Toxic masculinity no match for saber-wielding Leia fan

This has been a summer in which the Star Wars fandom seems more divided than ever. The geek community has been forced to confront an alarming amount of toxic masculinity bubbling up from below the surface, whether in the form of “Last Jedi” haters calling for the firing of Kathleen Kennedy or fanboys actually crying over a “Fanboy Tears” mug.

So I’m kinda overjoyed that the next installment of the Geek Goddess interviews is a two-parter, featuring founders and co-admins of the Facebook group Saber Maidens, a refreshingly fierce, optimistic, and inclusive support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication.

In Part 1, we meet Celeste Joy Greer Walker, an OG, lifetime Star Wars fan who saw “Episode IV” in 1977 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with her parents (who sound amazing). The story of how she cried when the movie ended because she wanted to see it again almost had me in tears, as did many moments in this interview. 

Celeste describes Star Wars as her life’s foundation and she’s immersed herself in the galaxy far, far away in inspiring ways. As a child, she began dressing up as Princess Leia, created her own costumes from thrift store finds, and once crafted a lightsaber from her bicycle’s handlebar grip (much to her Dad’s chagrin).

As an adult, she’s a member of saber dueling organization Saber Legion, is involved in several saber dueling clubs and competes in tournaments, makes her own costumes, considers Carrie Fisher a role model, and also embraces Harry Potter and steampunk. 

Celeste serves up an impressive amount of Jedi-like wisdom when it comes to subjects like misogyny within the Star Wars fandom, a certain Rose Tico quote, advice on raising awesome geek children, and all the “Last Jedi” hate. 

(Next week, come back for Part 2, featuring Celeste’s co-founder and co-admin, Pat Yulo.)

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

We have a formal definition on our Facebook page that we spent a lot of time debating about. What it comes down to is Saber Maidens is different things for different people. Some fans come to it for costuming support, some for choreography support, some for lightsaber support.

How did the group come to be founded?

Right now, there’s a lot of machismo in Star Wars fandom. That has not always been the case!  But the most macho of machismo is in Star Wars lightsaber-centric groups. A lot of lightsaber fans come from martial sport and there is traditionally still a lot of separation of the genders.

I made my first lightsaber from an old flashlight, my bicycle handlebar grip, and a copper pipe. I was 10. My dad was annoyed that I disfigured my brand new handlebar grip.

My interest in lightsabers ebbed in 2012 … and I began my journey into the Star Wars lightsaber fandom. Even in San Francisco there was not a lot of room for non-heterosexual males. A lot has changed since 2012.

But when I started I was often the only non-male in the class. I was mistaken for someone’s girlfriend, someone’s mother … my saber comrades found it hard to believe that I was a Star Wars lightsaber mega fan! Some were in such disbelief that a creature like me could exist (cis-female hetero Star Wars lightsaber mega fan) that they ignored me entirely, like I did not exist.

Celeste Joy Greer Walker and Saber Maidens co-founder and co-admin Pat Yulo.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder of Saber Maidens?

I post or repost things that I think would be interesting to other lightsaber enthusiasts. I also give a lot of encouragement to those who are first getting into the costuming and choreography aspect of Star Wars fandom.

I’m also working on trying to reinvigorate the martial sport of saber combat dueling for non-male individuals. That’s going to be a slow road because there’s so much stigma even in coed martial sports… Groups like LudoSport and Saberist Academy are making an effort to encourage a coed atmosphere. But there are still a lot of roadblock, often from well-intended men who think they’re being inclusive because they let you be there. That, unfortunately, is not the same as respect.

Saber Maidens has a public page but it’s a closed group with more than 50 members. That’s pretty large for a closed group!

I used to know everyone that was involved. I met them at a convention or at costuming choreography meetups. But now there’s a lot of people from all over the place. And Saber Maidens is maturing into a group to be very proud of.

The Saber Maidens motto is “saving the galaxy one stitch at a time.” What was the inspiration for that slogan?

We had been going back and forth about it for a while. We must have had 200 or 300 ideas. I am probably exaggerating a little. But that came together very organically. I think one of us was cross stitching Star Wars characters and there were some jokes about “A Stitch in Time,” and then it escalate and before I knew it, there it was.

Why a group for just women? I think some men might assume (quite wrongly) that women aren’t interested in lightsabers.

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaahaha.

Just a minute. I’m almost finished laughing and then I can answer your question.

You said, “some men.” Even men who identify as feminist can become protective of their lightsaber man space with an Imperialistic authority.

And more importantly, we’re trying to be more inclusive than just women. There’s a lot of people who identify in a lot of different ways who get left out of the conversation when it becomes machismo dominant.

Your members belong to a diverse array of Star Wars costuming groups, including Rebel Legion, the 501st, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild. That sounds so fun! What’s that like?

It is a privilege to have a costume that is accepted by one or all of these groups where you can go out and represent Lucasfilm to the public. I’m very proud of the volunteer work I have been able to do as a member. But we have quite a few Saber Maidens who participate purely for the love of lightsabers and the love of Star Wars and for whatever reason don’t want to be members of the costuming clubs.

Are you a member of any of these groups?

I have an approved costume with Saber Guild. I also served as costume coordinator and  local assistant director for Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. Currently, I’m representing a Saber Guild outpost in the high desert of central California. I’m also working on approval for several costume with Rebel Legion.

But, of course, what’s first on my to-finish list will be the Jedi Leia (costume) from Empire Infinities.

What’s your personal involvement in the “saber arts”?

I first got involved with a little group in the Bay Area. We eventually evolved into the group that is now Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. My first performance with Saber Guild was at the 2012 San Diego International Comic-Con.

Celeste with the Saber Guild at San Diego Comic-Con.

I’ve also been involved in several saber dueling clubs. I was the first woman in the Bay Area Saber Legion Charter. I was also one of two women who competed in the first International Saber Legion tournament. I’m very proud of that. The martial sport of saber dueling is so very, very different than choreography and cosplay.

What I do with Saber Guild dressed as a Jedi librarian is more like dancing with my Sith opponent. Combative martial sports with lightsabers is more like aggressive speed dating.

Celeste sports a Hat for House Elves.

Do you do a lot of costume making? If so, what Star Wars costumes have you built or put together? Where did you learn the skills required for that?

I started putting together costumes and dressing as Princess Leia at 5. As a child, I did Ren Faires. And I had a dress-up trunk in my room. Why wait for Halloween dress-up when you can dress up all year long? A lot of my early costumes were purchased pieces combined with thrift store finds. I didn’t do much original fabrication until that last five years.

I didn’t learn how use a sewing machine until I was in my early 30s. I started making hats and Harry Potter cosplay. In 2015, one of the other founding Saber Maiden’s, Mary Fischer-Boyd, took me under her wing and really showed me the art of Jedi and Sith costuming. Mary and Pat have a panel they do at many of the cons in the Bay Area, “How to Dress as a Jedi.” The both showed me the ways of the Jedi robe making.

Celeste, front row, second from left, at a Saber Legion meetup.

What do you enjoy most about it?

The hospital visits that I have done have been the most rewarding and memorable adventures. Star Wars was an escape for me when I was growing up. Haha … it still is an escape for me. And I think it is for a lot of people. I just really enjoy that I can set all the mundane stuff aside, the real life stuff, and just give myself permission to play. I feel really fortunate that I had parents who nurtured my passions and interests.

There were some horrible things that happened to me in my childhood. Without going into the unpleasant details, I’ll just say that I really over-identify with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Star Wars and Carrie Fisher have helped me find balance in my day to day struggles as a survivor of rape with PTSD.

When I am in costume, I love to see the adults come out of their shell. Not everybody had my mother and father, not everybody had a costume trunk when they were kids. Some kids don’t get to be kids. And playing is a learned behavior. If you never learned how to play as a child then you really should learn how to play as an adult. Like Mark Hamill said, “Learning to play is cheaper than therapy.”

Celeste at Star Wars Celebration 2017.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Sometimes we actually get sewing projects done. But there’s also a lot of consultation like, “This is what I’m working on, this is the problem, how would you solve it?” There’s also support, like when you’re costuming a lot of body issues come up, so we support each other around exercise and diet and health problems. And we remind each other to be kind to ourselves.

I think the best thing about it is that there’s such a broad base and we try and include both costuming and choreography. Some of our members find it difficult to do choreography and learn choreography in a machismo atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong most of the guys are great, but it only takes one bad egg to stink up the kitchen.

Once I was working with a student who just felt too embarrassed to work on choreo in a coed environment. So having a place to practice, a place where you can get over all of your insecurities and play, I think that’s really what our crafting/saber meetups are about. Being a community.

Could you briefly explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion or Saber Guild?

All of the costumed organizations have their own set of costuming rules so it can be challenging.

The first thing to do is to be in contact with your local costume advisor or coordinator or director.

People often want to do a big fancy costume first. I discourage this. Do the simple basic generic non-face character costume first. Figure out all the bells and whistles and hoops you have to jump through because most likely your costume is not going to get approved the first time around. Then when you’ve done the generic, you can delve into a more complicated costume.

Celeste as Princess Leia in 1987.

You’ve been a Leia fan since childhood. How were you affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I was deeply affected! I remember when I read the news I was standing in my kitchen and I laid down on the floor and I cried, and then I called in sick.

Carrie Fisher put her struggles out there, her attitude was f*** them if they didn’t understand. She has been and still is a role model to me. That brazen honesty, that internal strength is something I still admire about Carrie Fisher.

You saw Star Wars at the age of 5 in the summer of ’77 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Tell me about your memories and first impressions of that.

My vivid memory … The movie was over and I was told I had to leave and I didn’t want to leave. And I remember shuffling my feet and staring at the carpet. And then I started to cry as I wanted to see it again. My Dad picked me up and one of the ushers in the fancy hats said, “You will get to see it again.” I have seen it 100 times. I dreamed that night of Death Stars and princesses wielding lightsabers.

Your mom was a DC Comics and sci-fi fan who raised you on Doctor Who, Star Trek, and classic monster movies. How did that shape you?

I grew up living this stuff. My mother is 87. Her favorite gift for her birthday this year was Wonder Woman sheets. Fandoms transcend age. I’ve never known anything else. When I became an adult and started meeting people who had never seen Star Wars and didn’t know who Doctor Who was, that was culture shock for me.

At home, It wasn’t seen as a childish thing. The idea that people had that I would somehow grow out of my love of Star Wars was extremely foreign to me. I’m 47 now, so any friends that I used to have that were hoping I’d grow out of it have moved on or they’ve gotten used to it.

Celeste and R2-D2 at the 10th anniversary Star Wars convention.

You saw Star Wars again in ’87 for its 10th anniversary and your parents came with you. What was that like?

We weren’t there just to see the movie. It was a four-day convention. But that was when my dad realized that Star Wars was more than just a kids movie. I think I was the only high school student there and the only fan there with their parents. Most of the people were aspiring filmmakers. I made quite a few friends … lost track of most of them over the years. We didn’t have Facebook back then.

What is it about the Star Wars universe that continues to intrigue and inspire you after all these years?

I’m a Star Wars mega fan. It’s my foundation. I cannot imagine not having Star Wars in my life. Being this deep into a franchise is kind of like being attached to the place you grew up. Some people leave their hometown. Some people take their hometown with them wherever they go. And some people stay right there their whole life. That’s what Star Wars is for me.

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

Wow, that’s a question, so you want me to write a book right?

The Rose Tico quote is a repeated theme within the Star Wars mythos. It’s just the first time that it was put into those words and said by someone who is not a man.

Luke had a very similar line in “Return of the Jedi” when he told Vader he would not fight him in the Emperor’s throne room and when the Death Star was exploding all around Luke is helping his father die with dignity, which I think was one of the first on-screen euthanasias. ”I have to save you.”

Anakin replayed, “You already have.” Vader came back to the light when he stopped fighting what he hated, the Empire and started fighting for what he loved, his son.

I think the Star Wars haters are very insecure people who receive some sort of emotional satisfaction through the act of complaining. If they don’t like it they should just watch a different movie. Or better yet, if they really, actually, truly love Star Wars then they should go make their own Star Wars movie or go write their own fanfiction. This franchise is alive because that’s what people did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s when there wasn’t anything.

Star Wars is a huge universe. Make it bigger, make it better, talk to your therapist and take your medication. At least I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would tell people.

Celeste at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003.

There also still seems to be a fair amount of misogyny in the Star Wars fandom. Have you encountered any of that?

Is there sand on Jakku?

We live in a sexist, misogynistic, bigoted society and at one time or another we’re all guilty of something. I would like to think that Star Wars fans are more enlightened. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Percentage-wise I think there is less misogyny and sexism then there was in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But I think the Star Wars fandom has changed and there is actually more misogyny now than there was in 1987.

One of the questions that George Lucas was asked in 1987 at the 10th anniversary convention was, “Why aren’t there more female characters in Star Wars?”

His answer was something to the effect that Star Wars was a war movie and women didn’t belong in war movies. There was a resounding unified “booooo” from the entire audience. I’m not sure an answer like that would get a “boo” now. There are men out there who seem to think it’s the feminist agenda that has ruined their franchise.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I used to be big into classic “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rogers,” but that’s only because it reminded me of Star Wars. As an adult I’ve been fascinated by Harry Potter and the entire steampunk Star Wars mashups stuff.

You’ve done costuming in the Harry Potter fandom and Steampunk genre. Tell me more about some of the other costumes you’ve done.

I really like capes! I have a closet full of capes that would astound even Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately, not many Jedi wear capes and neither does Leia.

You’re a single mom with a 23-year-old son who’s also a geek. Any advice on how to raise amazing geek children?

Figure out what they like and immerse them in it. Don’t force them to like your franchise. Ask them to explain their favorite franchise to you.

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

And now, a few Star Wars questions.

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

Star Wars Holiday Special. Just kidding. “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Besides Leia, who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker, Duchess Satine.

Favorite droid?

L3-37, Lando’s droid in “Solo.”

Lightsaber color?

I have plans for making a paisley lightsaber.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I’m Porg neutral. But very fond of Lepis. And I feel adamant that Jaxxon should replace the Easter Bunny.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Like us on Facebook and just start participating in the conversation.

Funko Pop! photographer finds her niche in Polish pop culture scene

After posting a fairly nondescript photo of my husband’s new Enfys Nest Funko Pop! on Instagram, I discovered the wonderful world of Pop! photography, courtesy of up-and-coming young artist Klaudia Sebastian.

So many of us have become obsessed with our collections of these irresistibly geeky figures, it’s only fitting that some creative and enterprising photogs would begin showcasing them to spectacular effect in clever or idyllic settings.

Judging by social media, Pop! photography is definitely a thing in the U.S., but Klaudia says it isn’t as popular in the small city she calls home in Poland. There, she’ll hop on her bike with her cell phone and a backpack full of Pops and put the gorgeous natural scenery that surrounds her to good use as a backdrop.

As Klaudia has discovered, Pops make ideal photographic subjects. Whether they be stars of Game of Thrones, “Jurassic Park”-era Jeff Goldblum, the cast of The Walking Dead, or popular video game characters, they never fidget or complain and the photographer maintains complete control over the shoot.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Klaudia about the pop culture scene in Poland (they have “The Last Jedi” haters, too), her childhood love of Star Wars, how her mom got her into Game of Thrones, her affection for “Walking Dead” villain Negan, and the six years she spent training in the sport of football (soccer). 

As a bonus, she schooled me about legendary German industrial metal band Rammstein. 

You can see Klaudia’s strikingly composed Pop! pics and follow her photographic exploits on her Insta, @geekoza. If you read Polish, you can also check out her blog.

Your Instagram, @geekoza, features wonderful photos of Funko Pops posed in natural settings or against colorful and creative backdrops. How did you first get the idea to capture these images?

I started taking photos of my Pops when I heard about a competition which was organized by popvinyl.pl. In this competition you could win Pops figures. I decided to take part in this competition. Why not? I really got to like taking photos of Pops figures in different environments, everywhere I thought it would be nice.

What was the first Funko Pop photo you took?

The first Pops figure I took a photo of is C-3PO with red arm from “The Force Awakens.” I put him on a Christmas tree and then I took a photo by my mobile phone. I think that it looks nice.

Apparently, Funko Pop! photography is a big thing. I wasn’t aware of that! Do you interact with any other Pop photographers?

Taking photos of Pops figures isn’t a big deal for everybody. I think in Poland just a few people are interested in this. Moreover, I think that none are doing this in a professional way. And no, I don’t cooperate with anybody. I am trying to do better and better photos just by (and for) myself. It’s a hobby for me, a hobby which includes taking photos and collecting Pops figures.

Do you have a background or training in photography?

No, I’m self-taught. I’ve liked taking photos for ages. I was taking photos of everything, no matter if it was picturesque landscapes or normal mugs. Every photo I’ve made I took with my mobile phone. I don’t have any professional equipment but I hope that someday I will have that.

