In this day and age, She-Ra is practically a relic: inspired by a cartoon inspired by a toy, she has a distinctly ’80s flavor that hasn’t exactly stood the test of time. Though people who grew up with Masters of the Universe will likely have affection for it even now (things you love as a kid will do that), She-Ra as a name or a character is probably meaningless to most of those pesky millennials. Yet as something of a quasi-Wonder Woman (and she has sometimes been compared to that other warrior princess, the undeniably more hardcore Xena), She-Ra can still have resonance thirty-one years after her initial inception (yep, it’s been thirty-one years).
For many young girls, She-Ra was an early hero. She was beautiful and kind, plus she had a cool headdress and rode a unicorn; she had all the glamour of toys usually marketed towards girls but she had a story too, and she was the all-powerful hero of that story. The allure of that doesn’t wear off after time, even as popularity fades. Silly as she might have been, She-Ra was an introduction, for many women, to a specific type of hero. And She-Ra has even become something of a gay icon in the intervening years, probably thanks to her combination of true strength and total campiness.
So if you’re someone who misses the days of humming along to “I Have the Power” (or even if you’re someone who has never heard it), relive the days of classic 80s cartoons with 12 Things You Need To Know About She-Ra.
12. she was a collaboration between Mattel and the production company Filmation
Debuting in 1985, two years after He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premiered, She-Ra was designed to corner the market by appealing to young girls as an answer to He-Man’s appeal to young boys. But She-Ra didn’t just corner the gender market; she was created to bridge the gap between the ever-popular Barbie and more of a fantasy, action toy. The line was made up of female dolls with style-able hair and clothes, but also an exciting backstory that Barbie lacked.
Unlike He-Man, whose cartoon was spawned from the pre-existing toy line, She-Ra’s cartoon and story were conceived of first before her inspired line of toys was implemented (though they were the plan all along). Larry DiTillio, a writer for He-Man, created her backstory and cartoon series. Despite the big impact of the show on young girls, it was canceled after two seasons – though the toys lasted a lot longer.
11. She’s He-Man’s long lost sister
She-Ra is the alter ego of Princess Adora and twin sister to Prince Adam, also known as He-Man. But before she took up her heroic mantle, Adora was living a very different life than her brother. Soon after her birth, she was kidnapped by Hordak, the leader of the Horde, evil semi-cyborg villains who rule the planet Etheria, and taken back to their homeland. There she was raised as one of the Horde, eventually rising to the position of Force Captain, though it wasn’t by choice. The resident witch of the Horde, Shadow Weaver, worked magic to brainwash Adora and keep her from rebelling.
The Sorceress, He-Man’s powerful and wise adviser, was the one to send him on a mission to restore Adora’s birthright. The Sorceress telepathically revealed Adora’s true identity to her, but her brother Adam was the one to give her magical sword, which allowed Adora to transform into the powerful She-Ra.
10. No one knew how to market her
She-Ra bridging the gap between fashion dolls and action figures was a blessing and a curse. While its intention was to get the attention of young girls and draw in more money by covering all bases (which, for the most part, it did), it also created a little cognitive dissonance when it came to marketing. There wasn’t the insane amount of variety we have now with toys then, and She-Ra’s in-between status had some people scratching their heads. In toy stores, should they place her with Barbie or with the action figures? Was she for girls or for boys?
Of course, this would be much less of an issue in this day and age, with some store toy sections (such as Target’s) abolishing the gender divide entirely. Eventually the decision as to where to display and stock She-Ra toys came down to a store-by-store choice. Some stores chose by not choosing, and stocked the toys in both sections.
9. She boosted Barbie’s floundering sales
As a “fashion action doll,” She-Ra was at least partially based on Barbie in appearance: she was tall and pretty and blonde, but she had less dramatic proportions and a certain fantasy flair. In addition to taking her inspiration from Barbie in look, She-Ra was intended as a “flanker” line, which meant she was a competitor that existed within the same company and could boost sales for the main toy line – in this case, that was Barbie.
