Would you buy a Star Wars play-set featuring all of the main characters except Luke Skywalker?
It’s a bizarre question. Who would want to play with a toy set that’s missing its lead? How could kids re-tell the stories of the movies, and make up their own sequels, when the star isn’t available? No one would ever try to market a toy set based on the original movies that was missing a Luke figure. But they would, and did, make a set based on The Force Awakens without including Rey, the new movie’s lead character.
I came across this in the toy aisle at Target while hopefully browsing for Star Wars toys that I could plausibly give to my 2-year-olds for their birthday this month. Instead, I found this ridiculous version of events in a galaxy far far away where the female population appears to have been killed off by some sort of highly specific plague.
There’s no Rey, although the other two leads (both male) are present — even though one of those dudes has yet to have a line in any of the trailers or TV spots. There’s a Chewbacca figure, as well as Kylo Ren, the lead villain. And the last two spots are filled with a generic stormtrooper and generic TIE fighter pilot.
I love Chewbacca as much as any kid born in 1983 loves Chewbacca, but did he really need to supplant the lead character in a toy set? And two slots given out to nameless, faceless characters? You can argue that kids need villain figures to serve as antagonists in their stories and games, but in that case, why not include the named female villain character, Captain Phasma, who is a stormtrooper officer of some sort and theoretically relevant to the story? You can’t even see her face in her uniform, but apparently, the potential realization that there is a lady somewhere under that chrome armor would ruin the whole toy set.
There are no known cases of little boys being harmed by having female characters included in their toys. There are plenty of cases of little girls being harmed by the erasure of characters they can identify with in the media they love. It doesn’t even matter if those characters drive the entire plot of the media in question: if she’s a girl, she’s worthless. Pointless. Cootie-riddled. That’s the message young girls get when they’re disappeared from stories, and that’s the message young boys get too. This isn’t for girls, it’s for me. Girls in sci-fi are anomalies, are misplaced, are lost.
Not coincidentally, I picked up some original-trilogy Star Wars sticker books on the Target dollar aisle on the same trip. On four pages of stickers, there wasn’t a single Princess Leia. It was bad enough having just Leia in the original films, a character who couldn’t even be “not like those other girls” because there literally weren’t any other girls to compare her to. But now the women are being swept under the rug altogether, if not in the new movie itself (or at least, I certainly hope not) then in the surrounding hoopla.
And that’s not good enough. My daughter deserves to grow up seeing women as complex, multidimensional characters, heroes and villains alike — and so does my son. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to be complex and multidimensional when you don’t even exist in the first place.