You’ve been a collector of Funko Pops since 2017. How many Pops do you have in your collection?

I bought my first Pops figure in November 2017 at Comic Con in Warsaw. It was a Negan (from “The Walking Dead”) figure. At the present moment, I have 33 figures in my collection. Maybe it is not a lot, but my collection is constantly growing.

What are some of your favorite or most prized Pops?

My favorite Pops figure is lying down Malcolm from “Jurassic Park.” The figure is different from others, it’s special. The most valuable Pops figures are Night King from Game of Thrones — limited edition from Summer Convention (2017) — and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars — limited edition from Galactic Convention (2017).

Where do you tend to get your Pops from?

Almost all of my Pops figures I bought on popvinyl.pl. Usually I get them one day after I bought them. Also, I am sure that all of my figures will be packed and delivered in a perfect way. A lot of figures I got from GameShop from Germany. In Poland there are few shops which have Funko figures.

Where do you keep your Funko Pops?

All my Pops are sorted out on the shelves in my room. I will be moving out soon so I am going to buy a special cabinet for them.

Tell me about the process of setting up a Funko Pop shot. Is it a lot of work or is it more of a fast, spontaneous thing?

Most of the photos I took very spontaneously. I usually take a bike and go ahead with a few Pops in my backpack. I have many beautiful places around my house. I had to prepare a little bit more to take the last photo of Malcolm. I had to prepare, e.g. accessories. Overall, almost all of my photos I took spontaneously.

A lot of your photos feature beautiful natural settings, which is kind of unexpected. Why do you like to shoot them outside?

I’ve always liked to photograph outside. The natural light looks really good in the pictures. And the Pops look great surrounded by plants.

Why photograph Pops, as opposed to something else? What do you like about it?

I think that taking photos of Pops figures is much easier than taking photos of humans or animals. This figure will not move. I can put it in an environment that I choose, in a pose that I want. Probably I like the most control of the situation. I decide what to do and anyone else can’t complain, haha.

You’re building a following for your Instagram. How have people on social media reacted to your photos?

People react really great! They added nice comments, left a lot of likes. It probably means that they like it, right? I want every geek to find something on my profile. It does not matter if he/she is a Star Wars fan or Games of Thrones fan.

You live in a small city in Poland. What is the pop culture scene like there? Are people as crazy about fandoms as they are in America?

I think that in Poland it is a different mindset than in the USA. Of course, in Poland you have a lot of fans of pop culture but you also have people who don’t like those fans of pop culture. Maybe I am wrong. I hope so. I am sooo happy that in Poland we have more and more events for geeks, eg. games fair, Comic Cons … we have progress here!

How did you become interested in fandoms and geek culture?

I think I liked superheroes from childhood. It’s been developing all the time, next movies, more comics, gadgets. I always watched all the movies with my parents and they probably instilled this love of geek culture in me.

A lot of your Pops are from the series Game of Thrones. How did you discover the show? What do you love about it?

A few years ago, my mom told me about this series. She said that everybody was talking about it and it probably is awesome. Something that has so many good opinions cannot be bad. I saw the first episode but I didn’t get the “awesome” of it. It was okay. After the second episode I got why this is such a super series and I started to love it. No regrets! In GoT, I like most the fact that we can’t be sure 100%. This series engrosses us. This is what I like about it.

Who’s your favorite GOT character?

Jaime Lannister. Definitely. The Lannister’s line appealed to me. I like villains. People sometimes take some things too seriously. I went to Warsaw to Comic Con last year. I met Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon) and I could talk with him for a minute. He said that some people threatened him just because he had a villain role. In real life he is very nice person!

Klaudia and Jack Gleeson, who played Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones, at Warsaw Comic Con.

Do you have to wait in Poland as long as we do in the U.S. for the final season?

Unfortunately, yes. We have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. Let’s hope that it is worth waiting and the last season will be amazing.

Star Wars is another fandom that pops up in your photos. I notice you’ve photographed Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian a lot. Is he one of your favorites?

I think that Donald Glover played the best part in “Solo.” His Lando is really close to the original Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams). From the newest Disney movies, “Solo” is one of my favorites.

Tell me about your Star Wars memories. How did you first get into George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

I was a 6- or 7-year-old-girl. Every Saturday I used to watch Star Wars with my dad and his friend. Every single part, one by one. Sometimes we were watching a few movies without any break.

What’s your favorite Star Wars movie or story?

Maybe I am not original, but my favorite movie is Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back.” I think that is the best George Lucas film if we are talking about plotline.

Are people in Poland as angry about “The Last Jedi” as they are in the U.S.?

Yes, many people think that Disney destroyed Star Wars. Some people are exaggerating. I think Disney made a mistake in making movies every year. This is too much and it is not healthy.

You often pose your Pops with books. I’m assuming you’re a bookworm. What are some of your favorites?

Maybe I would not call myself a bookworm but, yes, I like to read. The series about Geralt of Rivia (that inspired “The Witcher” video game) is my favorite. I really enjoy reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s books (author of “The Witcher” books). I think he is a master in his profession. Recently, one of my favorite books is Leopoldo Gout’s “Genius: The Game.”

There are also a lot of video game references in your photos. How long have you been gaming?

I started to play as a child. My first console was PlayStation 1. I seriously started playing in 2013 when the new console hit the stores — PlayStation 4. I do not do it professionally. I play in my spare time. I treat it as a hobby.

What games are you currently playing?

Nowadays, I’m playing “The Witcher” and “Call of Duty”. Sometimes I still have a chance to play FIFA and “Star Wars Battlefront II.”

You’re a fan of “The Walking Dead.” What do you enjoy most about that series?

I have been watching this series for several years. I love the characters in it. In early seasons, their roles were really well written. Now I am watching it more with sentiment and great love for Negan.

What’s your survival strategy for the zombie apocalypse?

I think the best option is to find a village with high walls to prevent zombies from getting inside. The weapons and supplies of food are also important. I think that the best chance of survival would be in a small group.

You like both Marvel and DC. Do you read the comics or watch the movies or both?

That’s true, I like Marvel and DC. But Marvel a little bit more. I read comics and watch movies and TV series. I really like superheroes.

Any favorites?

I do not think I have a favorite comic of DC or Marvel. I read a lot of them and I like them all. However, my favorite comic is “The Walking Dead.” This comic book is the best in my opinion. And from movies, it’s probably “The Avengers.”

You’re also into Jurassic Park. Are you a fan of the original movies or the reboots or both?

This is a very similar situation to Star Wars. I like both but the original films were better, more fresh. Now it is only a repetition of one scheme.

Jeff Goldblum has been a favorite Pops photo subject for you. I have a feeling he would approve.

Definitely, the figurine versions of Jeff Goldblum are my favorites. He is a great actor! I’m very happy that he recently got his own Hollywood star. Better late than never!

You said that “music is basically my life” and you’re particularly obsessed with German heavy metal band Rammstein. Tell me more!

That’s true. Music is my life. I listen to music every time when I am able to do it. Actually Rammstein is not heavy metal. This band plays industrial metal. Actually, they created a new type of metal — Neue Deutsche Härte. I started to love this band when I was 8 years old. My dad was listening to Rammstein’s album “Rosenrot” then. To the present day, I’ve seen Rammstein live twice. It was a big experience for me. Now I am waiting for their new album and new tour.

You’re also a big fan of football (soccer). Have you been watching the World Cup?

Of course, I’m watching! Unfortunately, the two teams which are the closest to my heart have already managed to say goodbye to this tournament. Neither Germans nor Poles have been promoted. I think that now I will cheer on Mexico.

You’ve been training in the sport for six years. Tell me more about that.

I’ve been training in football for six years. Now I can’t play due to my ankle injury. The doctor said that I can’t play anymore. I have been playing only with boys because then I was the only girl playing. I have been a captain for some time! Maybe it was the best six years of my life and I regret that I cannot play football any more.

What’s the state of women’s football in Poland? What’s your experience been like as a woman in the sport?

In Poland, women’s football is in progress. There are more and more girls’ teams! I’m so happy about it. More men started to respect women who are playing this sport. I am lucky for being on a team who doesn’t care about my sex. Football is my favorite sport and always, when I am thinking about this sport, I have only good connotations.

Would you ever want to make a career out of photography or even Funko Pop! photography?

I’ve never thought about it seriously. At the moment this is my hobby. If I ever could make a career in photography, I would be really happy because taking photos is what I love to do!

Are there any rare or unusual Pops you’d like to add to your collection?

I think that one of the rare Pops figures I would like to add to my collection is the limited Indiana Jones from San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Of course, there are many Pops that I would like to have in my collection. But I think my collection will grow day by day.

 

For a film about one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses, ‘Solo’ is lacking in badassery

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Is it just me or was the arrival of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” a little underwhelming?

Despite the fact that Disney and Lucasfilm unleashed the usual merchandising and promotional blitz for the film months ago and despite much discussion and debate on the part of fans, “Solo” hit theaters without the fever pitch of excitement and near veneration that typically accompanies the release of a Star Wars movie.

Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, if we’re going to be experiencing a new Star Wars movie every year, we can’t sustain the level of enthusiasm and intensity that surrounded, say, “The Force Awakens.” We’ve got to pace ourselves, lest we burn out. Thus, the generally “meh” reaction.

“Solo” is the first of several planned prequel or spin-off films focused on popular characters from the original Star Wars trilogy. A Boba Fett movie was recently confirmed, for instance, while an Obi-Wan Kenobi prequel is rumored to be in the works.

Already there are two contingents forming on social media in regard to the merits of “Solo,” or lack thereof. They seem to be split evenly into one camp that thinks the movie is just fine and another that thinks it could have been much better.

It also feels to me like everyone is slightly nervous and bracing themselves for an outpouring of vitriol similar to the wave of pure hatred that crested after the release of “The Last Jedi.” I don’t think anybody has the strength or energy to go through that again, and this raises an interesting point.

Since we’re now living in a world where we have a virtually endless supply of Star Wars stories, we’re going to have to start allowing for subjectivity and personal taste and accept the fact that not every person is going to like every movie, nor should they be required to.

As a passionate fangirl, I’m preaching to myself when I say, let’s allow everyone to have their own opinions when it comes to the galaxy far, far away. Let’s not attack each other and squander our time and energy trolling each other. I’m issuing a call for a more tolerant, peaceful, pleasant Star Wars fandom.

With that said, I’ll open myself up to the trolling and declare that after seeing “Solo,” I’m leaning toward the more disappointed side of the spectrum of reactions.

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There are many things I enjoyed about the movie, and considering its tortured production history – during which director Ron Howard pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up – perhaps the fact that it isn’t a complete catastrophe is impressive in and of itself. On many levels, though, I wouldn’t consider it a success.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the young Han and was subjected to many rumors during production questioning everything from his resemblance to Harrison Ford to his acting ability.

As it turns out, Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying the roguish smuggler in his formative years. He’s enough like Ford to be recognizable as the beloved character, but he’s not enslaved to showy imitation. Confidently tossing off some of the cocky Corellian’s best one-liners, he’s got the Solo swagger down and adds a touch of vulnerability, befitting a man who has yet to turn cynical.

A script by legendary Star Wars producer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan, ushers us into the seedy underbelly of a galaxy under the control of ruthless mafia factions. It opens on Han’s home planet, where the scrappy survivor and aspiring pilot, and his resourceful girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are forced to do the bidding of the “foul” Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Meanwhile, they scheme to procure their own ship and escape the planet to find freedom among the stars.

Han’s relationship with Qi’ra is sweet, I suppose, but it didn’t work for me because Clarke, out of necessity, plays her as such an enigma – she’s part femme fatale, part girl that got away, with a hint of a dark side – that I could never get a complete read on her and who she is. (She’s also the definite type of leading lady Lucasfilm is stuck on – the brunette, white female. Can we get a woman of color or maybe a redhead next time?)

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Howard infuses “Solo” with vibes that are half “A New Hope,” half “Return of the Jedi.” The film is well stocked with weird, but likable aliens, eccentric scoundrels, and an underworld atmosphere that calls to mind the comically debauched palace and barge of that most famous of Star Wars gangsters, Jabba the Hutt. The movie is rough around the edges in a way that perfectly suits the story of a scruffy-looking nerfherder like Han. (It’s also annoyingly under-lit and has the most hyperactive soundtrack of any Star Wars film yet, but I digress.)

At the start, this is all very promising. Things are looking good as Howard treats us to a fun speeder chase and an unexpectedly visceral scene set on an Imperial battlefield that has all the grit of a World War II skirmish. It is here that Han hooks up with a band of thieves, led by Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his right-hand lady, Val (Thandie Newton), one of several characters who exits the movie far too quickly.

Howard dutifully walks us through the requisite origin story details. We learn where Han got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how he came by his iconic blaster, and how he acquired his beloved Millennium Falcon.

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The Falcon, of course, comes into his possession after he meets charming gambler Lando Calrissian, played in his younger incarnation by Donald Glover. Glover’s Lando is undoubtedly one of the highlights of “Solo.” Clad in a fabulous sleek and silky wardrobe, he oozes irresistible charisma, elegance, and deadpan humor. Every minute he’s on-screen, the movie feels more substantial and satisfying than it actually is.

Lando presides over one of the weirdest scenes in the film, which involves his droid sidekick, L3-37, a sassy, egalitarian ‘bot voiced by “Killing Eve” writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. L3 carries on Lucasfilm’s tradition of creating lovably memorable droids, but as with many of the best personalities in “Solo,” she’s not around long enough to make much of an impact.

After the initial introduction of Lando, “Solo” struggles to find its footing. It’s a funny movie, but a lot of the humor falls flat, as does the romance between Han and Qi’ra. (The bromance between Chewie and Han, however, is timeless.)

There are large swathes of the script that just drag in terms of pacing and hooking the audience. Even a visual-effects-heavy sequence built around that legendary OT reference to making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs is depressingly blasé. For a large portion of the film, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to really care about what was happening.

When it ends, “Solo” feels incomplete. Perhaps that’s intentional given the rumors that Lucasfilm may be planning a sequel. However, the movie doesn’t earn that right in the way that, say, the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” did.

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There is a moment in the film’s third act where we catch an electrifying glimmer of what “Solo: A Star Wars Story” could have been. I don’t want to spoil it, but it involves a character whose true identity is suddenly revealed and it is so stunning, I nearly leapt out of my seat.

Up until then, “Solo” displays a considerable lack of badassery for a film built around one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses.

I hope with all my being we see this magnificent character again in future chapters of the franchise.

Photos: Disney/Lucasfilm. 

‘Looking for Leia’ director gives Star Wars fangirls a voice

It’s currently cool to be a Star Wars fan, especially since Disney bought George Lucas’ epic trilogy with the aim of spinning it into new content for all eternity.

If you’re a woman of a certain age, however, you may remember the days when Star Wars fangirls were, at best, lonely or, at worst, made to feel like freaks. It’s only in the last few years the fandom has become so popular, its inclusiveness has been taken for granted.

With this in mind, documentary filmmaker and psychotherapist Annalise Ophelian dreamed up “Looking for Leia,” a six-part docuseries headed into post-production. The project began with a question: “Who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom, and what stories do they have to tell about what they love and how they express that?”

A lifelong fan of Lucas’ original trilogy, Ophelian was inspired by her first experience at Star Wars Celebration, further galvanized by the demoralizing 2016 election, and persevered through the challenges presented by an independent, self-financed production and the sudden passing of the original Leia, Carrie Fisher.

As a queer woman, Ophelian was drawn to documentary film because she didn’t see herself represented on screen. It’s no surprise then that representation is a high priority for her, both in front of and behind the camera. “Looking for Leia” places an emphasis on the stories of a culturally diverse group of women, while promoting women in film behind the scenes as well.

Along the way, “Looking for Leia” has become something more compelling than a simple doc about Star Wars fangirls. It’s a thoughtful exploration of the transcendent nature of fandoms and intergenerational bonds, as well as a bold exercise in intersectionality and “decolonizing” the documentary.

As Ophelian describes it, the series is “a joyous gender justice project,” and it’s been warmly embraced by the Star Wars community, which means hopefully we’ll get to see it soon. 

First of all, I have to tell you, I got a little emotional watching a trailer for “Looking for Leia” because I discovered Star Wars in the late ’80s and I remember feeling sometimes like I was the only girl who loved it. Does this seem to be a common reaction to your project?

It is! I’m now joking saying “making women cry since 2017,” because it’s such a universal response. But I don’t think it’s sad crying. I think it’s the kind of emotion we experience when we see ourselves reflected in a space where we’ve become acclimated to being excluded for so long.

Tell me more about the concept for “Looking for Leia,” which explores the Star Wars phenomenon from the perspective of a diverse group of fangirls. It started as a film, but evolved into a six-part docuseries. 

