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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

The Women Of Star Wars Rebels: First Impressions Count


We’re inching closer to the fall premiere of Star Wars Rebels. This fan is incredibly excited for the animated series that will be the first on-screen representation of the formidable Lucasfilm and Disney combination. The primary group of protagonists were recently introduced in a series of videos and articles over the past two weeks, and toys based on some of those characters were unveiled at the New York Toy Fair. I was pleased to learn two of the five members of the main cast are females. I’m less thrilled those two characters, Sabine and Hera, were the last two to be introduced, and Hasbro isn’t including them in their first wave of figures for Star Wars Rebels.

It feels like a slap in the face. 

Hera’s informal introduction came at the end of January when photos of a LEGO set featuring Ghost, a starship in Rebels, were leaked. The Twi’lek pilot was shown as a minfig on the box. Fans also learned about Sabine from packaging at Toy Fair. Anticipation built. We knew there were female characters, and we couldn’t wait to learn more. Then the introductions happened one by one, and they were male after male until only Hera and Sabine were left. Around the same time, photos surfacing from Toy Fair didn’t show either of the characters as figures in Hasbro’s new Star Wars Rebels series. It was a disappointment.

When we finally did meet Hera and Sabine, I was thrilled. Sabine is a feisty Mandalorian with artistic tendencies who leaves her mark à la “Kilroy was here” in an expression of defiance towards the growing Empire. Hera is a talented pilot, the “heart” of the team, and Ghost belongs to her. Both women appear to have depth, intriguing personalities, and cool character designs. I instantly liked them and felt even more frustrated they were pushed to the end of the line.

Let’s touch on the action figures in more detail. Lack of female representation in this arena – for Star Wars at least – isn’t new. I recently counted action figures documented in Stephen Sansweet’s Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection to emphasize the difference. Before 2012, 90 Luke Skywalker action figures were made by Kenner and Hasbro, while only 45 Leia Organa figures were made. Prequel trilogy Anakin Skywalker has 61 different figures, Padmé has 26. Despite being one of the stars of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano only had seven action figures to Anakin’s 14. It’s a trend.

Hasbro did confirm to Newsarama they will release Hera and Sabine figures and will reveal the 3.75 inch toys at San Diego Comic-Con. That’s great news, but why leave them out in the first place? Is it because Disney views Star Wars Rebels toys as being for boys, as mentioned in this press release? If it is part of a bigger marketing message being handed down to Hasbro, then I have concerns about the merchandise in the franchise’s future.

I’m aware that as a 33-year-old adult female, I’m not their demographic in a variety of ways, but kids are. Think of all the little girls who are fans. What message does this boys’ club approach send to them? On the flip side, I imagine plenty of boys would want Hera and Sabine figures. Encouraging gender based marketing might mean more cash in pockets, but it’s a tactic I hope to see change in the coming years. Disney, Hasbro, and Lucasfilm are big enough companies that they could take the risk and be at the forefront of change instead of relying on tradition. Even if you accept the idea that more boys will buy the figures, can’t we do that without alienating the girls?

As far as the introductions of the characters to the series, it was a poor decision to leave the ladies for the end. Though Lucasfilm couldn’t comment on the specific order, they did confirm that Kanan and Hera were meant to be first and last – the leaders of the crew to bookend the set. I can understand that explanation, but why not push Sabine further up the list? They were conscious enough of the order to place Kanan and Hera deliberately, so I believe the remainder of the cast were announced in certain places for particular reasons. But, I’m at a loss to figure out what those reasons were. The presentation is especially confusing to me because Lucasfilm’s last animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, starred a female protagonist fans of all ages and sexes rallied around.

When I shared my annoyances on social media, a common response was “they’re just saving the best for last.” Even though I do find Hera and Sabine to be the most appealing of the group, that reasoning isn’t valid. It’s a lazy excuse, and I believe people who rely on flimsy rationalizations like it don’t see the bigger picture. Fans can’t make any assumptions about women in Star Wars (or any other franchise). Steps are being made every day towards equal representation, but it’s an uphill battle.

