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Second Look: Is the Empire a “White Supremacist” Organization? Should It Be?

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

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Mike: Many, many moons ago, before The Force Awakens and before the Expanded Universe reboot, our own Jay Shah wrote a piece entitled Senseless Sexism in the Galactic Empire. His premise, in short, was a) that the Star Wars setting offered no logical explanation for an Empire that actively discriminates against female officers, and b) that in practice the EU’s attempts to engage with the issue had been flawed to the point that it would have been better left out altogether.

Jay was reacting to the simple fact that because Imperials are the bad guys—and more importantly, stand-ins for real-life oppressive governments—many are quick to ascribe any and all bad qualities to them. Surely there’s an anti-alien contingent, as witnessed in A New Hope and further supported by the prequel trilogy, but does the Empire actually discriminate against women, or people of color, as well? It’s easy to get that impression when every Imperial in the original trilogy is a white man (though the Rebels in ANH and The Empire Strikes Back aren’t much more diverse), but looking at their successors in the First Order complicates the issue—as do prominent non-film characters like Rae Sloane, who has largely been met with joy from fans for making the overall setting more inclusive, and demonstrating that anyone can be, well, “the bad guy”.

With all this serving as prelude, in the aftermath of last week’s heated US presidential election, Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta, two writers attached to Rogue One, tweeted the following:

Chris Weitz @chrisweitz
Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization

Gary Whitta @garywhitta
Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.

While nothing tossed off on Twitter (and since deleted) should be taken as canon, and it certainly can’t undo the existence of the powerful, serious black woman who becomes the nominal leader of the Imperial military after Palpatine’s death, I thought Weitz and Whitta’s comments (and let’s be real, the current events that prompted them) merited a revisiting of this topic. So I’ll put the question to all of you: as a separate matter from the “reality” of gender and race discrimination within the GFFA, which can never really have a definitive answer, is there value in explicitly, rather than allegorically, linking the Empire to misogyny and white supremacy? Can there be a sliding scale of interaction with real hate, or is it all or nothing?

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Second Look: First Steps into a Larger World: What the Prequels Taught Me about Life, Politics and Myself

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

BenMaul

The release of The Force Awakens in December saw, predictably, a wave of reflections on the Star Wars prequel trilogy: from brief, usually dismissive asides in reviews of JJ Abrams’s sequel, to a range of works defending the prequels’ artistic value. The most well known are Mike Klimo’s ambitious Ring Theory and the documentary The Prequels Strike Back, though I would also recommend these three articles as particularly eloquent and interesting perspectives on the first three episodes.

Beyond the critical response, the assumption is often that the prequels were generally received negatively by the fan community. After all, the most prominent voices in fandom had long been those of the original trilogy generation, where the response was indeed mixed, as the younger generation has taken time to grow into adulthood and find its voice. But as Abrams says:

“…if you ask someone around the age I was when the original trilogy came out, “Whats your favorite Star Wars movie?” they will tell you one of the original trilogy. If you ask someone around that age when the prequels came out, they will say one of the prequels. And it’s scientifically proven and undeniable.”

Well, I grew up with the prequels, and they are indeed as precious to me as the original trilogy is to that first generation. They were the significant films of my teenage years. I am not going to make the critical case for the prequels’ artistic merits. Instead I am going to tell the story of how they became a fundamental part of the way I see Star Wars, and even helped me to understand my own life a little better. As a new trilogy begins, bringing with it another new generation of fans, I think it is a story worth telling.

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Putting the “War” in “Star Wars”: Rogue One, genre and the future of the franchise

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“It’s called Star WARS”Gareth Edwards

The success of Rogue One with critics, fans and at the box office will have come as a huge relief to Lucasfilm. Not only does it show that the series can succeed without centering on the saga of the Skywalker family, it also indicates that the wider audience are open to the idea of entirely new kinds of Star Wars films. Rogue One has been lauded both for its gritty vision of war, and for its morally grey portrayal of the Rebel Alliance.