I started with a question: Who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom, and what stories do they have to tell about what they love and how they express that? And from there I started talking with folks, all over the US and some places out of the US, and a picture of participatory fandom emerged, and also of the function and role of fandom in participants’ sense of self and relationships with others.

In January, when I went to start assembling, I realized that 40 years of transmedia franchise translates into a lot of forms of fandom and it simply wasn’t going to work to squash these into a feature format. I’m also really fond of episodic, streaming and web-based media. I think it’s tremendously accessible and also much more reflective of how we’re consuming media right now. So in the spring I started developing this as a limited episode series, which gives us a bit more breathing room around each topic.

I’m not sure many people are even aware female Star Wars fans were marginalized in the past. Why do you think that is? 

Well, I think the assumption is that women are new to Star Wars fandom, and to geek culture in general. When I started the project in early 2017, every media inquiry started with, “What do you think has brought women to Star Wars fandom recently?” and I had to answer every one with, “Women have alway been in sci-fi and fantasy fandom, from the start. In fact, we invented the genre.”

Interestingly, I don’t get that question any more. The cultural conversation in the last year has shifted and I think there’s a slowly growing understanding that what we see, in terms of who is visible, doesn’t reflect who is there. It reflects who has the access, who has the resources, who is listened to and believed. I also think it’s perfectly human to only notice things you relate to. So when cis guys tell me, “I didn’t know any girls into Star Wars when I was growing up,” that means those girls weren’t known to them, not that those girls didn’t exist.

I think fanzine and letter zine culture is a great example — in the late ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, there were upward of 1,000 of these in print, 95% of the editors and contributors were women, and these zines were hugely text rich, in some cases hundreds of pages of single spaced type with very few illustrations, just gobs and gobs of fanfic and theories and exposition on Star Wars (and other geekdoms). And for the women who read and contributed to these zines, this was a huge part of their community and connection to their fandom.

But until now these have had very little mainstream coverage. I didn’t know about them until researching this project. We’re really bringing our histories into the light and preserving them in this series, so that the next generation can look back and say, “This is my fandom heritage, I have roots here and I have foremothers who paved the way.”

You were inspired to make “Looking for Leia” after attending Star Wars Celebration in 2015. The 2016 election furthered your resolve. How did these events spark the idea?

I’d been to cons since the 1990s, during the “dark times” when Star Wars was effectively over and there was no thought we were getting more. I became a big “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan and went to Trek conventions, and later WonderCon and local cons, ZomBCon, stuff like this. And I was very accustomed to being one of a few women — Trek cons had more women than most, but still, I would show up, often with my younger brother or by myself, and be prepared to navigate a sea of cis fanboys.

And I went to Celebration Anaheim with the same mindset, and was really amazed by the number of women there, and how welcoming the space felt. In particular, I loved the Reed Pop rules of conduct, this idea that “cosplay is not consent” and that things like “no bathroom policing” were put up front in the con rules.

I felt like the organizers understood some of the problems that women, cis and trans, and nonbinary folks go through in these spaces. I left Celebration feeling incredible, like I’d tapped into a community where I could show up fully for the first time, just talking about Star Wars 12 hours a day, I had such con drop going home! And it was the first time I saw groups of other women, and it made me want to know more, because these were people I did not see in mainstream representations of fan culture.

I was finishing up my last feature (“MAJOR!”), and then on the festival circuit with that film, which was a biopic about a black transgender activist and elder, and during the making of that film I was acutely aware of how out of my lane I was making it, as a white cisgender woman. I was asked to come onto the project and said yes, but throughout knew that the next project I did I wanted to be thoroughly in my lane, and a fangirl project felt both very culturally appropriate and also like a sort of self-care break. The last film had taken an emotional toll.

And then in the ramp-up to the 2016 election and especially right after I, like so many, felt scared and hopeless and I knew if I was going to keep making film I was going to need a project that had some joy infused throughout it. I think a main theme of all my work is resilience as a form of resistance. I tend to see the ways people survive and celebrate and find this more compelling that the sort of otherizing trauma porn that documentary can sometimes turn into.

“Looking for Leia” appealed to me as a joyous gender justice project, and also as a project that could treat a subject that has traditionally portrayed as shallow or frivolous as significant and meaningful.

The project hit a hurdle early on after the passing of Carrie Fisher. How did you deal with that obstacle?

I was getting ready to drive my mom and brother to the airport when the news of her passing hit my Twitter feed, and I just got up and walked into the bathroom, closed the door and sobbed. And then I kept crying, in line at the grocery store or in my car, at all kinds of inconvenient moments for the next two weeks.

It was just such grief, I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my community since the late 1980s and there’s something unique about losing artists. When Derek Jarman and Marlon Riggs both passed, I was so deeply heartbroken. It was a grief not just for the person but also for the work, knowing that there would be no new creations from these artists and that the world would be a lesser place because of it.

I felt like the project died with Carrie. My original concept for the piece was to road-trip around the US, and I thought I’d be able to put together a compelling reel to show her reps and she’d sit down and give me an interview to tie the film together, talking about her iconic role and her relationship to fandom.

I already had my tickets to Star Wars Celebration Orlando and had planned to film there, and my partner said, “You have to go, you have to talk with women about what Carrie Fisher meant to them, but also women are going to show up for this Celebration and you should be there to hear their stories.” Shortly after that, I learned about the Drowning in Moonlight Gala (honoring Fisher) and spoke with the organizers, who were incredibly generous and invited us to film there, and it moved forward from that point.

You dreamed up “Looking for Leia” before Disney released “The Force Awakens.” Did the new generation of Star Wars films change the nature of the project at all? 

All along my intention has been to focus on participatory fandom, and fandom as an internal experience, more than content critique. So the films, shows, and books themselves exist in this project in terms of reference points or sites of fandom, but I don’t get into the impact Rey has had on the franchise or the fandom. This is a strategic decision in terms of working with IP, but also story/character analysis is very subjective, and as I think we can see on Twitter, folks can get really riled up about their faves and why something is or isn’t subjectively “good.”

I will occasionally get angry letters from folks saying, “Why aren’t you talking about such and such, because this content is by far better than this other content,” and I always write back and say that’s not what this project is about, I don’t have stakes in what’s good or bad, I’m interested in women’s subjective experience of loving with and connecting with a thing, and all the complexities that involves.

What I wasn’t expecting, and perhaps was silly to not anticipate, was that the franchise would be so incredibly huge. When I conceptualized this project we didn’t know Rey was the protagonist of the new films, or that we’d be flooded with options for women’s merchandise, or that we’d be getting new Star Wars content every year for the rest of our lives. The fan community still occupied outsider space, and since 2015 it’s now become the most mainstream and popular thing you can love.

With tons of financing and resources I would have ideally finished this series and be launching it this summer, but as an indie producer who is self-funded and also needs to work to keep a roof over my head, my process is slower. Staying focused on fandom as a phenomenological experience helps the project stay timely despite the incredible changes happening in the franchise itself.

You recently reached a major crowdfunding milestone on Seed&Spark. Congratulations! Tell me more about your crowdfunding efforts and how the Star Wars fan community is showing support for the film. 

I can say without reservation that this project would not exist without the support of fan community, who have been so generous through two rounds of crowd-sourcing and also with resources and time and talent. I’m acutely aware that the number of women with incredible stories and invaluable expertise in the world far outstrips my ability include folks on film, and I also appreciate the generosity of spirit that folks have in understanding that even if you aren’t on screen, I hope you feel a part of this series, that it feels like something that belongs to you.

Looking for Leia is in its second round of interviews and heading into post-production. What will this next phase look like? 

In the grand tradition of independent media making, it looks like a small group of us wearing many hats and spinning many plates! I’m simultaneously recording pick ups and b-roll while assembling, roughing out narration and hiring writers, roughing out animation and hiring illustrators, animators, and compositors, working with our amazing composer Christy Marshall on the score and mixing the a cappella John Williams music arranged and recorded by Kate Burns, Bri Holland, and singers from the Archer School for Girls, and seeking private sector sponsorship to help us cover licensing and legal costs and get us through the final stages of post, like color grading and titles and sound mixing, which really add up in terms of cost.

It’s been wonderful to work with so many great women and non-binary artists behind the scenes, and I’m excited to bring more hands on deck as we head into the final stages.

What has the production experience been like so far? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? 

Working on this production has been completely joyous. I get to talk with women about what they love, and it’s impossible to do that without some of that love rubbing off. Also, in daily life, I don’t think we have this conversation enough, “Tell me what you love and what purpose it serves in your life.” And, of course, the conversation is always complex, particularly for folks who live at the intersection of marginalized experience. None of us gets to love a thing in an uncomplicated way, but those complexities all showcase an incredible creativity and capacity for survivalism, and they speak to what we need more of.

The challenges are the expected ones. We’re a small crew and limited in the number of places we can reach geographically, we’re self-financed and in constant conversation about how to get what we need, and all of us are working more than one job, so there’s a point where there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve been on the road every couple of weeks for the past year and I miss my chihuahuas desperately when I travel!

What events and locations have you traveled to in search of footage? 

I’ve only filmed at a few conventions, because they’re logistically very difficult and expensive to film. We were at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, D23 in Anaheim, and GeekGirlCon in Seattle, and we were scheduled to panel and film a bunch of stuff at Universal FanCon. The demise of that convention definitely hit the production hard.

Conventions are places where we can talk to a geographically diverse group of folks without having to travel ourselves. We’ve also filmed all over the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’m based, Southern California, Seattle, Rock Point, Arizona, New York City, and Boston, and have pick ups scheduled in Detroit, Indianapolis, and Lexington.

We’ve got folks in Texas, Nevada, and Georgia that we’re hoping to bring to us. And I’ve had preliminary interviews with women in Oaxaca, Mexico, Osaka, Japan, and Lehore, Pakistan and would love to include these, but we don’t have the funding to do international travel at this point.

You’re striving to tell the stories of a culturally diverse group of women, many of them marginalized. Why is it important to you to focus on these women? 

I think often when we say “women” what we’re really saying is white, cis, straight, able-bodied, 18 to 35 year old Christian women born in the U.S., and we know this is what we mean because all other women are given an identity modifier — women of color, trans women, disabled women. And it creates a sort of either/or dynamic that also erases the incredible diversity and intersectionality of women’s voices.

One of my goals in this and every project is to push back against white supremacy and heteronormativity and all the ways the dominant group gets to occupy the silent neutral center, and shift the lens to ask women who live at the intersection of marginalized identities to speak from their own experiential expertise.

It’s also important, I think to ensure that these women aren’t only being asked to talk on identity-specific issues, aren’t just showing up on the designated section about race or sexual orientation or disability, but are present in front of and behind the camera in all aspects of the project.

Can you tell me about some of the memorable women you’ve interviewed? 

Honestly, every woman I’ve had the chance to talk with on this project has been memorable and amazing. I’d have a hard time narrowing it down. But I will say that I love hearing from women across generations.

I was talking with folks from the Empire Saber Guild in Madison Square Park, and I asked the question, “Who experienced bullying for being a geek in their childhood?,” and every woman but the youngest raised her hand, and the youngest person there said, “I haven’t experienced any of that, and it’s because of you. You all went through that so I don’t have to.”

I love seeing people’s creativity, and hearing how fandom has been a comfort during times of loss. I love hearing mothers and grandmothers talk about passing along their love of these stories to their kids, and I love hearing grown women talk about their mothers and grandmothers who were sci-fi and fantasy fans in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s and passed that love along to them.

The very first woman to reply to the contact form on our website last year is a Montessori teacher in the south bay of San Francisco who courted her husband by seeing “Revenge of the Sith” together three times in one weekend. She grew up in the Philippines in the 1990s and made her own Star Wars T-shirts and lunch boxes because there was no merch to buy in stores, and she created a group of My Little Pony Jedi mash-up cosplayers because she loves being able to make Jedi robes in bright rainbow colors and wanted to combine two of her favorite franchises.

There are just so many stories that showcase the ways we participate in fandom as a celebration of our capacity for joy, and a testament to the ways we use magic and story as a means of comfort and survival.

You’re also promoting women in filmmaking by recruiting many of them to work on the series. Why are you taking this approach? 

Cisgender men are incredibly over-represented in film industry jobs, from production into post-production. Of the top 100 grossing films in 2017, women accounted for 8% of directors (and the Annenberg numbers are a bit broader and put this number at 4%), 10% of writers, 24% of producers, 14% of editors, and just 2% of cinematographers. Two percent. Those grip and electric jobs, operating the cameras and rigging the lights, the actual people on the set as the film is being made, that’s an incredibly cis male work force.  Of the top 250 grossing films in 2017, 3% were scored by women composers.

Where we see those numbers shift at all are in indie projects like “Looking for Leia,” and in documentary in general, where women still only represent around 37% of all directors.  In terms of funding, women directors experience a fiscal cliff. When we’re able to get one project made, we’re often unable to secure funding for subsequent projects, and have a harder time raising money and getting production backing for films about women.

And women directors are also more likely to hire women to other production and post-production roles. Dee Rees made “Mudbound” with women at the head of all creative departments and below the line her crew was almost entirely women. Ava DuVernay has hired all women to direct both seasons of “Queen Sugar.”

I hire women, both cis and trans, and non-binary folks and trans guys to my crews because these are the people I connect with in community and want to work with, and also because I think we tell different stories. And I want my communities to have robust filmographies and get hired for more jobs, and we’re only able to do that when we have projects to show for it.

This line about hiring the best person for the job, which inevitably is the excuse given for hiring all white cis male directors, is a cognitive distortion. Producers are hiring the person who had the most access and the greatest resources to build their career, and this is a historically very homogenous group. I’m incredibly encouraged by shifts in the industry and the ways women who do achieve a level of success are reaching back and pulling up other women with them.

I read that you began making documentaries because you didn’t see yourself and your story represented on screen. How has that informed your career? 

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the process of filmmaking, largely because of Star Wars and Alien. The making of these films completely compelled me, the way these worlds were created with practical effects to become real. And in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no messaging whatsoever that filmmaking was a career option for me. I watched behind-the-scenes reels and saw only white cis guys building models, operating cameras, talking about process.

I was raised by American ‘70s and ‘80s cinema, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, and also Ridley Scott and James Cameron. These men were (and are) held up as masters and Lucas in particular is the reason why I’m able, technically, to be a filmmaker — his digital innovations proletarianized filmmaking and made it possible for the equipment used in filmmaking to be accessible to the masses.

But even when I started making films 10 years ago, the only place I saw myself was in documentary. I wasn’t questioned as a documentary filmmaker, I think because that genre is somewhat inherently feminized — women are supposed to be good listeners and in the service of someone else’s story. But I was also compelled to documentary because in the 1990s I was incredibly influenced by the work of Marlon Riggs, who was making deeply personal, political, poetic work about identity, internal experience, and navigating systems of oppression, and also Derek Jarman, who was making experimental narrative.

Both of these men were creating queer film in a way I had never seen before and made me feel like I could tell a story like this. So when I did finally approach the camera, it was after a lifetime of loving cinema without ever feeling like it was something I was allowed to make, and also loving documentary as a site of self-determination and agency and expression of untold stories.

You’re also a psychotherapist with degrees in clinical psychology and a private practice. Do you feel this gives you any unique insights into fandoms like Star Wars? 

There’s a benefit to having a lens on human behavior that seeks to understand the utility of actions. I believe that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and that some of us have less to work with in terms of internal and external resources than others. I think this framework does help me take fandom seriously, as a site of identity formation and something that informs relationships with others and in the world, and I’m often puzzled by media representations of fandom as something silly or weird.

The lens also helps me understand some of the mechanisms at work in on-line trolling and toxic fan behavior. But above all I’d like to think that my work in clinical psychology serves me as a researcher of human experience, there’s a methodological rigor to how I ask questions and then consolidate what I hear into a story, and an inherently collaborative practice that involves asking participants, “Did I get this right?,” which is very similar to how I work with people in therapy or supervision.

Star Wars played a big role in your journey to become a filmmaker. You’ve been a serious fan since 1977. Would you share some of your earliest Star Wars memories? 

My earliest Star Wars memories are actually from the summer of 1978, when Star Wars was playing at the second run theater within walking distance from my house in Fort Collins, Colorado. There was a one-color newsprint flyer with the summer movie offerings and I’d scan it every week to find which screening I’d go to. I saw it every week that summer. This was just after my brother was born and it would be years before he’d be old enough to do Star Wars with me, so those early experiences were just of loving the world, the music, the design of the ships and the look of the Tatooine desert.

You’ve remained strong with the Force throughout the years. Why is it such an enduring passion for you? 

