When Star Wars was released in 1977, Stanley Kauffmann, a critic for The New Republic, was not impressed, calling it "unexceptional" and "corny." Kauffmann also weighed in on who he thought the film's audience would be. “This picture was made for those (particularly males) who carry a portable shrine within them of their adolescence.”
Women have made up a significant portion of the Star Wars fan base from the beginning. Like Stormtroopers flanking Darth Vader, they are a legion. (They are in the 501st Legion.) They have massive collections. They go to conventions. They form online communities. And they do not take any BS from anyone who questions their fangirl bona fides.
And so, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening on December 18, we are celebrating these women who proudly wear their fandom on their sleeves...and on their shoes, skirts, sweaters, realistic clone trooper costumes, and more. We interviewed four Star Wars superfans bound to inspire you with their dedication.
Savanna Kiefer, 19 Occupation: Student Location: Bushnell, FL Excitement Level For The Force Awakens, On A Scale Of 1 To 10: “A billion. My excitement exceeds that scale." Her First Time: Kiefer doesn’t remember when, exactly, she was introduced to Star Wars, because the films have been playing in her household her entire life. “My mom is a huge, die-hard Star Wars fan, so as soon as she had kids, she showed the movies to me and my older brother, and we loved it,” Kiefer says. “Probably five years ago, I really started getting involved with the fan community, and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m a huge Star Wars fan.'”
She loved the spirit of adventure the movies offer, but fell even harder for the sense of community among fans. “Anytime you encounter a fan in daily life, you have an instant friend,” she says. “It’s like a family. You can have any sort of issue or crisis and just need to talk to somebody, and I feel like Star Wars fans will always be there for you.”
Kiefer has met all her best friends at conventions — and also her fiancé. She has a website and blog called The Dorky Diva, as well as a podcast, Twin Suns Transmission, which she runs with her husband-to-be. “I have no idea what kind of person I would be without Star Wars in my life,” she says.
Prized Possession: A stormtrooper action figure in her likeness that her fiancé had custom made for her last Christmas. “It’s a little shadow scout, which is my favorite costume I wear.” Kiefer is a member of the 501st Legion (a volunteer organization that does charity work, with members often dressed in stormtrooper costumes), and her figurine even has her 501st ID number on the back. “It means a lot to me, just because it’s very personal," she says. "But obviously, I love everything in my collection.”
Favorite Character: Kiefer digs Han Solo, but her favorite group is the clone troopers, the army that appears in the prequel movies and who look like stormtroopers, but are basically good guys until the emperor orders them to kill Jedi. “I like how they’re all the same person technically, but they all have different personalities. Every single clone is unique,” she says. That’s why she started decorating clone trooper helmets, which make up a big part of her collection. The clone trooper costume is cool, but it didn't really suit Kiefer's costume needs. “I’m really petite and not actually big enough to wear the clone armor, so I decided that if I can’t wear it, I’ll just start making helmets and collecting them.”
Now, as part of the 501st, Kiefer wears the head gear on autism walks, during visits to children’s hospitals, and at other events. She happily donned some of her getups for our photographer.
Shining Moment: We had no idea when we were lining up subjects for this story, but it turns out that Kiefer and fellow superfan Mariah Lambes (see below) are friendly. Though they have never met, they connected online a couple years ago and have been in touch ever since. When Lambes, who has cancer, could not attend a Star Wars event this year, Kiefer had her back. "I sent her some gifts, because I knew she was in the hospital."
Emily Ong, 36 Occupation: Project Manager & Blogger Location: Bay Area, CA Excitement Level For The Force Awakens, On A Scale Of 1 To 10: “Oh, like 100 or something… I feel like I’ve been waiting for this forever.”
Her First Time: Ong has always been looking for her own world of adventure. That’s why, as a child, she played video games and got into movies like the Indiana Jones series and The Goonies. As a teen, though, Ong became so obsessed with Star Wars that she watched the original trilogy every week. “I would do my homework while watching Star Wars,” she says.
“The world captured me, and the whole adventure, the characters — it was like nothing I had ever seen. It really put me in a different world,” she says. Ong started a Star Wars club at her high school, which boasted about 25 members. “It was maybe 80% guys, and the girls were there because they were my friends,” she recalls with a laugh.
Even now, as Ong undergoes treatment for breast cancer, she is taking comfort in the films, and has planned her chemo sessions around the premiere of The Force Awakens. “I wanted to make sure I was going to be at a good place, health-wise, to go. Even going through treatment, I’m still doing things like sewing, or creative projects, or I’ll watch something Star Wars. All that stuff kind of puts me out of reality and into this world where I can feel happy about my fandom. Geeks hold their fandoms really close to their heart, and Star Wars is like that for me.”
Prized Possession: When Ong was a teen in the '90s, she attended a Star Wars prop exhibition in San Francisco. “My mom took me because I couldn’t drive [yet],” she says. While she was there, Ong picked up a toy AT-AT, the four-legged All Terrain Armored Transport vehicle used by the Galactic Empire and first seen in The Empire Strikes Back. “It’s my favorite vehicle in the movie," she says. "Mine is this miniature model of the AT-AT, but you have to build it. You wind it up and it walks.” She keeps it with her everywhere she goes. “It’s usually at my work desk, but now that I’m on medical leave, I took it home.”