The best example to illustrate this is an amusing and sad moment I experienced at DragonCon last year. I sat on a couple of panels in the Star Wars fan track and while discussing The Clone Wars, the subject of diversity came up. Several female characters played important roles over the course of the series, such as Ahsoka, Asajj Ventress, and Satine Kryze, and we saw a variety of aliens and races. I feel the show did a solid job at mixing it up.

One guy on the panel was oblivious though. When an audience member mentioned something about females in the original trilogy and what we hoped to see in Rebels, a male panelist responded and said women have always been important in the Star Wars saga. He followed that statement with something along the lines of: “There were a lot of women in the rebellion. There was Leia, Mon Mothma…” And then he trailed off because that’s all we saw in the original trilogy. Two is not a “lot” by any definition, but he didn’t hesitate in his response. It made me wonder how many fans share his perspective.

The Star Wars films have a track record of slighting the ladies. The Clone Wars cartoon seemed to go out of its way to create a more diverse playing field with very positive results. But there’s still an existing legacy, and I wish they would have been more conscious of the message they were sending (or weren’t sending, actually) in the rollout.

To make myself clear, I am still very much looking forward to the series. I have faith in the crew and cast and trust executive producers Dave Filoni and Greg Weisman to develop all the characters. Both of them have positive track records, especially when it comes to creating well-rounded female characters. You only have to look at Ahsoka in The Clone Wars and Demona in Gargoyles for proof.

I also appreciate the diversity not only in the cast of Rebels but also in the voice talent and the behind the scenes crew we’ve seen in the introduction videos. Women are definitely involved in the series, and I’m not discounting that at all. It’s very encouraging. But the way the introductions of Hera and Sabine were handled for both the series and especially the toys left me, a female fan of Star Wars, feeling like a marginalized afterthought. Regardless of the intent, that’s how the actions came across. I hope it’s something they take into consideration when it comes time to make announcements for Episode VII.

Amy Ratcliffe is addicted to Star Wars, coffee, and writing. You can follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek and keep up with all things geeky at her blog.

Previously in Gendered Advertising

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  • Jason Rye

    Lucas Arts has always held their licensees’ reins with a tight grip, so I wouldn’t be surprised that it was their doing more so then Hasbro’s. Their behavior towards WOTC was what killed the excellent Saga Edition RPG with LA’s constant “send everything to us for editorial control and approval before you can sell it.”

  • Kirsten Hansen

    As another 33 year old woman who loves Star Wars, I would like to add that I have a large collection of the original toys that I played with. Often. I laughed talking with one guy who I used to be friends with when young because he apparently always wanted to come over to play with my Star Wars toys. It never occurred to me that they were not for me, even though I only had one female figure, Leia from Endor. It’s sad that so little emphasis is going into the female characters but I guess Disney is focusing on its princesses for girls? I look forward to more awesome female characters in Rebels though!

  • Anonymous

    Action figures continue to be a really annoying medium in this respect. Try finding any Black Widow toys amid the sea of variants for Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Or really any girl character in an action line.

    What I find so odd is, has there ever been any sort of detailed study to say that people aren’t going to buy female action figures or that little girls won’t buy action toys?

    Because when Brave and the Bold was on, they said there was a lack of female heroes because Mattel refused to make toys for them (thus they weren’t worth heavily promoting on the show in the same way the boys were) on the grounds they wouldn’t sell. But where does this supposed data come from?

  • KryptoBunny

    When I first heard about the premise of this series — pre-New Hope, featuring a pair of females in a mentoring relationship, called Rebels — it was from my boyfriend, who followed this info immediately with the insane speculation that “It’s probably about Princess Leia and Mon Mothma!” And I KNEW it wouldn’t be, but oh… I mean, you know what really helps a girl become a
    trusted Rebel spy? Using the force-based powers of suggestion
    she doesn’t even know she has! And oh… finally, some appreciation for these obviously amazing women who had obviously kicked major ass before we met Luke bumming around Tatooine! I want that story so, so bad, and I’m so afraid it won’t get told. I’m so afraid that Disney underestimates the power of Leia (even though she should be the freaking Jedi Disney Princess, and they should get that). Maybe after the first three Boba Fett movies, eh?

