Slave Leia’ remains one of the few Leia figures we don’t own, and it continues to be divisive amongst Star Wars fans.

What’s so bad about Slave Leia?

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Slave Outfit Star Wars Return of the Jedi Slave Leia
From ‘Return of the Jedi’, Dir: Richard Marquand, TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) 1983

Clearly sexualised, the look was a hit with the dominant male fanbase. As the boys grew into men, the Slave Leia look became ever more popular, and became one of the most used depictions of Leia.

There were vocal dissenters, such as in the growing fangirl community, or as many male fans became fathers of daughters, some (ahem) started to complain about this being the prevalent depiction of Leia. She’s a politician, fighter, Rebel leader – yet mostly shown as a sexually exploited woman.

On the other side, people talk about how it’s no worse than you see at the swimming pool or beach, or on overly sexualised dolls aimed at girls. Some defended the outfit as a symbol of Leia’s defiance against her captor. Many members of the female cosplayer community enjoy wearing it.

In one memorable defence, the daughter of comedian Adam Buxton said Leia should keep wearing it because it’s a “pretty good look for her”.

As far as Jeffrey Brown’s picture goes, the cliche of the father telling his daughter not to wear such revealing clothes is also problematic.

While as parents we make decisions and rules we like to think are in the best interests of our children, they need to find their own path too – and that includes the process of understanding their own sexuality. This clearly begins long before they are adults.

When a father is telling his daughter not to wear something revealing, is he helping her develop, or trying to limit her growing sexuality? If my daughter wanted to wear a Slave Leia outfit out of the house, I’m pretty sure I’d insist she doesn’t. But she’s 3, and I think that’s fair enough. But what about 10, 13, 15? What age is Leia in this picture? Is she a child or a young woman?

Tricky questions for my future.

“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!”

'Vader's Little Princess' by Jeffrey Brown. Published by Chronicle Books.
From ‘Vader’s Little Princess’ by Jeffrey Brown. Published by Chronicle Books.

For now, I still like this picture. For one, it’s funny. But it’s also part of an alternate Star Wars narrative my daughter has melded from various sources.

So I look at the scene like this. Perhaps Darth, instead of limiting Leia’s sexual expression, is upset that her exploitation by Jabba is having lasting effects. That far from being her choice, her father feels she has been conditioned to think this is what men want.

But if we want to empower our daughters, ultimately the choice of outfit has to be theirs. At the moment my daughter’s only real dress restrictions are about being weather/environment appropriate (although I did suggest she rethink her summertime idea of wearing a short skirt as a dress). In the future, school uniforms and dress codes will feature. But eventually we won’t be the ones responsible for what she wears – she will.

I hope I never have a “You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” moment with her. If any woman, be it Leia, my daughter, or someone else, truly wants to dress in a revealing gold bikini, then fair enough. I guess it’s a pretty good look for some.

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What do you think about the Slave Leia look? Or parents telling their teenagers what to wear?

Please comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

A New Hope? Next is Selling Star Wars Clothes… For Girls

Last week local blogger and author Polly Walker alerted me to the fact that Next was selling some new Star Wars clothes. What made these different was one important detail – they were created specifically for girls.

While overall I remain uneasy about the way boys & girls clothing is defined and divided, this addition is immensely positive and demonstrates for all what I’ve always known – Star Wars is for girls too.

As a geek dad, I’ve bought my daughter all sorts of sci-fi tops since she was born. When they’re babies what they wear is frequently for parental amusement. A baby has no idea why their father might like to dress them as a Star Trek red shirt.

While these geeky baby clothes tend to not be labelled by gender, as she got older I ended up browsing the ‘boys’ section, as there was never any in the ‘girls’ one. While it didn’t bother me at first, I begun to realise that this was how geek culture becomes defined as a boys interest from an early age.

Because of this, I was nervous about letting my daughter choose her own clothes when she turned 3, as I thought that would be the end of it. I needn’t have worried.

But getting hold of different styles is an issue. Making or buying custom made clothing is one solution. My daughter was lucky enough to be the recipient of a Star Wars skirt, made for her by Francesca of Sewing Circus.

I connected with Francesca online, and the internet has helped a great deal by bringing together the large and growing geek culture fangirl community. The fact it exists at all is a testament to members individuality, and determination to not be defined by strict parameters of what it means to be a girl or woman.

While the likes of the innovative Her Universe label is taking full advantage of this gap in the market, the mainstream assumption remains – that geeky stuff involving space and superheroes is for boys only.

This often means female characters being omitted altogether in licensed merchandise, as happens with The Avengers, Big Hero 6, Guardians of the Galaxy, and – yes – Star Wars. This tells boys and girls that there is no place for women in these environments.

There is a close link between a childhood interest in geek culture and science in general. The reasons for lack of women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Manufacturing) are many, but the perception of science and science fiction as ‘boy’ interests is suspected of being a major contributing factor.

Do Girls Really Like Star Wars?

All I want for my daughter – and all girls – is choice. If your daughter loves pink and princesses, then she is well served by the market. But my Star Wars loving little girl and her fellow fangirls usually have to rely on what’s in the boy’s aisle, and many will feel uncomfortable about this as they grow older. I’ve already had older girls and boys ask me with disbelief whether my daughter really does love Star Wars when they see her running around the playground in her Star Wars gear. Well, she absolutely does.

The new Star Wars movie is only a few months away, with a film a year to follow after that. There are additional comic books, novels, and cartoons. The merchandise tsunami has already begun. The new saga is about to be embraced by a brand new generation of fans, including my daughter. When I was a kid, one of the biggest Star Wars fans I knew was a girl who lived around the corner. Somehow, in the ensuing decades, it became redefined as a boys only brand.

A high street retailer like Next selling Star Wars clothes for girls – even ones with pink and sparkles – gives me a new hope that such an attitude will be a thing of the past for Star Wars fangirls in the future.

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What do you think? Is Star Wars for boys only? Do you know any girls who love it too? Please share your opinion below, or on Facebook.

First Look – Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Well, this just dropped – the Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Comic-Con 2015 Reel.

If you’re a Star Wars fan I dare you to watch this and not have a smile on your face.

But the best part is it gives us our first look at Princess Leia since Return of the Jedi over 30 years ago.

What do you think?