Rey, Mary Sue and Phasma Too: Feminism and Fan Responses to The Force Awakens Merchandise

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


Disney has often been criticised for gendering its products, and recent animated Disney movies (Brave, Frozen) have attempted to address changing views about female protagonists, with varying degrees of success. The acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, and the massive success of the first Disney Star Wars movie makes an interesting case study that illuminates various aspects of promotion, marketing, reception and consumerism. Fans, parents, and consumers of all ages have become increasingly vocal about the way representation operates in popular culture: this public debate encompasses diversity in terms of race/ ethnicity, dis/ability, sexuality and gender. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, pre-release promotional images and materials assured audiences, would feature old favourites alongside new characters seemingly designed to pre-empt criticisms about lack of diversity. Princess Leia is now General Leia; the main hero of the film is a young woman, Rey; the other major new lead, disaffected stormtrooper Finn, is played by an actor of colour, and the villainous Captain Phasma is female. While some criticised Rey for being a wish fulfilment fantasy (in fan terms, a Mary Sue), the film’s massive success seems to speak for itself—audiences clearly are willing to embrace female and minority protagonists in major movies.
Yet while the film itself met with general enthusiasm, the related products and merchandise had a rather different reception. Rey’s absence from most of the Force Awakens product lines provoked angry responses, especially from female fans who already felt let down by the invisibility of female characters in merchandise relating to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Working as a companion piece to Paul Booth’s analysis of “Disney Princess Leia,” this chapter examines the #wheresrey controversy, the relative visibility of Rey and Phasma in merchandise, and responses to this from fans, placing it in a broader context of pop culture promotion and consumerism, assumptions about genre audiences, ongoing debates about ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ aisles in toy retail outlets, and the range of voices within fandom/s.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDisney's Star Wars
Subtitle of host publicationForces of Production, Promotion, and Reception
EditorsWilliam Proctor, Richard McCulloch
PublisherUniversity of Iowa Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781609386443
ISBN (Print)9781609386436
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

Publication series

NameFandom & Culture
PublisherUniversity of Iowa Press


  • Star Wars
  • Disney
  • fandom
  • feminism
  • merchandise


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