Mike: Last week we ran a guest piece from Abigail Dillon discussing her love of the From a Certain Point of View story “The Baptist”, focusing specifically on Omi the dianoga’s status as one of the very few “monstrous” female characters in Star Wars. In our earliest discussions of the story, Abigail had a more expansive analysis in mind, having been taken not just by Omi but by how Nnedi Okorafor “ascribed meaning” to A New Hope‘s trash compactor scene. I was just starting FACPOV myself at the time, so I jumped ahead to “Baptist” in order to more fully imagine what sort of material might be written about it—and I was, frankly, less impressed than she was.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was an excellently-written story and I loved the picture Okorafor paints of dianogan psychology and culture, and Omi’s perspective in particular. But at the titular baptism, she lost me. I’m keenly aware that this reaction was borne out of my own history with Star Wars as much as the work itself (and seems to be the minority opinion within my circle of fandom), but as soon as I realized the significance of what was happening all I could think was “Skippy the Jedi Droid”—the old Legends comic story in which R5-D4 is secretly a Force user and fakes his malfunction so that R2-D2 can continue his mission. While it was nothing more than a silly little tale that served to underline Star Wars Tales‘ non-canon status, over the years Skippy became a poster child for the Expanded Universe phenomenon of ascribing outsize significance to every little thing that happens in the original trilogy.
So with the reboot clearing away Jedi aspirant BoShek and Death Star IG-88, I went into FACPOV expecting more emphasis on basic storytelling and less on “the tallest Jawa is really Boba Fett”. And by and large, I got that—but even now that I’ve read the whole book, Omi still stands out to me. As I said in our group piece on FACPOV, some of my favorite stories were the ones in which a bit player furthers the heroes’ quest not because the Force demanded it but out of a simple act of kindness (which from a certain point of view is the Force’s way of demanding it). As it happens, the new R5-D4 story, “The Red One”, is maybe the perfect example of this: Arfive is hinted to have some rebel connection in his past, but he isn’t anything special, and he doesn’t receive any visions that convince him to let Artoo take his place; indeed, to do so almost certainly means consigning himself to the scrap heap. Nevertheless, Artoo makes his case and Arfive simply chooses to believe him—and is rewarded for it with at least a slim chance of survival. » Read more..
I already knew that I was going to like “The Baptist”. I knew from the moment it was announced. It was going to star a non-humanoid alien. It was going to written by my favorite modern author, Nnedi Okorafor. As a result, I was going in thrilled, prepared to love it.
I wasn’t prepared for how it would make me feel about myself.
As usual, Okorafor made the words of her tale dance in such a beautiful way. I could pick out little delightful reflections of other stories, Legends and canon, intended or not. I appreciated the added depth – no pun intended – that she gave her chosen scene. I loved the emotional pace of it all.
But the best part? Omi, the dianoga, is a she.
In retrospect, I should have seen this coming; it was written by Okorafor after all, an author with countless unique heroines in novels and short stories alike. Her novel Lagoon even opens from the perspective of a female swordfish.
But it still came as a surprise because it is such a rare thing in fiction for a woman to be non-human in a monstrous fashion. Most of the alien women in Star Wars and Star Trek tend to be from more humanoid races. Our first view of woman from a reptilian race in Halo hid her mandibles for a more human jaw and gave her a noticeable chest. Even Guillermo del Toro, a filmmaker famous for creating incredible roles for both women characters and monsters, rarely combines the two into one. A more bitter sting was the recent Shadow of War game in which the developers took perhaps one of the most famous female monsters – Tolkien’s Shelob – and made her appear for the majority of her role as an attractive woman. » Read more..
It’s almost timeless in its use. In Beauty and the Beast, a prince and his castle were cursed for failing it. In Tales From Watership Down, the folk hero El-ahrairah tested the integrity of a warren through it. In Hebrews 13:2, the Bible says that some have entertained angels by passing it.
This is the test of compassion.
It’s the moment when a character encounters an individual who is undesirable to or unvalued by society in some way. Helping or showing compassion to this individual appears, on the surface, to pull time and effort away from the character’s goal. The test is: will the character divert from their path to help this individual, or will they continue on their way? Their choice in this matter reveals their true self and results in consequences.
Probably the most iconic test of compassion in Star Wars takes place in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is tested by Yoda, who is currently concealing himself as an annoying local. When Luke’s impatience overrides, at last, his mask of politeness, he fails the test, which nearly costs him his Jedi training. By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, he’s learned his lesson and applies it on a much larger scale, twice. » Read more..