The Star Wars franchise has a reputation as being just for boys, but a new documentary from filmmaker Annalise Ophelian is looking to blow those preconceptions away. An upcoming documentary titled Looking for Leia will take a look at the women who grew up watching Star Wars and became some of its biggest fans.
Ophelian told The Verge that her documentary will explore the women and girls who love Star Wars, but on a larger level, it will be about how women “find these fantastic and rich ways to survive and thrive,” in the midst of marginalization. Ophelian says that she has been a Star Wars fan since the first film hit theaters in 1977, but growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, she “didn’t see a lot of room for girls and women in sci-fi and fantasy fandom.”
It wasn’t until she attended the 2015 Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California, that she was “struck by how many women were passionate, avid Star Wars fans.” The idea for the documentary came out of that experience, and she thought about doing some sort of country-spanning road trip in which she met and interviewed Star Wars fans across the nation. She planned to end the project by interviewing Carrie Fisher.
Fisher died in December, an incident that both devastated and galvanized Ophelian to work on the documentary, and set off for this year’s Celebration to meet and interview fans. There, she found that she loved speaking with the younger fans, “because there is a lot of love for the prequels that is often missing in my generation.” She also noted a neat change with the Slave Leia costume, a regular staple at most conventions. Since the publication of Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novel Bloodline last year, women have renamed the costume: Huttslayer. She explained that the women she interviewed had much to say about the costume “and the self-determination and agency she demonstrated in freeing herself from and ultimately killing her captor.”
Historically, women have been part of Star Wars fandom since before the film’s release, but the franchise remains stubbornly marketed as a thing for men and boys. Ophelian pointed to recent examples of where toy companies have left out some of the film’s most prominent female characters. “The perception of male dominance in fandom is, I think, accurate, and a reflection of how sexism functions in the world,” she said. “I think women’s fandom is in many ways a reflection of how women have always navigated that sexism.”
Ophelian wants the documentary to examine the broad, intersectional range of how women experience and interact with the franchise, noting that there were similar calls for inclusivity for the Women’s March earlier this year. “I’m challenging the cultural assumptions made of Star Wars fans in the same way I want cultural assumptions about women to be challenged in general.”
She noted that, so far, the reaction to the documentary has been “very positive,” and that work on the documentary is still underway. Ophelian anticipates that she’ll continue filming this summer and fall, and hopes to finish up in summer 2018. On the project’s website, she notes that she’s looking to chat with more female fans.