The Evolution of She-Ra: From He-Man Sidekick to Reboot Star

Sabina Stent
TV Fantasy
TV Fantasy Netflix Animated Series

For some of us in a certain age bracket, She-Ra was iconic. Despite only being on screens for 15 months (September 1985 – December 1986), the Princess of Power, who cut a majestic figure in her cape and tiara, was childhood hero to so many girls. And, you’d like to think, a fair smattering of boys too. Clutching her magical sword and possessing incredible strength, speed and agility, She-Ra was smart, largely non-violent, communicated with animals, and had immense healing abilities. Plus, it was thrilling to see a feminist cartoon where a woman was the rescuer (She-Ra was always saving her male friend, Bow), rather than the other way around.

Although she’s been off our screens for 32 years, children of the 1980s can now rejoice: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power will hit Netflix on November 13, 2018. Everything that made the character and series so beloved first time around has been retained, and the new version is injected with a contemporary freshness both befitting a new generation and reflecting today’s society.

Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of the Princess of Power, from ’80s TV series to the DC comics of recent years.

She Ra: Princess of Power 

Touted as the female-fronted spin-off to the popular He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and created with the intention to appeal to a young female fanbase in much the same way that He-Man captured the imaginations of young boys, She-Ra made her debut in the 1985 animated film He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword. Quickly establishing a loyal fanbase hungry for animated adventures, She-Ra was born out of a collaboration between Filmation, who produced the ensuing series She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Mattel toys, who provided financial backing, merchandise, and even designed some of the show’s supporting characters.

Her origin story goes like this: born Adora of Eternia, and twin to He-Man’s alter ego Prince Adam, the infant princess is stolen from her parents King Randor and Queen Marlena and taken to Etheria by the evil Hordak, where, under his mind control, she becomes Force Captain of the Evil Horde. It’s only when The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull sends He-Man to Etheria on a mission to locate the Sword of Protection’s sanctioned owner that She-Ra discovers her true destiny. By repeating what would become her famous saying, “For the honor of Grayskull”, her suppression is lifted and she is transformed into She-Ra, the Princess of Power. In her new role as leader of the Great Rebellion, she calls on her allies around the world to save the people and defeat the great evil.

Due to the show’s open-ended narrative, a ruse to ensure the series could continue indefinitely, many viewers were unsatisfied when the series ended abruptly in 1986, after two seasons and 93 episodes. As a result, She-Ra was never mentioned in He-Man’s continuing series, and gradually phased out of the Universe in which she made such an impact.

Masters of the Universe

She-Ra
She-Ra action figure.

In 2008, She-Ra returned in the Masters of the Universe toy line, which was discontinued in 2015. Through a range of mini-comics and character biographies included with the action figures, we discover that the baby Adora is kidnapped by Skeletor as a baby and smuggled to Etheria, as manufacturers Mattel tinkered with her origin story. She-Ra later returns to Eternia to assist He-Man and defeat the evil Hordak, battling the Horde Empire’s ruler Horde Prime alongside her brother.

However, there was a twist: She-Ra would also appear in the series as Despara, She-Ra’s evil alter ego. With her slicked-back, cropped blonde hair, war-paint eyes, and black costume, she is the antithesis of She-Ra’s superhero princess. Yet she still retained a sense of vivaciousness: according to Mattel’s website, Despara’s favourite song is Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”.

The Comics

She-Ra
Comic-book She-Ra.

Created by DC in 2012 as a series of one-shot comics (intended to tell a complete story in each), She-Ra’s origin story is re-told in dramatic fashion. In this version (which riffs on her alter-ego alias), the kidnapped princess is renamed Adora Despara and steered towards a life of villainy, where she becomes both a captain in Hordak’s army as well as his very own personal assassin.

This darker, more violent, take on the much-loved heroine presents a young woman forced into a lifestyle not of her choosing, yet fully aware of her actions, before finally freeing herself of the Horde’s control. As writer Mike Costa stated in an interview with CNN, “Sure, she’s a powerful character working for evil, but that only makes her journey all the more heroic and interesting. The messages of strength, capability and redemption, those are some really empowering and sophisticated ideas for a princess character aimed at girls from 30 years ago.”

2018: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Developed by the Eisner-winning cartoonist Noelle Stevenson, famed for her work on Nimona and Lumberjanes, and produced by DreamWorks Animation Television (who acquired the rights in 2012), She-Ra and the Princesses of Power will retain the messages of female strength, resilience, and fighting the good fight with a few tweaks to reflect life in 2018.

In an interview with the New York Times, Stevenson commented, “I love the original, but we wanted to take what was fun about it and deepen it, and flesh it out [… ] One of the first things we wanted to do was make the characters different sizes, shapes and ethnicities.”

While the various incarnations have always played on She-Ra’s queer undertones and subversions of masculinity, the new series will focus on the relationship between She-Ra and Catra, the once-best friends now divided by their opposing beliefs and She-Ra’s fight for justice and all that’s good. Most significantly, Bow will have two dads while her friend Glimmer will have two mothers.

While this has been the focal point surrounding the new series, the clips shown at New York Comic-Con proved hugely popular. Only time will tell if the series endures, but whatever happens, we’ll be certain to point our makeshift swords towards the sky while proclaiming “For the honor of Grayskull” for at least the duration of the first season.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power hits Netflix on November 13.

Sabina Stent
Freelance arts and entertainment writer. Loves superheroes and the MCU. Very interested in work by female creators and representations of women on screen.
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