Star Wars and the Myth of Redemptive Violence


Stories have power—and the narratives our societies choose to focus on will, for better or worse, begin to define our reality. The concept of Manifest Destiny helped usher in an age of colonization and imperialism that resulted in millions of deaths and the enslavement of millions more. The narrative of the “American Dream” fostered economic growth and productivity on a scale never seen before, though often at the cost of work-life balances and to the exclusion of those denied equal access to economic institutions. The 1980s conception of the “Welfare Queen” embedded itself into American consciousness and to this day inhibits anti-poverty efforts while encouraging racial animus.

Stories have power—and because of that, we must make sure we are not focusing on a narrative that may ultimately cause harm to others.  With that thought in mind, I worry: Does Star Wars promote the myth of redemptive violence (defined simply as “the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, and that might makes right”)?

Recently Roy Scranton, an American veteran of the second Iraq war, argued in the New York Times that in Star Wars, “the violence of war has a power that unifies and enlightens…It’s a story about how violence makes us good.” In essence, Scranton argued that Star Wars is simply another piece of America’s cultural myth of redemptive violence. This myth, he argues, is emblematic of the US addiction to war and ultimately helps prop up the same powers that even now wreak violence around the globe.

If his critique is true, then every fan of Star Wars is part and parcel of systemic evil that the myth of redemptive violence has brought upon the world. As a fan, the possibility that this critique might be true frightens me. But is it? » Read more..

If Star Wars Was Real…


Stories like Star Wars exist to take us away from the mundane reality of life, to transport us to a more wondrous place.  Recent weeks have been, in real life, very sobering for those in the UK in the wake of the result of the referendum to stay or leave the European Union. So, in the style of bleak, gallows humour, what might the world of Star Wars really be like? Cue snapshots of an alternative history of the galaxy, far, far, fucking far, away….

Luke Skywalker crashed his landspeeder after being sold illicit moonshine by Wuher, who was subsequently shot by a customer who thought he was being poisoned. Investigation of Wuher’s bar showed that that accusation was not without merit. Fortunately for the galaxy, Skywalker recovered and Wuher was more attentive to merely covertly poisoning his customers from then on.

When told the Death Star was the ultimate in asteroid clearance technology – the galaxy believed it because the Coruscant Star was never wrong. The Emperor had closed meetings with the owner to discuss how to really run the galaxy. Said owner also assured the Emperor, in great detail, that the magazine’s journalists would never, ever slice Imperial communications in pursuit of a story. In similar vein, the documentary A Death Star Is Born was buried for being too accurate a representation of Imperial policy-making. » Read more..

Rival Visionaries: RAE SLOANE, Leia Organa, and the Future of the Galaxy

aftermath-lifedebtWe’re so excited to write about Life Debt that we’re doing so on our phone, since we’re currently away from our computer for a couple weeks. Oh and fair warning, there will be spoilers after the cut – we won’t spoil the end or plot beats, but we will discuss characters.

RAE SLOANE was always going to be the subject of this piece — she’s far and away my favorite character of the new canon. I’m not the only one – she’s very popular with fans: Megan Crouse and Catrina Dennis have both written great pieces about her recently. Her popularity extends to the authors, as Chuck Wendig, Greg Weisman, and Jason Fry have all used a character originally scribed by John Jackson Miller in their stories. It’s been an organic thing – we don’t think there was any pre-planned intention to make her the central recurring character of the new canon, a character some compare to the old EU’s Pellaeon (we tend to think she’s far more interesting, but we disliked Pellaeon even back in the EU days). She’s had a full character arc as a result of her multiple appearances, and here she is at the apogee of her career: a Grand Admiral of the Galactic Empire. While she started as an interesting Imperial character, she essentially represents the Empire now.

Before reading Life Debt, our idea for this piece was to compare SLOANE’s position in the Empire (and the arc that led her there) with Pellaeon’s. The comparisons the Aftermath epilogue caused folks to make between those characters and the mysterious admirals who commanded them made it seem like a good idea, and they do share some general plot beats. While we’ll still talk about that a bit, the novel made us realize it’s more interesting to compare SLOANE with Leia – both as characters as well as visionaries towards a new galactic order.