Barbie had taken a particular hit in the 80s thanks to the emergence of the truly, truly, truly outrageous Jem, the pink-clad, ultra cool rock star from Hasbro who had her own cartoon and doll line. She proved a huge rival for Barbie, with her colorful costumes, crazy hair, and television tie-in; She-Ra was in many ways a reaction to that, a way for Mattel to fight fire with fire. Interestingly, in 2008 there was a suggested reboot for She-Ra that would have packaged her as a rock star in her own right – basically Jem 2.0.
8. She’s the leader of the rebellion against the Horde
After their initial adventures, She-Ra returned to Eternia, the planet of her birth, with her brother but found she could not abandon the place where she grew up. She-Ra’s insider information on how the Horde worked made her the perfect person to try to overthrow them, so she returned to Etheria to head up the Great Rebellion against the Horde. However, despite She-Ra’s talents and abilities, by the end of her short series, the Horde still had yet to be defeated.
Even with all of She-Ra’s knowledge and power, the Horde was a more than formidable enemy. They were a huge imperialist empire, always seeking new planets to take over and add to their domain. In addition to technological advances, they also possessed magical abilities, making them a tough opponent to beat. Most episodes of the She-Ra cartoon focused on the Horde trying to dispel the rebellion with some zany new scheme, and She-Ra triumphing over them in the end. However, the final triumph never came to be thanks to the series’ cancellation.
7. Star Wars was a big influence on the cartoons
The original line of He-Man toys came about in the wake of the huge surge in popularity of the original Star Wars trilogy. It would have been too expensive for Mattel to acquire the rights for the actual Star Wars characters, so with some imagination, there was a little bit of careful knockoff work done: toys that evoked the feeling and aesthetic of Star Wars without actually being related to it in any way.
She-Ra, therefore, aligns pretty closely with Princess Leia in several notable ways. Like Leia, she is the long-lost sister of the main male hero. She is also the leader of the rebellion against the seemingly unceasing, homogeneous evil force in the galaxy. It all starts to feel rather familiar – but while the broad strokes may look awfully similar, the details are where it starts to fall apart. Princess Leia had her share of adorable sidekicks, but unlike She-Ra, she never got to ride a flying unicorn.
6. She has a winged talking unicorn named Swift Wind
While she was still Force Captain of the Horde, Adora had a talking horse named Spirit, but that simply wasn’t cool enough for the Princess of Power. Her change into She-Ra triggers a change in Spirit too, turning him into a magical winged unicorn named Swift Wind. Swift Wind can still talk, but he can also engage in telepathic conversation with She-Ra. Then there are all the usual cool powers (strength and speed), making him the perfect companion for his powerful owner.
Swift Wind even had a family written into his story. One episode’s plot revolved around him and his mate (Star Wind, naturally) having a baby, including the race to have her give birth on Unicorn Island so it can be born a unicorn. They don’t make it in time, but luckily She-Ra has transformative powers and can turn the foal into a unicorn anyway. Swift Wind is undoubtedly a parallel to He-Man and his animal partner in crime, the orange and green tiger Cringer who transforms into the oversized, armor-wearing Battle Cat that He-Man rides into his adventures. However, unlike the somewhat cowardly Cringer, Spirit doesn’t have much of a personality shift when becoming Swift Wind.
5. Mattel relaunched a Masters of the Universe toy line in 2008
Nowadays, any Masters of the Universe memorabilia banks heavily on the nostalgia factor, choosing to target adults who loved the show as kids as opposed to introducing the brand to children for the first time. It’s a much safer bet to have a built-in audience. So starting in 2007, Mattel launched a new line of toys with that in mind, releasing some classic He-Man characters at San Diego Comic Con before opening the line up to characters from She-Ra as well.
