LEGO Star Wars – Rey’s Speeder and General Grievous Playtest plus Giveaway

With less than a month to go until the release of The Force Awakens, Star Wars continues to dominate our leisure time. As well as enjoying watching Episodes IV – VI in anticipation, checking out trailers, speculating what may happen in the new movie (my daughter already predicts that Kylo Ren will get both hands chopped off), we’re also working our way trough the six season Clone Wars animated series. So it was great to receive two terrific LEGO sets that encompassed these strands of the saga.

Rey’s Speeder

Appearing early on in the very first trailer for The Force Awakens, this was one of the first new vehicles to be revealed.

Rey's Speeder, Star Wars, The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley

Its blocky, lo-fi, junkyard style design quickly became a fan favourite.

This LEGO version is a lovely little set to construct.

LEGO Star Wars 75099 Rey's Speeder

This was one of my favourite looking ones from The Force Awakens line (admittedly, the iconic , far larger, and more expensive Millennium Falcon just edged it). The suggested age is 7-12, but my 3-year-old daughter put it together with minimal supervision.

Rey is clearly a central character to the new saga, so it is great to have a minifigure of her. My daughter loves the fact that she is another female Star Wars character to play with.

Rey LEGO minifig

The minifigure has the usual two faces, though the expressions are a fairly subtle ‘wry smile’ and ‘displeased frown’. The freckles are a nice detail, that reflects some of the close up pics we have seen of Rey so far. She also has a mask with goggles, as seen in one of the more recent trailers.

Rey wearing mask and goggles, Star Wars, The Force Awakens

The set also comes with a second mini figure, the hooded and mysteriously named Unkar’s Thug.

How much the speeder features remains to be seen, but it already feels like one of the more iconic new vehicles of the new saga and is a great addition to our LEGO Star Wars collection, that that my daughter frequently plays with already.

General Grievous

We are also currently watching the Star Wars cartoon The Clone Wars, which is set between Episodes II and III of the prequel trilogy. Whatever your opinion of that set of movies, their existence is entirely justified by the fact it led to this show being made. We are only on season 4 of 6. It is full of thrilling space fantasy action adventure, with (IMHO) much more rounded characterisations of the main characters, than the movies the show is sandwiched between.

General Grievous originally appeared in Revenge of the Sith (2005), and it was pretty widely accepted that for such a cool looking character, he was a bit wasted.

General Grievous, Revenge of the Sith, lightsabers

However, he is a major recurring character in The Clone Wars, and here he finally gets his due (though he’s still a bit of a tool).

This set is part of the recently released six buildable LEGO Star Wars figures. We have previously reviewed the Darth Vader figure, which was a fine set – but even then I could tell that this General Grievous figure was the one that suited this format best.

General Grievous vs Darth Vader

The skeletal construction pieces suit Grievous’ robotic structure perfectly. The sculpt on his head is great. This is basically an awesome General Grievous figure that you put together yourself!

Unlike Rey’s Speeder, this set (recommended age 9-14) was totally out of my 3-year-old daughter’s ability to put together – but not mine😉 I had a great time putting it together – albeit with expert supervision from my daughter. She loves playing with it though, and one of the first things she wanted to do was stage a fight between Grievous and Darth Vader.

Who would win in a fight between Darth Vader and General Grievous?

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If you have a young Star Wars fan in your life, then two things they probably should be are a) Fans of The Clone Wars cartoon, and b) Excited about The Force Awakens. Given that, either of these sets would perfect gifts for them.

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  • Rey’s Speeder has a RRP of ÂŁ19.99, and is available here
  • General Grevious has a RRP of ÂŁ29.99, and is available here

Or if you fancy your chances, how about entering our General Grievous giveaway?

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LEGO Star Wars 75112: General Grievous
**This giveaway is for UK residents only**

 

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive these LEGO sets free of charge.

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These sets are based on the Star Wars prequels, cartoons, and the forthcoming sequel. Do you or your little ones have a Star Wars preference – originals, prequels, cartoons, or new series?

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Family Fever

“Where Are You Really From?” – Race Isn’t Just a Black and White Issue

It started as we entered the country, while my passport was being checked.

“You are from India.” (I couldn’t tell if it was a question or statement)

No, England. (I have a British passport)

“No, you are Indian!”

No, I’m English.

“No. Indian! (No, I’m English). Pakistan? (No, I’m English). Afghanistan? (No, I’m English).”

“Your father, where he from?”

The Caribbean, I replied.

“Caribbean
?”

The Moroccan border guard seemed a mixture of satisfied I didn’t say England, and confused because he wasn’t expecting that answer.

This scenario reoccurred many times while we holidayed in Marrakech. Men – possibly trying to be polite and start a conversation – begin by asking me where I came from, I say England, and a familiar response eventually  comes forth (whether worded this way or not): “But where are you really from?”

Brief background. I’m English (don’t even question it) to immigrant parents. They’re from the caribbean – Trinidad & Tobago. So were my grandparents. My great-grandparents were immigrants –  indentured labourers from either India or Ceylon (it was Ceylon back then) in the 19th century, around about the time slavery was abolished. In fact that’s why the caribbean colonies needed their indentured labour. Someone had to grow all that sugarcane for the Brits now they didn’t have slaves to do it for them.

Anyway, the short version is that I look ‘Indian’ (the subcontinent), and that is backed up by DNA, as all the way down the line you can trace my ancestors back to there. So calling me Indian is ok right? No.

I’ve never been to India. My parents have never been to India. My grandparents never went to India. My great -grandparents may not have even come from India.

So on a basic level, saying (telling me) I am Indian is incorrect, as my family haven’t set foot there in at least four generations.

My connection to India is probably about as strong as anyone in the UK who enjoys eating curry, cuisine which is pretty much a British national dish anyway. I do have a greater sense of connection to Trinidad (check out my Macaroni Pie recipe – I even got it published in The Guardian), but that is still my family background. I am English, proudly so, and don’t ever try and tell me I am not.

My sense of English identity has been forged in part through the furnace of racism. Like any brown kid growing up in seventies/eighties Britain, racism – whether on the playground or the adult world – was something we had to deal with. My parents didn’t give me much direction on how to deal with this, and what I do remember were contradictory responses at different times.

So early on, I decided that I was English. I’m a stubborn fellow, so I have never let anyone tell me differently. This frustrates a lot of people who are probably just making conversation, hence the phrase “But where are you really from?” trying to direct the conversation to hearing tales of ‘exotic’ Indian ancestors.

In the past, I’ve asked white people about why they might ask me this. Many have had a similar response – they feel their background is so boring that they find mine & other brown people’s much more interesting in comparison. They say it with almost a sense of jealousy. Their intention isn’t to define me as different, or even as not being English. But that is what they are doing by not accepting my simple response to a question of where I am from as ‘England’.

My daughter will be the next generation to experience whatever version of identity politics that occurs in her lifetime. She is mixed race, and ethnically a very binary mix of ‘Indian’ (see previously) and white European.

But that is such a small part of her story. I have already detailed my side of the DNA family tree. On her mother’s side while ‘White European’ is the catchall term, my wife is a New Zealander of British and Irish descent. We joke that our daughter – with ancestry from India, Caribbean, New Zealand, and the UK – is a distillation of the former British Empire.

For my statement that I am English, I have always had one fact to latch onto to back that up: I was born in England. While my daughter is being brought up in England, she was not born here – she was born in New Zealand of dual nationality. In the UK she will always be classed a foreign born citizen – a demographic the likes of the Daily Mail often likes to trot out to illustrate how out of control immigration is (this is a demographic that also includes the likes of children of armed forces personnel born abroad – hence the high number of German born Brits in the UK).

While my daughter will probably never be assumed to be ‘Indian’ as she is very light skinned, she does look ‘mixed race’. It’s a popular look these days. There are many stars who (at first glance  at least) appear to be of indeterminate ethnicity, such as Vin Deisel, Rashida Jones, Dwyane ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Jessica Alba. But however my daughter ends up identifying herself – if indeed as anything – will her choice be questioned like my own has?

In the UK at least, I’m not sure it will. The society I live in now is very different from the one I grew up in. Seventies Britain still hadn’t grasped the concept of second generation immigrants. While it’s a term I dislike, because it still classes me as an immigrant, at least it acknowledges that children born of immigrants are culturally different from their parents.

While I don’t feel defining myself as English would be questioned in mainstream British society anymore, I continue to experience this in countries ranging from Turkey and Morocco, to New Zealand and America.

The US is a source of a great new example of the issues around the children of Asian immigrants, with the new Netflix series Master of None.

Created by & starring Aziz Ansari (Parks & Recreation), it cleverly and very funnily maps out many of the issues I have described here. Aziz is an American born comedian, whose parents emigrated to the US from India in the late seventies.

While the series tackles many topics, race and identity is one of them. Aziz (and his onscreen alter ego Dev) is an American, but others – including casting directors – still see him as an Indian first and only. For instance he derides the fact he only sees people who look like him cast as cab drivers, shop owners, and computer scientists!

America is a good decade or two behind the UK in mainstream acceptance that they have citizens of Indian descent who, despite the way they look and the funny names, are not Indian but are as American (or British) as a white person. Sometimes more so – such as my wife and I.

I haven’t really spoken to my nearly 4-year-old daughter about race that much yet. She has previously stated that she is ‘white like mummy. I responded with “No. you’re light like mummy, but brown like daddy”, which she accepts. While we live in a largely white English market town, there have been an influx of people who have moved here from London, and the racial mix is increasingly diverse. As well as white children, my daughter also has close friends who are of Chinese and Zulu descent.

I will bide my time and see what issues – if any –  she has with racial identity, and empower her to discover and feel confident in who she is – whoever that may be.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review: Thrilling end to an intelligent action adventure saga  

The Hunger Games movie saga, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as revolutionary poster girl Katniss Everdeen, reaches its conclusion with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. I saw it last week, and the review embargo has just been lifted.

The series – based on Suzanne Collin’s popular book trilogy – took me by surprise. I was lukewarm about the initial instalment, both before and after seeing it. In hindsight, this is probably not because of the quality of the film itself (directed by Gary Ross), but rather my own prejudice.

The Hunger Games: A Running Man and Battle Royale rip off?

As a teen I had seen Arnie in The Running Man (1987) – based on a book and set in a dystopian future where the state sanctions a TV death match as a means of pacifying the populace. Later, I had marvelled at the magnificent Japanese movie Battle Royale (2000) – also based on a book and set in a dystopian future where the state sanctions a TV death match as a means of pacifying the populace.

Sound familiar?

So with what seemed to be the same set up – teenage ‘tributes’ battling to the death for the masses on mass media – it was through this lens that I watched The Hunger Games (2012). As far as I was concerned it was as expected – largely derivative of Battle Royale and The Running Man (the latter of which isn’t even particularly good) with added YA (young adult fiction) dust.

But looking back, the beginnings were there for what has become an intelligent an engaging saga. With Francis Lawrence installed as the new director for the rest of the series, the first sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) added layers of political and media commentary & satire, while remaining true to being a YA action adventure. The first part of the follow up story The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) took us into the territory of the war film, which is where this concluding chapter remains.

Jennifer Lawrence embodies the how good a female action hero can be

Central to the success of this saga remains the confident and engaging performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who as Katniss Everdeen has come to embody how powerful a well realised female action hero can be.

The film picks up immediately after the events of Part 1 – Katniss is suffering both mentally and physically from the effects of being almost strangled to death by her former District 12 fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who has been brainwashed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) into believing that Katniss is evil.

The new Katniss/Peeta dynamic is central to their relationship in this film. Katniss spends much of the story afraid of him, and lamenting that the Peeta she knew is gone. He in turn is full of hate for Katniss, and simply wants to kill her. Despite their mutual distrust/loathing, they are thrown together for the sake of the continuing media battle of Penem, and the pair’s importance as propaganda puppets.

Katniss Everdeen – not just a symbol of revolution

Katniss is beginning to tire of being used as a political tool, this time by President Coin (Julianne Moore). In this film, Katniss finally decides it’s time to write her own story. Like Peeta’s hate for Katniss, she has a singular vengeful purpose now – to kill President Snow. As far as she’s concerned he is solely responsible for the misery of the world about her. She wants to see him dead, and preferably by her hand.

Also remaining in the mix is Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As well as his ongoing role in the love triangle with Katniss and Peeta, he continues his transformation into a callous revolutionary fighter – displaying a crueller streak than before. He is another character hardened by the ongoing war.

Of the other key players, President Snow continues his unsettling relationship with Katniss, and Sutherland is as sinister as ever. In not dissimilar fashion, Julianne Moore’s President Coin is on the surface a heroic leader, but what lies beneath is also troubling. Her determination to control Katniss plays out in the wider context of the war and its aftermath.

The Hunger Games reimagined

There are no ‘Hunger Games’ per se in this movie. Instead, Snow deploys the gamemakers to devise ever more imaginative (and TV friendly) ways to defend the city from the invading rebel army. This leads to some visually stunning scenes, but the stand-out sequence is a subterranean set-piece that is as tense and exciting as anything you are likely to see this year. Jennifer Lawrence displays Katniss’s archery skills to full effect, in a thrilling ensemble action scene.

The previous film suffered from an obvious fault – it was only part of the story, where not very much happened, and there was very little payoff. The whole thing felt like a preamble towards the next instalment.

But this film is given the chance to explore themes and characters fully. It brings the story to a satisfying conclusion, in a way that is surprising, dramatic, and powerful. Friendships are shattered, and loved ones are lost. For everyone left standing at the end, the world will never be the same.

All is not perfect with this concluding chapter. The story has a clear conclusion, and what follows is a lengthy epilogue that is crying out for a pair of scissors to wrap up the story with the brevity it deserves. It’s not quite Return of the King level, but disappointing all the same. Also, while I’m not familiar with the books, a few of the characters seem to get short shrift in the movie, despite the 2hr+ running time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie

Someone who certainly doesn’t feel absent – but with less do do than previously – is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died during filming and before his scenes had been completed. I think I spotted a couple of occasions where he may have been digitally inserted into scenes, and there appears to have been one obviously important passage that was rewritten for another actor. But I was on the lookout for these instances and I don’t feel they will distract from the story.

Overall, this is an engaging conclusion to a saga that began with what seemed to be less ambitious aims. The series has cleverly dealt with themes of political manipulation, propaganda, and the damaging effects of war on society. These are all messages that are of great relevance today, and will continue to be so.

The fact that these ideas are dealt with so thoughtfully within an exciting action adventure, that appeals especially to teens, is a great credit to all involved with this – from author Suzanne Collins to the actors and filmmakers. Teens obviously have a natural defiance against authority and the status quo. These stories highlight the positives of that attitude, and how we would all do well to remember that feeling as we move beyond those years.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen has inspired a generation of girls

The character of Katniss, and Jennifer Lawrence’s terrific performance, will continue to be a benchmark for female led action adventures. She has inspired a generation of girls to aspire to become confident and proud women, and hopefully educated their male peers to accept this as a reality.