In retrospect, I can say there’s something about the production design and the score and the story that is instantly familiar and transporting. As a child I listened to the read-along story books with my younger brother and to the Story of Star Wars album and relived the films over and over, to the point that I realized I could speak along with the film verbatim.

When I was in college in 1990 there was a completely non-sanctioned marathon of all three films and I was so excited for this, I actually had one of the promotional posters, this 11×17 xeroxed picture of Obi Wan with “Use the Force” on my wall. That college screening was the first time as a semi-grownup that I sat in a room of other semi-grownups and realized, hey, this is really a phenomenon, we really love this story. The world building was so perfectly all encapsulating. It was an immediate escape into something totally unlike my daily life and also completely familiar.

What are your thoughts on Disney’s new entries in the franchise, especially “The Last Jedi,” which sparked so much fan hate? 

I’ve been a lifelong Disney fan. My mother was at the park the year it opened and Disneyland has always been something we’ve done together, and the films and television shows were a huge part of my childhood, so I was quite happy when the Disney acquisition happened. I felt like this company has taken such good care of my childhood, and this means we’ll get more Star Wars.

In 1977, Star Wars was amazing because it was completely new, and yet totally familiar. And these new films are completely familiar, yet totally new. Liking a story is such a personal, subjective thing, and I can certainly appreciate that in a 40 year transmedia franchise there is going to be stuff folks like and stuff folks don’t. I loved “The Last Jedi.” It’s perhaps my favorite Star Wars film, on par with “Empire.” I felt like it was made for me in a way none of the previous films felt.

As someone who saw the original trilogy in the theaters as they were released, I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to watch my childhood heroes go through life and age in a way that is very relatable, will all the existential crisis and trauma and loss that is natural to life. I think I’m still adjusting to the fact that I’m going to get new Star Wars content for the rest of my life!

Lucasfilm recently announced Victoria Mahoney will be the first woman in the history of the franchise to serve as second unit director (on “Episode IX).” What are your thoughts on this news? 

Well, my first thought was this is great, everyone is going to learn what a second unit does!

I think these studios are in a unique position to really incubate and resource a huge amount of filmmaking talent, and in doing so create a new form of blockbuster that speaks to a massive underserved audience. I look at what Marvel did with Ryan Coogler and Rachel Morrison (in “Black Panther”). Every frame of that film is so incredibly deliberate and revolutionary, it’s a testament to what can happen when you shift who gets to tell the story and I want more of that.

A lot of progress has been made regarding women in the Star Wars universe, especially with strong female protagonists like Rey. In your opinion, what progress still needs to be made? 

One of the things I loved about “Black Panther” was the complexity of the women characters. Each of them had their own unique role to play and contributions to the forward progression of the story. Each of them existed in collaboration with male characters but without being defined by them or just in the service of furthering men’s plot lines. And all of those women were black.

We’re way past the time of shoehorning characters of color into white characters’ story lines. That column is oversaturated with 125 years’ worth of whiteness on camera. I’d love to see characters of color, and particularly women of color, at the center of Star Wars narratives both on screen and behind the camera as storytellers.

I have to ask: Porgs. Yes or no? 

Um, I’m just gonna answer this with a picture of my office bookcase:

Who is your favorite Star Wars character of all time? 

The Millennium Falcon. I have a tattoo of it, and I love it so much. I also love AT-ATs. The vehicles have always been my favorite part of Star Wars.

Do you collect any Star Wars memorabilia? 

Well, since working on this film, I’ve found myself with a disturbing amount of Star Wars Lego, FunkoPops, and Porgs, which all somehow find their way into my house under the guise of “research.”

You’ve said, “I don’t often cosplay, but when I do, it’s as Han Solo.” More details, please! 

The first time I dressed up as a Star Wars character was as Han Solo for the Disneyland Halloween party a few years ago. I hand-sewed the Corellian Bloodstripe on my pants and hand-painted my DL 44. I was so proud of the costume. And I talked my partner into dressing up as Leia. I bought his costume on Amazon and people were crossing the park to shake his hand and not even noticing that I was dressed as Han!

Do you devote yourself to any fandoms besides Star Wars? 

I was a huge “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan, collected trading cards and ship manuals and went to conventions. In 1990, I spent what at the time felt like a fortune to get front row seats to see Patrick Stewart talk and get his autograph. I think it was like $90. I love Harry Potter and was really excited to do a workshop at this year’s Granger Leadership Academy on decolonizing documentary filmmaking. But Star Wars was my first fandom, and it remains my most robust fandom.

If people reading this would like to support “Looking for Leia,” what’s the best way they can do that? 

Follow us. We’re fun on social media! We’re @LookingForLeia on Twitter, @LookingForLeiaSeries on Insta, and facebook.com/lookingforleia on FB.

We’re an independently funded project not affiliated with Disney or Lucasfilm, so the financial support is always useful. We’re particularly looking for folks working in tech whose companies would like to sponsor the production of the series, and we’ve recently been fiscally sponsored by Women Make Movies, so donations are tax deductible.

Folks can find out more about contributing on our site, www.lookingforleia.com/support.

What are your ultimate hopes for the series? 

I’m excited for women and girls in fandom to have a series of their own, in which they can see their own experiences mirrored and validated and learn more about the experiences of other women identified folks as well. And I’m excited to bring the conversation about participatory fandom into the mainstream, and to show it as a worthy topic that has so much to tell us about our capacity for creativity, joy, and resilience.

I think these sorts of stories bring us closer together, and this is sorely needed right now.

Photos: Looking for Leia copyright 2017 Floating Ophelia Pictures. 

Actor who loves Batman, Tolkien immerses herself in stories, on and off screen

As a kid, Abigail Culwell was hooked on Batman, specifically the cheesy, yet addictive Adam West TV series, and grew up surrounded by creative types at her family’s Santa Monica art store.

By age 10, she felt a pull toward telling stories and creating rich characters who felt real. After acting in a play, Abigail followed the director’s advice, found a manager, and booked her first gig, a Savage Garden music video, which blossomed into a career packed with indie and horror films, awards for acting and directing, and an appearance on “Law & Order: LA.”

The mother of two little future superheroes, Abigail doesn’t just play a badass, she is one in real life, at least when it comes to fandoms, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (don’t get her started on Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations), Star Wars, Monty Python, anime, and “Doctor Who.”

Below, she reveals what her experiences have taught her about the #metoo and #timesup movements and what needs to change in Hollywood, how her views on representation have evolved, and how “The Last Jedi” impressed her with its female-forward perspective. (Also, she really needs more time to play video games.)

Oh, and one more thing: DC, if you’re looking for someone to star in that inevitable Catwoman reboot, she’s right here.

You’re a professional actor. What sparked your interest in that line of work?

Making people feel. I love watching stories that pull me into the world which they are a part of, with characters that experience life in different ways or go on adventures. I want to be used to make others feel the way those stories make me feel. I find I really enjoy creating a person, a “real” person with feelings and desires behind them that serve a purpose in the story (be it a large or small part, they all help support the story.) This started when I was around 10 years old, even though I’d had the pull toward acting through imaginative play before that.

Abigail Culwell in the horror-comedy short “Morning Latte.”

When did you know it was something you really wanted to pursue?

When I was 15 years old, a director of a play I was in told me I should be doing this professionally. So, I got a manager and booked my first gig a few months later (the Lead Girl in Savage Garden’s music video “Crash and Burn”). I LOVED the experience and was hooked.

Did you receive any professional training or mentorship, or are you self-taught?

A little of both. I’ve had some formal training with a few acting teachers along the way, but I’ve never felt the need to subscribe to a particular technique. For the most part, it’s been pretty intuitive for me and I like letting the script and relationship with the director and other actors form my performance.

Abigail, dressed as Batgirl, at her family’s art store in Santa Monica.

Throughout your acting career, you also worked at your family’s art store in Santa Monica/Venice. Did being surrounded by artists influence you in any way?

It has in some ways. I found that I love serving people. I actually love retail in that manner. Having someone, be it a prestigious artist or a complete novice, come to me with a problem and then work out a creative solution that gets their vision across has definitely helped me communicate with directors and that then helps me be a more truthful person in the parts I play.

Abigail Culwell stars as a woman with superpowers in the short film “Affliction.”

What is your favorite role that you’ve played so far?

Hard one. There’s a few I really enjoyed, but I did love the role I played in a short film called “Affliction.” I played a mentally unbalanced girl that acquires superpowers and struggles between her need for the powers and the unintended harm they cause. It was a lot to pack into a short, but I really like how it turned out.

Please explain this role to me:

Hahaha. I’m Six. A henchman for a bad guy in a short film. I think I had like one line but it was sooo much fun to dress up like this and I ended up with some awesome pics.

Someone I know described you as a “badass.” You certainly look like one in the photo above. What are your bad-ass credentials, acting-wise or in life in general?

Honestly, I think that’s always a better question to be answered by someone other than yourself. But I guess a few things that make me feel badass are that I survived two swift labors with no meds that produced two amazing kiddos (Can’t take much credit for them though. That was God’s work!), that I’ve been able to travel to Japan, Sweden, Belgium and Italy, the fun fact that I used to nurse my baby while on an exercise ball playing video games, that I turned down a couple guys to give my first (off-screen) kiss to the man I ended up marrying.

I’ve also caught and chased after multiple shoplifters (one through a mall, yelling at him till he dropped the bag) and once stood up to a very large man that was giving a gas station worker a hard time … I don’t think some of those were the wisest choice in retrospect.

Before I had my kids I didn’t mind putting myself in the middle of a conflict if I felt I could make a difference. In life I tend to run toward danger. But now I need to remember there’re crazy, unpredictable people out there and I have people depending on me to come home. I guess I have to cool the jets a bit and find another way to deal with my instincts and injustice when it crosses my path.

Abigail Culwell in “Affliction.”

You won an award for acting for “Affliction,” in which you played a girl with superpowers. That’s basically every geek’s dream. Tell me about that.

This was a fun part. “Affliction” is about a mentally unbalanced girl that acquires superpowers so it’s got emotional torment, an intriguing red costume, and I got to kill instead of be killed (a few of my past death scenarios include a samurai sword through the neck and a vampire pity killing), so it was a bit of a dream to play out! But I totally didn’t see it that way when I read the script.

The producer had seen me in a feature length film called “Fugue” (another story about a tormented girl). She really liked my performance, and called me in to the audition. It was such an odd story and I really wasn’t feeling it. But then I met the director and, after he offered me the part, we had a meeting where we talked through some of the more abstract details. I accepted the part and ended up winning an award for my performance!

Another fun thing was they shot on 16 mm film stock, so we couldn’t do take after take like when shooting digital. I was having such a fun time on set that the director told me later it made him nervous. But he began to trust me as the shoot went on and realized I didn’t need to be dark and moody to play dark and moody. We ended up having a lot of fun with a pretty messed up story.

You once appeared on “Law & Order: LA.” People are crazy about those shows! What insights can you give us into the ubiquitous world of “Law & Order”?

They have GREAT FOOD on set. I never really watched the L&Os, so I can’t speak into the story much, but on set they are a well-oiled machine. The crew could set up and tear down with amazing swiftness. And, it was an honor to meet Alfred Molina. He was quite the gentleman and kept offering me a seat in the shade.

You also directed a short film that won an award at the Santa Monica International Film Festival. Are you interested in directing more?

Yes, I am. But I would like to learn more about editing and story structure before I do. It takes a lot to try and see it all as a cohesive piece. I found there’s great power in editing a performance. I was lucky enough to have a friend that’s an American Film Institute grad edit my short and work on it alongside him.

There’s a saying in the industry that goes something like: Every movie is made three times. In the Script, on Set, and in Editing. So far, I’ve found this to be pretty accurate.

Abigail and her husband, Grant.

Your husband, Grant Culwell, is a camera operator. What’s it like to be married to someone who’s also in the industry?

For the most part, it’s great! We sort of get that side of each other and can engage with each other about the work. I have had to grow a lot as a person in both trust and patience though the years. You have long days when you work in this industry, so he can be gone 12 to 16 hours a day for five days straight when he’s on a job. It’s definitely not for everyone. There’s little predictability or stability. But when you have a partner that’s committed to you in this life and you have realistic expectations on each other, you can work through it all.

I know this interview is about you, but Grant worked on “A Wrinkle in Time”!!!! Do you have any insider info you can give us?

Haha. Nope. Sorry. A few of his steadicam shots made it into the trailer but that’s kinda all I got. I’m excited to see it though!

Abigail Culwell in the horror thriller “Fugue.”

With the #metoo and #timesup movements raging, it bears asking: What has your experience as a woman in Hollywood been like?

There’s a ton of sexism, of course. Some things I didn’t quite view as wrong, even though they made me feel weird in the moment. You can let a lot slide. It can be hard to use your voice and be able to articulate why you don’t want to do something or have something done to/around you.

One time, I was meeting with potential agents and I informed them I would not do nudity, but I was still willing to audition for parts that “require” it. If the production wanted me for the part there would need to be discussions and revisions. The male agent ended up arguing with me to the point that the female agent in the room had to step in and move the conversation along. I had just met the guy, but he had a type of ownership over my body and what I would be comfortable doing with it. There’s so much I now wish I had said, but I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, even though I was being belittled and bullied over how I use my own body.

This type of ownership over a person by some happens not just in the entertainment industry. People using people for their own desires, goals or gain. This corrodes the heart and removes empathy. Everyone is only in this world for YOU and life becomes only about you. This is not what I believe we were made for.

Is there anything you’d like to see change in that regard?

Of course. I wish that people would stop treating other people like objects! To quote my husband, of whom I am exceedingly proud, “no film is worth a person”. He’s packed up his gear and walked off set when he’s seen abuse from a higher up and challenged it. People are fearful of standing up to bigwigs as they need the work and are afraid of getting blackballed out of the next job. But if you just sit and do nothing, you are just helping the abuse. Be a voice when others can’t find theirs.

I’m also curious how all this will help change the lens through which we tell stories. As females start having stronger and more confident voices what changes will happen to the type of stories we see on our screens, and comedians we hear, and books we read? And on what we, as the audience, will want to see and how we see it. Not that it’s related to the movement alone, but I saw a lot of interesting shifts in the way “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was told. But that’s for another time.

Let’s talk about your many, many fandoms, starting with The Lord of the Rings. How did you discover J.R.R. Tolkien’s series?

My mom. We would watch the 1977 “The Hobbit” cartoon growing up and then one day she said, “There’s more to the story,” and around that time we heard they were going to be making movies of them. So I jumped in and just kept going! It’s a marvelous world Tolkien created and he had such a poetic way of telling it that I really ate it up.

You said not to get you started on why you’re not a fan of Peter Jackson’s films. Consider this me getting you started … .

I say, tell the tale that Tolkien told, not the tale you like to tell. Peter Jackson took the material and, I feel, poorly executed key intentions of Tolkien and just was sloppy in the storytelling of most of the characters. I understand you need to adapt stories for the screen, but I feel overall he let Tolkien and his fans down.

He had said in an interview once, before “Return of the King” came out, that the second movie would be the furthest from the books, and I held on to that! And then seeing the third film just crushed me. It was trash compared to the book and it felt like he just let his head grow too big and started pandering to Orlando Bloom fans more than the fans of the books. If you enjoy the films, that’s fine. I just don’t have the time.

One of the main sub-stories that I thought was an unfortunate deletion from the films was the Scouring of the Shire. It’s at the end of “ROTK” and, in brief and without spoilers in case anyone wants to read the books, it shows how evil touches down in even the most wholesome and secure areas of our lives. Even happy little hobbits have to find within themselves a willingness to put off the old ways and rise against oppression. Also, Merry and Pippin get to shine a bit more.

Now, the “Hobbit” films. Tolkien served in World War I and thought of the first line of “The Hobbit” while in the trenches. Even though it is considered a young readers book, it carries a weight to it that touches down with all ages. A comfortable, country hole dweller gets thrown into a mission against an oppressive evil. There really isn’t anything he needs out of it, just a pull to save something that’s beautiful. Many lost their lives in World War I. Many countries had to wake up and fight an evil, including America.

So, I ask you, is there truly any heart, wonder or a sense of perseverance in any of the “Hobbit” movies? Did it truly capture the type of bonding and respect that comes from going through painful hardship and close camaraderie? It could have. But it didn’t. Where was the “Dark” in Riddles in the Dark (the scene with Gollum)? It all was so unnecessarily dull. Which is such a pity as Martin Freeman had all the makings of a great Bilbo (even if a bit too skinny for a Hobbit.)

What does it say about your film when a cartoon from the ’70s is more moving and relatable? Like I said …  don’t get me started.

You’re deep into Tolkien, including “The Silmarillion” and works published after the author’s death. Why do you enjoy immersing yourself so deeply in that world?

