I’m behind the curve when it comes to watching—and writing about—the new re-invention of She-Ra, whose showrunner and executive producer is the young and talented Noelle Stevenson (previously known for comics Nimona and Lumberjanes, for which she won Eisner awards).
I don’t have any memories of the original She-Ra: Princess of Power television show, or indeed of He-Man, of which it was a spin-off. I do have a memory of what must have been a chapter book or two that featured She-Ra—I must have been about four, and a girl hero left a strong impression on the mind of tiny me: an impression whose strength I only realised when I came to watch the rebooted She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Because something, some fragment of attachment, clearly stuck. I’m not sure what’s with the feeling of nostalgia, but it’s there.
The change in the show’s title is significant. This is a show, at least in its first season, about women (and girls) and the relationships between them. It’s not about a single hero (although Adora certainly gets to be heroic and have an arc of personal growth) but about the dangers of isolationism, and the ties that bind people together. The two most complex relationships in the show are probably between Princess Glimmer and her mother, Queen Angella, and between Adora and her former best friend Catra.
Glimmer’s relationship with her mother starts out rather fraught. Glimmer feels that her mother never lets her do anything, and doesn’t trust her to fight in the Rebellion against the Horde. The adult viewer can see Angella’s perspective: She doesn’t want to lose her daughter in the fight against a dangerous enemy, and her responsibilities to her kingdom means that she can’t be there for Glimmer as often as she wants to. Over the course of the season, Glimmer comes to perhaps understand (at least a little) that running headlong into danger isn’t always the best choice, while Angella begins to accept that she can’t keep her daughter safe, but she can give her the emotional support and validation that she craves.
Adora’s relationship with Catra is another whole bag of rocks. Their quasi-sibling best-friend dynamic in the Horde comes with a whole side helping of abusive parent-figure: Shadow Weaver, who raised them both, used threats to Catra as a means to control Adora, and used Adora’s skills and competence as a stick to beat Catra with—as well as physical abuse. When Adora realises the truth about the Horde and leaves, finding new friends, Catra feels betrayed and bereft—and also realises that she can shine and rise on her own merits, if Adora’s no longer around for Shadow Weaver to favour. Their friends-to-enemies journey (Catra at first wants Adora back, Adora wants Catra to join her in rebellion) comes with distinct overtones of romantic/attractive attention—especially in the episode “Princess Prom,” in which Catra in a tux distracts Adora while her allies kidnap Adora’s friends.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power showcases a variety of powerful women, making a variety of different choices about what to do with their power. This is a show with an argument to make about community and responsibility, and being honest about (and responsible for) one’s choices. It’s also pretty much impossible not to read it as several varieties of queer, which is deeply pleasing.
I really enjoyed watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I hope it gets many more seasons to grow into.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.