Many girls dreamed of being a Disney princess -- I wanted to be a Jedi Knight.
I have this vague memory of being 9 or 10, standing in our neighborhood grocery story, amidst the gossip magazines and the bananas pouring over a Star Wars magazine with a gal pal. It was the late '90s, Star Wars had just been re-released into theatres and my dreams had gone from April (from the Ninja Turtles) to Pink Power Ranger to Jedi. My best friend at the time was a bit of a tomboy girl, but I can't say I overwhelmingly was. Nonetheless, we both ached to be jedi. I just wanted to be that strong, renegade female who was constantly saving the world. Confession: I still do.
That love of Star Wars never left me. The galaxy far, far away has provided me with so many great memories over the years -- an excuse to hangout with my 16-year-old crush (my most prominent memory of the Clone Wars), a reason go to work dressed like a jedi on Halloween (at age 24 no less!) and a fantastic prop for our Shakespeare readings (yes, my reading group recently killed Duncan with a lightsabre. It was a "glowing" performance.)
I recently discovered I was a nerd from birth! My father recalls propping me on his lap as a small child, to partake in A New Hope in all its early '90s giant box television glory. Over the years, I added a healthy diet of vampires (not the sparkly kind), hobbits, vulcans, Avengers and, most recently, Time Lords -- both the last of and his predecessors. These are the confessions of a female nerd -- who can pull apart an iPhone with the best of them, wants to learn to code, wrote a paper in graduate school about the X-Men and American religion, gets way too excited about this hydroponic planter and can recreate neolithic stone tools. I am unapologetically enthusiastic about all of it.
However in the throes of my unabashed geekdom, I see science fiction for its greatest value in our culture -- the imaginative space where we dream of making the world better. Forget the fighting and explosions, blood and war, the best thing about SciFi -- televised, novelized and graphic novel (-ized?) -- is the value of science and technology as a means for good in a world where technology always seems to be on the brink of destroying us. It's not a triumph of good over evil, but rather a triumph of the social good and courage over selfishness and power. My favorite science fiction celebrates -- to use the words of Craig Ferguson -- "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."
As the cast lists for new Star Wars franchises fall into place, my greatest hope for the new generation of Star Wars fans is more female jedi. Not because I dislike princesses (Leia!) or makeup or sparkling things, but because more girls need role models who think science (and bowties) are cool, who are exceedingly clever and heroic (Hermione-style) and who want to bring about a better world through the power of their intellects, the invention of new possibilities and the imagination (and realization) of peaceful coexistence. There are women out there doing that in real life -- they are our heroines in so many ways. I have always found popular fiction duly lacking. This should not be an either/or scenario, where the smart girls are marginal and rare. Inspired fiction begets reality. The fictional "girl next door" should be the girl changing the world with all the geekiness, creativity and overwhelming drive she can muster -- sparkly things optional, but strongly encouraged.
When I was younger I wanted so badly to see a fierce and beautiful, smart and measured Jedi lady that I could emulate. I didn't. We imagined our own into being. My new hope is that Episode VII will bring these ladies forth into popular culture, not as assistants or companions, not as scantily or leather-clad lesser heroines, but as the stars of their own galactic sagas with their own relatable struggles that exist in the realm of being human (not just being female). May this new breed of heroines inspire the little girls of the world (and inside us) to dream of greater possibilities, celebrate our inherent intelligent beauty and slowly (but surely!) save the world.