The Hunger Games series has demonstrated once and for all that the time of the female led action adventure is now. That they can be engaging across a series of movies and be hugely popular with audiences, especially if created with integrity, respect, and intelligence like this series.

Fa`mily Fever

Is Mr. Mom My Mentor?

I’ve written previously about how I have no problem being called Mr. Mom, the name of the 1983 movie starring Michael Keaton. In short, I find it quite endearing.

In the movie, Keaton plays Jack, an engineer who gets laid off. Struggling to find another job, his previously stay-at-home wife Caroline (Terri Garr) successfully restarts her career. The working dad becomes Mr. Mom.

I have fond memories of the movie, but probably hadn’t seen it since the eighties. Browsing Netflix for something, my wife suggested we watch it. I warned her it was pretty silly, and she probably wouldn’t like it. Well, as it turned out, she didn’t like it and gave up less than halfway through. I stuck with it though.

It was interesting to revisit what was probably my first exposure to a dad staying home with their kids, something I am now doing myself. I was struck that the movie did in fact cover a lot of interesting and relevant themes around the swapping of traditional gender roles in the household.

This is essentially a situation comedy, and for comedic effect Jack doesn’t choose his new role, it is thrust upon him by becoming unemployed. It’s interesting that one of the reasons for the rise of the number of stay-at-home dads is the recession. Many fathers have lost their jobs, while their wives either haven’t or have found work instead (just like Jack and Caroline). These dads may have found themselves taking on a role in the home they never intended to.

Initially our decision for my wife and I to swap at-home and working roles was made because each of us wanted it. When we relocated from NZ back to the UK, my wife landed a great job quickly, while I picked up freelance work here and there. So there is a mirroring of the situation, inasmuch that my wife is more employable than me, and that is one of the reasons I am home with the kid.

I was struck by a scene where Jack goes to see a temp agency, and gets involved in a conversation two other male jobseekers are having. Turns out they are enthusiastically sharing recipes, the implication being that they too are in the same situation as Jack. I’ve had a similar situation – where another dad and I were moaning about laundry. On this occasion, a mum overheard us and sarcastically commented “Well, what a manly conversation you two are having”.

One of the myths of Mr. Mom (as far as I’m concerned) is this – the storyline of a mother trying to seduce Jack. I can reliably report that there hasn’t been a hint of sexual tension in any of the various baby groups, classes, playgroups, etc. that I have attended in my years as a stay-at-home dad. Even if my mother friends and I weren’t all happy in our respective relationships, it strikes me that the life of the lead parent of a baby/toddler is too tiring to go to the effort of having an affair.

But like Jack, I’ve also let my appearance slide while being home. I was never a smart dresser anyway, but now my day-to-day outfits tend to consist of jeans with holes, and old t-shirts and tops. As I have a short window to use the shower before the munchkin gets up, shaving tends to be left to the weekends too. As a happily married man who interacts with mothers with partners most of the week, I’m not trying to impress any of them with how I look.

In the film, Jack ends up forming a fairly close social circle with local mums. Since my first time with the antenatal group, and then befriending local mothers in our new area, I have formed good friendships with mothers. I have never felt awkward in these all female environments, which I must admit surprised me. My wife often reflects on the fact that I know far more mothers in our local area than she does – though they’ll often say hello to her at weekends, because they recognise our daughter.

The way the role change affects the mother also has a lot of truth to it. Working mother guilt is an established societal issue, which my wife is no stranger to. I wouldn’t, however, berate my wife the way Jack does, for all the things she has missed while at work. I know we are very lucky that my she supports us, and I know she feels like she is missing much more than she actually is.

Mr. Mom, Mr. Mum, Michael Keaton, stay at home dads, stay home dad, being a stay at home dad, stay at home dad blog, Stay at home dads are losers
Mr. Mom (1983), Starring Michael Keaton and Terri Garr. Dir: Stan Dragoti

A theme of the film is the style of Jack’s parenting compared to a mother’s. Do dads parent differently than mothers? I don’t know. My fairly relaxed parenting style is shared by a lot of mothers I know too. Like Jack, I have fed my baby (well, toddler) chilli, and while I’ve never dried her bum on a hand-dryer, I have held her over men’s urinals many times. But mothers have told me of instances when their kids have accidentally swigged beer, or they’ve fed them nothing but white toast all day – the kind of things ‘Mr. Mom’ would do too.

Is Mr. Mom My Mentor?

Ultimately, there is something important about Keaton’s portrayal and the way Jack is written. Confidence. Jack acts like he has every right to be there in all these situations, and that’s exactly how stay-at-home dads should be. The movie is only partly about a hapless hopeless stay-at-home dad. He quickly finds his feet, and then owns the role of at-home dad. Many men who have also spent their time working, and less around their kids, may understandably also experience this transition too. Jack may do things a little differently, but not necessarily because he’s a man.

I’m not going to lie to you – the eighties slapstick humour, of which this is full of, falls fairly flat now. Comedies of this era were full of similar gags, and they haven’t aged well. But I’m glad I revisited it.

The film makes a compelling case for the positives of being a stay-at-home dad, or even an engaged dad, and that there’s no rule that dads MUST be the breadwinner of the family. I’m sure that influenced my subsequent thinking. I have no idea why I wanted to become a stay-at-home dad so much. I had no role models in my friends or extended family that have done it.

What I do have is the fond memories of watching this film as a child. Perhaps Mr. Mom planted the seed of an idea to become a stay-at-home dad, that became a reality many years later.

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Curious to watch the movie? Check it out on Netflix.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.
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TV REVIEW: Does Supergirl Fly?

I don’t know much about the character of Supergirl. She is Superman’s cousin, is blonde, and wears a skirt. We’ve seen a few appearances from her in some animated shows. I toyed with showing my daughter the 1984 Helen Slater movie, but I remember it being terrible.

But Supergirl – as a concept – has been an easy shorthand to help my daughter to engage with superheroes. She is familiar with Superman, mostly from the Donner movies and the 90’s animated series, and the concept of a female version inspires her. If she puts on a cape, her default hero to be is ‘Supergirl’. If she wears a top with the ‘S’ insignia, again she is ‘Supergirl’.

Given this, I was excited by the prospect of a Supergirl TV show, so she could engage with the character directly. When I saw the first photos of Melissa Benoist in character, she certainly looked the part. She also had a warmth to her expression, that went against the prevailing darkness of most superhero adaptations these days. This would hopefully be an uplifting show.

An early trailer left me feeling a little wary, as it was rather close to this viral Black Widow rom-com parody.

This week we finally got to check out the TV show, on Sky 1 in the UK (minor spoilers ahead).

The set up is that the teenage Kara flees the doomed planet of Krypton right behind her baby cousin Kal-El (aka Superman), but as is the way with these things, she arrives long after him – so long that while she hasn’t aged, he is now Superman. She was supposed to protect the baby, but now she is the child who needs his help.

She grows up choosing not to follow him into the heroic business. We find her stuck in a dead end job working for Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart plays her ‘Devil Wears Prada’ like boss Cat Grant). Her life is going nowhere. She seem unfulfilled, until circumstances lead her to use her powers to prevent a plane crashing, and a hero is born.

Much set-up follows, including her costume (trying to justify the short skirt and cape), name (trying to justify the use of ‘girl’ over ‘woman’), and who the villains are (no spoilers).

Being a) the female version of a male hero, and b) being called ‘girl’ means this probably isn’t going to be the definitive strong female superhero many are clamouring for. But despite this I am happy for my daughter to engage with Supergirl (like Batgirl before her) because they can still be excellent, empowering characters when handled right. Plus, my daughter is proud of being a girl, so the name is one she likes.

As this is a primetime US network show, I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be suitable for my 3-year-old daughter to watch with me, and I was right. While there was a little cuddling up to me while Kara faced down the bad guy du jour, this is nothing compared to how upset she gets with other more overtly kiddie fare – such as the scrapyard denouement of Toy Story 3.

Will we be watching more? Absolutely. While the Devil Wears Prada aspect was there, it didn’t dominate. It’s being set-up with potential love interests for Kara, bit that didn’t drive the plot. It passes the Bechedel Test. And the superhero action was for the most part well staged. My daughter likes the character interplay as much as the superheroics, and spent the whole episode engaged and full of questions about the unfolding story.

This was a pilot episode, that had to shoehorn in a lot of exposition and set up. I trust that it’ll settle into a more streamlined show, and even if it doesn’t – showing my daughter a female hero save crashing planes, throw down with a villain, or take out a truck hurtling towards her, is enough for me. And probably for her too…

This kid. So awesome.😀

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Star Wars Rebels – A Girl Friendly Galaxy Far, Far Away….

Female characters used to be a rare occurrence in Star Wars. In the original trilogy there was Princess Leia of course, but the likes of Aunt Beru and her blue milk, Mon Mothma mourning her Bothan spies, and… um, oh Toryn Farr who fired the Ion Cannon on Hoth, made fleeting appearances. It wasn’t too much better in the prequels.

Happily, things are different now. While we wait to see just how The Force Awakens treats its female characters (the signs so far are good), it’s worth taking a look at Star Wars Rebels (the first season of which is now out to buy on Blu-ray and DVD)  – the first major Star Wars project since Disney’s Lucasfilm acquisition in 2012.

The series is set around four years prior to Star Wars (A New Hope), and charts the rise of the Rebellion against the Empire – the conflict that drove the narrative of the original trilogy. For fans of the original movies, it’s nice that this show features the Empire and all their familiar trappings, from Stormtroopers to Tie-Fighters.

I first caught this show when it aired on DisneyXD last year. As a parent looking for alternative female cartoon characters for my daughter to engage with – rather than the usual princesses and fairies – this was great one to watch. The fact I was a Star Wars fan looking for new ways to introduce his daughter to the galaxy far, far away
 well, that didn’t hurt either.

I was worried that Star Wars was going to be defined by Disney as a boys brand, so I was delighted to see Rebels had such prominent female characters.

Of the featured women, first up we have Captain Hera, the pilot.

Her role in the group is significant as female pilots were scarce in the movies – good luck finding a one in the original trilogy (although there were some minor character ones in the prequels).

So for Star Wars Rebels to have a woman in charge of their ship the Ghost is a decent step forward.

Next up there’s Sabine Wren, an explosives expert and street artist.

Initially described by my daughter as that “pink Boba Fett Lady”, I must admit I was unsure about her at first. However, she has become a firm favourite with both of us – and my daughter couldn’t wait to get a toy version of her.

"Daddy, can I buy this please?!" #SabineWren #StarWarsRebels

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We were lucky to receive a LEGO minifigure too.

Sabines on toast. #sorrynotsorry

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There are also a few other notable female characters in the show. An interesting one for me was that of Maketh Tua, an Imperial Governor. One thing your never saw in the movies were any women in the Empire. I’m glad to see this has changed – both here and the forthcoming The Force Awakens.

The creative force behind the series is Dave Filoni, who was also responsible for the previous Star Wars cartoon, the highly regarded The Clone Wars. That was a show I had previously ignored, and boy was I wrong about that (If you haven’t already seen it I urge to to get the five series Blu-ray boxset now!). It has kickass female characters galore – including Star Wars fangirl icon Ahsoka Tano.

The Disney made Star Wars Rebels skews younger than that cartoon, but has a similar style of animation and thankfully displays the same commitment to portraying strong female characters at the centre of the action.

While Rebels is populated with mostly new characters, a few familiar faces do turn up – such as an episode with Lando Carlissian, voiced by Billy Dee Williams. This is my daughter’s favourite, as she has a bit of a soft spot for Lando.

Some other well known characters make an appearance too, but that would be spoiling things.

Things are not perfect with Star Wars Rebels. The show still centers on two male characters, and the initial wave of merchandise omitted the female characters entirely (which thankfully now appears to have been rectified with most licensees).

But the show is a good entry point for young girls and boys into the world of Star Wars, and a great way for fan parents to share their love of Star Wars with their kids. Series two has just started airing, and has added even more female characters to the cast.

How much of this ties into The Force Awakens remains to be seen. We also have the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to look forward to after that. It’s set in a similar (Pre-Star Wars) era to Rebels, and has a female lead (played by British actor Felicity Jones). Perhaps there might be some crossover there?

In the meantime, enjoy the gender neutral space battles, lightsaber duels, and the unfolding drama of the beginning of the rebellion against the galactic Empire in this pleasingly exciting and inclusive series.

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You can purchase Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Series One from Amazon on Blu-ray and DVD.

Family Fever

Our Spider-Senses Are Tingling Over This Amazing Spider-Man Kids Backpack

For any of you who think I am indoctrinating my daughter into a life mini-me of geekdom, here’s a fact for you – unlike me, she doesn’t like Spider-Man anymore.

However, she loves Spider-Girl – and luckily her outfit looks an awful lot like Spider-Man’s.

This similarity works for this terrific LittleLife Spider-Man Day Sack that my daughter was very happy to receive.

My daughter is adamant her new LittleLife Spidey Daysack is a Spider-Girl one.

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

The Spidey mask is an iconic design, and it’s effectively used as the basis for this kids day sack, which is also assembled to match the shape of the masked Spidey face. As an added bonus, the whites of Spidey’s eyes are also highly-reflective, adding to your child’s visibility as the days get darker.

As well as being (to me) a stylishly designed accessory it’s also a really well made backpack. The materials are sturdy, the adjustable padded straps and secure buckles are high quality, and it has a lot of room for what she needs to pack for outings or a day at nursery. It also has a top handle for carrying or hanging, plus an internal name & address label should you want to fill it in.

If you likes facts and figures, the main details for this Spider-Man Day Sack are:

  • Weight: 220g
  • Dimensions: 14cm x 22cm x 30cm
  • Capacity: 4 Litres
  • Suitable for Ages: 3+ Years (with no upper age limit stated!)
  • Additional Features: Reflective Eyes

This is a great product, and I’m really glad we have it. And not just because it’s a Spider-Man Girl one.

Like the look of it? You can purchase it from Amazon here, or if you’re feeling lucky then enter our giveaway below!

SpiderMan Day Sack LittleLife giveaway
This giveaway closes at midnight on October 30 2015. Open to UK entrants only.

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Unfortunately, the Spidey Day Sack doesn’t come with an inbuilt Spider-Sense. But instead, we were sent this terrific Family First Aid Kit for us to deal with any accidents our Spider-sense would have prevented. This kit has pretty much everything you could need to deal with most bumps, scrapes or worse when on the go with your kids.