It came into my life at a very beautiful age. I was about 15. Just stepping into acting. Feeling mature and a touch romantic and found this deep storytelling style refreshing. I remember coming off of reading LOTR and “Silmarillion” and then starting in on Harry Potter and hardly making it through the second book because it felt dull, silly and unimaginative.

I was a total snob, that’s for sure! My little brother kept telling me to keep reading and I’m really happy I did! I’m not as attached to J.K. Rowling’s world, but it was still fun. And if you like the type of fantasy worlds they create, I really recommend Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance Cycle” (“Eragon”). It’s really quite wonderful.

A young Abigail dressed as Batgirl.

Batman is also one of your obsessions. You started watching the Adam West series when you were 5. What about that cheesy but addictive series appealed to you?

I’m a fan of the punny, hokey, camp and silly! It makes me smile. It’s also what started my love of Catwoman.

A young Abigail and her Bat-themed birthday party.

I heard you were pretty upset at West’s recent passing.

I don’t know if I’d say upset, just saddened. It’s always a hard thing to know that your childhood heroes are gone but the truth is, no one lives forever. I guess I always hoped I’d meet him again or work with him, so it can be sad when that person is gone. I feel honored that I was able to meet him while he visited my family’s art store when I was 14 years old. I remember being a bit starstruck and noting how tall he was and he had the largest hands I’ve ever shook!

How do you feel about Batfleck?

No comment.

Another of your interests is anime. How did you discover this art form? What are some of your favorite series, movies, or manga?

Adult Swim on Cartoon Network! That introduced me to shows like Tenchi Muyo!, Cowboy Bebop, DBZ and Outlaw Star. The only manga I’ve delved into is Battle Angel: Alita! I’m excited about the movie and kinda happy it’s been years since I’ve read it so I can hopefully enjoy it a bit more than it being fresh in my mind. Hayao Miyazaki is great as well.

Are you interested in Japanese culture in general? I understand that you speak and read some Japanese and have visited the country. Tell me about that.

Alongside anime, I saw a movie called “Shall We Dance?” (1996) and together they started my hunger to know more about the culture and language of Japan. I tried teaching myself, but it wasn’t until I took a summer course at Santa Monica College that I really started learning it. Being dyslexic, in some ways I actually found it easier to pick up than English. It’s memorizing characters and the sounds don’t change on you constantly. I didn’t learn to read English with phonics or sounding out words, but by memorizing how words look instead. I don’t practice much anymore, but I do use some phrases with my kids.

And as for my trip to Japan, it was fabulous! I was 22 years old and stayed in Kawasaki with a family that had sent their son to the U.S. a few years earlier and had stayed with my family for a bit. When I was there I got to go to a baseball game, eat sushi for the first time, sing karaoke for the first time, visit a beach, rode the world’s smallest escalator and I was extremely fortunate to be there the week the cherry blossoms started to bloom. SO FABULOUS!

And then, one fine morning I looked out my window and saw Fuji San (Mount Fuji)! It was a dream trip of only nine days, but I hope to take my family there one day and get more time.

I was told I should ask you about your beloved “Cowboy Bebop” shirt.

Haha. Yep. They are super hard to find in a female cut, so I hardly ever wear it. One of my treasured tees!

When it comes to video gaming, you’re a Legend of Zelda girl. What do you enjoy about that?

I love adventure games. Games with some puzzles or mystery to them. I just wish I had time to play! The Switch by Nintendo has been great post-kids but still, I need more time! Uncharted and the newer Tomb Raider games have expanded my gaming now. But I did have to stop playing Last Of Us while I was pregnant as it was too stressful for me and after I ran into a glitch, I thought it best I stop. That’s gonna make an awesome film! I now have a long list of games I want to play and it’s just been getting longer. I so am in need of a Mom Cave!

And just because my husband recently became obsessed with it, I must ask, what is the deal with “King’s Quest”?

They are old school PC adventure games that first came out in 1983. Each one was innovative and pushed the boundaries of gaming at the time of its release. I love them because they are full of classic fairytale storylines and puzzle solving, and puns. They are fun, and even though a bit silly now, can still be challenging.

You’re the first professing Monty Python fan I’ve interviewed. What’s your favorite sketch and why?

There’s sooooo many good ones but I always love Hell’s Grannies from Season One, Episode 8. “Make Tea, Not Love!”

Who introduced you to the Pythons?

My cousins. But when I first saw “Holy Grail,” it really wasn’t love at first watch. It took catching a few “Flying Circus” episodes and then we (my siblings and I) were all over it! British humor is addictive. Also, if you want to check out a young and funny Hugh Laurie, check out “Black Adder”! It’s ruddy brilliant! Our family cat is even named after one of the characters, Baldrick.

And, of course, you’re very into Star Wars. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga.

Bahhhhh?  Not sure what you mean by my “saga,” but I have had some interesting thoughts pop up around “The Last Jedi.” I really enjoyed it even though it was obviously flawed in story and character development. I found myself crying at random points as I let myself feel excited that my daughter will grow up in a time where there will be strong female characters that aren’t just a prop to a main male character.

I grew up pretending to be a female version of Peter Pan or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and its looking like she won’t have to as much. I used to think it didn’t matter having diverse representation on screen. That we are all supposed to use our imaginations anyway, so go ahead and use it. I feel very differently now. I hope we see more films like “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther” (haven’t seen it yet, but I’m excited to) and others with new characters that won’t feel labeled by their race or gender but are just people with good stories to tell.

What did you think of the recent trailers for the “Solo” movie?

Cheesy, and I’m gonna love it!

What are some of your other fandoms?

“Firefly,” “Doctor Who,” “The Goonies,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Mel Brooks films, “The Princess

Bride,” Frost and Pegg films and many others that I enjoy but I guess don’t consider “fandoms.” Oh! And spy/detective stories. My first on-screen crush was Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

Abigail Culwell in “Fugue.”

Do you feel like being an actor gives you any unique insights into the world of fandoms?

If anything, it can sometimes hinder my enjoyment of them. I look at the technical side a bit too much sometimes — the acting, lighting, makeup, effects — and I start picking it apart. But I think that’s one reason why I love the shows I do. They invite you into a heightened reality that, while based in the human experience and emotion, can be so different, you have to let go and enter into that world.

You’ve taken a break from acting to be a mother. Does your family share your geeky interests? If so, what are some of your shared fandoms and activities?

My husband and I actually connect on a bunch of fandoms and geeky things. He’s the one who really introduced me to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “X-Files” and some great fantasy book series. He also has a great working knowledge on the Marvel and DC comics, so I just fact check with him after we see one of the films. It’s been wonderful to be with someone who I can talk about everything from

Biblical theology to “Doctor Who” theory. And you may be surprised how often those cross paths.

As for my kids, I have one that’s only 8 months old but our 2-1/2 year old has seen some of the Batman movie (with Adam West) and loves to put on his mask and cape and zoom around with the toys he got at the baby shower my mom and sisters threw for him. It was Superman/Batman-themed.

My husband and I have always said we want to let our kids find their own thing and not force our childhood likes on them … but if my kid likes robots, and I happen to buy him an R2-D2 Bop It … that’s ok too, right?!

Is acting something you plan to go back to eventually?

God willing, yes. It’s part of who I am and how I look out at the world. There’s many stories I feel

I can add to or be a part of in some way. Not sure when I will try to get back to it cause right now

I’m very happy with where I am, but I’m always willing to jump back in if the right thing came along.

What’s your geek dream acting role (in an existing franchise or series)?

The feline femme fatale. CATWOMAN!

What’s your geek dream acting role (in a franchise or series that hasn’t been made yet)?

Something like Jessica Jones mixed with Zoé from “Firefly” or a part like Geena Davis in “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” Or Catwoman … I like Catwoman.

 

Clever crafter embraces ‘abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom’

Some of us are hopeless when it comes to crafting, but if Kirsten Mace can dream it, it seems she can make it, especially when it’s something related to one of her many favorite fandoms.

By a happy twist of fate, Kirsten works as a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store in Utah, where she finds ample inspiration for the dozens of projects she always seems to have going from coworkers and fellow geek crafters.

Kirsten has transformed boring, old Christmas decorations into a festive Star Wars-themed holiday extravaganza for her home, designed whimsical chess sets, created cosplay outfits and costumes, hand-carved stamps to use on uniquely geeky baby items, and whipped up adorable custom bow ties and bows for sale — a project inspired by a desire to combat the gender stereotypes encountered by one of her children.

This wildly creative crafter’s geek origin story can be traced back to “The Phantom Menace” — ain’t no shame in it! — and childhood trips to Disneyland. She’s got a unique perspective on everything from “The Last Jedi” controversy to My Little Pony, and she’s a fierce defender of these and other fandoms. (Just ask her about Bronies. I dare you.)

“Let people just enjoy what they enjoy” is Kirsten’s philosophy. In today’s divisive culture — even in the geek world — that’s good advice.

Kirsten Mace models the shirt she created for her TankSolo cosplay (a mashup of Tank Girl and Han Solo).

You are a geeky crafter and also a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store. That can’t be a coincidence. What do you enjoy about your job? Do you find inspiration for your geeky creations at work? Do you meet a lot of other geek crafters there?

It was definitely fate. I have really loved getting to know the people, not just the customers but also my coworkers. The craft industry, at least in the Joann aspect of it, is very unique in that we spend a lot of time with our customers to help them create this very unique vision for a project.

Sharing that has really pushed my own abilities and ideas. Someone comes in with this amazing project and it makes you wanna create too. It’s seeing other people’s passion and getting excited with them.

We get a lot of geeky projects. Utah is supposed to be the geekiest state and with the introduction of Salt Lake Comic Con five years ago, we have gotten to see so many cosplays and just really awesome projects from people. And it isn’t just the customers, my coworkers are all so talented and geeky.

One of my favorites is a woman who came in to do an amazing Poison Ivy costume a few years ago and is now someone I work with. I think the passion that comes with being a geek just translates easily into being a crafter. We build these worlds around our passions, so I think there is a natural inclination for many of the geek persuasion to make that into practical skills.

Kirsten painted these Kokeshi doll-inspired Star Wars necklaces.

Have you always been a geek? When did those interests first blossom for you?

I wanna say I have always been a geek but it wasn’t till I was an adult that I was comfortable about it. My parents were cool. We grew up on Star Wars and Nintendo and all those great ‘80s cult films, like “Goonies.” We lived in Southern California, so we went to Disneyland a lot and they just did a great job planting those seeds and letting those passions blossom.

I think I really started letting things take off when I really got into books. I have anxiety and I think it was a way to cope, to get lost in books, just let me not have to be where I was all the time. I was into things like Poe and Tolkien and I was spending the summer at my dad’s house and they released “Phantom Menace” that year. It was great. We both loved it and ended up collecting the cards and seeing it a couple times. It was just a great moment for me.

And then they started releasing the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Harry Potter released in the U.S. It was a perfect storm for me to get lost in everything.

Sorry, I think I rambled there but, yeah, Star Wars really kicked off my ability to get lost in other realms.

A “Rogue One” bow, created by Kirsten Mace.

You once had an Etsy shop offering “build-a-bows” with custom options for purchasers. Tell me about that. Where did you get the idea for custom bows?

I have two amazing kids and when my oldest was young, she was uninhibited by the whole gender thing. We didn’t care and if she was into things, we would let her play with it regardless of if it was a pony or a Transformer or makeup and so on.

So I had made bows for a friend as a gift and Moo loved them. She asked if she could have bowties and I was like, “Yeah, sure, you look adorable in anything.” So I made them and she would wear them occasionally, not an everyday thing, they weren’t her statement piece, and one day she came home saying she couldn’t wear them anymore.

She is very nonconfrontational, so I pressed her for why and she told me that some boy told her bowties were only for boys and that she looked ugly. So she didn’t want to wear them anymore ‘cause she didn’t want to hear him say that anymore. I was heartbroken.

So I came up with the build-a-bow after that situation. I didn’t wanna say, “This is a hairbow. This is a bowtie.” I didn’t wanna put that on anyone else ‘cause I really think that you should wear what makes you comfortable.

I would make the bow and let the customer decide which fastener they wanted, which at the time was not being done on Etsy under general sale. I found a lot of sellers would charge extra to change the bow and customize it or whatever. I work in crafts, I know the cost. I just wanted to make something for everyone that everyone could afford.

A Baymax bow, designed by Kirsten Mace.

Tell me about some of your favorite geeky bow designs.

I like the ones that kinda went against the norm. So there wasn’t really one bow I liked, but I had some great orders. I did 12 BB-8 bows for a little girls birthday party. I had a Baymax bow — I painted his face onto a white blank — that I loved. There was a set of Player 1 & 2 stamps that I carved and made bows with on red and green fabrics for Mario & Luigi.

Could you describe these hand-carved geeky stamps you made? Tell me about the process of creating a stamp and the techniques and equipment you used. 

I cannot draw to save my life, but I found out that I could carve. A friend of mine was in school for art and was doing this thing on block printing. I wanted to make some swaddlers for my sister and found this great carving starter set from Speedball that contained a couple of blocks and the knife with a few different attachments. I ended up making Totoro and loved it so much I made soot sprites, too.

What were some of your favorite stamp designs?

I love my Totoro and working on the soot sprites, but my proudest one was the plush Hobbes I carved.

You mentioned that you created baby swaddlers. What gave you the idea? Tell me a little bit about what went into creating them. Did you sell the swaddlers or give them as gifts?

My stamps were all created for swaddlers. My little sister was expecting and finding geeky baby stuff is ridiculous. It’s either really expensive or nonexistent. I have kids so I knew what I would want from a product standpoint and just tried to execute to that.

I give them as gifts and sell them. I am working on a couple new ones so that I can have new stuff when I reopen (hopefully). So far, my favorite is a Devil’s Trap from “Supernatural,” just cause I like the joke of saying my demon spawn is contained by a Devil’s Trap swaddler.

What kind of geeky crafting are you currently engaged in?

I am working on too many things! I am working on converting all our Christmas stuff to Star Wars theme so I made a Princess Leia tree topper from a 1970s Kenner Leia doll. I wookiee-fied a nutcracker complete with bowcaster. My biggest thing right now is the Millennium Falcon tree skirt that I am working on piecing. I loved the Falcon tree skirt so much that I wanted to paint a circle skirt with the same design.

I made a bunch of shrugs covered in soot sprites and one that was inspired by the new Pennywise. I am hoping to start back on working on a mashup cosplay of Han Solo and Tank Girl I call “Tank Solo” so there is a lot of plotting for that. The shirt I came up with has been really well received, so that was really encouraging. I’m having to design a bunch of pins and patches for a flair jacket for it so it’s a long-haul project.

Honestly, I have a million projects I am working on or trying to plot out.

Do you have any future plans to sell more of your geeky wares?

Oh, yeah, hopefully in the near future.

A custom 11th Doctor Tsum Tsum created by Kirsten for a geeky craft exchange.

As an unabashed nerd, you have devoted yourself to many fandoms. You said that you “tend to easily fall for everything.” Why do you think this is?

When you are able to get lost in one thing and then surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about other things, it is hard not to get caught up in their passion for that, so the birth of social media and my job have really helped me expand my universes.

Like many of the best geeks, you are a Star Wars fan. What’s your personal saga? How and when did you fall for George Lucas’ franchise?

I think I mentioned this earlier, but I really think this is a first love for a lot of geeks because of our parents. My personal saga … ooooh, that is really long … but the short version is when I was 6 my parents divorced and my mom became a janitor at the local university and worked nights so we had a very atypical upbringing as five girls in those circumstances.

I have always loved Star Wars but, and I hate to admit this cause I know how many people hate the prequels, it really became my thing with “Phantom Menace.” Maybe it was the idea that Anakin was no one and became something, I dunno, but I wanted to prove that I could be something other than my upbringing.

Are you a “Last Jedi” hater? What did you think of the movie?

This may be one of my favorite movies in the franchise. It is amazing and added so many elements to Star Wars that I never thought I would see. I loved the addition of humor.

Captain Phasma is my lady crush. I won’t even say it’s a secret ‘cause I got a little twitterpated when she whipped out that sword for that fight. Goodness, I am excited for the director’s cut ‘cause I am hoping they extend that scene.

I liked that none of the speculation left from “Force Awakens” mattered. Rey’s parents were no ones. Snoke’s backstory doesn’t matter. “Let the past die” was the theme and they did it so well.

They answered a lot of the questions that were posed in “Force Awakens.” I just think people don’t like that it really didn’t go the way anyone thought it would. I could go on about this for hours but I will defend this movie against the haters.

Who’s your favorite original trilogy Star Wars character?

I always have loved Han, but as I have gotten older I really enjoy Leia.

Who’s your favorite new trilogy character so far?

I am a sucker for rebellious pilots. And with the growth shown at the end of “Last Jedi,” it just cements Poe as my favorite.

Porgs. Yes or no?

