On Rebel Rising and Jyn Erso, the Unlikable Hero

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This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.

With one line from the first trailer for Rogue One, Jyn Erso established herself as something quite a bit different from the movie heroes we’d seen before. She was less noble freedom fighter and more scrappy loose cannon. But despite the immediately iconic nature of this line, it didn’t make an appearance in the final film. Nor, for that matter, did most of what we saw of Jyn’s personality. Rather than the antihero we expected, whose fiery bluster covers up a near lifetime of pain and anger, we got someone a little bit softer around the edges, whose main trait seems to be indifference.

Rebel Rising, by Beth Revis, fortunately stepped in to give us the hard-edged antihero promised by the movie trailers. Not only did it build off the movie (and excellent novelization by Alexander Freed) to develop Jyn, but it gave her a harder, scrappier edge than any protagonist we’d yet seen in a Star Wars film. And more importantly, it made Jyn a far more morally ambiguous (and occasionally, straight up awful) person.

Reportedly, part of the reason for the infamous reshoots on the film was to make Jyn less abrasive and more empathetic. Many of the scenes from the trailers hint at this; from General Draven’s laundry list of her crimes, to her mocking “yes sir” and, of course, her defiant “I rebel.” And that early version of Jyn still survives in the novelization, giving us a glimpse of what could have been. Her early scenes on Yavin and with Cassian show a woman who openly mocks authority, is ready to physically fight perceived threats at a moment’s notice, and whose biggest goal is just to do the job with as little fuss as possible so that she can be left alone. We see the morally gray figure Jyn was originally conceived as. However the final cut of the film showed a Jyn with a much less fiery personality. Instead of being hostile and antagonistic and actively insulting Cassian and the others, she comes across as more aimlessly indifferent to the struggle at large. In other words, her fierceness was cut to make her more likable.

But why should she have to be likable?

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What Star Wars Comics Can Learn From Mainstream Marvel

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For mainstream Marvel fans, big, universe-shattering events are becoming a dime a dozen. I remember my first experience with events, House of M, which ended with the Scarlet Witch wiping out most of the mutant population. Since then there has been a massive event seemingly every summer. Skrull infiltrators disguised themselves as famous heroes one year, while another year focused on the collision of the multiverse into a single world. Some gave single villains time to shine while others introduced brand new threats for the heroes. These events would shape the course of many comics for the rest of the year, leading up to the next event.

Star Wars, on the other hand, has not had the same type of events in its two-plus years with Marvel. Rather than building to an event storyline, the Star Wars series have kept to crossover arcs. These are de facto events, just not advertised as such. The first, Vader Down, took place at the intersection of Darth Vader (as Vader fought Cylo’s creations) and Star Wars (as Luke continued his Jedi training.) Stranded on Vrogas Vas, Darth Vader fought the Rebel Alliance as Luke and the murderbots explored a Jedi temple. Recently, Star Wars and Doctor Aphra met in The Screaming Citadel, a gothic-esque storyline where Aphra’s search to make bank on a Jedi artifact tempted Luke to join her quest.

These crossovers grew in scope from one to the next, and if they want to keep up their pace, I believe they should recalibrate a bit and make a few changes. Both Vader Down and The Screaming Citadel introduced a lot of concepts which were underdeveloped and left hanging. If a film left those threads open, we would expect a novel or comic to fill in those gaps. But, seeing as these events are comics, we don’t expect supplementary material – the event is generally all we get, so to speak. To allow for more breathing room and to further explore these crossovers, changes should be made. I think the Star Wars line should take two major points from mainstream Marvel. First, events should be set up much further in advance, while their consequences should be far more lasting. Second, they should be longer, allowing for a more in-depth event, in terms of both characters and plotting. » Read more..

The Kylo Conundrum – or, the Elephant and the Blind Men

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The response to The Force Awakens brought, remarkably, a few areas of genuine consensus – with a small number of exceptions, Rey is generally beloved while Starkiller Base is usually derided. Other elements are divisive, but perhaps none more than the antagonist/anti-hero/Byronic dark prince/space Hitler/dudebro fanboy that is Kylo Ren.

Not merely in terms of popularity – depending on who you speak to, he’s either the best or the worst thing about the film – but also whether or not he is heading for (or deserves) redemption. Even the fundamentals of what exactly the character is, what he stands for, and how we are supposed to respond to him are the subject of a wide variety of viewpoints.

Kylo occupies an unusual space in a saga with clearly-defined characters – a postmodern figure in a world of archetypes.

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Everything leading up to TFA made us believe that Kylo would occupy the same space in the drama as Darth Vader in the original trilogy. He was an ominous figure, his mask plastered over every poster, toy box and tote bag. He was to be the icon of the movie, Vader for a new generation.

Indeed, the beginning of the movie makes good on that promise. In the first ten minutes he murders an unarmed old man, coldly orders the execution of dozens of innocent villagers, and demonstrates chilling and hitherto unseen dark side powers as he effortlessly freezes both a blaster-bolt and our hero, Poe Dameron.

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Second Look: Forty Years of Inspiration—From A New Hope to Rogue One and Beyond

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

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When I woke up this morning, I tossed aside my A New Hope-themed comforter. In the shower, I lathered up with Suave for Kids – hey, it was my only option for finding shampoo with Kylo Ren on it, isn’t it? Before leaving for the morning, I brushed my teeth with Colgate for Kids featuring Rey and BB-8. As the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars approaches, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on what the franchise means for me – and what it can mean for others.

One of the most powerful aspects of literature, in my mind, is its ability to be pedagogical. That is, fiction can teach us and change us. No fiction has shaped my life as utterly as the Star Wars franchise has. There are times I wonder what kind of person I would be if I had never seen Star Wars. Asking this aloud prompted my roommate to note that I wouldn’t have any t-shirts, at least.

But I think there are a few other ways it has taught me and changed me. First, Star Wars taught me that ordinary people can do great things. Growing up, I wasn’t really the most confident person. I wasn’t the best looking, nor did I really apply myself to my grades as much as I could have. I wasn’t good at sports, and I needed remedial band practice between regular band practices. I think this caused a lot of existential despair in me, for a long time.

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Second Look: Everybody Lives – Rebels and Character Death

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

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Star Wars Rebels has just wrapped up its third season with the biggest Empire-versus-Rebellion showdown we’ve yet scene from the show. Prior to the episode, speculation swirled around the promised battle, with many wondering just exactly how the rebels we know and love are going to make it out of thione. And, inevitably and tiresomely, spirited discussion sprang up around which Ghost character would die in the ensuing conflict.

It’s not the first time there has been speculation around a major character dying in the show. Like clockwork, the closer we get to a season finale, the more discussion there is about why someone on the Ghost needs to bite it. Rex and/or Zeb needs to go out in a blaze of glory. Kanan needs to die for pathos and so the fandom can make tragic fics about Hera. Ezra needs to die because of a thousand and one reasons (the main one being that the majority of the older fanbase finds him irredeemably annoying). They all have to die because we don’t see or hear anything about them in the original trilogy. Inevitably, it all comes down to fans wanting to see that things are different, that the rebels have finally faced a serious threat and come up short and now have to find a way to overcome.

And yes, that’s certainly a good (and necessary) narrative to explore. After all, it’s not exciting if your heroes never face any serious challenges or defeats. But why is it that we automatically go to “major character death” as the best way to show the severity of a threat or to shake up the status quo?

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