LittleLIfe Family First Aid Kit

Here’s a list of what it includes:

  • Primary care leaflet
  • 25g Sudocrem
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Forehead thermometer
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Nappy sacks
  • Micropore tape
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Medium and small eyepad dressings
  • Low adherent dressing
  • Fabric dressing strip
  • Wound closure strips
  • Gauze swabs
  • Plasters
  • Woven bandage
  • Crepe bandage
  • Triangular bandage
  • Safety pins
  • Burn gel
  • Eye wash

And last but not least:

  • ‘Brave Little Star’ stickers (magical adhesives that reduce crying times enormously)

It’s all efficiently packed up in a tidy zip-up bag that measures only 17 x 12 x 7cm, so while you could keep this at home in the bathroom cabinet it’s perfect for taking out with you – just in case.

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Finally, we were also sent this Gruffalo Toddler Daysack (toddler not included).

LittleLife-gruffalo-toddler-daysack-stock image

While our daughter, at nearly 4, is too old for this (recommended age is 1-3), I can see this is another well made, thoughtfully designed, and fun looking product.

The Gruffalo’s face is faithfully reproduced, including important details such as the poisonous wart at the end of his nose.

As it’s for a smaller child it has about half the capacity of the Spidey sack, and it also comes with toddler reins. We never had to use these, but I know many other kids are far more into defying requests not to run off.

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The LittleLife Spider-Man Day Sack and Family First Aid Kit are on sale at Amazon.

They can also also be purchased from the LittleLife website or variety of other retailers. 

The Gruffalo Toddler Daysack is also available to buy at the LittleLife website.

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Disclosure: We were gifted all products for the purposes of this review.

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What LittleLife backpack or other product would your child choose? Check out their website and then head back and tell us! (This doesn’t change the prize btw, just curious)

Family Fever

Review & Giveaway: Karate Lottie, Ballet Lottie, plus Sweet Dreams Accessory Pack

We already have a varied collection of Lottie Dolls. We love them for many reasons, but particular because it’s easy to see similarities between them and the kid.

Why we love @lottie_dolls – she's a lot like my daughter:)

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

Well, this week we were sent a suitably eclectic trio of items that my daughter had chosen to complement the likes of her Rockabilly Lottie above.

Karate, Ballet, and Sleepy – our latest collection of @lottie_dolls are ready for action (or inaction).

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

The first of these items was the Sweet Dreams Outfit Set.

This is an accessory set, so there’s no doll just the clothes – but it’s great to have more outfits for them. Our daughter has always liked putting her toys down for naps and sleeps, and this accessory set gives her a chance to do that while at least one of them is dressed and ready for bedtime.

It comes with all-in-one pyjamas, a dressing gown/robe, and fleece slippers – all perfect for making sure your Lottie doll is nice and snug.

Next up was the first of the two dolls – Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie.

Our daughter has been going to dance class on Saturday morning for a while now, and loves it. Like this Lottie, her outfit is also all pink (the choices for children’s tights and leotards for dancing seemed to be pink or pink), plus she has a tutu she wore last term too – so this Lottie is one she definitely associates with her experience of dancing.

Ballet Lottie is nicely decked out in her special ballet costume (with a 3-layer tutu), a sequin leotard, ballet slippers, and a drawstring shoe bag.

My daughter’s final choice is my personal favourite – the Kawaii Karate Lottie:

As mentioned on this blog previously, Kawaii essentially means ‘cute’ in Japan, and as well as providing a handy instance of alliteration, it’s an accurate description of this doll (although Kickass Karate Lottie would’ve worked too).

Kitted out in full karate gear, plus a choice of white or yellow belts, a rising sun headband, a helmet, plus some collector cards displaying how to hit and kick like a girl, this is a great set.

Playing with her new Lottie Dolls
Playing with her new Lottie Dolls

We are a multi-racial family, and we have toys around us that reflect that diversity. Lottie have dolls of various skin tones, and I was glad that our daughter has chosen a brown skinned Lottie to add to her collection.

The choice of Ballet and Karate Lotties is not as random as it seems. Our daughter’s been very interested in Batgirl of late, and often picks out my Batgirl of Burnside trade paperback to look at (I’ve read the whole thing to her – dating apps, transgender villains, evil algorithms and all).

There’s a page showing the pre-Batgirl Barbara Gordon doing ballet (pink outfit) and martial arts (white training gear), and I think that’s made an impression.

Karate + Ballet = Batgirl. And now Lottie too.

This selection of dolls displays yet again why Lottie is such a great product. Her range of outfits and interests continue to reinforce the message that being a girl shouldn’t limit your aspirations – and you can like frilly pink skirts while also being kickass at karate.

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Kawaii Karate Lottie, Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie, and Sweet Dreams Outfit Set are all available from Amazon.

Or alternatively, enter our giveaway below!

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Lottie Dolls Giveaway

*** This competition is open residents of all countries ***

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Lottie doll retails at ÂŁ16.99 (USD $19.99); accessory sets and outfit sets retail at ÂŁ7.99 (USD $9.99)

Lottie is also available online at www.lottie.com.

In the UK, Lottie is also at Debenhams, Ocado, Natural History Museum, Jo Jo Maman Bébé, and independent toy stores.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this piece, my daughter did receive the featured dolls and accessories free of charge.
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Which Lottie doll is your favourite? Check out the range at www.lottie.com, then head back here and tell us!

How on earth is Star Wars rated U (“suitable for all”)?

While speculation is growing on whether the new Star Wars film The Force Awakens will be rated as suitable for children aged 12 and over only, I have been thinking about one of the great mysteries of cinema – how on earth is Star Wars (1977) rated ‘U’?

The current UK movie rating system ranges from U (“suitable for all”*) to 18 (age 18 only). All three of the original Star Wars trilogy are U, while the prequels are respectively U, PG, and 12A.

My daughter, who is 3-years-old, has seen all, bar Revenge of the Sith, multiple times. I’m not sure what age will be the right age for her to see Ep III, but I imagine it will be younger than the BBFC suggested 12.

While the U rating for the original Star Wars was made in 1977, the decision has been revisited and left unrevised since then.

Here are just some of the potentially problematic things that happen in Star Wars (SPOILER ALERT):

  • Darth Vader choking a man to unconsciousness/death
  • The smouldering skeletons of Luke’s murdered Aunt and Uncle are clearly visible
  • Obi-Wan severs the arm of a bar alien, with a shot of the bloody dismembered limb
  • Scores of onscreen deaths by firearms and other means, plus an entire planet is destroyed, presumably killing billions

So how could such a film be classed as a U – suitable for all?

The BBFC has copies of a couple of the original 1977 ratings examiner reports on their website.

This first report is a fairly accurate summary of the film and sensible regarding its tone:

Star Wars, BBFC, Rating decision, Star Wars rated U
Click for larger version (opens in new window)

The reference to “futuristic” (set a long time ago), and the craziest spelling of R2-D2 I have seen (“Artuditu”) aside, its description of a “galactic fairytale” is apt. The conclusion that “We could find little in the film to cause more than a thrill of excitement in a TV-reared generation
” despite being rated PG in the US, is one that as a parent I accept too (although the Jawas did freak my daughter out for a while).

But this other examiner report reads like they were doing the 1977 equivalent of browsing on their smartphone while watching the movie:

Star Wars, BBFC, Rating decision, Star Wars rated U
Click for larger version (opens in new window)

So


“Set thousands of years in the future
” (as previously mentioned, the film literally begins with “A long time ago
”)

“
the Universe
” (in a galaxy far, far away
)

“
is ruled by Grand Moff Tarkin” (The Emperor is named a ruler)

“From a large planet called ‘The Battle Station’
”  (The Death Star, not a planet)

“The climax of the film is when aircraft from the princess’s planet attack the ‘Battle Station’, led by Luke.” (Spaceships, princess’s planet memorably destroyed, Death Star!, Luke didn’t lead the attack).

There are aspects they’ve clearly misunderstood, but the examiner is literally making things up that are never even mentioned. It’s almost as if they’ve read an early draft of the script rather than watched the finished film.

Still, I can’t argue with the conclusion of “Grand fun for all ages
” and “
a vastly entertaining story.”

I found these reports a fascinating insight into the thought processes that informed these original decisions, and while I question how much attention they were paying to the story, I am glad their common senses assessment of Star Wars still stands. My daughter loves them, and the scary Jawa era aside, has repeatedly returned to them.

(* The BBFC state that “A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over.”)

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What do you think? Is Star Wars “Grand fun for all ages
”? Or is it for older kids only? Please comment below, or joint the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Mums' Days

“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” (Unless You Want To)

This month’s picture in my daughter’s calendar depicts a classic scene of a father berating his daughter for wearing a revealing outfit. The intergalactic twist is that the father is Darth Vader, his daughter is Princess Leia, and she’s wearing her ‘Slave’ costume from Return of the Jedi.

It’s one of the many memorable panels from Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown, the second in his series of books set in a parallel Star Wars universe where Vader is an involved father to his twin children. The calendar is one of the many Princess Leia things my daughter has in her room.

From my 3yo daughters room. #WeWantLeia

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

Vader’s Little Princess takes a rather stereotypical view of girls – Leia is shown chatting endlessly on the phone, obsessing over boys (a certain scoundrel in particular), being bored by sports, having tantrums, and being preoccupied with clothes. While the author treated Luke as just a child in the preceding book Darth Vader and Son, here Brown – who is the father of two boys – makes some seemingly lazy assumptions about young girls.

Despite being able to see these sexist flaws, I still love the book. It highlights the most high profile female character in Star Wars, is full of delightful & funny vignettes, and at its heart it’s about a loving father/daughter relationship.

This was one of the first Star Wars ‘things’ I showed my daughter, and frankly I credit it with hooking her interest in Star Wars at a young age (she was about 21 months old at the time). She often chose it for us to read to her. Soon, she spotted my old Star Wars toys, instantly recognised familiar characters and vehicles, and they never left her grasp. I always thought I wouldn’t show her the movies until she was at least 5, but at age 2 we were watching them. We continue to do so and her love of Star Wars gets stronger as she gets older.

Every time we watch a Star Wars movie or cartoon, she picks up on something new. Eventually the ‘Slave Leia’ outfit was referenced:

My way of talking to her about it was this: Jabba had taken Leia prisoner, and made her wear what her wanted her to wear, because he had that power and that’s how he wanted her to look. I continued that it was wrong because Princess Leia should choose what she wants to wear herself.

We carried on watching, and whenever Princess Leia appeared subsequently in the movie, my daughter declared “Leia decided to wear that herself!”

It’s still a part of the story that she frequently references, including with her our Star Wars toys.

For instance, here Vader is unhappy that Leia has been treated so badly by Jabba:

"Give my daughter her helmet back too Jabba!"

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

Another time, Leia shows she’s none too happy with Jabba either:

‘Slave Leia’ remains one of the few Leia figures we don’t own, and it continues to be divisive amongst Star Wars fans.

What’s so bad about Slave Leia?

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Slave Outfit Star Wars Return of the Jedi Slave Leia
From ‘Return of the Jedi’, Dir: Richard Marquand, TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) 1983

Clearly sexualised, the look was a hit with the dominant male fanbase. As the boys grew into men, the Slave Leia look became ever more popular, and became one of the most used depictions of Leia.

There were vocal dissenters, such as in the growing fangirl community, or as many male fans became fathers of daughters, some (ahem) started to complain about this being the prevalent depiction of Leia. She’s a politician, fighter, Rebel leader – yet mostly shown as a sexually exploited woman.

On the other side, people talk about how it’s no worse than you see at the swimming pool or beach, or on overly sexualised dolls aimed at girls. Some defended the outfit as a symbol of Leia’s defiance against her captor. Many members of the female cosplayer community enjoy wearing it.

In one memorable defence, the daughter of comedian Adam Buxton said Leia should keep wearing it because it’s a “pretty good look for her”.

As far as Jeffrey Brown’s picture goes, the cliche of the father telling his daughter not to wear such revealing clothes is also problematic.

While as parents we make decisions and rules we like to think are in the best interests of our children, they need to find their own path too – and that includes the process of understanding their own sexuality. This clearly begins long before they are adults.

When a father is telling his daughter not to wear something revealing, is he helping her develop, or trying to limit her growing sexuality? If my daughter wanted to wear a Slave Leia outfit out of the house, I’m pretty sure I’d insist she doesn’t. But she’s 3, and I think that’s fair enough. But what about 10, 13, 15? What age is Leia in this picture? Is she a child or a young woman?

Tricky questions for my future.

“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!”

'Vader's Little Princess' by Jeffrey Brown. Published by Chronicle Books.
From ‘Vader’s Little Princess’ by Jeffrey Brown. Published by Chronicle Books.

For now, I still like this picture. For one, it’s funny. But it’s also part of an alternate Star Wars narrative my daughter has melded from various sources.

So I look at the scene like this. Perhaps Darth, instead of limiting Leia’s sexual expression, is upset that her exploitation by Jabba is having lasting effects. That far from being her choice, her father feels she has been conditioned to think this is what men want.

But if we want to empower our daughters, ultimately the choice of outfit has to be theirs. At the moment my daughter’s only real dress restrictions are about being weather/environment appropriate (although I did suggest she rethink her summertime idea of wearing a short skirt as a dress). In the future, school uniforms and dress codes will feature. But eventually we won’t be the ones responsible for what she wears – she will.

I hope I never have a “You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” moment with her. If any woman, be it Leia, my daughter, or someone else, truly wants to dress in a revealing gold bikini, then fair enough. I guess it’s a pretty good look for some.

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What do you think about the Slave Leia look? Or parents telling their teenagers what to wear?

Please comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Check Out These Great New LEGO Scooby-Doo Stop Motion Videos (plus Giveaway)

I grew up with the animated adventures of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and of course Scooby. I’ve started showing them to my daughter too (my all time fave remains when Batman and Robin were guest stars).

In their latest way of taking my money, LEGO have released some great new Scooby-Doo sets.

As you probably realise, I love sharing photos of our LEGO, but have a look at these – they’re going that extra mile with a collection of great LEGO Scooby-Doo stop motion videos.

Additional videos will be uploaded weekly, so head over to ScoobyDoo.com for more, and if you like the look of these then why not subscribe to the WB Kids YouTube channel too.

To celebrate the launch of these LEGO Scooby-Doo sets and videos, we’re offering you the chance to win a ÂŁ150 Gift Card from Smyth’s – perfect for you to snap up some LEGO Scooby-Doo sets for yourself.

LEGO Scooby-Doo - New Stop Motion Videos and Giveaway

Good luck!

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This is a collaborative post.

Tara Binns – Books That Empower Little Girls to Dream Big

One of my issues with princesses has always been this. The role is not a career aspiration. I live in an actual monarchy, where there really are princesses, and there is even a possibility of our daughters becoming one. But I think we can all agree it’s a fairly narrow life path to target.

I suppose it’s a more realistic aspiration than being a superhero, but at least most of them have real jobs as journalists, lawyers, wealthy industrialists, Amazon princesses
 er, where was I
?