How can you hate porgs? They are so cute and nonintrusive to the story, well, unless you are Chewie. If you hate porgs, you are just looking for something to hate in this movie.

Are you one with the Force and the Force is with you?

OH MY, YES! Why people don’t accept this movie as part of the Star Wars universe just boggles my mind. I am watching this while filling this out right now.

You’re also a Harry Potter-phile. When did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series? What do you love about it?

Ha, so Harry Potter came out and I had an acquaintance who read it and was kinda being this know-it-all about it, so I read it so I could out-trivia her and, would you believe, I fell for it by accident. I think a lot of it is the relationship Harry has with the Weasleys. He made his own family, and the support and love and everything, I have a lot of friends like that.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I am a Slytherin but lied with my Pottermore house so that I could be in Gryffindor.

Are you looking forward to Fantastic Beasts 2?

Yup, yup, yup. My kids are both Hufflepuffs, so it is easy to get excited when they are excited.

Kirsten is working on a Studio Ghibli-themed chess set with figures including Mei and Satsuki.

I’m excited to hear you’re a fan of the animated films of Studio Ghibli. Do you remember your first Ghibli film and how you got hooked? What’s your favorite Ghibli movie?

My dad was in the Air Force and spent some time in Korea and Japan. He sent my sister back the “Totoro” VHS and we watched it till we wore it out. The animation is so beautiful and the stories are so well told that it is hard not to get lost in (Hayao Miyazaki’s) worlds. It is really hard to just choose one. I will always have a soft spot for Totoro, but I really love “The Wind Rises.”

I believe this is a first for our interview series, but you’re also an aficionado of My Little Pony. Are you into the vintage ’80s ponies, or the new ones, or both?

I was the third kid, so never got into the ‘80s ‘cause I rarely had control of the remote. I really like the new ones.

What does your Pony fandom look like exactly? What’s the attraction here?

Other than the millions of ponies that litter our house at times … I think an easy way to sum it up, and I know this will be lost on some people, is we Pinkie Pie promise.

We first started watching the show ‘cause my daughter liked it and everyone knows the toddler is the one who controls what’s on the TV most of the time. So we sat down to watch it with her and the characters and stories are simple enough that it was just easy to like it.

As weird as it is, you can relate to all the feelings they are working through and they have really great mythological references. If I am not watching Star Wars while I am crafting, you can bet I have MLP on.

I confess I’m pretty weirded out by the whole Bronies phenomenon. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t know why people are weirded out by the Bronies. I think people have this idea in their head that they are all furries and that freaks a lot of people out. That is a question that I have fielded when I say I enjoy the show and, no, I don’t dress up but what does it matter if someone does? How is that any different from someone who dresses as any character?

You’re also into Firefly. What was so great about that series?

I like the idea of standing up for what’s right even if it seems the whole galaxy is against you and pursuing the truth.

Who’s your favorite character and why?

Daughter No. 2 is named Zoe only because Hoban is a terrible name (sorry to anyone who may be named Hoban). Wash is easily my favorite. He is fun, but still gets the job done.

Kirsten’s dog models one of her bow ties.

Disney is another passion of yours. Do you visit the theme parks often?

Sadly, it has been too long since we went to the parks. With both of us working and the distance, it is hard to get things coordinated.

What are some of your favorite Disney movies, franchises, attractions, properties, etc.?

Other than Star Wars?! The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was “Aladdin” and I can’t think of any one movie of theirs that I would say I outright hated.

Do you do any Disney-related crafting?

Of course! We enjoy all the movies and introducing the girls to the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid just cements all the reasons I loved those shows. Disney is also a genius when it comes to product design and marketing, so it is hard not to wanna make custom Tsum Tsums and ears and use the characters in things.

I have done a couple of nightlight styled canvases for the girls using scenes from “Tangled” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” At this point, Disney has so many properties that it would be hard not to find inspiration from one of them.

Kirsten Mace introduced her daughters to “Homestar Runner” and they requested she make them their own Teen Girl Squad shirts.

You have two young daughters who you describe as “also nerdy.” Tell me a little about the family dynamic. What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

I don’t think the family dynamic is very different from others’ families. I think we are maybe a bit more relaxed as parents, but I don’t think that’s cause of the geek thing. They are young enough that, for now, a lot of their interests are our interests.

A few Christmases ago, they got Jedi ensembles complete with lightsabers and like to have lightsaber fights and plan ways to attack us. They have been working their way through a lot of the Lego video games and are currently working on the complete Star Wars set and then wanna try the Harry Potter games.

Would you say that “geek culture” has had a positive impact on your girls?

Last year my daughter came home from school and she wanted to talk about suffragettes and the following week she wanted to talk about vegetarianism. With how the current representation of women is in all of geekdom, I am so glad my girls are into it.

They wanna kick ass as Jedis and Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. They get to see Rose release the fathiers and show compassion for all life in “Last Jedi.” The stories that are being told now help with what I want my kids to be when they are adults, so it isn’t just me telling them that they can do whatever they want but a host of characters they admire that really helps with that.

Is it my imagination or did I see a Facebook pic of one of your daughters dressed in the most amazing little Harley Quinn costume?

I have been blessed with amazing kids who never really wanted to be the princess but that means we have made a lot of their costumes through the years. Moo fell in love with Harley Quinn a few years ago so we have had a couple costumes for her.

Do you have any advice for parents who want to raise their kids up in the geek lifestyle?

If your kid shows an interest in it, get into it with them. I am hoping that as my kids get older and the terrible teen years are there, I am at least going to be able to connect with some of their interests.

As a mother, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture by the time your daughters are grown?

There is still so much of the good, ol’ fanboy mentality that I will be glad when that is gone. Let people just enjoy what they enjoy.

You’re a reader of comic books and graphic novels. Is this a pastime you enjoyed in childhood or later in life? What are some of your favorite titles? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out?

I got into it later in life. I saw the Skottie Young “Wizard of Oz” novels somewhere and I loved them. The illustration and fluidity that he conveyed with the story that L. Frank Baum created just, uh, I loved them. I love so many of his works that I highly recommend “The Chasing Tale” storyline for Rocket Raccoon and his “I Hate Fairyland” to everyone just getting into comic books.

I didn’t really start getting into comics till we started using them as an incentive for Matt to get excited about reading. We had a great local comic shop and the owner was amazing. He was the most welcoming person and would just talk to you about everything and then recommend an issue or a novel and, as crazy as it seemed, you would love it. He got me into the “Chew” novels and it has been crazy catching up on all those.

My recommendation is, look for a locally owned shop and go in and chat them up, tell them the kind of stuff you like and what you are into and let them make recommendations for you. The people that are crazy enough to open a comic store are the ones you are gonna find are so passionate about them. My personal favorites and recommendations to just ease into it are the Mighty Thor, anything by Skottie Young, Rocket Raccoon, Squirrel Girl is amazing, and Moon Girl.

What do you like about comics?

It takes that book experience to the next level. There are some parts of a book that you just glance over or get lost on and with the added visualization that comics have, you can really see what the writer is trying to convey. It helps progress the idea of that universe in such a great way that I am surprised more people don’t read them.

One of Kirsten’s daughters wanted to learn how to play chess, so Kirsten made her a superheroes vs. cats chess set.

You prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the DC Extended Universe. Explain. 

Marvel has been able to convert the fluidity and feel of their comics so much better than DC has, which is kind of a shame, considering the properties that DC has.

Do you tend to amass geek memorabilia or collectibles?

Our house is one giant den of geeky collectibles and art. We have been working on a wall of Pop! figurines in our family room. Our favorite place in any con is the “artist alley.” There are so many talented artists out there that it is hard to resist buying all the art. So our walls are plastered with everything we have amassed.

What’s the next major release (books, movies, TV, etc.) you’re looking forward to?

I have enjoyed the illustrated rerelease of the Harry Potter books and the House editions, so I am always waiting for those. I am really excited for the next few Marvel movies, “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” look amazing. I am also timidly optimistic about the new Han Solo movie.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

There are a lot of people I would like to meet. Artists, actors, directors, writers … a lot of them are figures in the geek community that have made an impact on me.

On a final note, why do you think so many geeks also happen to be crafters or creators? 

I think the beginning of it for many is the necessity of the items. Finding some memorabilia is hard and that first thought of, “I can do this. I can make this myself,” is where a lot of it starts.

I first really got into it because I wanted to make a baby mobile for my sister that was soot sprites ‘cause so many on the market were also handmade and out of my price range. And then it turned into, “Well, I can make a Totoro to go with it.” Then I made some Rocket Raccoon plushies ‘cause the Totoro was so easy … it just snowballed into, “I can make exactly what I want so why not?”

Everyone loves their fandom in their own unique way and crafting allows me to show exactly what I love about that fandom. There is also an abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom.

Let’s take a break from the hate to talk about ‘Last Jedi’ & representation

Since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” hit theaters in December, there’s been a lot of talk about the film.

Now that’s an understatement. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more talked-about Star Wars movie or, at the very least, one that has inspired this level of divisive debate, indignation, and emotional outrage. (I suppose we have social media to thank for that.)

Haters love to hate “The Last Jedi.” That’s one thing we know for certain. They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. For many, many reasons.

They’re angry that writer-director Rian Johnson didn’t exactly answer key questions raised in “The Force Awakens,” or answer them in sufficient detail. At the same time, they’re crushed that he abruptly slammed the door on many of those same queries.

They don’t like the film’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. They don’t like what becomes of villainous Supreme Leader Snoke. They’re upset about the movie’s general lack of lightsaber training montages.

“What’s up with the goofy tone?” they ask.

“Too many porgs,” some say.

“Not enough porgs,” others reply.

The list of reasons for ire goes on. And on. And on.

However, in the midst of this controversy, there’s an important dialogue we should be having that isn’t taking place nearly as much as I think it should.

Can we just talk for a minute about what an impressive feat of representation “The Last Jedi” achieves?

The new Star Wars trilogy’s heartening trend toward diversity, female-driven storylines, and a general openness to cast characters in a way that reflects the world we all live in began, of course, with “The Force Awakens.”

That movie brought us an unusual trio of heroes for a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi flick: Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a woman gifted in the Force; John Boyega’s Finn, a black Stormtrooper turned Rebel; and Oscar Isaac’s Poe, a charming rogue pilot who also happens to be Hispanic.

(And let’s give a shout-out to Gwendoline Christie’s bad-ass lady-baddie, Captain Phasma.)

Of course, this groundbreaking lead cast brought a few nasty, racist trolls out of the woodwork – Boyega bore the brunt of their disapproval – but, by and large, these characters and the actors who play them were received with enthusiasm.

The spin-off film “Rogue One” continued this welcome new Star Wars tradition with another strong female lead, Felicity Jones’ reluctant rebel Jyn, and her partner-in-sabotage, Cassian, a character Diego Luna portrayed using his own Mexican accent, which is strangely rare in Hollywood.

The remainder of the “Rogue One” cast was thrillingly diverse as well, featuring Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, and Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang.

It’s clearly not an accident that Disney’s new incarnation of the Star Wars universe is so wildly and wonderfully diverse. This is something the Lucasfilm team is intentionally and boldly working at, whatever their motives.

“The Last Jedi” takes this approach to soaring new heights. This latest entry in the franchise not only features the return of the Rey/Finn/Poe dream team, but also introduces us to Rose, a mechanic turned unlikely Resistance hero played by comedian Kelly Marie Tran.

Tran is the first Asian-American woman cast in a major Star Wars role in a time in which Asian-American women rarely appear in roles of any significance in Hollywood.

I love the fact that “The Last Jedi” also shows us Rose’s sister (played by Veronica Ngo) in a heartbreaking scene of self-sacrifice and heroism at the beginning of the movie.

Along with continued diversity in casting – Benicio Del Toro joins the ensemble as master thief DJ and there are pilots, Resistance fighters, and First Order henchmen of all genders and ethnicities sprinkled throughout – director Johnson serves up a story that is shockingly female-forward for a big-budget sci-fi spectacle.

Rey and her journey to discover her identity in the Force is, of course, the driving story arc of the film. As she faces her fears, forms a tenuous bond with Kylo Ren, and ultimately comes into her own power, Ridley’s Rey continues to be the complicated, compelling, and refreshingly non-sexualized heroine most of us could only dream of watching as young girls.

(Can we just put this controversy about Rey’s impossible Force powers to bed already? Men have been doing impossible things in action movies for decades and nobody bats an eye. I’m over it.)

Just as astonishing as Rey and her gradual self-realization is the late Carrie Fisher’s elegant, commanding performance as General Leia Organa.

Her relationship with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is a joy to behold – two powerful women who respect each other working alongside each other and confiding in each other in a way we rarely see depicted on film.

And their mutual annoyance with, affection for, and no-nonsense management of the meddling, mansplaining, but irresistibly cute Poe Dameron (we all know that’s the only reason he gets away with this s&*#) is totally unexpected and such a treat. I still can’t get over it.

My friend Kirsten pointed out that not only is “The Last Jedi” the most female-driven film in the Star Wars franchise, it may be the most female-driven action movie we’ve yet to see.

She also wondered whether this could be one of the reasons the film has garnered so much hate. Sadly, I think she may be onto something.

It was recently reported that a disgruntled Star Wars fan sloppily edited together and posted online his own “female-free” version of “The Last Jedi.” I’m not sure how much attention this pathetic act of misogyny deserves, but the fact that someone actually thought to do this is discouraging, to say the least.

On the other hand, the fact that dudes who respond so irrationally to cinematic depictions of female power are feeling this threatened may be cause for optimism. These are the same guys who wanted to boycott “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the female-led “Ghostbusters” reboot, and the newest Doctor, and who groused about female-only screenings of “Wonder Woman.”

These dinosaurs are desperate because they recognize they are headed for extinction.

Despite the strong feelings it has conjured within moviegoers, “The Last Jedi” is an unequivocal box-office hit, grossing more than $1 billion worldwide. The film is on track to ultimately reap less than “The Force Awakens.” However, it would be crazy to consider it anything less than a massive money-maker.

For this reason, the new Star Wars trilogy remains one of the most convincing arguments that more diverse representation in major Hollywood movies is just good business practice.

Some may counter that the Star Wars franchise is simply too big to fail, but it seems fairly obvious audiences have embraced this new direction for Lucasfilm and Disney. Otherwise, why would the studio continue to pursue it?

This brings us to the question: Can Disney and Lucasfilm do more?

Of course they can – and they should!

The recently released video for Jay Z’s “Family Feud,” directed by Ava DuVernay, famously featured footage of “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan dressed in black robes suspiciously resembling the traditional garb of the Jedi.

DuVernay said this was no accident and social media instantly blew up with demands that Disney cast Jordan as a badass Jedi in the next Star Wars movie.

That’s a fabulous idea. And there is enough room in the Star Wars universe for more black actors, along with women and performers of varying origins, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

This isn’t just the way of the Force. It’s the way of the future.

Photos: comicbook.com, Disney, MovieWeb.

Drunk Austen admin applies wicked wit to Regency Era, Star Wars

We’re starting 2018 with a bang and an interview straight off my wishlist.

After Robin Epley started a little Facebook page known as Drunk Austen, she asked her friend, Bianca Hernandez, to join her as co-admin, and the rest is history.

Drunk Austen, the social media community built on a love of novelist Jane Austen, hilarious, Regency Era-themed memes, and pics of hot guys from the Austen film adaptations, with a healthy dollop of pop culture, social commentary, feminism, and inclusiveness, recently celebrated 50,000 likes on Facebook.

The Drunk Austen community hit a fever pitch of Austen-worshipping goofiness over the holidays with clever seasonal memes, Star Wars mashups, and a challenge in which followers were urged to whisper the phrase “What excellent boiled potatoes.” — a la Mr. Collins — in the midst of awkward family gatherings.

Known as “Admin b,” Bianca isn’t just a devoted Janeite with a sly sense of humor, she’s also a self-proclaimed “grade A nerd” with a passion for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, including badass Jedi Mara Jade; a skilled seamstress who crafts everything from cosplay outfits to Regency ballgowns; a bibliophile who includes “everything” on her to-read list; and a connoisseur of Star Wars-themed cocktails.

Let’s follow her to Austenland, shall we?

Bianca Hernandez, in costume as the Drunk Austen logo.

Tell me about the origins of the Drunk Austen social media phenomenon. How did it begin and how did you become involved?

Admin R started Drunk Austen after seeing a viral video. She started with a couple of memes, and then I sent her some of my own since I was deep in escaping adult responsibilities (like reading theory for class, looking for jobs, etc.). She added me as an admin and it’s been a journey ever since.

You’re known as “Admin b,” alongside Robin Epley, who is “Admin R.” Explain your dynamic as co-admins.

