“I had the feminist awakening I never knew I needed at a Star Wars convention.”

Video via Disney

When the doors to an Orlando convention centre opened and I walked into the 2017 Star Wars Celebration, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the release of the very first Star Wars film, I’m not sure what I was expecting.

Perhaps I was expecting a sea of middle-aged men, or pimply teenagers wearing Star Wars hats and t-shirts (I blame The Simpsons for this…).

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My limited experience with Star Wars fans. Sorry. Image via Fox.

But what I was greeted with was an intergenerational fan group. People of all ages and backgrounds who had one thing in common: their love of George Lucas' most beloved and famous creation.

The halls were filled with friends, families with children as young as eight weeks old (twins, called Luke and Leia, naturally) and most surprising of all to me, females.

It really shouldn't have come as such a shock: it's no secret women love Star Wars. After all, the film's most popular heroine, Princess Leia, is one of the most iconic female characters in film history.

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Carrie Fisher as the iconic Princess Leia. Image via LucasFilm.

But Princess Leia is just the beginning. Sure, she's the original princess, the woman who, despite having two 'strong' male companions, was the one always doing the rescuing.

As the creator of Star Wars himself, George Lucas, said during the opening panel of the 2017 Star Wars Celebration, "she wore a dress through the whole thing, but she was the toughest one of the group."

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With the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise in recent years, starting with The Force Awakens in 2015, the world met Rey — another female lead who wasn't afraid to get dirty, get dangerous and who had the utmost confidence she could do most, if not all, things better than the guys.

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Star Wars' newest hero, Rey, in The Force Awakens. Image via LucasFilm.

In 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) led the way for a group of rebels - mostly men - to embark on a dangerous mission to protect their future.

So should I have been surprised that as I walked the halls and exhibits of the Star Wars Celebration, I saw so many little girls, teenagers and young women dressed as the strong women presented by the Star Wars universe?

No, but I was.

Experiencing some epic #girlpower on day 2 of #StarWarsCelebration ????

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I soon realised these women weren't dressed as these women because "girls should dress as girls". They dressed as them because there's something so strong and cool and unique about their characters.

The women in the Star Wars world embody almost everything a girl - or really, a young person in general - aspires to be: strong, smart, independent, fearless, but also vulnerable, kind and human. (Post continues after audio.)

As a little girl, I always wanted to be Princess Leia. Sure, she was beautiful, but she was sassy. She knew what she wanted and she knew what to do to get it.

But it wasn't until I could barely get through an hour during the four-day Star Wars Celebration without being greeted by a big, warm (metaphorical) feminist hug that I realised just how important this franchise is to female fans.

Perhaps, I thought, it's due to Kathleen Kennedy, the president of LucasFilm and the force, if you will, behind bringing the franchise back to the forefront of pop culture.

Many agree she's breathed new life into the Star Wars story, and she's brought strong female leads along for the ride.

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Kathleen Kennedy, paving the way for the females of Star Wars. Image via Barbara Gamlen.

But it's not just Kathleen doing the hard yards when it comes to representing females on screen: actors, directors, producers, crew members are all working together to prove to people like me that, yes, Star Wars is as much for women as it is for men.

During a panel dedicated to discussing the heroines that have dominated the franchise, actress Ashley Eckstein, who voices female Jedi Ahsoka Tano in the animated Star Wars series' Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, said it's time the world 'woke up' to Star Wars' inclusive message.

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Star Wars TV shows have continued the franchise's focus on feminism. Image via LucasFilm.

"I heard it all the time: Star Wars was for the men and the boys...we knew it wasn't true," she said.

"There were women everywhere. And I thought, we've got to change the stereotype. There's so many amazing female characters for girls to play.

"It's just so beautiful that Star Wars is for everyone."

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Tiya Sircar and Ashley Eckstein voice two of the female leads in Star Wars Rebela. Image via Barbara Gamlen.

When her character - the first female Jedi to be the main star of a Star Wars spin-off - was introduced, Ashley knew it was going to be "groundbreaking". But even more special was that after her very first introduction to the show, her character's gender was never again discussed.

"They've just created a strong character and I feel like people don't even see her gender," she said.

Dave Filoni, the executive producer of both animated shows and the upcoming Forces of Destiny, which focuses purely on the stories of the women of Star Wars, said there was power in showing young fans the strength of female characters like Princess Leia.

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Executive producer Dave Filoni (with Tiya and Ashley) knows the world wants more female characters. Image via Barbara Gamlen.

"You're not normally exposed to characters like that," he said.

"With Leia, there's this idea that she's this princess in distress - she's not in distress, ever. It was revolutionary.

"The power of that, growing up as a kid, especially a little boy, I could look at any girl who stood up for herself and go, 'Oh, she’s like Leia' and that had power to me. It was cool."

But Dave knows that for Star Wars and Lucasfilm, feminism goes far beyond just creating strong, female characters. It's about the entire creative process.

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It's not just about the female characters anymore. Image via Dennis VonGalle.

"It has to become part of the people making the episodes, behind the camera, in every aspect of what we're doing," he said.

"Lucasfilm is dedicated to that...We need [female voices] in all areas of our creativity, we need the influence, we need the voice. That’s what we need.

"If you're going to write a female character and you're a guy like me, the first thing you have to do is listen. Stop talking and listen to what these women have to say."

The Star Wars world is one where I never expected I would be overwhelmed by the fact that fans saw their female heroes as completely 'normal'.

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And yes, while there were discussions based solely on the females featured in the franchise, many fans of the films see just one thing when they look at Princess Leia, Rey and other women on screen: their heroes.

Sure they are women, but that's not what makes them great. They are strong, powerful characters, who just happen to be women.

And for fans of all ages, and genders, there can be nothing better than working towards a world - however fictional - where gender equality is the norm.

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