Anyway, of the many characters aimed at children, male ones tend to be the only ones tied to a profession. Think Postman Pat, or Fireman Sam. Female characters are far more likely to be more fantastical.

In a clever twist, tying the two together, is the Tara Binns series. Created by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale, these books have the tagline of “Giving Little Girls Big Ideas”. The format of each tale involves our eponymous girl hero playing dress ups in her attic, and being magically transported into a fantasy (or is it?) involving the profession one of her outfits.

From 'Tara Binns - Eagle-Eyed Pilot' written by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale
From ‘Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot’ written by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale

In Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot, she suddenly becomes a jumbo jet pilot – in mid-flight – and quickly has to learn not only how the cockpit works, but also has to navigate a storm and wrestle with a moral dilemma involving old pirate treasure.

The next book is Tara Binns – Crash Test Genius, where she becomes an engineer who quickly learns how the application of science benefits us all, and is inspired to invent a new concept of her own.

Coming soon is Tara Binns – Double Choc Doc, where she has to deal with everyone’s winter nemesis – the common cold!

My 3-year-old daughter loves being read these books, and requests we revisit them regularly. She is full of questions about the professions themselves as well as the way Tara deals with the dilemmas and opportunities presented to her. She’ll often ask questions about them out of the blue, when we’re not even reading one. They have clearly made an impression, and an immensely positive one at that.

The prose is bright and snappy, and the illustrations whimsically delightful. Tara, as both herself and when she’s exploring her various professions, is a great role model. One that is thankfully a world away from fairy princesses.

These books would be terrific for any child – but parents of girls in particular may find these to be essential bookshelf additions.

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Tara Binns Man vs Pink Giveaway

This giveaway has now ended – but Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot, and Tara Binns – Crash Test Genius, can be purchased from Amazon.

Keep up to date with all the latest news about Tara Binns on Facebook and Twitter.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive these books free of charge.

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What profession would you like to see Tara Binns explore next? Please comment below.

DC Kids Super Hero Creator Giveaway

Like many, my daughter is into superheroes and really loves creating her own. DC knows a thing or two about superheroes as well, and they have a cool new interactive Super Hero Creator for you to try. My daughter came up Green Dragon (pictured above), and Water Shark (below).

DC Super Hero Creator - Water Shark

Also check out some of the new videos from Warner Bros, including favourites such as Scooby Doo  & Batman Unlimited.

They seem pretty active with their video content at the moment. Subscribe to their channels – DC Kids Channel and WB Kids Channel – to see what else is coming up.

Win An Amazing Gift Set From Warner Bros.

To celebrate the launch of the DC Kids Super Hero Creator, they have this great prize on offer. It includes Teen Titans Go Action Figures & T-Tower Set, A Batman Unlimited Action Figure, DC Super Friends Gift Set, and Batmobile.

Win An Amazing Gift Set From Warner Bros., Including Teen Titans Go Action Figures & T-Tower Set, A Batman Unlimited Actions Figure, DC Super Friends Gift Set and Batmobile

Good luck! Let me know what heroes you or your kids come up with.

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This is a collaborative post.

A Stay-At-Home Dad’s Netflix Duvet Day

Last week I had manflu was sick. Really really sick (*cough *cough *manflu *cough *cough).

Before being a parent, feeling like that would’ve resulted in calling in sick to work and spending a day or two in bed or on the couch, eating bad food and watching TV between naps.

When you’re an at-home parent of a pre-schooler, calling in sick involves taking industrial strength cold & flu remedies and hoping your kid will give you a break for a change. They rarely do.

However, something wondrous happened. My unwellness coincided with my daughter’s scheduled time at nursery. Normally, I would spend these days catching up with blogging stuff and freelance work, but this week I thought to hell with it… I really need a duvet day, the kind I used to have before being a parent. So I treated myself


Actually, one thing was different about this duvet day. Netflix. So I took this opportunity to explore some of the content that my daughter can’t watch with me, and my wife won’t watch with me.

Orphan Black (2013-present)

OrphanBlackSarahProfileStreamTeam-Netflix-Sep-2015

This is one I’ve been meaning to check out for some time. It’s a BBC America sci-fi show about a woman called Sarah Manning, who discovers she has an identical double. This immediately leads to her being thrust into a world of intrigue, deception, violence, death, and some great character led drama. We soon learn that Sarah has many doubles, as she is – surprise surprise – a clone.

Central to the series is an amazing performance from Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, who plays Sarah Manning and all her doubles with such skill that it is easy to believe they are different people.

The story so far has remained engaging and frequently edge of your seat. Needless to say I am hooked, and shall be checking out the rest of the show when I can – like tonight while my wife’s at the hairdressers. While she does like some sci-fi (such as the amazing Battlestar Galactica), I thought it likely this would be one of those shows that she would end up disengaging with, so having the chance for me to sample it properly was great.

Frank (2014)

Frank StreamTeam-Netflix-Sep-2015

This was a movie I had wanted to see, but my wife already had (on a plane), and thought it was weird. Unenthused, it was never going to be a joint watch.

Inspired by the real life music and comedy persona of Frank Sidebottom, I’d say weird is a fair assessment of the movie, which is also funny, engaging, and rather endearing.

The story follows wannabe musician Jon (played by Domhnall Gleeson, soon to be seen in The Force Awakens), and how he gets involved with Frank and his band. There’s clearly something different about Frank, and it’s not just about the large false head that he wears.

Co-authored by journalist and writer Jon Ronson, who was in Frank’s band in his youth, this is a touching and quirky movie, that does go down a bit of a dark path towards the end.

Battle of Britain (1969)

Battle of Britain-StreamTeam-Netflix-Sep-2015

75 years ago, England was under sustained attack from the Nazi Luftwaffe in what had already been named the Battle of Britain. I’m assuming this is why the movie popped up in the ‘Trending’ category on Netflix. Curious, I took a closer look.

I’m pretty sure I must have seen this as a kid, but it’s a distant memory. A glance at the cast list alone made this movie worthy of a look – one of those epic collections of actors that is unlikely to ever be repeated in the modern era: It includes Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Trevor Howard, Kenneth More, Edward Fox, Michael Redgrave, and even Ian McShane.

It was actually incredibly moving seeing this part of history depicted on film. I had a real sense of England – my England – being under attack, and had only a glimpse of how it must have felt to see this battle raging in the sky. The all too familiar English landscapes were particularly poignant – especially as one of the locations was a former airfield up the road from me (where Star Wars: Rogue One is currently shooting).

Another aspect that makes this movie worth watching are the incredible aerial sequences. In these pre-CGI days, filmmakers had to rely on models and real vehicles to bring these stories to life. Well, for this movie, over 100 actual planes were used to recreate the aerial battles. There is nothing like seeing sequences celebrating the iconic British warplane the Spitfire on film.

It’s a fairly workmanlike movie, directed by James Bond stalwart Guy Hamilton. But the cast, flying sequences, setting, and historical accuracy make this well worth watching, if only to bring alive Churchill’s famous  quote about the battle:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

And finally…

Monsters University (2013)

MonstersUniversityStreamTeam-Netflix-Sep-2015.jpg

All things must come to an end, and so did my time alone on the couch. I finally dosed up on cold remedies and picked up my daughter from nursery. But I still had a few hours of lone parenting ahead, so the couch day continued, and upon returning home, my daughter and I settled down to watch Monsters University, a prequel to Pixar’s Monsters Inc. (which had been my daughter’s first film – we put it on because one weekend we were all sick, and watching a movie was the last resort).

It was a nice idea to follow up Monster Inc. with a prequel – a sort of ‘Mike and Sully Begins’. They start out as rivals, but of course become friends.

It was fine. It lacks the greatness of a Toy Story sequel, female characters hardly get a look in amongst the new creatures, and it lacks the clarity of the original’s reversal of the ‘monster in the closet’ scenario. But the characters remained engaging, the animation is inventive, and it was a fun way for my daughter and I to interact without too much physical effort from me. So I’ll take that as a win.

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This month we have also been alternating between Narcos and Orange is the New Black, both of which remain great.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

If any of these grab your attention, please head over to Netflix to check them out.
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You Baby Me Mummy

Playtest and Giveaway: New LEGO Star Wars Buildable Figures

The latest LEGO Star Wars figures are a little bigger than the previously available ones!

This giant (in LEGO terms) Vader is one of a series of six new buildable figures from their Star Wars line – Jango Fett, Clone Commander Cody, Obi Wan Kenobi (Clone Wars) General Grevious, Luke Skywalker (Return of the Jedi), and Darth Vader.

Unlike the previous LEGO Star Wars sets, which have been in the classic LEGO format, these are more like Bionicle and other similar buildable LEGO figures. When constructed you have a fully poseasble and articulated Star Wars figure.

We chose Darth Vader, as he is probably my daughter’s favourite character after Princess Leia.

The set a seemingly manageable 160 pieces. But this was my first constraction set, and many of the pieces were unfamiliar to me – with only a few seeming LEGO-like. The build was a different experience too.

My daughter and I like building LEGO sets together, even if the recommended age is far older than she is. However, it soon became clear that this was probably going to be something I built myself – which was obviously no great hardship!

This is not a criticism, as the recommended age is 9+, but other sets we’ve built had a similar age recommendation and we were able to collaborate on. This set, with it’s different style, was a more complex proposition, plus it required gross & fine motor skills which she simply does not have at 3 years old.

However, the finished result is a great toy for her.

It has some cool custom features, such as the cape, the lightsaber, and the head is a great Darth Vader sculpt.

We only had access to Vader, one of the six sets, and while it’s pretty cool when constructed, I would say that General Grevious appears to be the most successful. As he is a robot, his body of metal struts and joints suits the style of these sets perfectly.

These sets offer a nice point of difference to LEGO’s Star Wars line, as well as the wider range of Star Wars toys available. This is a far more stylish Darth Vader toy than many of the other official figures you see out there.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this LEGO set free of charge.

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These LEGO Star Wars buildable figures are available from Amazon

Or, enter our giveaway below for your chance to win a Jango Fett figure (UK residents only).

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buildable LEGO Star Wars Jango Fett #75107

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This set of buildable LEGO figures feature a mix of goodies and baddies. Which characters do you or your little ones like best in Star Wars – the heroes or villains?

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Family Fever

Playtest and Giveaway: LEGO Batman – Jokerland Set

My daughter recently declared that two of her favourite superheroes are Batman and Robin. As luck would have it, a few days later this was delivered.

We set to building it right away!

The first thing we noticed about this set is that it is almost like a series of LEGO play sets, which made it great fun to build and to play with.

The story behind ‘Jokerland’ appears to be an ordinary theme park has been taken over by the clown prince of crime and some of his villainous allies. Each of them has their own twisted theme park ride to torment our heroes.

The set has eight minifigs in total – Batman, Robin, Starfire, and Beast Boy are the heroes, while the villains are The Joker, plus his accomplices Harley Quinn, The Penguin, and Poison Ivy.
Batman, Robin, Beast Boy, Starfire, The Penguin, The Joker, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, LEGO, minifigs, minifigures,
Batman, Robin, Beast Boy, Starfire, The Penguin, The Joker, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, LEGO, minifigs, minifigures,

There are also a couple of bonus figures – a freaky clown robot and a penguin with some dynamite!

The Joker’s theme park is made up of these four main ‘attractions’:

Jokerland LEGO DC Comics Superheroes 76035 PENGUIN
The Penguin’s ‘Deadly Duckies’ – which sees Beast Boy taken prisoner

Jokerland LEGO DC Comics Superheroes 76035 Poison Ivy Starfire

Jokerland LEGO DC Comics Superheroes 76035 Harley Quinn 2
‘Harley’s Wheels of Fire’ – where she torments the boy wonder.
And of course, the Joker’s ‘Jokerland’ (with the ‘Toxic Tank’).
And of course, the Joker’s eye-catching ‘Jokerland’ (with the ‘Toxic Tank’). Not recommended if you have a fear of clowns!

My daughter and I construct these big sets in a few sessions, each one usually just one numbered of the bags these sets are divided into. That usually means we end a building session with only a part of the vehicle/set constructed.

While this set has over a thousand bricks, four of the six numbered bags contain one attraction each. We built a bag a session initially, so what was nice about this set was that each one ended with a finished attraction.

She’s only 3-years-old, and this set is recommended for 8-14, so it is pretty advanced for her age. But with a bit of guidance and encouragement (as well as patience!) from me, she eventually put together her very own Batmobile.

Overall, this set was a really fun build that was a great joint activity for us – especially on a rainy bank holiday Monday.

It has great playability when completed. Each attraction has interactive elements – The Jokerland slide into the Toxic Tank, as well as revolving eyes and tilting hat; Harley’s motorcycle launches down towards the flaming barrels; the Penguin’s Deadly Duckies turn; Poison Ivy’s ride falls suddenly to the ground when triggered; and there’s a cannon that fires cannonballs – or the Joker’s custard pie! Oh, and the Batmobile had spring loaded missiles too.

Jokerland’s also a playset – so it’s a great environment for children to create stories with the characters. We’ve had everything from Batman arriving to rescue Robin, to everyone enjoying a day trip to the theme park. Another big attraction for us was the number of female character minifigs included – even just one in a superhero set is a bonus, so getting three is fantastic. My daughter loves having more female characters to us with her LEGO.

“Everyone’s happy in Jokerland” stated my daughter. Not sure that was the Joker’s intention, but we’re very happy to have added this set to our LEGO collection.

Despite appearances:/

"Why so serious?" #jokerland

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

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Jokerland giveaway

This giveaway has now ended, but the LEGO Batman – Jokerland set (76035) has a RRP of ÂŁ89.99, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Or, enter our giveaway – please see below (UK residents only).

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this LEGO set free of charge. 

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I think it’s important for boys and girls that female characters are included in merchandise like this superhero LEGO set. What do you think?

Family Fever

Of Dinosaurs, Detectives, and Drug Lords (#StreamTeam)

This past month we’ve shown our daughter a classic superhero in action, brought some long dead creatures to life, learned about the highs and lows of an iconic performer, and discovered a great new drug (show) to get hooked on.

Batman: The Movie (Cert U)

Batman-the-movie-1966-Netflix-Streamteam
Batman: The Movie

My 3-year-old daughter has declared that two of her favourite superheroes are Batman and Robin. The 1966 Batman movie is probably why.

It’s ironic that the majority of modern superhero movies aren’t actually suitable for young children. That’s certainly not the case here, with this movie version of the famed campy Batman TV show.

The film features largely the same cast as the show, and the same style and sense of humour. The ‘plot’ sees Batman & Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward) take on a super villain team of the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman.

Made after the first season of the Batman TV show, legend has it that it was made so the production could have access to more Bat-vehicles for the ongoing TV show – so here, as well as the iconic Batmobile, you also get the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle.