We went to j-school together, that’s how we knew each other before Drunk Austen. We’ve just tried to have fun, but learned a lot along the way. As we’ve gotten older and our followers have increased, we’ve learned a lot about how to handle a social media community. We both have our soft spots (Admin R is a “Little Women” fan, while I inundate followers with Star Wars), but in the end it always has an Austen-vibe of some kind.

Do you remember your introduction to the novels of Jane Austen?

A used book at a library book sale. The cover was awful, but it called to me. I read it when I was maybe 12 or 13, but a lot of the sharp wit went over my head. I just didn’t know a lot about the era or literature of her time.

What prompted you to become a full-fledged Janeite?

I read more of her work as I got older, but I think re-reading certain novels at certain times solidified my love. Emma, a painful character, was someone I could really relate to as I was starting college. After college I related more to Fanny at times. I think my love of the novels really peaked beyond casual interest when I was in Los Angeles for grad school and found a local Jane Austen book club. They were welcoming and made the experience of reading her works richer through discussion.

Which of her novels is your favorite and why?

Oh man, it changes. I think right now I’m really intrigued by “Persuasion.” I don’t relate to Anne, but I’m working (slowly) on a modern retelling of it because I think certain themes really translate well to today.

Why do you think her novels have endured and, indeed, flourished to the point that there’s an entire Facebook page devoted to her with thousands of followers?

Again, each time you reread her, you get something new. Besides that? I think the community can be a wonderful experience. So many people bond through this shared love, whether it’s the purists who love her work, the people who adore the hunky men in movie adaptations or the fanfiction writers, they all like a different flavor of Jane and that’s totally ok. I think Drunk Austen has tried to be really welcoming to all flavors, and there are communities that focus on one aspect, which allows people to find micro-communities that suit them.

Drunk Austen is, of course, famous for its Austen-themed memes. I feel like the memes are extremely on point lately. Thanksgiving was epic! And I love your recent Star Wars/Jane mashups. How do you come up with the perfect meme? Where do you draw your meme-spiration from?

I spend a lot of time on the internet (literally, my career involves working on social media). I see a good meme in another place and think, “Add some Darcy or a potato and we’ve got gold,” or something similar. Honestly, all of my memes are made because they make me laugh. If someone along the way is also amused then I’ve done a decent job.

The “boiled potatoes” challenge was the best thing ever. What did you think of the reaction to that?

I was shocked. I mean, I knew we had a great community, but I was so gratified to know there were other people who were down to be as goofy as I am.

Drunk Austen is more than just a social media community. It’s a public service, helping Janeites cope with awkward family gatherings or pepping depressed followers up with threads of hot guys. And there’s a hefty dose of feminism, too. Is this intentional?

Yes. At first it wasn’t, and I know we kind of grappled with stepping anywhere outside of Austen. Jane wrote about awkward families and would definitely have been a feminist. So I think we felt like if it was in the vein of her work it was still good.

I know I posted whole lot of hot man photos on a certain election night because I was in need of something, anything, to make me feel anything other than devastated. The response we got was amazing. Knowing that seeing a man with overgrown sideburns and a wet shirt brought joy to someone across the globe made me feel a little less like everything was crap.

Drunk Austen regularly navigates many Janeite controversies, such as who is the best movie Mr. Darcy or which is the best adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice”? How do you handle these hot-button issues?

We tell out followers to keep it civil when we do bring up those topics, but if we didn’t bring it up for discussion we have zero-tolerance for bashing other people’s favorites. We’re all here to love Austen, why divide ourselves over who is a more perfect Darcy?

Aside from your admin duties, you’re also involved with the Jane Austen Society of North America. Tell me about your participation in that group.

I was the Regional Co-Coordinator for my region, but recently stepped into the Secretary role. I volunteer a lot of time in making sure we have meetings that run smoothly and appeal to our members. It’s honestly just a fun way to get the local community socializing and learning together. I also started two Jane Austen book clubs that are still running (without me!) today.

You’re a self-described “book hoarder.” Were you into books as a child? How did your love of reading begin?

I was a late-reader. I was really, really shy and had undiagnosed vision issues in first and second grade, but I was too scared to speak up about not being able to see the whiteboard. My teacher at the time didn’t notice or try to intervene, just kept doling out my bad grades. My grandma was a teacher and finally realized there was something wrong. After I got glasses and a more understanding teacher, it was a love affair. I dominated library summer reading programs and always have a book or two somewhere on my person.

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

I have a book for every mood. If I need to be angry it’s Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman.” If I want to feel the magic of being young I go to Harry Potter or “Sabriel” by Garth Nix. I cannot say enough good things about Gail Carriger’s “Prudence.” Then, of course, there’s Jane Austen’s works, with “Persuasion” whisking me away every time I open it.

What are you reading now?

Tamora Pierce. I’ve put off reading her works and recently took a swordfighting class that reminded me I needed badass ladies to look up to.

What’s on your to-read pile?

Everything. I actually want to reread some classic Star Wars books in 2018, then tackle the Shakespeare plays I never got to.

Bianca in Wonder Woman cosplay.

On your website, you describe yourself as a “grade A nerd” who once made a reference to “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” on your business card. What was the reference?

It’s a phrase I need daily. “Don’t panic.”

Tell me your nerd origin story. When did you embrace the “geek lifestyle”?

Picture this: Junior High. Library. I was in braces AND glasses. I think those were the years where I just knew I wasn’t going to be athletic or really into punk-rock. I was just going to read all the Expanded Universe books I could get my hands on.

Drunk Austen followers can’t help but notice that you are very into Star Wars. What’s your personal Star Wars saga?

My story isn’t worthy of a crawl across the screen. A substitute teacher showed one of the films in class and I was so intrigued I bought the movies as soon as I could. The prequels were my first intro, but it was the original trilogy AND the EU books that got me hooked. I was totally in it for the badass women (lightsaber wielding ones at that!).

Tell me about your discovery of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in junior high.

Another library book sale. I stumbled on the Thrawn trilogy and was excited for more Star Wars in my life. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey into EU.

You once created your own Mara Jade Jedi costume for Star Wars Celebration. It passed approval for both Rebel Legion and Saber Guild. That’s quite an accomplishment. Please elaborate about that experience.

I always like Mara because she was a badass lady with a purple lightsaber. I’d never been to Celebration, so I threw together a cheap costume for the con. I was so thrilled by how many people recognized the character. I got back and decided to make an accurate costume that I could get approved for costume groups. I’m not thrilled with wearing a catsuit, but I do feel kind of like a badass when I wear it.

You’ve sewn many costumes for yourself, including a Hamilton-themed ball gown and other historical outfits. What do you enjoy about that? 

I like sewing for fun and for my Etsy store. It’s fun to learn to make full gowns and teach yourself new skills related to that. It’s a challenge, but in the end I can feel empowered dancing in my newest creation.

Bianca, at right, in a gown she created for a Hamilton-themed costume ball.

What’s challenging about it?

Teaching yourself new skills and being patient about it. I look at the first projects I ever took on and then the ones I have done over the last year and see a huge difference. It takes time to get good at something.

Have you done other geeky cosplays besides Mara Jade?

Ilana from “Broad City.” Prudence from Gail Carriger’s books. Agent Carter. Doctor Aphra. Probably many, many more.

Bianca as Agent Carter.

Is it my imagination or did you attend the “Last Jedi” premiere?

I did!

What are your thoughts about “The Last Jedi”?

It was like an EU book come to the big screen. It’s not my favorite movie, but I really enjoyed it and can admit it was great.

Why do you think fans are having a collective meltdown over the film?

Because tons of folks have made followings based on their theories out of “Force Awakens,” and this movie ties up so many loose ends. What do they have to talk about now? I guess just their annoyance with the movie? I’m pretty tired of the kind of weak arguments for why this movie is bad. It’s just different, and that’s fine.

You recently called out the Star Wars community for its lack of support for women. I applaud you for that. Why did you decide to say something?

When I was first really into Star Wars as a teen I had a gender-neutral screen-name because even back then it was pretty hard to be a lady-fan in that community. Now, though things have gotten a bit better, I’m just really fed up with seeing blatant sexism. The post I called out was trying to act like it wasn’t a sexist argument, but it was, period. I was on the fence about doing anything, but I can’t sit back and watch this keep happening. I can’t let another generation of lady-fans feel like they’re being attacked.

And now for a serious question: Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes. All the porgs. Especially the giant Target exclusive porg that I technically won, but never received!

You seem to be pretty into Star Wars-themed cocktails. What’s your favorite?

There’s a blue milk cocktail made by one bartender in San Francisco. I’ve had others, but his is legit because he garnishes it with peach rings.

Can you draw any parallels between Star Wars and Jane Austen?

I think we’ve done a couple Star Wars/Austen mashups before, and I think it works because Jane Austen wrote about real people and Star Wars has characters that are pretty relatable too. Luke is really naive and gets thrown into adulthood with no guidance, something a lot of Austen heroines have to face. C-3PO bears a striking resemblance to the awkward properness of Mr. Collins.

What other fandoms are you into?

I love Agent Carter, Harry Potter and Doctor Who.

What’s the next big release you’re looking foward to  (movies, books, TV, etc.)?

Oh man, I feel so behind in major media right now. I think the one thing I’m actually stoked for is the new adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” just because I have no idea what they’ll do with it. Besides that I think “Black Panther” and the Han Solo movie are the only things I’ll be dragging myself to the theater to see.

What’s left on your Jane Austen bucket list?

I haven’t visited Chawton or her resting place, so I guess that’s what I’d still need to do.

One of the questions I’ve been pondering lately is why do so many geeks also happen to be anglophiles? If anyone can help me answer this, it must be you. Thoughts?

I think the UK has a rich history, a literary legacy and some powerhouse nerd communities (like Whovians). That helps.

I think a lot of it is exposure too. If you’re raised knowing only English, and there’s a whole country that has content in English, it’s easy to get into. If there’s some cool content in French, but you don’t know French, you aren’t as likely to take time to learn it or find translations if they aren’t readily available. I have a limited understanding of Spanish, so I enjoy some shows and authors, but don’t participate in communities because I’m just not fluent enough.

I think access is also a factor. Masterpiece distributes a lot of UK shows to the US and a lot of people have BBC America now.

‘The Last Jedi’: A Conversation (SPOILER ALERT!)

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” steer clear of this review!

Two years ago, in a galaxy not so far away … two lifelong Star Wars fans — Lavender, of nomansland.blog, and Shawna, of earthtoshawna.com — decided to search their feelings and work out their issues after seeing “The Force Awakens.” It was so much fun, we decided to do it again with “The Last Jedi,” the second installment of Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy. 

Here’s the conversation …

SPOILER ALERT: Seriously. If you’re planning to see “The Last Jedi” at all, do not read any further. We’ll be discussing the movie in full. Do yourself a favor and go watch porg videos instead.

Lavender: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has a 93% “fresh” rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but only scored a 56% approval rating with audiences. Do you side more with critics or moviegoers?

Shawna of earthtoshawna.com

Shawna: What? Really? That’s pretty shocking! I didn’t know that. I’m with the critics – I loved it! What about you, did you love it?

Lavender: I’m going to have to say I agree with the critics here. I think “The Last Jedi” is fantastic, with a few caveats. It’s a weirder, wilier beast than “The Force Awakens,” but while it generally follows the formula of “The Empire Strikes Back” in terms of plot and tone — in the same way “Force Awakens” follows the formula of “A New Hope” — writer-director Rian Johnson is very comfortable telling a more original, more surprising story here than the first chapter of this new trilogy.

There are so many breathtaking moments here for die-hard Star Wars fans. There’s a childlike playfulness at work (almost too much at times), but also a darker, deeper exploration of the balance of the Force that is extremely satisfying to a longtime fan like me.

Shawna: I totally agree with everything you just said. I found some of it a little bit cartoony and contrived, but overall I loved the unpredictability and suspense, and I enjoyed the nods to “Empire” too. The on-the-edge-of-my-seat moments and the goosebump moments more than made up for the give-me-a-break stuff.

Lavender of nomansland.blog

Lavender: For me, the heart of the film was the connection and counterpoint between Daisy Ridley, as Resistance fighter and maybe the most bad-ass Jedi ever, Rey, and Adam Driver, as conflicted and angsty wayward son Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren.

I had forgotten how good Driver is as Kylo Ren, all pent-up fury and raging teenage hormones. (Is he a teenager? Well, he acts like one, anyway.) It’s astonishing how much sympathy you feel for this character and yet he’s just so vile at the same time. And, of course, Ridley is perfect once again as the lonely, pure-hearted Rey, who journeys to the secluded island hideaway of Luke Skywalker seeking guidance in the ways of the Force and, for the first time, feels a pull to the Dark Side. Her vulnerability is heartbreaking.

Johnson has cooked up this mysterious connection between Rey and Kylo, who communicate throughout the film in these electrifying psychic dialogues that are intimate, chilling, and melancholy all at once. And, of course, there’s the scene in which they together confront Snoke. I would like to rewatch that scene about 50 times. I had goosebumps all over!

Shawna: I loved the scenes in which Rey and Kylo connected through the Force. I wanted more of Kylo’s character after seeing “The Force Awakens,” and I wasn’t disappointed. How awesome was it when Kylo killed Snoke and they fought the guards together? It was so powerful, and then how fitting for him to say “join me.”

Lavender: Yes! That was epic. And there were many, many epic moments, from that opening with Poe Dameron taking out the cannons on the New Order star destroyer with his aerial acrobatics to that final face-off between Kylo and Luke Skywalker. What else did you love about the film?

Shawna: The porgs! You predicted the lovable-ness of these little critters the same way you knew BB-8 was going to steal the show in “The Force Awakens.”

I loved the crystal foxes and the space horses too. When they set the herd free – that was my favorite Rose and Finn scene. And we got a little of Rose’s back story there, which was interesting. Mostly though, I felt there was untapped potential with their storyline.

I also loved Luke’s astral projection – that moment when you see he is still on the island, how cool was that? In hindsight I guess that was foreshadowed with Kylo appearing to Rey without really being there, but I didn’t see it coming at all.

I was really happy to see Luke in general, considering he was virtually absent from “Force Awakens.” But I’m still sorting out my feelings for how his character has developed. It seemed so out of character for him to consider murdering his nephew in his sleep. And I don’t think I can ever look at him the same way after watching him drink that milk.

Lavender: The milking scene. Ewww. So weird. I’m still not sure what that was about. One of several goofy, but perplexing moments in “The Last Jedi.” Johnson seemed to be trying to bring back some of the eccentricity of George Lucas’ original trilogy. Maybe? I’m not quite sure?

Otherwise, I loved most of the scenes with Luke. Hamill is a bit weathered, but that suits the character, a perfect blend of crotchety hermit and disillusioned Jedi master. Yes, that unexpected reveal in the finale is something! Wow!

I’m glad you brought up the porgs because I’ve just been waiting this whole time to talk about them. It’s a relief that they are not the next Jar Jar Binks, but are featured in many adorable and funny moments and sparingly so they don’t become unwelcome pests.

You mention the scene with Finn and Rose — who I think are a great team — and the horse-like Farthiers. I think that was actually my least favorite scene. It was just so over-the-top and full of CGI. Actually, the entire sequence on Canto Bight — the Monte Carlo of the Star Wars galaxy — reminded me too much of Lucas’ prequels, and I don’t like to be reminded of those.

What were some of your complaints about this film?

Shawna: I guess it’s the animal lover in me that likes any scene where animals are set free! And as a bookworm, I didn’t like the book burning. Really, Yoda? You’re going to destroy these ancient books and laugh about it? Not cool.

I don’t like that Luke died. I’m sad that this likely means the next film won’t have any of the three original characters.

Lavender: It was kinda funny that Yoda was like, “Ancient Jedi texts, whatever.” I’m so glad Yoda made an appearance though. That was quite a treat.

I think the filmmakers are phasing out the trifecta of the original trilogy so they can focus on the younger heroes of this trilogy, although it seems they may have had more plans for Carrie Fisher in the next and final film, prior to her death.

Speaking of Carrie Fisher, “The Last Jedi” is dedicated to her. What did you think of her role in this film?

I found it to be a lovely and emotional tribute. I love that we got to see Leia in action as a general, her strategizing and camaraderie with her troops, her sorrow over Resistance losses, and we also caught a huge and unexpected glimpse of her Force power. That was insane. I still don’t know what to make of it. She looked so beautiful and all her lines were clever and sassy and completely Carrie. The eventual and long-awaited reunion between Leia and Luke was so touching and fitting. I was bawling. For me, this was probably the highlight of the movie.

Shawna: Almost every Carrie scene was emotionally wrenching, knowing she’s gone. It was hard for me to be objective. I love her.  I need to watch again and try not to think of her being gone so I can actually absorb what she’s saying! And you’re right of course, about the filmmakers focusing on the younger heroes. I know it’s time for them to pass the torch, but I’m not ready to let go yet!