  • Anonymous

    I was thinking LucasArts licensees and envisioning, for a blinding second, merch for Grim Fandango, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle.

    Also big giant buttons saying “Ask me about LOOM.” :)

  • http://tansyrr.com/ Tansy Rayner Roberts

    this happens with all action figures, always! I have struggled to find female superhero figures for my daughter and now she’s into Star Wars too I imagine it will be exactly the same. Even TV shows that have close to equality in gender do this – check out the toys for Wreck It Ralph (apparently there are some girl car toys but the only ones we saw on our store shelves were the main characters). Try buying a Wendy toy to go with a Bob the Builder set.

    Or look at the tie-in merchandise for The Avengers, and how often Black Widow is left out of the team on the cover of colouring books, etc.

    The boys my daughter plays with notice this as well – and they have been raised to think the female characters are just as awesome as the male. Why are the toy companies giving boys so little credit? The responsible thing to do would be to give them the opportunity to play with characters of both genders – thus cementing all along that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE TOO.

    My godson’s favourite DC superhero is still Wonder Woman. His older brother was so cross at the lack of female minifigs in his giant Lego Atlantis set that he made the one female character the captain.

    So yes I get frustrated about this issue for my daughters, but also for those boys who want better and are being shown, over and over, that they shouldn’t care about female heroes.

  • http://runt.org/ Adrian

    Toy makers (and the content producers that support them) are opposed to marketing otherwise unisex franchises to have unisex appeal, for the fear that boys will lose interest in something that girls like (which as a grown-ass man, I think is ridiculous and even if that’s what research has shown, then I’d presume the same societal sexist problems that affect adults, are influencing those results).

    Point is, it’s not that they don’t know girls like this stuff, or even that they don’t care, but rather they ACTIVELY DON’T WANT girls to like their product. That’s why female characters aren’t featured as much or have their own toys. It was less common the past, before these corps got “smarter” through research and testing.

    I believe the only way to change this ridiculously blind and sexist dynamic is continue being overly vocal (in the hopes that someone, somewhere listens) or to be become the content producers ourselves, or even better still to become the suits in the boardroom who say enough is enough, girl-money spends just as well.

  • Jason Rye

    Warner Brothers and Cartoon Network are some of the worse offenders of this, as shown to all by the reasons they canceled Young Justice.

  • Brian

    I sat in with Amy on a couple of panels at the Star Wars track in Dragon Con. There were some moments that were great, such as the diversity and minorities in Star Wars panel (big kudos to the Star Wars track folks for letting us hold that event). You could really tell that the audience was engaged and was invested in seeing more diversity in Star Wars, both from a narrative and content creator standpoint.

    Theeennn there was the moment Amy mentioned in this article and I was promptly reminded that there’s still a ways to go, and that there’s a reason we pitched (and will pitch again) a panel devoted to discussing the importance of diversity and representation.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to think that they have “marketing data” or a “big plan” to back up their decisions, however most of the decisions made about the franchise since Disney took over feel like the discussions that generated them heavily involved the word “whatever”.

  • Will Beaty

    It’s basically just the same logic as the female solo movie logic. Any time they put out a Padme or a Black Widow, they make her 1 per case, while the boy characters are 2 or 3 figures per case. Then if they ever take a chance on a female character, like Yarna D’al Gargan, the six-breasted Jabba’s Palace dancer, and it pegwarms (wow, shocking), they insist that boys don’t like girl figures.

    Then you have the BS like Young Justice toys at McD’s being sold as the Boy’s Toy for that promotion.

  • http://discord-inc.tumblr.com/ James Fletcher

    Sadly, the male to female figure ratio is probably higher for Star Was than most lines. I remember when they came out with an action figure for Avatar the Last Airbender and I saw five different figures for Ang, but none for Katara or Toph, who get as much screen time as Ang in the actual show.

    In fact, I just did a search to see if they ever made an action figure for Katara and found that she did eventually get an action figure and a Happy Meal toy…for the live action film. Honestly, that actually seems worse than if she never got one.