In an age where superhero movies have become ubiquitous and ever darker (thanks in part to the dark detective’s recent trilogy), seeing this movie is a great reminder of how much fun comic books and superheroes can be.

The Land Before Time (Cert U)

Land Before Time
The Land Before Time (1988), Dir. Don Bluth

My daughter has also taken a liking to Dinosaurs of late, after reading a book to her about them. She also has a few toys, but I really wanted to show her some film and /or TV showing them for her to engage with them even more.

This was the perfect choice. Directed by Disney exile Don Bluth (An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH), and produced by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas no less, this is a great introduction to dinosaurs for little ones. It’s the story of a group of cute young dinosaurs who get separated from their family, and their journey to be reunited with them – with a T-Rex in hot pursuit.

While it’s rated U, it does have a family death near the start which might upset some children.

(We also tried Walking With Dinosaurs on her, but it was so well done – even though it’s 16 years old – it was too scary. For her, not me. Honest.)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (Cert 15)

Netflix has a great documentary selection, and this (a Netflix Original) was one I’m really glad we watched.

Previously, I knew very little about Nina Simone other than she was an African American performer who’s most famous song was ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.

So I didn’t know about her role in the civil rights movement, her protest songs, the troubled family life, and the highs and lows of her career and life.

A fascinating story, well constructed with a mixture of new and archive footage & interviews, with some great music too – this is well worth a watch.

Narcos (Cert 15)

This is a terrific new Netflix Original series. I’m a sucker for a good organised crime drama, and this is a fine example. It’s a dramatised account of the 1980s American drug wars and the rise of the infamous kingpin Pablo Escobar. The story is told through the eyes and narration of US DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), who guides us through the ins and outs of the emerging Central & South American drug cartels – especially the MedellĂ­n Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar (played here by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura).

We’re only two episodes in, but rest assured that if we didn’t have a 3-year-old in the house we’d have binge watched it all weekend.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

If any of these grab your attention, please head over to Netflix to check them out.

Review & Giveaway: Kawaii Box – a Collection of Cute Items from Japan and Korea

This week we received a box of delights from Asia. Kawaii Box is a subscription based service where you receive a monthly box of assorted Kawaii items – which basically means ‘cute’.

While some brands will be recognisable (previous boxes have included Hello Kitty and Totoro for instance) for the most part these products from Japan and Korea will be new to most westerners.

The monthly boxes are crammed with random cute stuff from Asia, ranging from sweets to stickers and accessories.

It’s always fun receiving parcels, especially if you don’t know what’s inside. When our slightly battered box arrived from Singapore, it was with great anticipation that we opened it…

Just got this box of Japanese and Korean cuteness from @kawaiiboxco. Review to follow:) #kawaiibox #kawaii

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

So, as promised, here’s a more detailed look of what was in the box:

Kracie DIY Chain Candy

Kracie DIY Chain Candy Kwaii Box - July 2015
Some Japanese pink & blue (good choice) sweets that interlink to form a chain. Or you can eat them. They tasted… sugary.

Squishy Doughnut Mirror

Squishy Doughnut Mirror Kwaii Box - July 2015
My daughter’s favourite. It’s the perfect size for her hands, flips open to reveal a mirror, is colourful, and makes you really want a doughnut!

Dessert Eraser

Dessert Eraser Kwaii Box - July 2015
“Can you eat this?” asked my daughter. No, but it is a cute looking cake shaped eraser (aka ‘rubber’)

Kawaii Toast Coaster

The simplest item in the collection. A thin piece of wood, in the shape of a piece of toast, with a minimalist face stamped through it.
The simplest item in the collection. A thin piece of wood, in the shape of a piece of toast, with a minimalist face stamped through it.

Pastel Pearl Bracelet

My daughter liked this stringed collection of pastel balls as well.
My daughter liked this stringed collection of pastel balls as well.

Korean Glitter Glue Set

This made my daughters eyes light up - six colours of glitter glue, plus four colours of hearts, stars, and flowers to stick.
This made my daughters eyes light up – six colours of glitter glue, plus four colours of hearts, stars, and flowers to stick.

Rilakkuma Notes

This is a very cute fold-out collection of post-it notes of different shapes and sizes, all featuring the equally cute Rilakkuma character (roughly translated as ‘Relax Bear’.
This is a very cute collection of post-it notes of different shapes and sizes, all featuring the equally cute Rilakkuma character (roughly translated as ‘Relax Bear’).

Mushroom Mini Plush

The kind of thing you might see in a Nintendo game.
Reminds me of the kind of thing you might see bouncing around in a Nintendo game.

Cute Pencil Set

As described really - ordinary pencils with cute colourful patterns.
As described really – ordinary pencils with cute colourful patterns.

Flake Seal Stickers

I was expecting seals. We get what appears to be hordes of pandas, pink rabbits, and yellow birds (one with a bow in their hair).
I was expecting seals. We get what appears to be pandas, pink rabbits, and yellow birds (one with a bow in their hair).

Alpaca Keychain

My favourite. To me it seems utterly random to have three pastel coloured alpacas on a key ring, but here we are. Might try and keep this for myself

My favourite. To me it seems utterly random to have three pastel coloured alpacas on a key ring, but here we are. Might try and keep this for myself


So there you have it. A nice little collection of pop culture curios and oddities from the east. We enjoyed getting this Kawaii Box, and I can imagine it would be fun to get one of these each month – a regular little box of surprises.

It may all seem rather pink and pastel. As I’ve said before, I don’t object to the colour pink – just how it’s used to market things to girls, and there is nothing in the Kawaii Box offering to indicate that these items are for girls only. They’re for people who want a bit of cute in their lives. And why not.

Fancy getting your very own Kawaii Box delivery? Then click to enter the giveaway. Competition closes on 20 September 2015. Good luck!

Kawaii Box Man vs Pink Giveaway August 2015

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this Kawaii Box free of charge. All opinions stated remain our own.

Family Fever
You Baby Me Mummy

Playtest: LEGO Star Wars – Imperial Assault Carrier (From Star Wars Rebels)

For our latest LEGO playtest, we chose the Star Wars Imperial Assault Carrier. It’s based on one of the Empire’s spaceships from the Star Wars Rebels TV show, which featured prominently in the finale of season 1.

Initially the main attraction for us was the choice of minifigures – specifically, this set includes the female Rebel fighter Sabine Wren. She’s been in a previously released LEGO Star Wars set, but this time she comes with the addition of her distinctive Mandalorian armour helmet.

LEGO Sabine is such a badass #StarWarsRebels

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

Sabine’s outnumbered by the Empire, as this comes with five other mini figures – all of them imperial: Agent Kallus, an Imperial Officer, 2 x Tie Fighter pilots, and an Imperial Astromech Droid (aka R2 unit).

LEGO Star Wars Imperial Assault Carrier 75106 minifigures, Star Wars Rebels LEGO

This is a large set with over 1,200 pieces, and it took us a few construction sessions to finally assemble it, following the 170 page instruction booklet.

It was really fun to construct, with a mixture of standard and technic elements, and a great activity for me to share with my 3-year-old daughter. While putting together a LEGO build of this nature on her own is clearly not feasible yet (the set advises age 9-14), the experience of assisting me helps her with many aspects of her development of such as motor skills, patience, and following instructions.

She was constantly asking me, over the days it took us to make this, to ‘do another packet’ (the numbered bags that large sets are divided into – this one has nine).

LEGO Star Wars Imperial Assault Carrier 75106 Tie Fighters underneath CROP
Inspecting the undercarriage

The finished vehicle has a number of neat little extra elements and moving parts, such as:

  • 4 releasable mini Tie Fighters
  • A missile launcher (with a locker for spares)
  • Rotating mini cannon turrets (also with storage for spare ammo)
  • Removable top
  • Hinged cockpit

Plus it has a hook as part of the structure, for flying it around going “Vroom, pew pew!”. At least, that’s what we used it for.

The set has a kind of dual scale element, as the Tie Fighters are much smaller relative to the Tie Fighter pilots. I kind of liked this approach.

Tie Fighter and Tie Fighter Pilot minifig from LEGO Star Wars Imperial Assault Carrier 75106 CROP

The little Tie Fighters are also the perfect size for my daughter to fly around.

She is delighting in the play opportunities this set affords, and is already engaging Sabine in joint adventures with a fellow female star wars minifig Princess Leia from the Imperial Shuttle set.

As the father of a mixed-race fangirl, I admit to being a little disappointed that Sabine’s skin colour seems to have changed from the light brown of the show to light pink here. But she still looks badass.

And while we’re talking about changes, did you know that the Imperial Officer minifig is in fact an Imperial Postman (according to a certain 3-year-old).

My daughter has decided that this sad, dejected, desperate looking LEGO Star Wars figure – is a postman.

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

The Imperial Assault Carrier is a great addition to our LEGO Star Wars collection. While the ship seemed a little uninspiring from imagery prior to getting it, in reality it is a really cool vehicle when constructed. As with her other Star Wars LEGO sets, my daughter has made no attempt to pull this apart as she’s enjoying using is as a playset and prop far too much.

Star Wars Rebels LEGO, LEGO Star Wars Imperial Assault Carrier 75106, Review====

Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this LEGO set free of charge. All opinions stated remain our own.

The LEGO Star Wars – Imperial Assault Carrier set (75106) has a RRP of ÂŁ99.99, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Family Fever

‘My Daddy is Super Because
 He Watches Star Wars With Me’

As Father’s Day messages go, you may not think much of it. But to me, this message from my 3-year-old daughter in a card she made at nursery, is gold.

While obviously dictated (her writing isn’t that good), one of the reasons I love it is I know that it’s genuine. Our shared love of Star Wars has become a defining aspect of our relationship.

My Daddy is Super CROP

Those of you who follow my blog will know I’m rather into all things Star Wars, and most people – especially those who know me – assume that I’m merely indoctrinating my young padawan daughter into the ways of the force. The truth is rather more complicated than that. I have a bit of a confession to make. Until a couple of years ago, I was actually a pretty lapsed Star Wars fanboy.

“I am a Star Wars fan, like my father before me.”

I had always intended to show my daughter Star Wars, and if interested to give her my old toys when she was older. I figured probably when she was 7 or so, the age I saw Star Wars. But before she was even 2-years-old, she saw one of Jeffrey Brown’s Vader books and loved it. Not long after, I brought my old Star Wars toys home from my parents – intending to store them in the attic for next few years – but they never made it past the living room. She spotted them and they’ve been a permanent fixture there ever since. If I remember correctly, it was my wife who encouraged me to show our daughter Star Wars.

She also plays with my old Star Wars LEGO, and lacking a Princess Leia minifig, made some up herself. She frequently chooses to wear her Star Wars clothes (especially a certain skirt!), and dress up as Darth Vader. She also enjoys trying to chop my arms off with her lightsaber. While I clearly delight in all this, it is instigated by her.

So the thing is – rather than me trying to mould her into a Star Wars fan, her enthusiasm for the galaxy far, far away has actually reawakened my own Star Wars fandom, inspiring me to reconnect with these beloved characters and scenarios I thought I had relegated to simple nostalgia. Her enthusiasm for the saga frequently surpasses my own.

Star Wars: The Fangirl Awakens

Because she was embracing this so eagerly, the world of Star Wars merchandise became a bit of a gendered marketing battleground for me. But through this I have also connected with the amazing Star Wars fangirl community, who engage with Star Wars in ways that us fanboys never really considered. Many of them are also from a younger generation, so came to the saga via a different path. I had never heard of Ahsoka Tano a year ago, and now my daughter and I are enjoying discovering her unfolding story in The Clone Wars cartoon that I had previously ignored. The fangirl community is amazing, and should my daughter continue to enjoy these geeky interests, I am so glad that there is such a warm, loving, and inspiring community out there for her to join.

“You have taken your first step into a larger world.”

I love her Father’s Day message because it places value on the fact that I watch Star Wars with her. I always sit with her when she watches anything while home with me. I have never used the TV as a babysitter (this is probably why I get a lot less done around the house than I should!).

To me the television is not a passive pursuit, a device you turn on to tune out of life for a while. It is something to engage with. To discover new stories, strange new worlds, incredible ideas, and inspiring people. To stimulate your mind, and create questions you will seek to answer. So when my daughter and I watch TV together, watch Star Wars together, I answer any of her questions and discuss them further if needs be.

For example, what happened to Obi-Wan when he had the lightsaber fight with Darth Vader? A talk about death and how people live on in the memories of those who love them took place. When Princess Leia was shown in her skimpy ‘slave’ outfit in Return of the Jedi, my daughter asked “Why has Princess Leia got no clothes on?”. An early discussion about slavery, objectification, and sexual objectification ensued.

You will read endless articles portraying a generation of kids having too much ‘screentime’, but less on what they’re actually watching, and very little about how we as parents empower our children to understand, analyse, and question what they’re being presented with. They are growing up in the digital age, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they’re media savvy as early as possible.

So watching Star Wars with her, creating an environment where she can engage and analyse it, has been an important part of her own development and our parent & child relationship.

But she loves Star Wars as a story too, and has been happy to watch each film in a single sitting ever since she was 2-years-old. Of the characters, my daughter is a big Princess Leia fan but her other favourite one is Darth Vader. The reason? Because he’s Princess Leia’s daddy.

I don’t know how long her love of Star Wars will last, but for now this is our thing as a father & daughter. So I’ll take my daughter thinking I’m super because I watch Star Wars with her. I also think she’s pretty awesome for watching it with me too.

Woo hoo! We made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs! #StarWarsatMT

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

We Didn’t Have Any Princess Leia LEGO. So My Daughter Came Up With This Instead.

Do you remember that awesome scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Princess Leia was disguised as a Stormtrooper and had a lightsaber?

Of course not because it doesn’t exist – except in the imagination of my three-year-old daughter. It’s just one of the scenarios and characters she has created for the Star Wars universe with her assorted LEGO.

We have a bunch of Star Wars LEGO, but sadly none that involved a Princess Leia minifig. I’ll gladly trade one of my three Luke Skywalkers or Qui-Gon’s if anyone’s interested in a swap? (Not slave Leia). But this hasn’t deterred my daughter from creating her own. She has decided a generic black ‘girl’ hair is in fact Princess Leia’s, and she first created an approximation of her Hoth look in The Empire Strikes Back.

As we don't have one, my daughter put together her own LEGO Princess Leia (Hoth outfit).:)

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

The latest incarnation of her LEGO Leia took things in a different direction. She often talks about the section of Star Wars when Han and Luke are dressed up as Stormtroopers. She’s also very into the fact that Luke and Leia are siblings, and that Darth Vader is their father. The men have lightsabers, why not her too?

So one day when we were playing LEGO and I wasn’t playing attention to what she was doing (I don’t just play LEGO to humour her – I play too, building my own stuff), she suddenly exclaimed “Look! It’s Princess Leia from The Empire Strikes Back, when she was dressed as a Stormtrooper and had a green lightsaber!” And indeed it was.

