‘Looking for Leia’ shines a light on Star Wars fangirls

When Carrie Fisher first graced the screen in 1977’s “Star Wars” as Princess Leia, many women and girls watching were excited to see a strong female character confronting ruthless villains like Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, shooting at Stormtroopers, smuggling stolen Death Star plans, organizing a revolution and so much more. 

Leia represented more than just a beloved Star Wars icon — she stood as an icon of feminism and strength for many female fans longing to have a sci-fi character they could finally relate to. 

Now, a new documentary, “Looking for Leia,” wants to pay tribute to those millions of women and girls. 

“Female Star Wars fans include everything from film buffs, cultural critics, cosplayers, gamers, artists and authors. The film reaches beyond Princess Leia to discuss how female characters and fans have shaped and expanded the Star Wars universe, and how these stories speak to experiences of gender resilience and resistance,” reads a description at the movie’s website. 

Filmmaker Annalise Ophelian raised over $25,000 for the film via Kickstarter, and on the eve of her successful campaign, we spoke with her about why she believes Star Wars has inspired so many women around the world, and her inspiration for the film.

How did the idea behind making a documentary about female Star Wars fans come about?

I’ve been a Star Wars fan all my life. I saw the first film in 1977 when I was 4 years old. In 2015, I went to my first Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. It was not my first con by any means, but it was the first time I felt like I really belonged at a sci-fi / fantasy event. 

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The “Looking for Leia” filmmaker is a big Star Wars fan herself. 

Annalise Ophelian

That weekend filled me with such a sense of belonging: I felt like I was able to show up fully and was surrounded by people who shared my reference points, and I was struck by how many women were there. 

Women on their own, who just really loved Star Wars. 

At Celebration, women in Leia senatorial robes or Jedi robes or dressed as Stormtroopers. 

I left that Celebration, and realized my own fandom was something I did in isolation — that I wasn’t connected to other women who loved Star Wars like I did, that I’d internalized this assumption I was an oddball for liking “guy” things.

So that started me on this query: who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom? Because I’ve been here since the beginning, and clearly I’m not alone. 

Why do you think it’s important that female fans get the recognition they deserve?

Women have always been a part of Star Wars fandom and broader sci-fi, fantasy, and geek culture. When I say women it’s crucial to point out that I’m talking about a hugely broad category of humans: women of color, queer women, women of trans experience, young girls and elders, women across boarders and of different faiths. 

Invisibility has always been a hinge on which sexism and misogyny functions. The way it shows up in broader cultural systems is the same as how it shows up in geekdom. Women are rendered invisible, they aren’t seen or acknowledged, they’re devalued; their contributions or interests are seen as trivial or less serious than their male counterparts. 

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Interviews with female Star Wars cosplayers are a big part of the “Looking for Leia” documentary. 

Annalise Ophelian

So it’s important to recognize, to render visible, female fans — because this is one way we cultivate gender justice. Recognizing women in fandom is one step toward recognizing women as culture-makers and creators.

What is the main take-away you want people to get from watching your film?

I’m captivated by this idea of who gets to tell the story, whose gaze and whose narrative is centered. Women are so rarely the storytellers, and I love the idea of telling the story of Star Wars fandom from broadly diverse women’s perspectives. 

I’m hoping women who watch this film come away feeling centered and validated and seen, that they recognize themselves in the stories on screen and know that they aren’t alone. And I’m hoping folks outside of Star Wars fandom come away with a deep respect for women’s contributions to fandom, the complexities and intricacies we bring to this experience.

“Looking for Leia” is still in production, and has no release date yet.   

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