    Ironically, it actually took me a while to find pictures for those figures because the first dozen results were pictures of fan’s kitbash figures and mock up products. That just drives home the whole absurdity of the “girl action figures don’t sell,” since if someone is willing to go to the effort of making their own figure, then they probably would have bought one if it’s available.

    Anyway, here’s hoping this is just a marketing fail and not indicative of how the characters will be portrayed in the show. This is the first Star Wars thing I’ve allowed myself to get excited about in a long time.

  • locuas

    okay, i am sorry, but i am going to defend the decision of leaving Hera as the last one to be introduced.
    sabine has no excuse, i want to make that clear. But if Hera is the “heart” of the group and the one who keeps them together, then they had no choice other than to left her for last.
    I don’t think the idea of her being the “heart” would come across unless we had seen the other characters first, how different they are, so when they say “she is the one who keeps them together” you can see how important that role is.

  • Jamie Jeans

    I’m willing to overlook Greg Weistein’s involvement with both the second season of WITCH (where nearly every member met a boyfriend because of reasons not needed for the plot) and Young Justice (which had some horrible writing for Megan as well as NO women involved in the plot of the pilot, to the point that no woman spoke until the end of the pilot).

    (As well as having that annoying speedster, Not-Impulse.)

    I love the character designs for the women and I’m looking forward to them, but it is annoying that they were saved for last, and the lack of toys makes me give their marketing the side eye. >_>

  • locuas

    Greg still gave us a great villainess for WITCH…i am not going to defend anything else.

  • Mark Brown

    Don’t forget Azula, Ty Lee, or Mai. Because the toymakers did.

  • Mark Brown

    And don’t forget that, ~because~ the female characters are shortpacked, they ~automatically~ sell less than the male characters.

    (Unless the male characters end up shelfwarming and ~no one~ ends up selling.)

  • Ryan Colson

    They were scared of unveiling a Mandalore art lady.

    Prolly.

  • Travis

    This is depressing, but hardly unexpected. I’m sure Disney spends more on market research than all of humanity spends on curing cancer, and they’ve figured out that they’ll make more money selling exclusively to boys than selling to boys and girls.
    And thus, we’re trapped in a catch-22 where the only people in a position to change things are the ones with no incentive to do so.

  • F.S.

    I think you might be reading too much into things. You shouldn’t take offense to this.

    I can’t comment on Lucasfilm, but it’s important to note that Disney XD is a boy-centric network. Although the network is girl-inclusive, their target audience is male pre-teens and teenagers 6–15 years of age.
    Their programming does include female characters, but most of the main characters are male.

  • F.S.

    Regardless of Sabine’s hobbies and personal interests, she is still a tough warrior with knowledge of weapons and explosives. In her video, she can be seen beating up a stormtrooper and blowing things up.

  • Terri Paxton

    Agreed. Pretty infuriating. I honestly think its getting worse! At least you could find Leia and even Padme. But Ahsoka? And she was a main character. Nope. And forget about the animated Barriss, or even the animated Padme. Satine didn’t get one and she would’ve been worth it (hah, Obi Wan had a girlfriend! but she was tough, too.) Recently I was looking at the cute chunky Mighty Muggs and realized they had done ALL of the Avengers EXCEPT Black Widow! Huh? They had done a Leia for Star Wars, but no Widow? I can’t really afford this stuff lately but I still am in the habit of looking. And it still steams me.

    The only thing stranger is that they also don’t seem to listen to the guys, judging from the disgust on collectors forums. They may not comment much on lack of female characters, but having a million Obi-Wan and Anakins left on a shelf while other figures never appear is not making them happy either.
    All told, I get the impression the current toy makers have all the aim of Imperial era Stormtroopers. (In other words, they’ll hit anything but what they aim at.)

  • Charlie

    It’s kind of disturbing to me that boys aren’t expected to play with toys that depict female characters or look up to female heroes. So if you are a guy you can be a hero but if you are a girl anything you do is irrelevant and to be ignored by guys?

  • Alan Kistler

    Excellent points, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Ben English

    Wait, what annoying Not-Impulse? I don’t think there were any Speedsters other than Flash, Flash, Kid Flash, and Impulse, were there? Not really sure what specifically you mean by the horrible writing for Megan. I thought she and Artemis were two of the best written characters in the show.

