Ashley Eckstein took to the stage during Star Wars Celebration for Sisters of the Force to celebrate the women of the Star Wars universe.
Almost as soon as the voice of Ahsoka Tano took to the stage for the Sisters of the Force panel, she told the mostly female audience that “Star Wars is for everyone.” The actress couldn’t be more right. All one has to do is look at the online vitriol. This has resulted in Star Wars actors deleting their social media accounts. After all, it only takes is a few bad apples to ruin the fun for everyone. I think back to the Episode IX panel. When Kelly Marie Tran was introduced, she got a rousing ovation and applause. This is the audience reminding the actress that there’s still a fan base with love for her and her character, Rose. Eckstein would later invite Athena Portillo, Catherine Taber, Amy Ratcliffe, Vanessa Marshall, and Suzie McGrath to join her on stage.
The Director and The Jedi
We all have our own stories as to what draws us to the long-running saga. I may be a transgender woman but I’m just as much of a Star Wars fan as I was before coming out a few years ago. My gender identity doesn’t change my fandom. I think back to the surreal experience that I had when my name was called among the wait-listed outlets last year at SXSW for The Director and The Jedi red carpet. I did a double take as I could not believe that I got a spot on the red carpet. To be within feet of Luke Skywalker himself–Mark Hamill–and maybe even talk to him in person! Unfortunately, he went into the theater after tying his shoe. As such, he bypassed the four outlets standing on the side. But to be within a few feet of one of your heroes is absolutely insane!
My Star Wars Story
We all have our own stories. Mine dates back to my cousin showing us Star Wars: A New Hope in the early 1990s. My uncle would later take my brother and myself to see the special editions in 1997. I only turned 12 a few months earlier. Prior to watching each film, my uncle would give me the original VHS tapes. This is the only version of the original trilogy that I own. By which, I mean before George Lucas started to make any changes. I would later get the Special Editions on VHS, DVD, and then on Blu-ray when the Star Wars saga was packaged together in 2011. These films combined with Jurassic Park set me on the path to a hopeful filmmaking career.
At the same time as I discovered the Star Wars franchise, I was making another discovery of my own. Well, I would have had the education and awareness been around. It was around the the same time when I wrote my first piece of trans fiction. I turned it in for homework without as much of a thought to it. Being a writer since as long as I can remember, I’ve even dabbled in writing a Star Wars parody or two. I never really did the whole fan fiction thing. But beside that, my go-to wall calendar each year is either The Beatles or Star Wars. There may be a Marvel movie mixed in with the bunch but it’s almost always a Star Wars calendar.
I would start buying the books during middle school as well. As each movie came out, I would by the novel tie-ins to see what insight they offered. This was before the days of audio commentaries in DVD so I wanted to learn just how it was that Qui-Gonn Jinn became a force ghost. His body never disappeared like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda. Unfortunately, the books at the time didn’t offer much but I digress.
I’ve watched the Star Wars films who knows how many times. As such, I do my best not to give into fear, anger, or hate because it could lead to the Dark Side. This is one of those lasting mantras that I try and associate with my daily life as a result of these films. It’s because of this that I have to pull myself away from social media. Mostly because of self-care.
The Padme Connection is Strong with This One
I’m a big Padme fan mostly because of Natalie Portman more so than Catherine Taber in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I grew up at a time when none of us really knew what being transgender meant because it wasn’t really covered in the press. Funny enough, Ashley was having members of the panel share something they never shared before. I’m about to open up so please bare with me.
When people asked me who my celebrity crushes were, I always said Natalie Portman. One could say that this was true from a certain point of view. The thing is, I wanted to BE her but refused to really admit my gender issues at the time. When you grow up as a straight girl in the wrong body, things can be super confusing. Society tells you to act in a way that deep down, your subconscious knows you shouldn’t. So no, I never got to wear the Princess Leia buns or dress as Padme on Purim. Purim is the Jewish holiday where people dress in costumes. Coming to terms with myself wouldn’t happen until a few weeks before the release of The Force Awakens. It would not be an understatement to say that shit hit the fan.
The Force Awakens
Let me tell you, my first time watching The Force Awakens was not easy because the dysphoria was awful in December 2015. Like I knew I needed to have already started on hormone replacement therapy but the reality was that this is easier said than done. Watching the film prior to seeing The Last Jedi went much better because most of those dysphoric feelings were largely gone or invisible. They still get bad from time to time. However, it’s nothing like the dysphoric depression that nearly killed me. I will say how excited I was to see Daisy Ridley’s Rey following in Carrie Fisher’s footsteps. One of the reasons why Star Wars works is because of these kick-ass heroines. Just as the Force was awkening in Rey, something else entirely different was awakening within me after years of repression.
Rogue One and Hope
A few weeks before Rogue One was released, I was really struggling with depression during the first week of November. I know exactly what Vanessa Marshall means when she spoke about her depression struggles. Even though I had just changed my name, I was homesick and my family had just put down our 16-year old border collie/husky mix before I had the chance to say goodbye. Moreover, when you’re the rare St. Louis Cardinals fan living less than a mile from Wrigley Field, the week became super depressing because the Cubs went on to win the 2016 World Series. I was a real mess when I saw Doctor Strange but what started to turn things around was seeing the signage for Rogue One and knowing that we’re getting a live-action take on the Star Wars: A New Hope opening crawl. This gave me hope and something to look forward to.
Star Wars Celebration
Getting the opportunity to attend and cover my first Star Wars Celebration was amazing. While I didn’t have the finances to shell out on the photos or autographs that I wanted, the one positive highlight of not winning the Episode IX lottery was winning a limited ticket for a photo with Anthony Daniels. While Luke Skywalker walked a few feet in front of me last year, meeting C-3PO himself during Celebration is an opportunity I’ll never forget.
During Wizard World Chicago in August, I got to meet and chat with Greg Grunberg, who appeared in the sequel trilogy.
Finally, there was the moment that came during the Toronto International Film Festival when I got to formally meet writer-director Rian Johnson (Go see Knives Out!) at the world premiere of Jojo Rabbit:
May the Force be with you!