Lavender: It will be interesting to see how the next film does without the heavy lifting of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. I remember when I was skeptical about the three of them returning to the franchise, but it has paid off in rewarding ways for fans and resulted in some excellent storytelling.

While I think “The Last Jedi” has its flaws — there’s an unevenness to it, especially in the first half of the film, that’s a bit disorienting — I’m pleased with where it takes the trilogy. Hopefully, the final chapter will take everything full circle and bring balance to the Force.

Shawna: “The Last Jedi” did take a while to hit its stride, but once it did, it was a great ride! I want to see what happens with Kylo Ren. Will he get to be a good guy at the last minute, like Darth Vader? And is Rey really a “nobody,” as in not related to any of the original characters? Is that what Luke was trying to tell her, that the Force is in all of us? That sort of flies in the face of the genetic component of the Force, but the Midichlorian thing was sort of stupid anyway.

I am excited for the next film!

JPL’s PlanetaryKeri finds the droid she was looking for

I hereby mandate that, from now on, the role of the cool female scientist in every science-fiction movie be played by Keri Bean.

Keri, aka Twitter’s @PlanetaryKeri, has more nerd cred than anyone I’ve met.

I can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness of her educational background (studying the weather on Mars),  job (at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and hobbies, which involve everyone’s favorite droid, R2-D2, and everyone’s new favorite Star Wars heroine, Rey.

At JPL in Pasadena, Keri works on Mars rovers; the Dawn, which is orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres; and other fascinating space missions. She’s also part of the lab’s outreach team, making the science accessible to the general public.

In her downtime, Keri has quite the obsession with a certain sassy, blue-and-white Astromech droid. As a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club, she and her husband built their own functioning R2 unit, which goes well with Keri’s other hobby, cosplaying as Resistance Rey with the Rebel Legion club. 

And though we didn’t discuss it because it occurred after this interview, Keri was recently at the premiere of “The Last Jedi,” where she met Daisy Ridley, who signed Keri’s Porg.

Perfection!

You work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. It sounds like the best job ever. What do you most enjoy about it?

It absolutely is the best job ever! From the moment I was exposed to what JPL does when in high school, I knew I wanted to work there. I’ve now been working at JPL for over four years, and I still get excited to come into work every morning. I often can’t believe I work here. I think my favorite aspect is that I get to work with some of the best, brightest, and most passionate people in the world. Where else can you work on Mars rovers??

For the sake of laypeople like me, I’m going to ask you to explain some things — or maybe everything — about what you do. You’re a missions operations engineer. What does that entail?

My job is to operate spacecraft and tell them what to do. Since I have a scientific background, I focus a lot more on what’s called science operations. That means I spend a lot of time making sure as much data is taken as possible so scientists can use it to make amazing discoveries.

Currently, you’re working as a science planning and sequencing engineer for the Dawn mission. The Dawn is orbiting and exploring the dwarf planet Ceres. Could you explain your role in the mission?

So we use bits of code we call sequences to control each spacecraft. On Dawn, my prime responsibility was to work with the instrument teams to develop the sequences that would fulfill the science objectives safely. I am part of a small, four-people team that designs and executes all of the science data acquisition.

What information about Ceres has the mission yielded so far?

So, so much! Before Dawn arrived, all we had were these small fuzzy pictures of a round object. We found a large amount of evidence towards water ice, organic molecules on the surface, a transient atmosphere, and so much more! You can find out more at https://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.

You are the tactical uplink lead and mobility/instrument deployment device engineer for the Mars Explorer Rovers. What do those titles mean? 

The Tactical Uplink Lead means you are in charge of the team planning the activities on Mars that particular shift. It’s a very mentally intense job because you have to remember a lot, make tough decisions, and more under a time crunch. I find it really satisfying. I get to tell a Mars rover what to do!

The latter role (we often shorten to Mob/IDD) is a downlink analysis role. After the rover drives or uses its arm, I’m one of the people that looks at the data and figures out what actually happened, did the activities complete safely, etc. It’s one of the first steps towards becoming a Mars rover driver!

That must be an exciting mission to work on! Tell me about that experience.

Opportunity, and her past twin, Spirit, were actually the first missions I worked on when I was an undergrad. I’ve been on and off the team since 2007! Both my undergrad and master’s thesis were based on data from Spirit. And now I’m a part of the Integrated Sequencing Team, and one of my responsibilities is also training people new to the mission on how to operate it. It’s a dream!

Keri Bean, dressed as Rey from “The Force Awakens,” with the Opportunity rover.

I read that you were interested in weather as a child and watched the Weather Channel a lot. What was it about the weather that fascinated you?

I wish I knew! It was an innate draw.

I also read it was the 2003 Columbia disaster that sparked your interest in space exploration. Tell me about that. 

I remember being at a Texas statewide academic competition called UIL, and they brought all the students into the auditorium. They announced the space shuttle had broken up over Texas and we had a minute of silence. I remember being angry. Not at what had happened, but why didn’t I know we had a space shuttle around Earth at the moment? I knew of the ISS, but what were they doing up there?

As soon as I got home I started reading as much as I could about space. My interested really got locked in a few years later when I got to witness in person the STS-114 launch, the return to flight mission post-Columbia. I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, the following two years. Between all of that, I got the space bug hard.

You attended Texas A&M University because it enabled you to combine your love of weather and space. You studied with Dr. Mark Lemmon whose focus is weather on Mars. Please tells us, are all the movies about Mars terribly accurate?

Mostly not. But you know, they’re movies and for entertainment! I’m willing to separate fact from fiction. “The Martian” is the closest I’ve seen to accurate, although even that has flaws.

If you could tell us only one fact about the weather on Mars, what would it be?

It snows!!!

You were able to work on several NASA missions as a student. What did you discover about yourself during this experience?

I found a couple of things. One thing was that I enjoyed astronomy as a hobby and not as a profession. I also found that I really like working with a team. A lot of my school experience was sitting in a cubicle by myself coding, and I just didn’t like the social isolation. I’m glad I got to experience spacecraft operations, as that was the balance between having a cool technical job while requiring social skills and interacting with people on a daily basis.

Are there many women working in your field?

A lot, actually! On Dawn, my manager, in the Science Operations Support Team, is a woman. Our deputy principal investigator and project scientist are women. On my JPL management side, almost all the managers up the chain are women. On MER, women rule! Up until very recently, all Tactical Uplink Leads were women for many, many years.

Right now, our lead systems engineer, lead Rover Planner (aka Mars rover driver/arm operators), and lead Mobility/IDD are all women as well. We also have more women Rover Planners than men. It’s quite often that mostly women staff the tactical team on Opportunity. I’ve seen quite a few shifts where there has only been one guy! But I also know that my experience is an anomaly, and I know many other women who tell me they’re the only women working on the team or in their job type. So while things aren’t perfect, I think there’s tremendous progress at JPL.

You’re a member of JPL’s Advisory Council for Women. How did you become involved with that? What does the council do?

So I try and help out with events that the Advisory Council for Women puts on. They have a yearly banquet (and this past year I nominated my best friend and STEM outreach extraordinaire Dr. Nicole Sharp to be the guest of honor, and she was!) and also do other events on lab.

Keri does some outreach for JPL.

You also do a lot of public speaking and outreach. And you’re an Internet celebrity with a big Twitter following @PlanetaryKeri. How did you get started in outreach? Why does it appeal to you?

I like people! A lot of my job is “translating” between the scientists and engineers, and that skill allows me to translate for the general public as well. I know there are so many people that want to do what I do, so I feel being public about it on social media is the best way to get people to experience what I do.

I could probably ask you about your job all day long, but I’d like to move on to another very important topic: Star Wars. You’re a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club. For those who are unfamiliar with the group, what is the purpose of the club?

The club is for those who want to build their very own Astromech!

How did you become involved with the group? Are there many female members?

I met a member who had built his own R2. I don’t know what it was, but when I saw R2 in person, I just knew I had to have my own. Luckily my husband was immediately on board, saying it looked like a fun engineering project. I wanted to wait a bit until I had a house, but then I saw all the droids in the droid builder’s room at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim and I just couldn’t wait anymore. I went home and ordered my first part that night. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many women in the club, but there are some! There’s now a group called Stardust Builders Initiative that spans over all the builder clubs (so BB-8, Mouse droids, etc.) and there’s close to 100 women or female-identifying people in the group.

Keri works on the dome of her R2 unit.

You built your own R2 unit. Tell me about that process. 

Oh gosh, where to begin?

It’s a long process. Most people take two to three years to build their droid. Mine was two years and a month. I had joined the forum and been reading for a good six months before I bought my first part, and that time isn’t included in that two years and one month duration.

My husband’s skills and mine complemented each other well. I took care of figuring out ordering parts, making sure they were cut/sanded/painted appropriately, etc. My husband has a background in electrical and computer engineering, so he did pretty much all of that. We still had a lot of help from friends! In fact, I have been having anyone that contributed sign the back panel of my droid.

It took a lot of nights and weekends to build. Honestly, over a year of that time was just waiting to get enough parts to actually assemble the droid. The first part we got was the dome, so we actually had our dome nearly complete in the first month of our building process. Then we had to wait a long time to get a frame, legs, and feet so we could actually assemble and stand R2 up. Once we could stand R2 up, things went pretty quickly. The last three months or so of building were pretty constant.

Once the droid is built, what do you do with him? Does the club do events? I’ve seen them at conventions and the droids are always a big hit.

I’ve only had my droid done for about six months now, so he hasn’t done a lot. We actually had a big, big push to finish because I had signed us up to troop at Legoland for their Star Wars weekend!

So we finished very late on Monday night on Memorial Day weekend, did a “soft opening” troop that Friday at a local school, then on Sunday was Legoland! It was super stressful but absolutely worth it since I got to troop as Rey with my droid there. I’ve brought my droid to JPL a few times and he is well-loved there. My husband and I want to make some more refinements before we really take him out and about more. Droids are never really done!

Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you become a fan?

My first memory of watching Star Wars was in a car on a tiny 8-inch TV screen with an attached VHS tape player as my mother drove me across the country. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was in elementary school. The copies I watched were ones my parents had recorded from on air in the ‘80s, so commercials and everything.

So I liked Star Wars, but it wasn’t my main obsession until recently. I mean, I always gravitated towards the droids and had a small collection of R2-D2 things and I went to the midnight premiere of the prequels. But it wasn’t until I met the R2 builder that my love really expanded. “The Force Awakens” compounded that. I connected with Rey long before the movie came out. Now I’m hooked!

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, specifically the SoCal Sunrider Base. How did you discover the Legion?

I don’t remember exactly, but I have been going to comic cons for quite some time and probably first heard of them at one. I knew about them for years, but never had a strong desire to join since I didn’t have costumes that were up to requirements. I had a lot more fun costumes, like a feminine Han Solo, R2-D2 themed Jedi outfit, etc., that aren’t what the Rebel Legion is for. I finally decided that I would get a Rey costume up to snuff and join not only to enjoy being Rey, but also to find events to take R2-D2 to as well. The R2 builders aren’t organized in that regard like the Rebel Legion and 501st are.

What requirements did you have to meet to join the group?

Since I knew I wanted to be Rey, I had to pick which Rey costume to focus on. I really like her Resistance Rey (gray vest outfit), so I focused on that one first. I read the requirements listed on the Rebel Legion website and went from there.

Resistance Rey is an amazing character. Why did you choose her?

I just really connected with Rey in a way I have never connected with a fictional character before. She has so much of my personality and we share a lot of common traits. I eventually want all of Rey’s costumes, but I started with Resistance Rey because I loved the vest!

Was it a challenge to put the costume together?

Yes, especially since I don’t sew! I’ve tried to learn many times but I just can’t seem to do it. So I had to wait for the movie to come out then find someone willing to make it to RL standards on Etsy. I picked pieces from a few different vendors, and luckily it all worked out.

A large part of Rebel Legion’s mission centers around charity and volunteer work. What are some of the events you’ve participated in? 

I joined in January of this year and I’ve already done 18 events! I tried to pick more STEM-focused events since that’s what I’m passionate about. The highest profile events I’ve done were Legoland and Star Wars night at Angel Stadium. My first two troops were back to back for a STEM workshop for Girl Scouts. Another fun one was the El Centro Airshow since there were a lot of fun planes to take pictures in.

What kind of reactions do you get when you show up as Rey?

Rey is so popular, so I get a big response! I was a little worried that since this version of Rey is in so little footage in “The Force Awakens,” I wouldn’t be recognized. Luckily, I haven’t had that issue. Maybe it’s her distinctive hair that helps. Either way, I’m well received! It’s especially fun if I get to troop with a Kylo Ren and we play off of each other.

The little kids always think I actually am Rey, so I get to act a little bit and act like Rey for these kids. At my first troop, a young girl approached me asking me what my favorite food was. I said I had only ever eaten Unkar Plott’s portions, so I asked what her favorite food is. She said spaghetti. I said I had never heard of it, so what was it like? She said it was a plate of noodles. I asked what noodles were since I had never heard of them. At that point I could see the gears turning in her eyes and her blanking out so I said, “Ok, ok, I’ll look it up in the Resistance database. So cute!

When I was at Angel Stadium, I locked eyes from a distance with a small boy, maybe 3 years old? Anyway, he started sobbing and I had no idea what to do. His parents comforted him, and after a minute he bolted straight to me and wrapped himself tightly around my leg and through his sobs I heard something like, “Don’t let Kylo hurt you. I love you too much,” so I comforted him and told him the Force is strong with me and I’ll be ok. It was super touching.

Are there other characters you’d like to portray in the future?

I’m working on a few other costumes, but no other named characters besides Rey yet. I’ve got a Jedi and a Rebel Fleet Trooper costume in the works. I might do one of Jyn Erso’s because I really like her style.

Are you excited about “The Last Jedi”? It’s almost here!

I’m super excited! I’m excited to see where Rian Johnson takes us, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where Rey goes on her journey.

You once gave a talk about the Dawn mission to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Please tell me about that!

Through the R2 builders, I ended up meeting someone who works at ILM and he invited me for a tour any time I was in San Francisco. So, of course, I had to go visit as soon as possible! My husband and I took a mini vacation up there. When coordinating my visit, I asked if he thought there would be any interest in me giving a talk about Dawn while I was there, and the rest is history! I’ve now visited a couple of times and it’s really fun every time. Once I even visited Skywalker Ranch … and when checking out at their store I met Dave Filoni!

What other fandoms are you interested in?

I think it’s obvious Star Wars is my main thing now, but I also like Star Trek, “Doctor Who,” “Battlestar Galactica,” Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” and probably more I can’t remember right now. I’m not a huge comic book person, but I did like the Christian Bale “Batman” trilogy and the “Wonder Woman” movie. I used to really be into anime in high school but that faded when I went to college.

As a kid you were into Disney movies. Are you still a Disney nerd?

I’d say so. I go to Disneyland once or twice a year. I have watched a lot of the recent movies (for example, I just saw “Moana” over Thanksgiving break).

You once gave talks about Star Wars science and Dawn at Gallifrey One, the Doctor Who convention. Are you a Whovian?

A little bit! One of the things my husband and I want to do is have our R2 cosplay as a Dalek at the next Gallifrey One. Last year, I attended as Jakku/Scavenger Rey but used 4th Doctor scarf-patterned arm sleeves. That was well received.

I have to point out that there is a YouTube video in which you talk to Morgan Freeman about science. Morgan Freeman! How did that happen? Did you ever recover from it or do you still hear that magnificent voice in your head?

So the JPL media office contacted me that he would be doing an event at JPL and I had been picked to ask him a question in advance, since he wanted all questions pre-screened. So I asked him about how to do more casual outreach to reach the general audience without formal events like talks. It led to a bit of an interesting discussion. It was pretty neat. And the voice in person is just as awesome as you’d expect!

You’ve done so much professionally and personally. What is still on your career bucket list?

Well one thing I never expected to get to do is become a Rover Planner, as I thought that was mostly for robotics/computer science people. But I’ve now begun down that path, and over the next few years I’m working towards becoming one for Opportunity. So I guess there’s only crazy things left. Director of JPL? Astronaut? I don’t know! All I know is whatever I do, I’m going to have fun along the way.

What is on your geek bucket list?

I want to head to Ireland and hike Skellig Michael in my Resistance Rey outfit!

Let’s close with a few key Star Wars questions:

Is R2 the droid you were looking for?

Absolutely!

Besides R2, obviously, who is your favorite droid?

I think next I’d pick Chopper. I love the snark. K-2SO is almost tied on that front.

If you could visit any Star Wars planet, which would it be?

Definitely Ach-To. So pretty! And Porgs!

The Han Solo spin-off. Terrible idea or should we give it a chance?

I think we should give it a chance. I trust the people working on it to make it great!

And finally … Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes!!!!