  • Ben English

    Was it always this bad? It seems like its gotten so much worse in recent years. As a kid I remember toy-lines always having the female characters, like April O’Neil, that lizard Mona Lisa, and the female Neutrino in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the Power Rangers lines always had the Pink and Yellow Rangers. Hell, the old McDonald’s Batman Animated Series tie-in figures definitely came with Batgirl and she barely appeared before the TNBA retool.

    I just don’t get it. What happened between then and now that caused such gender-prescriptive toy marketing?

  • Charlie

    So boys shouldn’t look up to female heroes? Just men?

  • Mehmed Celebi

    Thing is, Greg wanted to include Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) into the Team, as well as in the Pilot. I know, that’s still a very unequal ratio for the Pilot, but first season team was supposed to feature the first, original sidekicks of DC history, and why the gender Ratio was so unequal back then is an older problem. Anyhow, he definitely intended to include her, but because the ownership rights of the Wonder Woman brand weren’t
    cleared up until the show had already started production, couldn’t.
    As for your dislike for Megan and Kid Flash, that really comes down to personal tastes, which is fine, but I think Megan was one of the most complex characters in animated history, and not the enemy of all feminism like some people claim.

    As for W.I.T.C.H., I really don’tsee the boyfriend problem. It’s understandable if some people found them to be distracting, but in no way did romance ever take over the show as the main theme, the entire arc was still going strong and ended with a satisfying conclusion. Aside from the token male teammate who had fought alongside the Girls since the beginning, none of the other boyfriends fought the girls battles for them, and Irma definitely didn’t get a boyfriend (unless one wants to Interpret it that way), due Word of God confirming her to be gay. Furthermore, on a Show with five male main characters, how many people would it bother if said male characters got girlfriends for not plot related reasons? I mean, I highly respect MLP for washing their hands clean of anything romance related (not counting the movie that shall not be named), but I don’t think including romance into a show with a mostly female cast somehow lessens the shows quality, as long as said romance takes a backseat to the actual plot and doesn’t cause the female protagonist to base their life around their boyfriends. Which definitely wasn’t t the case. Their mission as guardians never took a backseat to the relationships of the cast. Hell, I loved W.I.T.C.H. back in the day, and I completely forgot about any of them minus Cornelia actually having had boyfriends until I read your post.

    So yeah, I can totally understand someone being upset about female leads in animated shows getting boyfriends like Mako with Korra or Lux with Ahsoka who do nothing but be scumbags, steal screen-time, and create forced love triangles. And, imho, that simply wasn’t the case with the boyfriends in W.I.T.C.H.. Sure, there was ONE love triangle, but that lasted for all of one episode, afterwards everybody agreed that it was stupid, and we got a bit of character development out of it.

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  • Jamie Jeans

    Well, others called him Kid Flash… but he was Not-Impulse. He was annoying, had almost no reason to like him, and was constantly trying to go after Megan.

    I’ve yet to see the second season, which should be better since Kevin Grevioux wrote it.

  • Jamie Jeans

    Well, others called him Kid Flash… but he was Not-Impulse. He was annoying, had almost no reason to like him, and was constantly trying to go after Megan.

    I’ve yet to see the second season, which should be better since Kevin Grevioux wrote it.

  • Jamie Jeans

    Yeeeahhhh… calling BS on how the pilot was about all the original sidekicks. Complete and total BS. That move turned off a good many people from what I read online. There was no need for it and it speaks a hell of a lot that no women spoke until Megan’s introduction at the end. Wonder Woman never even got a line in but Superman and Batman sure as hell did. There was NO reason for it and there were other characters they could have used, even if Greg couldn’t get Wonder Girl in it.

    The Kevin Smith Fatman podcast interview with Paul Dini REALLY shed a lot of light on this, as the idiots behind Cartoon Network probably wanted it that way to bring in as many boys as possible, and why they cancelled the show in the first place. Too much of that icky cooties not selling toys to boys.