Ong’s also passionate about geek fashion. “I have tons of geeky clothes and I would constantly try to incorporate those into my regular wardrobe,” she says. Think: Darth Vader tights and stormtrooper tank tops. When she started getting compliments on her style, she felt encouraged to blog about it. So she started the aptly named The Stylish Geek. (We’re especially fond of her Han and Leia flats.)
Favorite Character: Ong says Han Solo holds a special place in her heart, since he was the inspiration for her first-ever cosplay. “I spent a lot of time making his costume, and I had never thought to dress up as a male character,” she says. But she knew it was the right choice. “I never really liked what Leia was wearing that much, so why can’t I dress up as Han?” Her Solo costume — featuring a white top, black vest, iconic belt and gun — was a hit at San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago, earning her fame among fans. “It’s kind of been all over the internet. Even Wil Wheaton reblogged it a couple of months ago. I was freaking out.”
Shining Moment: Ong spent 48 hours camping out for the Star Wars panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. She got to see the entire cast of The Force Awakens. “I was crying during the panel," she says. "It was such an emotional experience. I think it kind of brings you back to childhood and makes you feel a certain way, like you’re in this better world.”
Alie Cooper, 30 Occupation: Aerospace Engineer Location: Kansas City, MO Excitement Level For The Force Awakens, On A Scale Of 1 To 10: “I think we’re at a 10.” Her First Time: Cooper can’t remember the year, but she knows the movies were the perfect fit for her as a child. “They combined stuff I liked, like ships and space, with a really good story,” she says. “It was the one thing I did as make-believe play when I was little. I had a lightsaber and I would dress up.” She still has that same green illuminated sword. Prized Possession: “Right now, it’s probably my Star Wars special edition Xbox,” Cooper says, laughing. “That was a Christmas present from a lot of my family members.” But she also really treasures her vintage micro machines from the '90s. Her impressive collection of memorabilia totals many hundreds of items, so it's tough to choose one above all others.
Favorite Character: “When I was little, it was Luke Skywalker. In retrospect, I kind of hate him," she says. "He’s really kind of whiny and the most boring character, but he was the hero, so that’s why you liked him when you were young." Now, she’s way more into Yoda, and she’s “very hopeful” about Gwendoline Christie’s upcoming role as Captain Phasma. “I really like her character on Game of Thrones, and I just kind of like her because she’s as tall as I am. Kind of like a tall-girl solidarity,” she adds with the endearing laughter that ripples through most of our chat.
Shining (Badass) Moment: I ask if being a fangirl comes with any challenges. Cooper, a trans women who transitioned about two and a half years ago, replies with kickass frankness. “Having transitioned as an adult, I don’t take any shit, really,” she says. “The fact that I like Star Wars — if someone wants to give me crap, I’m not going to take it. I don’t know, I think it’s good in a lot of ways, in that you’ll come across people that are, I would say, anti-feminist, and it’s nice to be able to step up and say, ‘Oh really? You’re going to limit me? I don’t think so.'”
Mariah Lambes, 23 Occupation: Cast Member at The Disney Store Location: Ocean Springs, MS Excitement Level For The Force Awakens, On A Scale Of 1 To 10: “I’m as excited as anybody can be. I’m, like, 1,000.”
Her First Time: “I was pretty much raised around Star Wars because my parents were both huge fans,” Lambes says. She was brought up knowing the original trilogy, and then Episode I came out when she was about 8 years old and confirmed her devotion. “The story is always fun. And of course, the exciting music.” John Williams' score is, in fact, what inspired her to join the school band and learn the French horn. (Band is also where she met her husband.)
Now, Lambes envelops herself in the intergalactic world created by George Lucas when she needs to escape. Sometimes she’ll just listen to all the Star Wars playlists on her iTunes. Other times, she'll crack open one of her books from the extended Star Wars universe. “Or," she says, "if I’m wanting a feel-good movie, I’ll just pop in one of the episodes. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen them. I’ll sit here and I’ll mouth along with my favorite parts or I’ll even say out loud my favorite parts." She still chuckles at Han’s trademark quips. (Laugh it up, Fuzzball!)
Prized Possession: You mean aside from her husky-malamute mix, Aalya, who was born on May 4 (i.e. Star Wars Day) and who’s named after a Jedi Knight? Lambes has a binder full of signed 8-by-10-inch photographs of all the Star Wars cast membersshe’s met, including Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams. “That’s a big treasured item for me, because you see people all the time selling those types of pictures on eBay." She doesn't ever bid on autographed photos because for her, it’s more about the experience than the signature itself: With every photo she adds to the binder, she always writes a few words so she can remember interacting with the actors.
Favorite Character: Though she appreciates Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO, “My favorites were always Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker,” Lambes says. She acknowledges that Boba Fett doesn’t say much in the movies, but “his armor is just really, really cool.” And Luke? “Going from the whiny little farm boy in Episode IV to the Jedi Knight in Episode VI is cool.” Lambes is also on a bit of a BB-8 kick at the moment. (Aren't we all?)
Shining Moment: Meeting Jeremy Bullock, who played Boba Fett in EpisodeV and VI. "I have an unopened action figure signed by him,” she says. “The day I met him, I was decked out in all my Boba Fett stuff. I had earrings, a ring, a necklace. He was like, ‘Wow, so you’re a true Boba Fett fan!’”