Image from http://www.geekwithcurves.com/2015/06/ahsoka-lives.html
When the character Ahsoka Tano was first introduced to Star Wars fans via The Clone Wars theatrical movie, she was criticized pretty harshly by fans and critics. Famous movie critic Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, called Ahsoka “annoying” and described her role in the film by saying, “She bats her grapefruit-sized eyes at Anakin and offers suggestions that invariably prove her right and her teacher wrong. At least when we first met Yoda, he was offering useful advice.” Many fans were right there with Mr. Ebert in their initial bashing of Ahsoka. Many considered her character a waste, and said she couldn’t be important; after all, she wasn’t in the original trilogy, was she? Many of us questioned her worth and wrote her off simply because she was different from what we expected. Years have passed and now she’s one of the most beloved characters in Star Wars fandom, even inspiring a large group of fans, both male and female, to stand proudly together at Celebration Anaheim and declare through clothing, costumes, and words that “Ahsoka Lives.” I find it interesting then that so many of us initially declared to our friends and family, to the our circles on social media, and to the creators of the character that we didn’t like her, she was annoying, why did she even have to be in The Clone Wars, it should just be the Anakin and Obi-Wan show. I find this interesting because as I’ve been rereading the real life stories of fangirls that inspire the annual Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars Day, I feel like they have a lot in common with this plucky padawan who’s grown so close to our hearts.
Some of you may not be familiar with a young Star Wars fan named Katie Goldman. If you are not, you should read her story here. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to do my best to summarize her heroic journey. In 2010, Katie, came home to her mom and asked for a pink water bottle. It’s not an unreasonable request, and most likely, many girls at her school had similar pink water bottles. What’s the issue? The issue is that up until that point, Katie had been carrying a Star Wars water bottle. She was introduced to Star Wars through her father and loved traveling to that far, far away place and expressing her fandom by carrying her Star Wars water bottle; unfortunately, some boys started to pick on her, telling her that she can’t like Star Wars because it’s a boy thing. Eventually the teasing drove her to choose pink rather than herself. Rather than put up with the teasing and the feeling of being further ostracized from her peers (Katie also wore glasses and had to wear a patch over one eye intermittently), Katie decided to conform. Like all parents should be in that situation, Katie’s mom was heartbroken. She decided to write about the experience on her blog, and soon, a miraculous thing happened. Fans from all over began to reach out in support of Katie. Voice actors, artists, businesses, and other fans all wrote messages of encouragement telling Katie that she should be proud of who she is and feel free to like what she likes. They told her clearly that not only is Star Wars for girls, but it’s for her, too.
A few years later, another young girl named Allison experienced similar bullying for loving Star Wars and Spider-man; unfortunately, she not only had to endure cruel words but also cruel physical violence as well. Luckily, she had a friend and role model in Katie. When Katie was being bullied, the 501st (a charitable organization that creates film-accurate costumes of characters from the Empire and Dark Side factions) built Katie a custom set of Stormtrooper armor. Within her armor, she could stand up to the painful taunts and teasing of the bullies and cry out, “No. I am Star Wars;” after all, she had an entire legion of fans standing with her. When Katie heard about Allison’s situation, she knew that it was time to pass on what she had learned. Katie packed up the armor and gave it to Allison, so she might find strength in this talisman of fan love and support. The student had become the master and through her kindness she was teaching us that most important lesson that Yoda taught to Luke in Return of the Jedi: to pass on what you have learned.
When I reread these articles in preparation for writing this post, I found myself with familiar tears in my eyes. Years ago, I cried for these girls, the pain they had been forced to endure, and the joy found in the way that they had overcome their struggles because of the support of their immediate family and their larger, extended fandom family in the Force. I cried also because I imagined my very small daughter, and I prayed that things had gotten better; hopefully, she wouldn’t have to deal with that, too.