    And I don’t blame Megan, I blame the writing. I haven’t seen the second season yet, but in the first the writing made her seem really dumb at points, as in, valley girl dumb, and combined with Not-Impulse, who you guys called Kid Flash, being super annoying and unlikeable in almost every way turned me off from the show by about episode 8 or 9.

  • Jamie Jeans

    Considering the light shed upon why Young Justice was cancelled in the Kevin Smith podcast Fatman where he interviewed Paul Dini, this kind of thing does not surprise me. After all, that was about how they didn’t want girls, they wanted boys to buy the toys, and it’s not like other companies are exempt from feeling this kind of thing just because they’re not associated with the Cartoon Network, the WB, or DC Comics.

    In short, disappointing, especially considering that one of the two female leads in this show is a woman of colour, and no, I don’t include anyone that’s blue or green in that category. That means a hell of a lot to people in this part of the world where the majourity of characters are a steady stream of characters where the only variations are white, white, mayonaise, and vanilla coloured.

  • Graf von Geiger

    Some of the problems with action figures might be a mold issue. I’ve noticed toylines like GIJOE and Star Wars in the last couple of years don’t really have the expertise to make a female action figure. Or at least make an action figure of a female character that didn’t look like a male action figure.

    I fully admit there’s probably a generous amount of “Girls don’t buy figures, boys don’t buy girl figures, etc”-bullshit going on, It’s worth mentioning how siloed that action figure industry really is in terms of expertise.

  • F.S.

    Excuse me? I did not say that at all.

    I was just stating the facts about the network.

  • Charlie

    Yes, I meant that a male focused audience isn’t really an excuse to push women to the sidelines.

  • D.A.V.E.

    How are you calling BS on that? Weisman wanted to start with the original Teen Titans line-up (Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Speedy, and Donna Troy) and then have it morph into the show’s YJ line-up. But they initially couldn’t use the Wonder Woman characters due to DC’s policy conflicts. They resolved those issues very late in season one’s production, and had to add Wonder Woman’s role in “Agendas” and her non-speaking cameos at the last minute. By season two, they could use WW’s characters, but due to the plot, had to use Cassie Sandsmark as WG instead. But, sure, keep arguing with the facts.

    Also, what is wrong with M’gann making mistakes and being flawed? ALL of the characters, male and female, were still new to their lives as heroes and as team. They made mistakes but eventually came together as great heroes in their own right. It’s a concept called “character development”. Holding M’gann in some different position compared to the others and judging her for being a character with personal flaws is very sexist in itself.

  • D.A.V.E.

    Grevioux didn’t write it, he voiced a recurring villain in it.

    OK, look, between you getting the main producer’s name wrong (even thought it’s in the article itself), not knowing even the basic facts wrong, and not even watching most of the show, maybe you shouldn’t be talking about things you barely know a thing about?

  • frodobatmanvader

    I dunno, I remember back in 1990 being really disappointed that my sister couldn’t play Batman with me because there was no Vicki Vale toy. And April O’neil didn’t show up until SEVERAL waves into the toy series.

    I think it just feels like it’s getting worse because more awareness is being raised.

  • Shawn Morgan

    Gargoyles!!! disney could you make a movie please????!!

  • CaptainRex

    I am so stoked for Rebels. I loved Clone Wars (if my screen name didn’t give that away) and was thrilled with the depth behind all of the characters (and the number of aliens in the main cast. Star Wars has been kind of white-human centric from the get-go.) I didn’t notice the order of the intros, because I found them on youtube after they were already all released, and clicked the “related video” links on the side. That is irritating, as is the action figure thing. I have watched at least two shows so far that were cancelled allegedly for toy lines “not working” because of female characters in the cast (“Sym-Bionic Titan” and “Young Justice”) and I find that excuse particularly infuriating, because adding female dolls, or other products that would appeal to girls is not that hard. I know this show isn’t likely to be cancelled for that reason, but the slighting of female characters and by extension viewers is a bit of a sore spot for me, especially since I was always into the “boy shows” as a little girl more than the “girl” ones, and had several action figures, trucks, and plastic “creepy-crawlies” to go with my dolls and kitchenette.

    *Sigh*

    Oh well. Can’t wait for the show :)