Both Leia and SLOANE came to their own conclusions after Endor. Aftermath opened with Leia’s speech to the galaxy – a speech announcing a new era and ushering in the New Republic. SLOANE realized during the battle itself that the Empire must adapt, change if it was to recover from that debacle – “Levers of Power” and Aftermath neatly show the development of that thinking. Both Leia and SLOANE have interesting relationships with mentor figures – Mon Mothma and the mysterious fleet admiral respectively – and those relationships are reflected in the plans they have for the galaxy.

If Aftermath was a space opera romp in a backwater region of the Outer Rim, Life Debt is a story with significantly higher stakes. Grand Admiral RAE SLOANE and Princess (and General) Leia Organa represent two different visions of a new galaxy. We see them struggle to convince others of the rightness of their ideas, just as they struggle with the opposing side in the war. They’re both very compelling – as characters and as representatives of an ideal. It’s little wonder these characters are my favorite film and new canon characters respectively. For the rest of this discussion, let’s start getting into the plot… Spoilers from here out.

» Read more..

Vision of the Future: Eleven-ThirtyEight Enters its Fourth Year

You see a Mon Cal cruiser too, right?

Last Friday was the third anniversary of Eleven-ThirtyEight’s official launch. Usually we mark the occasion solely via the bi-annual Second Look feature, which ran all last week, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how the site has developed thus far and how best to move forward now that we’re knee-deep in the Disney Era of Star Wars filmmaking, so I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss these things with you, our beloved audience.

When I was first approaching people to write for this site in early 2013, part of the “elevator pitch” for what I had in mind was that instead of posting news, ETE content would be news. I’m nothing if not presumptuous, but what I meant by that was that the platonic ideal of an ETE piece would be something that wasn’t being said anywhere else—something that needed to be said, and that upon reading, people would want to pass on to others in the way they would an important news item. That was very much FiveThirtyEight’s reputation after the 2012 American presidential election, and that was the bar I wanted us to be aiming for at all times—hence our name—even if the reality was unlikely to be quite so lofty.

While not directly related to this goal, another priority I established early on was that we would post on a regular schedule—for this reason, I’ve often used the word “journal” to describe ETE rather than “blog”. Posting content whenever it strikes one to do so, in my mind, was the hallmark of a news site, where important things might happen at any time and prompt immediate reaction; and conversely, where there might be occasional periods where nothing happens at all. I wanted to set us aside from that by being, well, predictable—you might not know whether a given day would involve breaking news or the deepest of deep cuts, but you could bet your ass that on Monday at 8am EST, we would have something for you to read. » Read more..

Second Look: The Pull to the Light: Redemption and Salvation in Star Wars


Another ongoing debate left in the wake of The Force Awakens: what becomes of Kylo Ren? Not just what will happen, but what should happen? Between invading Rey’s mind and ending Han’s life, many are already convinced he is beyond redemption. Recently, guest writer Mark Eldridge considered the deeds of Darth Vader in this light—were they not just as bad? The fascinating thing about Vader is how important his redemption is to the first six films while at the same time it’s dwelt on barely at all; what does it mean, in the cosmology of Star Wars, for someone to be redeemed?

…almost as soon as he has saved Luke from the Emperor, Anakin Skywalker ascends into the Force and is rewarded by retaining his identity. The film does not show him facing up to his previous actions, and he does not have to atone for them in the physical world. Nor does he face justice through any legal system. Star Wars avoids these questions entirely, and is not interested in showing him redeeming his bad deeds by working to rebuild the galaxy. Sacrificing his life for his son is enough.

Mark considers that something more, well, cosmic is happening than simple worldly atonement—certainly Vader didn’t manage that. He then goes on to apply this perspective to Kylo and where his character might go from here. Not just will he be redeemed, or does he deserve to be redeemed, but: what would it mean if he was?

» Read more..

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