So, as we know, that scene didn’t happen, but it’s an intriguing scenario. Why has she disguised herself as a Stormtrooper? Is it an improvised solution as in Star Wars, or something more planned? How come she has a lightsaber? The force is strong in her family after all. The idea of Leia dressed as a trooper then brandishing and (hopefully) kicking off with a lightsaber is irresistibly cool.

The next minifig she came up with was a bit of a mashup – the little known Sith warrior, Lady Venom.

My daughter has no idea who Venom is, other than it was the ‘villain’ minifig with a Spider-Man LEGO set she had for her third birthday. Perhaps aware of the poor level of female representation in much merchandise, she instantly appropriated Venom as a female character. Having seen 5 Star Wars films, Rebels, and some of The Clone Wars, she also has a handle on the Sith, especially their penchant for wearing black. So, the black Venom, with added black hood & cloak (from a Darth Maul minifig) and voila – you have Sith warrior Lady Venom, possibly inspired by Asajj Ventress.

According to my daughter, Lady Venom knows Leia and Darth Vader, but Leia is working to make her normal again. I have imagined that Lady Venom was once a great Jedi, who was possessed by the alien Venom symbiote and her mental turmoil was exploited by the Sith to turn her to the dark side of the force. Her red lightsaber is meant to be like Kylo Ren’s from The Force Awakens.

We’ve also  been trying to figure out when in The Empire Strikes Back Leia could be disguised as a trooper and end up with a green lightsaber. Our best idea would be somewhere on Cloud City – probably after Boba Fett has flown off with Han and they’re battling to get back to the Millennium Falcon. The green lightsaber? Perhaps R2 had been carrying the one he fired at Luke in Return of the Jedi for a lot longer than we all thought?

Some of the most fertile ground for Star Wars creativity at the moment is between the films. The Clone Wars cartoon(s) were full of wonderful characters and scenarios, as is Star Wars Rebels. Marvel’s new Star Wars comics are doing a great job in filling in the gap between Star Wars and Empire with some really interesting ideas and developments – all of it canon.

My daughter is engaging in the same kind of creative storytelling that the writers and artists of the new series of Star Wars comics and cartoons are. Only they’re overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group. My daughter’s only limits are her ever expanding imagination.

She was pretty stoked to find a postcard that matches her top #StarWars

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

I appreciate Lady Venom is the kind of cross property mash up that Star Wars hasn’t indulged in as of yet – but if we can get Mickey Mouse Jedi knights, why not a Venom Sith?

And c’mon – how awesome would a storyline involving Leia going undercover as a Stormtrooper that ends up with her brandishing a lightsaber be?

Especially if she takes on Lady Venom of the Sith at the end.

I propose that my three-year-old daughter join the Lucasfilm Story Group. I guarantee there will be lots of cool and kickass female characters as a result. Or perhaps she’ll make her own comic. She’s already on her way to becoming a Star Wars artist.

That's no moon, that's my 3yo daughter's first piece of Star Wars art.

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

Lottie, a Doll to Inspire Our Little Girls

Lottie Dolls, little girl playing with dolls,My daughter has various dolls – Barbie, Cindy, some Phantom Menace Padme Amidalas, a Princess Leia, and a 90’s Storm (that I randomly found boxed at a local charity shop for ÂŁ2). But I think she has found her favourite set of dolls yet – Lottie.

I’ve been aware of Lottie ever since they launched their Superhero Outfit Set in 2014. It was notable to me because a) it was a female superhero doll, and b) was designed by a six-year-old girl, who created ‘Super Lottie’ as part of a global competition. Any misgivings I may have had about the pink, pastel, and sparkles are pretty much wiped out by the fact this outfit was created by a little girl herself. This is exactly the kind of creativity we’re trying to encourage in our own daughter, and the Super Lottie design looks pretty cool anyway.

Stargazer Lottie, Lottie Dolls,  Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Stargazer Lottie

Lottie differs from other dolls in a number of ways. Her body shape is roughly that of a nine-year-old girl, as opposed to the Giraffe like proportions of Barbie. She doesn’t wear jewellery or makeup. She has a wide range of clothes and interests that kids can still relate to. If you want to buy your child princesses and fashion models, you’re already well served by the market. Lottie Dolls offer parents and children wanting something else a delightful alternative.

For this review, we selected a range of dolls and accessories that reflect my daughter’s interests, tastes, or curiosity. Our choices were Pirate Queen (plus accessories), Robot Girl (plus Busy Lizzie Robot), Stargazer (with telescope), as well as the aforementioned Superhero Outfit.

Robot girl Lottie, Busy Lizzie Robot,  Lottie Dolls,  Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Robot Girl Lottie with her Busy Lizzie robot

Each ‘Lottie’ comes with their own backstory or scenario, and while these are interesting – such as reading about female pirate Grace O’ Malley – the characteristics of each outfit/persona are really for us to define through play. So, ‘Robot Girl’ likes robots, and this helped us talk about science and engineering; ’Stargazer’ (inspired by a real life star loving little girl) is obviously into astronomy, and again that helps us talk about that. My daughter loves looking at the moon, and enjoys stories set in space, so this reinforces it. ‘Pirate Queen’ inspires adventure, and also supports the idea that all things pirate are for girls as well as boys. And ‘Super Lottie’? Well, my daughter knows superheroes are for girls (and boys too I guess), so again this reinforces our parenting approach in this genre.

Super Lottie,  Lottie Dolls,  Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Super Lottie

I get accused, mostly by people who don’t know me very well, of denying my daughter ‘girly’ things, or trying to make her into a boy. That’s not true. I just object to the narrow vision of girlhood that commerce presents us with. While I’m of the mind that any toy is girly if a girl plays with it, these Lottie dolls help with framing different interests as ‘girly’, presenting us with a group of cute little girls who enjoy science, karate, ponies, and pirates! If you ever need to prove to someone that robots, superheroes, and pirates, can be ‘girly’ too – then just show them Lottie.

The thing I really love about this collection of Lottie dolls is that they support and reinforce so well our approach to raising our daughter. Lottie’s cool and quirky collection of clothing reflects my daughter’s own diverse wardrobe. We hope Lottie’s range of interests will also be mirrored in our daughter as she gets older.

Pirate Queen Lottie Doll,  Lottie Dolls,  Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Pirate Queen Lottie

What’s our favourite Lottie? While I love anything that involves girls and superheroes, my joint top pick is Pirate Lottie. Society still tends to categorise Buccaneer iconography as a boy’s look, and this demonstrates that girls make awesome looking pirates too. My daughter likes dressing as one but doesn’t see many other girls doing that too. By simply playing with her Pirate Queen Lottie, she is reinforcing her confidence in her decision to dress up as a pirate too.

Being interested in science and technology. Dressing as a pirate and a superhero. These Lottie Dolls can help inspire a new generation of girls to claim these traditionally boy interests as theirs too, and aspire to reach for the stars or sail the seven seas. Or simply to be happy with whatever you choose to be. In fact, her motto is ‘Be bold, be brave, be you’.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this piece, we did receive all the featured dolls and accessories free of charge. 

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**You can purchase Pirate Queen Lottie here, and the Super Lottie Outfit Set here**

How to Make a Star Wars Skirt for Girls and Boys

Getting Star Wars tops for girls is easy – as long as you don’t mind shopping in the ‘boys’ aisle. However, you have more chance of bullseyeing a Womp Rat in your T-16 than finding a child’s Star Wars dress or skirt for sale at a major retailer. While Ashley Eckstein’s innovative fangirl brand Her Universe has a couple of Star Wars dress options, is she your only hope? No, there is another.

It’s you – by embracing Craftivism. If you can’t find the merchandise you want, simply make it yourself. My daughter recently received an awesome Star Wars skirt from our friend Francesca Cambridge, that she made using officially licensed Star Wars fabric. There’s lots of Star Wars and other official licensed fabric available, which is intended for home sewing use such as this.

In an act of wanton selflessness (her business Sewing Circus proudly creates and sells children’s clothes that don’t conform to gender stereotypes), Francesca has put together this step-by-step guide so non-dressmakers like me can make a children’s Star Wars skirt ourselves.

Whenever my daughter wears this skirt – which is most days at the moment – everyone asks where I got it from. Follow this guide, and you’ll have a Star Wars skirt that’ll make someone as over the moon (or space station) as my daughter is with hers.:)

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This elasticated skirt is one of the easiest items of clothing you can make for your child. It is so simple you don’t need a pattern or special equipment – you could even get away without a sewing machine!

For this skirt I used licensed Star Wars fabric manufactured by Camelot Fabrics, bought from Frumble (who also sell everything from Alice in Wonderland to Batgirl, Supergirl and Wonder Woman fabric).

But you can choose any fabric you want, in any theme, colour or style. That is how I started out, making Dinosaur skirts and Space dresses for my daughters when we couldn’t find anything remotely similar on the high street.

Once you’ve built a bit of confidence you can add pockets, a drawstring, applique – anything! The sky’s the limit for your creativity and inspiring your child to do the same. 

To make a Star Wars skirt for kids, you will need:

  • A waist measurement and preferred length of skirt from your chosen recipient
  • Approx 50 x 110cm of your chosen Star Wars fabric (you may not need as much but fabrics are often sold by the quarter/half/full metre and 110cm in width) Cost approx ÂŁ7-9
  • 1″ wide elastic measured and cut to your chosen waist size
  • Standard ruler and a pen/chalk
  • Sewing machine if possible or a needle and thread
  • Thread colour to match your chosen fabric
  • Safety pin
  • Iron/Ironing board
  • About 30 mins of spare time!

Step 1 

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Cut your elastic and ensure there is ample flex room on the width of your fabric. For ages 12 plus you may need to add an additional panel to create a wider piece of fabric.

Step 2 – Measure and cut length

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The skirt length is 28cm, but we need to add on a little more to accommodate our waistband and hem, so I’ve added an extra 8cm to the length. If in doubt add more, not less – you can always trim more later. Use a ruler to guide you in cutting, never trust the pattern!

Step 3 – Cut length and trim selvage 

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This white part (that reminds me of bacon rind) is the selvage and needs to come off too. Check for an perforated dots from manufacture as you don’t want them in your final skirt.

Step 4 – Sew the side seam

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All raw edges must be “serged” or enclosed to prevent fraying, so for this skirt we’re going to use an enclosed seam. This means we sew wrong sides together (or right sides outwards as shown), trimming the seam slightly and then turn inside out to sew the seam again on the other side – trapping the raw edge inside. Like this


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Your side seam should now look like this


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Step 5 – Transfer to the ironing board for pressing

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Create a channel for the elastic at the top of the skirt by folding over a thin raw edge, and then larger fold to fit the width of your elastic. You can use your elastic to guide the size, but leave at least 5mm for a sewing edge. Once this is done you can measure the length again and fold up the hem using the same method at the other end. Again, use the ruler to measure as you will now create the final length of your skirt.

Step 6 – Hem

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Sew down your pressed hem, back stitching or tieing up the ends of your thread to prevent your work coming undone.

Step 7 – Elastic waistband

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Use your elastic to guide you as its essential there is enough room for it to fit through comfortably. If you find the channel is too narrow take it back to the iron board and press larger.
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Sew the channel closed, but leave a 1.5″ gap at the end. This will be the opening to thread through the elastic.

Step 8 – Add the elastic

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Attach a safety pin to the end of your elastic
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Thread the elastic by pushing the saftey pin through the channel. Secure the other end of the elastic as its really easy to end up loosing it as your pull through!
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Once you have pulled the elastic through, use a zig zag stitch to connect the two ends together with a good 1″ overlap. Don’t worry about the waist measurement just yet – you can always adjust in the next step.
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Ping the elastic into the skirt band, and check you’re happy with the waist measurement. If not, pull the elastic back out a little way to cut a section out and restitch together.

Step 9 – Close the waistband

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Once you’re happy, close the waistband “channel” and tie up the threads to finish.

Step 10 – Admire the awesome Star Wars skirt you have just created

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And that’s it! Your very own children’s Star Wars skirt
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My daughter wearing her beloved Star Wars skirt. She would wear it every day if she could.

This is a little bit of Craftivism shared from what I have learnt since starting Sewing Circus, but for more inspiration please check out the many wonderful sewing boards on Pinterest for free patterns and advice! Got stuck on a sewing element? Check out the free tutorials on YouTube – even after years of sewing I find it a fantastic resource with clear instructions on almost everything.

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Thanks so much to Francesca for sharing with us her Craftivist solution to the lack of Star Wars clothes aimed at girls.

To keep up with all the latest from Sewing Circus, please follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Etsy.

A version of this tutorial was originally published on Let Clothes Be Clothes.

Vintage Star Wars Recipe: Death Star Cookies

This recipe is taken from the Star Wars: Darth Vader’s Activity Book, originally published in 1979 by Random House (I have the UK Armada reprint).

Death Star cookiess, Star Wars, Darth Vader Activity book

Death Star Cookies

Yield: 2 Large Death Stars

There’s nothing evil about these delicious shortbread cookies. They’re quick and easy to make, especially if you have an adult to help.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar. Beat in Egg well. Gradually stir in flour. Gather into a ball. Divide into two equal halves. Roll each half into a ball.

Place one ball in the centre of one cookie sheet and flatten out to a circle about 6″ in diameter and about 1/2″ thick as shown in the accompanying figure. Repeat with remaining dough on second cookie sheet.

For decorating, follow the steps below.

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1. With your thumb, press in a smooth round, shallow hole 1 1/2″ in diameter a little away from the edge as shown.
Death Star cookies, Star Wars cookies, Star Wars recipe, Star Wars cooking
2. Lightly grease a butter knife and make a wide, shallow cut across the centre of the cookie. Then make shallow horizontal cuts along the rest of the cookie. Do not cut through the hole.
Death Star cookies, Star Wars cookies, Star Wars recipe, Star Wars cooking
3. The make shallow horizontal vertical cuts between the horizontal lines as shown.
Death Star cookies, Star Wars cookies, Star Wars recipe, Star Wars cooking
Next cut a shallow outline around the 1 1/2 ” hole and make “piecuts” in it as shown. Take a fork and make rows of holes along the horizontal lines.

Then bake 25 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Cool slightly. Remove and cool completely.

Now be a hero and destroy the Death Star – by eating it!

Will the ‘DC Super Hero Girls’ Line be the Princess Alternative I’m Looking For?

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DC Super Hero Girls, A New Super Hero Universe Designed Just For Girls

Superheroes are for boys. That’s a fact. What’s also true, but less accepted, is that superheroes are for girls too. So it’s great that DC and Warner are acknowledging this with their new project ‘DC Super Hero Girls’.