Yesterday, I was an emotional wreck after enjoying the stories of padawans Katie and Allison again because it reminded me of my daughter now. In the last couple of years, my daughter has developed retinal scarring on her right eye. When she can use both eyes, she can see fine, but her future will probably involve some kind of patching and possibly surgery. Katie had to deal with similar patching and struggled with how it made her different than her friends and peers at school. Last year, my daughter came home from her daycare and we began our regularly scheduled discussion of what she played and how her friends were doing. That day’s conversation was a little different though because I could see in her words and the situations she described the little ripples that could lead to her life reflecting the bullying experienced by Katie and Allison. She told me about how she and her friends were telling each other, “You can’t play that because it’s for girls,” and “Sorry, this is a game for boys.” What is there to do when this happens except to take a breath and transform into the daddy disaster unit? You could practically hear the old 80’s whirring of a Transformer as I started my plan of attack.
At the time, my daughter liked “My Little Ponies.” We had spent many a Saturday morning creating new adventures with Twilight Sparkle and friends, and while I was totally prepared to hate the show upon first viewing it, I actually found myself enjoying it. I don’t know that I’m a bronie or anything, but more power to those who fly that flag high if that’s what they like. This detail was the first evidence I gave my daughter. “I like ‘My Little Ponies’ with you when many people say that it’s only for girls. Isn’t that okay?” She silently looked at me. Her body was still, but I knew her mind was not. “You like Star Wars, and many people say that’s for boys. Isn’t that silly? Shouldn’t you be able to like what you want?” This was a risky proposition for me. What if she said no? Was I willing to risk that her love of Star Wars was enough to overcome the gender roles that her friends had been taught? “What about Mommy? She’s a girl, and she likes Star Wars? Look how happy it makes her.” Suddenly, I was pulling up pictures of various girls throughout fandom and showing each of them to my daughter. “Look at Ashley Eckstein. Here’s Tricia Barr. Don’t forget Fangirl Sarah. We can’t leave out Amy Ratcliffe.” I ended by showing her pictures of Katie and Allison. “These girls were picked on because they liked Star Wars. People told them that they shouldn’t because it’s for boys, but they told them, ‘No. I’m going to like what I like.’” I watched my daughter’s tiny little face closely, waiting for her reaction. When she gave it, it was so perfectly her. She nodded her head, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yeah, I’ll just like what I want,” before bouncing on her way.
The next day, when she got into the car, my wife and I asked her how her day was. “Good. We played ‘My Little Ponies,’ and I told the boys that they could play, too. I told them they could be a pony if they wanted, but some of them didn’t want to. I told them that they could be our knights instead.” She had learned well, and even though I know she’ll continue to be told what she should or shouldn’t like by society, advertisers, and friends, I trusted that she had a good foundation to start with because of her mom and I, and her fandom family.
While I will always protect people’s right to like what they like and dislike what they don’t, as I was reading the stories of Katie and Allison again this week, I found myself thinking how if Ahsoka were a real girl, she would have been bullied by some fans and critics. She may have flinched as they called her annoying and cried as they told her she didn’t have a place in fandom, but, like Katie and Allison, she bounced back. She used what she had been taught to survive being hunted by Trandoshans, she guided younglings on their trek to get their lightsaber crystals on Illum, and she chose to leave the Jedi Order and do what she thought was right. She overcame the taunts and jeers of fans and won our hearts instead.
Each year, in memory of all our little fangirls who have experienced pressure and bullying for liking Star Wars, many of us celebrate Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars Day. On this day, we show our support by wearing our favorite Star Wars outfit. If we are financially able, we also take a new Star Wars toy and donate it to our local charity, so a needy child can have something to take them to that galaxy we all love this Christmas. On these packages, we leave a note: “This item can be given to either a boy or a girl.” We do this to remind those who distribute those gifts that we all believe you should be able to like what you like whether you are a boy or a girl; after all, we all have a little Ahsoka Tano in us.
If you are able, share pictures of how you celebrated “Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars” Day on December 4th or any day this holiday season to my Twitter account @mapplebee7567. Please be sure to use the hashtag #WearStarWarsShareStarWars to join with your fellow brothers and sisters in the Force!