They packaged the action figures with mini comics as a nod to the original toys, and those comics altered and updated the canon slightly. Eternal He-Man foe Skeletor was the one to capture Adora and send her off to Etheria instead of Hordak, but the story picked up in the same way from there on out. Eventually Hordak overthrows Eternia and Prince Adam, which prompts She-Ra to return and rally to help fight the Horde. She-Ra and He-Man would go on to have fun sibling space adventures, always ready for another battle against the Horde.
4. DC comics had a She-Ra run that attempted to modernize the character
In 2012, DC Comics launched a short She-Ra comic to pave the way for her upcoming appearance in the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comic. Intended for adults instead of children, the comic attempted more honest characterization and less clear-cut moral themes, allowing for a little bit of darkness and a lot more gray in the classic hero tale.
While the details of She-Ra’s origins were much the same, they were interpreted in a different way. She was still kidnapped and raised in a conquer-happy cult, but instead of being brainwashed by magic, Adora (or Despara, as she was called in the Horde) is brainwashed in the more usual way: raised by a man she thinks is her father, she finds herself compelled to do horrible things. However, despite her outward willingness to serve the Horde, she was still resistant in her heart, which led to her eventual transition from villain to heroine.
3. She is non-violent and prefers to solve conflicts by using her brain
Despite the cute armor, fancy horse, and awesome sword, She-Ra is generally a character who favors peace over violence. She prefers to outsmart her enemies, which isn’t hard thanks to her considerable intelligence. But the decision to avoid combat with a fantasy warrior wasn’t entirely character-driven; broadcast standards at the time greatly limited the amount of force both She-Ra and He-Man were allowed to use. They could react defensively but not offensively, and it was better for them to fight robotic foes as opposed to human ones.
Appropriate content in children’s programming is always an ongoing debate, but He-Man and She-Ra were able to sidestep potentially objectionable storylines despite the fact that their main characters were sword-carrying warriors. The stories all had a strong moral lesson (cheesy, maybe, but necessary) and the violence was kept to a minimum, with an emphasis on compassion and using your brain instead of your fists.
2. Her Sword of Protection & everything it does
Much like her brother Adam, Adora possesses a magical sword that grants her power and unlocks her superheroine alter-ego. It is called the Sword of Protection (in answer to He-Man’s Sword of Power) and it has a jewel embedded into it that can project beams of energy; the sword itself can repel those same beams. It is nearly indestructible. It also has transformative powers: it can turn Adora to She-Ra, transform Spirit to Swift Wind, and also become whatever She-Ra needs in the moment, whether it’s a shield or a parachute – or anything else. All of that transformation unlocks with one key catchphrase: “For the honor of Grayskull!”
She-Ra’s sword is based on He-Man’s in nearly every way, with very little in the way of cosmetic differences, outside of the gem that powers the Sword of Protection. However, that power of transformation is unique to She-Ra’s sword and that feeds into She-Ra’s greater appeal: her ability to transform not just outfits and objects, but from villain to hero, is inspiring and important.
1. Her powers: not just strength but empathy
She-Ra has a huge amount of power, and not just the usual immense strength (like, the ability to lift buildings strong), speed, and agility that it seems like most superheroes come equipped with. She-Ra could also communicate with animals, heal others, and possessed empathic understanding. While these powers could be seen as a nod to her femininity (it seems likely that no one would think to give a male hero increased empathy as a power) it also creates a very well-rounded character. She doesn’t just have one kind of strength. She is physically, mentally, and emotionally strong and each of those is powerful in its own way, but one isn’t better than the other.
She shares a lot of these powers with He-Man as well (creativity was spread a little thin with this brand), but She-Ra is still distinct. She represents something important as one of the relatively few female heroes at the time. She-Ra is able to grow and change, to experience trauma and triumph over it without becoming hardened. It’s no surprise she has lingered so long in the hearts of her fans.
Is there anything else fans should know about She-Ra? Let us know in the comments!
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