As the geek dad of a little girl, trying desperately to introduce her to alternatives to Disney Princesses and the like, I know how difficult it is to find appropriate content and merchandise featuring female superheroes, so when I first read about this I was excited. It features teenage versions (hence justifying the ‘girls’ tag) of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl (who were in my Top Five Awesome Alternatives to Disney Princesses). The likes of Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee, Poison Ivy, and Katana will also be involved. The target audience is girls age 6-12.

Finally, we have a big media corporation acknowledging what we keep banging on about – that there is an untapped market of girls who love superheroes. Glancing at the artwork, I thought how refreshing to see a group of female characters for girls in dynamic action poses, rather than the passive imagery that usually adorns apparel and accessories in the ‘pink’ aisle.

But taking a closer look at the artwork, I started to have some doubts. I realised that they all look like generic Disney Princess clones, which potentially alludes to the marketing intentions of those involved – going after Disney’s share of the girls merchandise market. If they do this by offering superhero culture as a real alternative to princess culture, that would be great. But if they take these superheroes too far in the direction of Disney’s heroines, it will be little more than a cynical market grab than trying to create a different offering. There are also issues of body image – while superheroes have always been visually hyper-realistic there’s a big difference between males having big abs and girls having waists smaller than their heads.

Then there’s the idea that this is being “designed just for girls”. It’s important to Include boys in anything involving female superheroes, so they understand from an early age that this genre is for girls too. I still read of boys telling girls that they can’t be into superheroes/Star Wars, only boys can. Subdividing the genre to create a girls only space clearly doesn’t promote inclusion.

The involvement of Barbie manufacturer Mattel is another worrying sign. While it’s worth noting they’ve said they’re making “action figures”, not dolls, this is the company that has presented a narrow view of femininity with Barbie for decades. If you want to see the kind of female superhero THEY think little girls want to play with, look no further than their recent Barbie superhero Super Sparkle, a pink and glittery princess who gets super powers from being kissed by a magical butterfly.

You can bet Mattel have noticed that Wonder Woman, as well as being a superhero, is also a princess.

There’s also the mention of LEGO, and “their experience and success engaging girls”. This can only be alluding to their LEGO Friends brand, the popular but divisive line of LEGO for girls, a pink and pastel gender ghetto that exists away from the rest of LEGO’s creative construction toys. A dedicated girls LEGO implicitly defines the rest of to as for boys. I worry the same thing could happen here. And that they’ll make a superhero spa playset.

And finally, they’re not even superheroes! They’re called ‘Super Hero Girls’ not ‘Superhero Girls’. The cynic in me suspects the thinking is that superheroes are for boys, but these ‘super heroes’ are for girls.

Am I being overly pessimistic? Probably. I would love this to be awesome. In a time when female superhero characters such as Black Widow, Gamora, and Big Hero 6’s Go-Go and Honey Lemon are routinely removed from merchandise, a new female superhero range is great. There’s no way they can ignore the female characters when they’re ALL female! So we should get a viable alternative to the pink & pastel shimmer & sparkle female characters of the moment. I hope that the cartoons, books, and comics provides wonderful character led tales of action, adventure, and inspiration with a diverse range of female superheroes (and villains). The lead writer of the project is a woman, Shea Fontana, so we’re not simply getting a male idea of what they think little girls like.

But ultimately, the reason I want my daughter to be exposed to female superheroes is to offer her an alternative to the current mass market merchandise targeted to girls. If DC Super Hero Girls is simply a cynical way to combine aspects of Disney Princesses and Barbie in order to get a piece of the existing ‘girl’ market, then it’s no real alternative at all.

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I’d love to know what you think about this ‘DC Super Hero Girls’ line.

Please comment below, join the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

Top Five Awesome Alternatives to Disney Princesses

If you’re raising a girl, there’s no escaping the reign of princesses over their generation – especially Disney Princesses. Frozen’s Anna and Elsa have only strengthened the power that the princess industrial complex wields over their developing cultural lives. If you’re tired of all the trappings of princess culture cluttering up your little girl’s childhood, or just wish to expose them to alternative female led films, TV, books, and toys – here are my top five awesome alternatives to Disney Princesses to inspire and empower your little girls.

1. Studio Ghibli

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‘My Neighbour Tototo’, Dir: Hayao Miyazaki, © 1988 Nibariki – G/Studio Ghibli

The animated films of Studio Ghibli, and Hayo Miyazaki in particular, should be a part of everyone’s cinematic childhood. My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Whisper of the Heart are particular favourites of ours and they boast a wonderful range of female characters, any one of whom is a great Disney Princess alternative. Scarcely a day goes by without my daughter requesting to see at least one of them. Totoro centres on the gentle adventures of two young sisters in fifties Japan and their encounters with kind hearted forest spirits; Kiki is an entrepreneurial 13-year-old witch who leaves home and earns a living by starting the small courier business of the title; Whisper of the Heart also features a teenage girl, who is an aspiring writer seeking inspiration. I have seen them all more times than I could possibly count, and I still find them moving, inspiring, and utterly delightful. There is plenty official and unofficial merchandise around. We picked up some Totoro soft toys when we passed through Japan a few years back, and bought the 3yo a much loved Kiki dress up for Christmas. For other movies, also check out Miyazaki’s pre-Studio Ghibli NausicaĂ€ of the Valley of the Wind for a wonderful female led eco-adventure, Ponyo for younger kids, and Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for older ones who can take more intense scenarios. But perhaps save Grave of the Fireflies for another time – it’s possibly one of the saddest films ever made.

2. Wonder Woman 

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Ms. Magazine issue 1 and 40th Anniversary editions, featuring Wonder Woman on the cover. © Liberty Media for Women, LLC, wholly owned by Feminist Majority Foundation. Wonder Woman ©DC Comics

One of the few female superheroes that non-comic fans know about, Wonder Woman remains a pop cultural feminist icon and an awesome Disney Princess alternative. Conceived in the forties by American psychologist William Moulton Marston, he wanted to “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. Hmm. Anyway, Wonder Woman is a warrior, and – yes – a PRINCESS, but she refuses to let being a princess define her, and it’s something she successfully rebelled against in her very first appearance. The character’s continued fame goes back to the fondly remembered seventies TV show starring Lynda Carter. The show tied into the popular feminism of the decade, typified by the likes of Gloria Steinham – who had previously launched Ms. Magazine in 1972, with none other than Wonder Woman on the cover. ‘Retro’ Wonder Woman imagery continues to adorn all manner of merchandise today, and this iconic cartoon look is as visually appealing as any Disney Princess. There is a LOT of merchandise out there if you hunt for it, but be warned – it’s far easier to get hold of a Wonder Woman t-shirt for a woman than a little girl. In addition to Wonder Woman, also be on the lookout for Batgirl and Supergirl gear. DC licensees are much better than Marvel in creating merchandise with their female heroes. It’s time to “Woman Up” Marvel.

3. The Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz fancy dress, dorothy gale fancy dress,
3yo daughter in her Dorothy outfit

While Frank L. Baum’s original book has been eclipsed by the colourful 1939 movie, both feature the engaging Dorothy Gale and her adventures in Oz with her three male sidekicks. While the film is wonderful, Dorothy is certainly more proactive and determined in the book, for instance not relying on her male friends to rescue her from the Wicked Witch but rescuing them instead. However she is an appealing character in both, with an iconic eye catching look that makes a nice change from glittery pastel dresses – and because the book has been out of copyright for a long time there are lots of affordable merchandise out there, ranging from dress up outfits to apps. Perhaps start with one of the books adapted for first readers, or of course there’s the wonderful film – the technicolour reveal of merry old land of Oz still remains one of the great moments of Hollywood magic, that will leave your little one on awe.

4. Katie Morag

Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted
From ‘Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted’ by Mairi Hedderwick, published by Red Fox Picture Books

Set on the fictional Isle of Struay, off the west coast of Scotland, this series of books (and now a TV series) feature the independently minded little girl Katie Morag. Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick, the stories see our young red-headed hero in her trademark white jumper, green tartan skirt, and wellies, on her everyday adventures involving her family and fellow islanders. The spirited Katie is a great role model for little girls – our 3yo daughter has been inspired by this Scottish girl to be more independent herself. The books offer lots of other great female role models too, from her mother who runs the Post Office while also breastfeeding her new baby, to ‘Grannie Island’, Katie’s no-nonsense dungaree wearing, tractor driving grandmother. I really enjoy both reading these to my daughter and watching the TV show with her.

5. Star Wars

LEGO, Lego star wars, Princess Leia, We Want Leia, Amidala, Padme,
From ‘LEGOS Gir Problem’ published on ‘From Bricks To Bothans’

The galaxy far, far away is just as much a place for girls as boys – it just hasn’t been marketed that way since a long time ago. Top of the list of great female characters (showing my aged bias) is Leia, who is a great Disney Princess alternative. A royal in name only, she is a rebel fighter, political leader, and social activist. She is a central character in the Star Wars universe and there is a ton of merchandise out there – HOWEVER, there isn’t much new stuff at all. Despite Disney buying Star Wars, and churning out all kinds of new Star Wars goodies, don’t go to a Disney Store expecting to find anything with Leia on it, and there isn’t anything. If that bothers you, please read more here, and complain to them here about that. For other more recent characters, check out Padme/Amidala from the prequels and The Clone Wars cartoon, Ahsoka Tano also from the Clone Wars, or Sabine & Hera from the new Star Wars Rebels animated TV series. These are great empowered women for any child to look up to, and a terrific way into Star Wars and the wider area of sci-fi for little girls. Geek culture is synonymous with the STEM worlds of our children’s future, so if we don’t want to lose vast swathes of the next generation of world builders – because they’re girls who think this is boys stuff – then get them some Star Wars toys. You may even have some in your parents attic.:)

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What do you think about this list of alternatives to Disney Princesses?

What about the princesses themselves? Are they harmful or harmless?  I’d love to read about any additions you have to this (short!) list, or why you think Disney Princesses are fine. Please comment below, join the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

You Baby Me Mummy

“Girls Rule!” (Until They Grow Up)

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“Girls Rule!” t-shirt, featuring Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl. (Photo courtesy of @UKToyCollector)

Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl all on the same kids t-shirt. As a geek dad it’s the kind of item I’m always on the lookout for. I don’t even mind (too much) that it’s pink. What’s troubling is the slogan, “Girls Rule!”. Because “Girls” don’t rule at all.

It’s a phrase synonymous with “Girl Power”, which probably has its origins in the Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement of the 90’s. While the progressive message of “Grrrl Power” was diluted when transformed into the safe and snappy commercial slogan “Girl Power” for 90’s pop phenomenon the Spice Girls, at least that version introduced many children to the notion of girl empowerment. However, the band also popularised the far more problematic “Girls Rule!”.

The girls who were fans of the band in the 90’s are now women in their twenties and thirties. What kind of world have they grown up in? Is it one where “Girls Rule”? The gender pay gap remains entrenched, and in the UK is even widening. Only 30% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the UK are women, and just 17% of all professors in STEM are female. Both houses of UK parliament have only 23% women.

Globally, while there are high profile women in leadership roles at a corporate level, boards and executive committees remain 83%-96% male. The recent IMF report Fair Play: More Equal Laws Boost Female Labor Force Participation found that 90% of countries have at least one important gender based legal restriction. The UNDP states that “Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development.”

A slogan like “Girls Rule” seems little more than a lie in this context. It implies that women leaders are respected, listened to, and rewarded for their hard work, talent, and intelligence – when that is clearly not the case. Perhaps the slogan “Girls Rule!” was created as a way of hiding the sad reality of gender inequality.

The empowering messages we convey to our children are important, but they can easily backfire. As American comedian Sarah Silverman wryly observed, “Don’t tell girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. Because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.”

This week new research on marketing to girls, found that when “
girls hit the age of 13 they start to feel less confident and more worried about the world around them.” The reasons are unclear, but this would also be the time they experience the dawning revelation that the reality of being a woman, on the wrong side of the gender bias divide, isn’t quite how they imagined it would be when they were little girls.

Advertisers obviously know the power of a good slogan, and a source for a new girl empowerment one has come from an unlikely place. Always (makers of ‘feminine hygiene products’) found through their market research the same issue of girls suffering a significant drop in self-confidence around the time they hit puberty.

The company tried to address these feelings for an ad campaign, and a new slogan entered the girl empowerment lexicon – #LikeAGirl. They deftly took the former playground insult, and transformed it into plaudit. When you run like a girl, throw like a girl, fight like a girl – you are not doing it badly, you’re doing it incredibly. At least that’s the shift in meaning hoped for.

The fantasy of “Girls Rule!” seems tepid next to the optimistic reality of doing amazing things ‘like a girl’.

All I need now is to get THAT on a kid’s female superhero t-shirt.

Because little girls have big dreams of being superheroes too. #likeagirl

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

I’m not going to pretend to my daughter that she’s growing up in a world where “Girls Rule”. She will have many challenges to face in life, and lying to her about them won’t help her deal with them.

But I’m buying Asda’s “Girls Rule!” t-shirt for her. Three awesome female superheroes, drawn in the classic retro style, on a kid’s sized top in the UK? Sold. I also want Asda to know that female superheroes sell too.

And my daughter can’t read. Yet.

What do you think about the slogan “Girls Rule”? Helpful, harmful or neither? Please discuss by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

The Dad Network

Do We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers?

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‘Working Mom’ by Ran Zwigenberg. Photo used under CC license

Whenever there’s coverage of mothers in the workplace, it’s never long before the topic of how they cope with the competing needs of their children and their job comes up. What’s wrong with this? It’s a narrative that’s only ever applied to working mothers, and rarely – if ever – working fathers.

On the BBC series Inside the House of Commons this week, one of the featured MPs was a busy mum who juggles the demands of her job with the needs of her family. As the listings described the scenario: “Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott
 seeks to balance new parenthood with politics.”

I am not denying Ms. Willott’s very real struggle between being a parent and an MP (and Deputy Chief Whip), but yet again, the search for this ‘balance’ was presented as an issue only for the working mother. While we did see the involvement of her partner, where was the male MP also struggling in the same way, having family dinners in his parliament office, dropping off his children at the House of Commons nursery, or leaving his crying child with an aide so he can dash off to the house for an important vote? Maybe he doesn’t exist. Maybe society’s expectations of working mothers are different from those of working fathers.

This was yet another example that feeds into the myth that when a mother is working, childcare is her responsibility. That the need for flexibility is the preserve of the working mother, not the father. That mothers struggle to maintain a work/life balance in a way that fathers don’t.

This week there was a report about the rising costs of childcare in the UK, which is indeed a big problem for parents. Yet I kept reading how this was an issue for working mothers or mothers returning to the workplace, never about fathers.

My wife has a full time job, and I freelance as well as being home with our daughter. In any discussions I enter into about work, the cost of childcare up at the top of the list when determining the feasibility of me taking on the job. The issues around flexible hours and an understanding that I may have to be absent when my child is sick are also important for my employer to know, because I am the primary caregiver to our daughter.

