Imagine, if you will, a thirteen-year-old girl in 1997.
Like most teenagers, she is slightly insecure and awkward, and at home babysitting her little brother while flipping through the channels on the huge television in her parents’ den. She lands on one channel and hears:
In a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings…
A land in turmoil cried out for a hero.
She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle.
The power…the passion…the danger.
Her courage will change the world.
All while a woman in leather swings a sword, throws a “round killing thing” (a chakram), and kicks butt. The thirteen-year-old is entranced. Many other people were entranced as well.
Nerd Nostalgia: Xena Warrior Princess
Xena: Warrior Princess first aired in 1995 as a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The show features a woman haunted by her past as an evil warlord. She travels around the ancient world with her blonde companion righting wrongs and fighting for the Greater Good. They fought warlords, gods, and monsters, all while looking awesome!
If you haven’t already figured out, that thirteen-year-old was me. And Xena and Gabrielle (her companion/best friend/soulmate/partner) were my heroes. And they still are to be perfectly honest. I rediscovered the show when I was in college and saw it through the eyes of an adult and became even more obsessed with it.
So, the question is: Why was Xena such a hit? And why does it still resonate with people today?
First, let’s take a step back and think about the television world in 1995. What other shows featured a strong female lead with action, humor, and occasional romance? I can’t think of one. Sure, a few years later we got Buffy. But in 1995, women and young girls were desperate for something. Anything! And Xena delivered. Not only were the two main characters women, so was most of the cast. You had Amazons, goddesses, other warrior women. There were so many women running around and being awesome!
One of the producers, Liz Friedman, has said that she wanted someone that was like Wonder Woman: strong, beautiful, and brave with a good heart and “mad skills.” Xena is definitely that. So, for a world of women still struggling with finding role models in television, this warrior was perfect.
But what about Gabrielle? What role did she play? Why is she important? She brought the innocence and love into the relationship and show for Xena. The warrior princess was hardened by war and hate. Gabrielle brought light into her world while steering her onto the path of righteousness.
“But this was twenty years ago! Why are you talking about it today? Let it go!”
No. I won’t. And other fans won’t either.
I had the pleasure of attending a panel that Lucy Lawless (the actress who played Xena) did at DragonCon a few years ago. I cosplayed as Gabrielle that day and my friend decided to be Xena’s greatest enemy, Callisto. At that panel, there were so many people that stood up and told Lucy, “Xena changed my life. She made me strong. She made me love who I am. She made me feel good about myself. Thank you.”
And it’s true. As an adult watching the show, I realized that I could be who I am. I could do what I wanted and still be awesome. If Xena could do it, if Gabrielle could do it, why couldn’t I? So, while this show may have first aired twenty years ago and may have horrible special effects and really cheesy lines (“I have many skills”) it is still loved by fans.
And it not only resonated with women everywhere but the LGBT community went crazy for it. I never really understood the term subtext until I rediscovered the show in college. And let me tell you, the subtext between Xena and Gabrielle is almost maintext. I mean, come on, they were declared soulmates in Season 4!
And in the late 90s and early 2000s, a same-sex couple on television was unheard of. Sure, you had shows like Will and Grace and Ellen but Xena wasn’t wasn’t a sitcom. It wasn’t about their hijinks. It was about their lives. So Xena was something that the LGBT community needed. Representation.
But I digress.
Is it worth a re-watch?: Xena Warrior Princess
Granted, the show is cheesy at times. I can’t watch Season 1 without groaning. But if you haven’t ever watched it or can’t really remember much about it, go on Netflix. Watch it. Or have a Xena fest with friends. I’ve done that a few times.
You won’t be disappointed. You will laugh, cry, cringe, and cheer as Xena and Gabrielle fight for the Greater Good and find love and happiness in ancient Greece.
And remember that thirteen-year-old girl watching the show in 1997. Because Xena changed her world.