For fans who follow Star Wars outside the films, and have read Battlefront or seen the Clone Wars “Darkness on Umbara” arc, the idea that you can tell a “gritty” war drama in this world is nothing new. Rogue One, to us, might not seem like a radical departure, but to the eyes of the general viewer it is something entirely different. It is a bold move for a franchise to make after forty years, and seven films which have stayed fairly close to the same format: despite some aesthetic and tonal differences between and within the episodic “saga” films, they are all essentially mythic “hero’s journey” space fantasy tales, with a visual language that is part Flash Gordon, part Kurosawa. The risk of shaking up such a familiar format after all this time shouldn’t be downplayed.

The furthest the films went in terms of playing with genre before now was during the first hour of Attack of the Clones, where the paranoid thriller of Obi-Wan’s film noir-inspired investigation into an assassination attempt is intercut with old-fashioned courtly-love melodrama: all lakes, flowers and fireplaces. The jaggedness of this contrast, though, is one of the things AotC receives criticism for, and in any case, it returns to a more traditional Star Wars feel for its final act. Rogue One is something new – it is resolutely attempting to tell a story in another genre, the “war movie,” but set within the universe of Star Wars. Read More

Carrie Fisher: 1956 – 2016

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Mike: Well, the most obvious thing to do is talk about how beloved and inspirational Carrie Fisher was. The second most obvious thing to do is talk about how obvious it is to talk about how beloved and inspirational she was. So I’m gonna do what Carrie herself would probably do, and speak immodestly about my brain for a minute.

I’m unhappy about her passing on an intellectual level—it’s unfortunate and unfair and I recognize how it could drive one to despair. But on an emotional level, I don’t really feel it. I rarely feel death emotionally; it’s inevitable, so why be sad over something you can’t control? Again, I understand that this isn’t typical, but it’s just how my mind works. I cry at the end of Apollo 13, and I shed tears six times during my first viewing of The Force Awakens, but now? Nothing.

Over time I’ve come to understand that I just don’t connect with other humans that way—I can feel enormously passionate about people on a demographic level, but not as individuals. It’s possible that I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of Asperger syndrome—especially when I think back to myself as a child—but I’ve never had any interest in a diagnosis; I’ve led a pretty normal and comfortable life so it would feel presumptuous to seek out the banner of a mental disorder for something that has never really harmed me beyond a reputation for being aloof. After all, it could be that I’m just an asshole.

After a youth and adolescence of scrambling to figure out how I was “supposed” to connect with my peers, and wondering if it was worth the trouble, I eventually discovered that you can say anything you want if it’s funny enough. Where I didn’t have the skill set for a polite lie, I found that the truth was okay as long as it made people laugh, so that became my means of making a direct impression on people. It was the next best thing to a sincere connection: say something appalling that people laugh at in spite of themselves. Read More

In Praise of Qui-Gon Jinn: The Quiet Rebel

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Slowly, Yoda nodded. “A very great Jedi Master you have become, Qui-Gon Jinn. A very great Jedi Master you always were, but too blind I was to see it.”

He rose, and folded his hands before him, and inclined his head in the Jedi bow of respect.

The bow of the student, in the presence of the Master.

Revenge of the Sith novelization, by Matthew Stover

Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn appeared in only one Star Wars film, but few characters have had such a profound influence on the direction of the story. For a generation of fans, including myself, he was the mentor, our old Ben Kenobi. Liam Neeson’s return to the role in The Clone Wars was, for me, the highlight of the series: I had been desperately disappointed in 2005 when Neeson’s lines were cut from Revenge of the Sith, but the two TCW story arcs involving Qui-Gon made up for that and then some.

Qui-Gon’s role has also been mildly controversial. Some lay the blame for everything bad that happens – from Anakin’s fall to the rise of the Empire – at his door. Others argue that the character should never have been included at all, and that Obi-Wan should have discovered Anakin Skywalker himself.

For me, though, not only is Qui-Gon the definitive Jedi, he is also crucial to our understanding of what they are, and what they should be. His philosophy and quietly rebellious nature is inspirational, and by exploring his relationship with the Jedi Council, we can learn everything we need to know about the Order and its mistakes. Read More