Why We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers

I don’t understand why are we always framing any discussion about childcare, flexible working, balancing the demands of home and work, with ‘Working Mothers’. These issues are not exclusive to mothers – they are parenting issues.

As a father, I find it depressing that people think dads don’t care this much about their children, that we too don’t lament the lost hours we could be spending with them when working. But as a parent of a daughter, I find the sexism of this prevailing attitude towards women in the workplace far more depressing.

It’s an attitude that is especially toxic when there are employers that would prefer not hire a mother, because they think that it’ll be too much hassle. It’s an attitude that fathers rarely encounter.

I am not seeking to diminish the emotional stress and logistical hassle of being a working mother. Despite not being a mother, I understand it completely.

I just think we need to stop talking about working mothers, and start talking about working parents instead. These are issues that affect us all and problems for us all to deal with.

What do you think about the way working mothers are perceived? Is being a working mother different than being a working father? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

What’s the opposite of a Troll? I reckon it’s an Emily…

IMG_0568 The ways in which strangers comment and connect online usually gets a bad rap. Perhaps because it’s so easy to take on another identity – or remain anonymous – in order to be vile to another person. A ‘troll’ used to be a goat eating creature that lived under a bridge in the minds of children. Sadly that monster has been usurped by an all too human counterpart. But what of the wonderful instances of selfless acts of generosity and human kindness that also occur online? Well, here’s one for you.

I recently blogged about the Disney Store’s lack of Princess Leia products, and their absense of interest making any. As the dad of a Star Wars loving daughter, I hoped for some meaningful response from Disney, and there was a muted assurance that they will produce Leia merchandise in the future.

But the post also elicited this response from a lady called Emily:

“I don’t know if it would interest you, but I have a Leia doll and several of the Episode 1 Amidala dolls (all still in boxes because that’s how I was). It’s not the iconic Leia w/ buns, but they’re just sitting in storage and I’d be happy to dust them off and send them to you to share with your daughter. I may have some action figures but I think I gave those away already.”

Well yes, of course I was interested, so I followed up with Emily via email. The back and forth conversation basically went like this.

Me: I’m certainly interested, but how much do you want for them? Emily:   Oh I don’t need anything in return. I know how it was growing up a girl in a Star Wars world, so I’ll gladly share what I have

Wow, that’s really generous. But hang on, there’s a problem – it’s not like I can just pop round and pick them up. We don’t live very near each other. In fact, we’re very far from each other. Emily lives in the US and we live in the UK. She replied:

Emily: I have no problem sending them across the ocean – they’re just collecting dust in storage right now and I’m happy to send them off to a better home.

Once again, wow.

Special international delivery

swtoysTrue to her word, some days later, we had a large package arrive in the post from America, which contained three boxed 12″ Queen Amidala dolls, a boxed 12″ Princess Leia doll, and a bonus item of a large Queen Amidala towel. It also came with the following handwritten note from Emily:

Simon, I hope your daughter enjoys these dolls. I’m happy to share my love of Star Wars with your daughter and your family. Hopefully these will help fill the gap until some new official merchandise surfaces. I only have one Leia doll, but Amidala/PadmĂ© was marketed a fair bit, with her many dresses and hairstyles. Like many overzealous fans, I snapped up what I could, but already being in high school, I never played with them – just had them on a shelf in my Star Wars covered room until another interest came along and they got put into storage for 10 or so years. Now they can leave their boxes for some proper playtime. Enjoy! And may the force be with you, always! Sincerely, Emily

Emily then signed off with these delightful Princess Leia illustrations. Emily's Leia doodles So it was with great relish – and Emily’s permission – that my daughter and I finally liberated these toys from the packaging they had been in for the best part of the past 15 years. It would be a sight to horrify many a Star Wars collector, but delight anyone who gains any happiness from the pure joy of a child. My daugher loves these dolls. She is already swapping shoes and outfits between them. Ceremonial Leia looks pretty good wearing Padme’s large brown boots. ‘Royal Elegance Queen Amidala’s red shoes are a popular interchangeable item as well. There’s also some toddler hairstyling and tea parties happening.

“You never forget kids like Emily”

In 1999, the year that The Phantom Menace was out and Emily purchased all these dolls, another eagerly anticipated movie was released. Eerily, it features a young lady called Emily who parted company with her childhood playthings. In Toy Story 2 we are introduced to Jessie, a once beloved doll who has been abandoned at a roadside when her ‘Emily’ outgrew her. In reality, perfectly normal behaviour, but in the story it was a source of great sadness and emotional trauma for Jessie, who mournfully states: “You never forget kids like Emily…but they forget you.” Well, this real life Emily didn’t forget about her toys. They may not have been played with, but they were bought out of love (of Star Wars), and passed on for the same reason. According to Buzz Lightyear “(a toy’s) life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid”. Well thanks to their Emily these toys will be well loved by our kid. They are out of their boxes and never going back in! The Emilys of the real world should be celebrated. She reached out to a father and daughter she has never met, with whom she had only had the briefest of online interaction with, and made the great effort to not just simply give us these toys she purchased, but to ship them across the world to us at her expense.

It also reminded me of the end of Toy Story 3, when…***SPOILERS*** …Andy hands over his childhood toys to the little girl family friend.

IMG_1855That brought a tear to my eye, and I have to admit, this did too.

So thank you Emily. As well as giving us these awesome dolls, you have also given me renewed optimism about the world I am raising my daughter in. And Disney take note. There IS a girls market for Star Wars, and there always has been. (Oh, while I immensely appreciate Emily’s generosity in giving these dolls to my daughter, at my insistence we have reimbursed Emily for the shipping. She also has a big credit in the favour bank)

Our Week as Working Parents

I’m a stay-at-home dad, but I also freelance from time-to-time. I am pursuing social media & writing work, as that offers family friendly flexibility, but when I am offered work in my old TV stomping grounds, I tend to accept – especially in the run up to Christmas.

I was recently offered a longer stint than normal, and that included a full working week. We had never gone a whole week as working parents before.

Please forgive the indulgence of this post. I know this is the norm for many families, but it took a bit of adjustment and juggling to make it work for us.

Before we got started, there was some prep to be done.

Stage 1 – Childcare
Our daughter attends pre-school at nursery 2 ‘school days’ a week, so ideally we want to place her there, but they are getting increasingly popular. It turns out we can place her there for all but one day. I then contact a childminder who we used a few times in the past, and she is fine to look after her that day. Phew.

Stage 2 – Scheduling who does pick up & drop off
Ideally, I would do drop off in morning (8am), and my wife would do evening pick up (by 6pm). However, she has an even on one night, and is away on a business trip for another, so I need to do those days.

Anyway, we figure out our schedule, and away we go.

Day 1 – Dealing with a sick kid

Disaster! It’s Monday morning, and the kid is poorly. She’s been up half the night with a bad cough and cold.

We agree the kid is too poorly for nursery. My wife had arranged to work from home anyway, so she volunteers to keep her home with her while I head off to work. We still have to pay the sixty quid for daycare of course.

I am able to leave the house exactly when I need to, public transport all fine, and I arrive at 9:30 on the dot as planned.

I try and leave early to give my wife a bit of childcare-free time. Out the door an hour early at 5 is better than nothing, so will be home an hour earlier than planned.

Nah. On each leg of my 3-stage (plus walking) commute, there are delays and cancellations.  My 1hr 40 journey home takes an hour longer.

I get in to find daughter still up which is lovely, but because she passed out for a nap earlier she isn’t sleepy now, nor for the next hour – which is full of frustration as we try and settle her to sleep, eat dinner, and unwind – but we end up winding up each other more.

Finally down, my wife and I eat lukewarm pasta, drink cheap wine, and watch The Antiques Roadshow – the easiest show to agree on.

Day 2 – The morning childcare and commute run

The kid is well enough for childcare, and I need to do the drop off as my wife has a fixed appointment. Today os childminder day, who offers more flexibility so we can do a 7:30 start. We need to leave the house at 7:10 to arrive for 7:30 drop-off, then I can make 7:59 train to get me to work in good time.

Before we leave the house, the kid insists we read a book that features her Star Wars fave Ahsoka (a book she couldn’t find the night before and was a source of some upset). Normally I’m less compliant in these circumstances, but not wanting to get her day off to a tearful start (we haven’t used this childminder for over 9 months) I agree. We leave the house late at 7:25.

So, I rush with her to the house (opposite direction from train station of course) only to exacerbate her cough and understandably upset her. We slow down and am resigned to missing train.

The knock on effect, with subsequent delays is that I am in the office 2 1/2 hrs after leaving the house. My boss (who I’ve worked for a lot in the past) a) isn’t there, and b) isn’t that bothered as long as the work gets done.

My wife is doing pick up, and I stay in office 6pm+, just to get on top of things.

But tonight, the journey home works out fine – door to door in 1hr 50, including a supermarket dinner flyby.

My daughter should be asleep by now, but yet again isn’t. We suspect that she had sugary stuff at the tail end of her time with the childminder.  She doesn’t settle down to sleep until 8:30 – an hour later than normal. It was nice to see her, and after cuddles from me her wind down is mostly her alone in her room, chatting to herself so not too much disruption. My wife and I dine on supermarket pizza, cheap wine, and only manage to watch the 30 min Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver in Sky+ before sleep beckons.

Day 3 – While the wife’s away…

This one is going to be tricky. I need to do nursery drop off and pick up. I also have a shoot for a client I am overseeing, so I need to be in by 9:30 for 10am start. I book the kid in for early start (which costs extra of course) – only I get it wrong and my wife can do drop off. Luckily this early drop off suits her and I can leave even earlier too, important as a) aforementioned shoot, and b) I have to leave office 2 1/2 hrs early to ensure I make the pick up from nursery in time (you can book for later, but they charge per extra 15mins).

An insanely busy day, I leave 10mins later than planned, so I miss my bus which has potential knock on effect. But in the end I get to nursery for 5:30.

My wife is away overnight for a business trip, so it’s just me & the munchkin. We have early bath, then watch a Batgirl cartoon while she eats a dinner of ham and raw carrot (her choice). She would’ve had an early dinner at nursery.

Stories, milk, and cuddles before bedtime. At 7:30 I’m downstairs a eating a Heston Lasagne for 1 (over priced, over caloried, over flavoured), enjoying more cheap red wine, and Netflix (Orphan Black). In bed by 10. Or 11. The kid woke once in the night, crying for mummy (awww) but a quick cuddle and she was back to sleep.

Day 4 – Working late

Another busy day ahead, but start time is more fluid. I do 8am drop off (as wife is away), and everything goes fine from drop off to transport and I get to work at a reasonable 9:45.

I have to leave office early for an event I am working on in central London, and will be there late so won’t see my daughter until Friday morning.

Turns out I’m working VERY late, and don’t get home until after 4am.

Day 5 – Flexible working

Getting home the same time that I usually get up (I’m a 4:30-5am riser) understandably disturbs my routine a bit.

Full disclosure: I have epilepsy, and the main trigger is sleep deprivation – so working until early hours like this is not taken lightly, and my wife and I know what I need to prevent a seizure, which is basically to get uninterrupted sleep.

The spare bed has been set up in the front room, and with earplugs in and sleeping pills at the ready should I wake up early, I get enough sleep to feel confident I won’t have a seizure.

My wife and kid are long gone out the door when I get up past 9. I told my boss the night (morning) before that working form home would be the best option today. Not only would I be in late (because of working late) I would have to leave early as my wife has an event on so I need to do nursery pick up. My boss is fine with this, and I manage everything I need to oversee workwise from home (with others in the office helping out). I wilt badly as the afternoon progresses.

When I pick up my daughter from nursery, she is in tears – which is very unlike her as she loves nursery. It seems the week of childcare and disrupted routines has finally taken it’s toll on her, and she is emotionally and physically exhausted.

It’s kind of how we all feel.

Working Parent vs At Home Parent

While it was a big adjustment for us, it was exactly that – an adjustment, not something that we couldn’t adapt to.

For peace of mind when this happens again, I probably think we should have someone in place who can do the nursery pick up at short notice should public transport let us down. There have been many times when my wife has been delayed because of this, and if we were both in the same boat then we need someone local to do pick up.

Flexible working. This is a catch all term, that includes options for mobile/home working, flexible hours, and understanding bosses. Without these, this week would’ve been impossible. And flexible working works both ways, so can be advantageous to employers too.

I also have a greater appreciation for my wife’s perspective. She sometimes reflects that feels she is missing out  on aspects of our daughter’s development. Knowing what happens during the week and weekends, I know this isn’t the case at all – but having spent a week hardly seeing my daughter during the day, I know how she feels.

Immerse Yourself in Star Wars With This Stormtrooper Homeware Set

Being a fan of something – and showing that fandom – has many outlets these days. As well as toys, there are clothes, accessories, and homewares.

My daughter is easily identifiable as a Star Wars fan, and was lucky enough to be sent this great Stormtrooper set from Character World.

The classic stormtrooper look has always been a favourite of mine, and now it’s one of my daughter’s too. Their distinctive black & white design lends itself well to reproduction, as these items show.

The classic Stormtrooper rug (ok, among other items) has added an eye catching Star Wars look to my daughter’s room.

Vader top, Star Wars skirt, and a lot of Stormtrooper stuff. #starwars #DarthVader #stormtrooper #mysewingcircus

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

The trooper cushion has become more of a toy to cuddle, though other times she likes to pretend it’s a mask!

The force is strong in my family….

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

The trooper look has been updated for the forthcoming The Force Awakens.

STAR508 AWAKEN SINGLE 91 ROTARY2It is this design that features on the single pillow and duvet set. These new troopers also look pretty good when reproduced, although I think the duvet isn’t as visually striking as the classic trooper items. It is also reversible with a fabric design that matches the pillow on the reverse.

As with many of these things, the stated target market is young boys, but don’t let that make you think for a second that these are not for girls too.

My daughter loves this set, and her favourite is definitely the cushion. As she currently favours the classic Stormtrooper look (that may change once she has a chance to check out the new movie) this was always going to be a hit, plus it’s a good size for her to play with.

She also calls it Stormy (who is a ‘she’ in case you were wondering – take that Captain Phasma).

The use of the stormtrooper design on all these items is nicely realised (although as mentioned I favour old trooper over new). All items are made of artificial materials if that’s something you look out for.

If you like the look of these and you’re feeling lucky, why not enter our giveaway?

Character World Star Wars Stormtrooper Bedding Giveaway
This giveaway closes at midnight on November 15 2015. Open to UK entrants only.

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Bedding: RRP ÂŁ15.99

Cushion: RRP ÂŁ14.99

Mat: RRP £19.99 

We received all these items free of charge from Character World for the purposes of this review.

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What Stormtrooper / Star Wars homeware items would you like to have in your home? Please comment below.