Archive for Jay Shah

Star Wars is Ridiculous and We Are All Ridiculous For Liking It

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Eeeeevery once in a while, Reddit produces something good. About a week ago, a user in the Star Wars subreddit posted a gif highlighting a particular background Mon Calamari actor in Return of the Jedi who was apparently given the direction “look confused“, and stuck with that strategy throughout the Battle of Endor. The gifs quickly jumped to Star Wars Twitter, and we all had a good laugh. Totally pointless little detail, but it brightened everybody’s day for a moment.

It called to mind an old memory of mine from way back when The Phantom Menace came out. As the first, and weirdest, Star Wars prequel, TPM was notable for just how little context we had for everything that was happening—far more so than for The Force Awakens, even. So it was that I (or maybe a friend I was with?) noticed the little PK droids in the background of the Trade Federation battleship and said “oh look, baby stormtroopers!” Obviously that wasn’t the case, but the notion that stormtroopers began life as these little dudes who did grunt work for the Trade Federation has stuck in my head all these years. To this day, I can’t help but notice them in the background and smile to myself, though no amount of explaining could ever really get across to somebody why I find them so amusing.

Star Wars is rife with little things like that; moments of whimsy, as George would say. And with all the weighty developments both in- and out-of-universe lately I thought it’d be fun to lighten up for a moment and ask the others: what’s the one little detail in the films that cracks you up every time? » Read more..

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: Grand Admiral Thrawn: Separating Man From Myth

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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As the primary antagonist of the inaugural nineties Expanded Universe trilogy, Grand Admiral Thrawn presented a different sort of Imperial villain – one who was intellectual, collected, and yet not darkly sinister. Thrawn stands out and his Empire seems to take on a different tone from the Empire of Palpatine. He presents a better way – order without cruelty, governance without megalomania. Inspired by Napoleon, Rommel, Alexander the Great, and others, Grand Admiral Thrawn is nigh-invincible – defeated but for circumstances – and with him dies the dream of a better Empire. But is all of that true? We’re a pretty big fan of Thrawn – in fact, he’s one of the early Imperial characters we first latched onto as a villain worthy of respect and admiration (having read Kevin J. Anderson and Mike Stackpole prior to Zahn). He was unlike any Star Wars villain to come before or since, and Thrawn very rightly generated a lot of buzz and excitement when his return to the Star Wars canon was announced at Celebration Europe this July. We wanted to say that first as a bit of a disclaimer – that we’re a big fan of Thrawn – before getting to the gist of this article: which is that Grand Admiral Thrawn is tremendously overrated. Now wait – this isn’t one of those “you should feel bad for liking this, and here’s all the reasons why you’re wrong” pieces. The thing about Thrawn is that he’s not perfect – he is flawed, and has made some pretty colossal blunders just in the Thrawn trilogy set of books.

Both in and out of universe, people tend to assume Thrawn is perfect and unbeatable. Out of universe, that can occasionally manifest into excessive fannishness or dislike for a character that is “better” than the film villains. In universe, that manifests in characters assuming that Thrawn is completely beyond the abilities of any of the protagonists to defeat. But Thrawn isn’t invincible – far from it. He makes assumptions, he makes convoluted plans that fail when the slightest thread is unraveled, and he ultimately creates a system that cannot outlast his own demise. He’s also every bit the villain Darth Vader and the Emperor were – he supports the Empire’s mission, and even though later EU books try to put his decision to serve the Emperor into a noble light, the truth is that he literally made a deal with the devil and agreed to serve him.

Here’s the trick though: that’s what makes Thrawn work, and that’s what makes him so good. He operates at a higher tempo than most of his opponents, and gambles with hunches and convoluted plans where the pay-off is so spectacular that it looks like magic. Thrawn not only plays to his opponents’ psychology through his characteristic artistically-informed military tactics, but by causing them to doubt themselves and their own abilities by believing that Thrawn would be aware of their every move. Thrawn uses his own reputation and his opponent’s self-doubts as a weapon, and that’s rather more impressive than if he were simply an all-seeing mastermind. Thrawn’s a genius, but he’s also part charlatan – something that Timothy Zahn himself played off of in his sequel Hand of Thrawn duology that ended the Bantam run of the EU. It’s something we hope to see again in Star Wars Rebels – the mastermind and the trickster, whose evil is of a different shade but nonetheless recognizable as such.

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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 mental illness 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..

Rogue One – The Architects of the Galactic Civil War

–MAJOR ROGUE ONE SPOILERS AHEAD–

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Rogue One is a movie about many things, but one of the most obvious things is that it’s a movie about the Death Star plans, the building of the Rebellion, and the start of the Galactic Civil War that we otherwise call the Star Wars original trilogy. The main villain is the architect of the Death Star, the heroine starts as the daughter of the Death Star’s designer and ends the film as the designer of the Rebellion itself. But there’s more to the movie than that. Rogue One, though ostensibly a war film, ends up being a very political film about the people who built the two sides of the war, and the people who fight it.

The actors involved are political, with the Rebellion led by senators and the Empire led by a politician-turned-monarch. Rogue One gives us fascinating glimpses into how both organizations work, and how they were built by people whose conditions, circumstances, and goals end up changing the face of galactic politics. It’s not just a story about war, but it’s a story about politics, and ultimately, how it’s people that shape both.

Let’s start with the Empire. Orson Krennic is a different type of Imperial villain — he’s alternatively described as an apparatchik and a man of science, a man of the working class who’s not of the well-spoken Coruscanti élite we’re used to (but neither is Tarkin, fine accent and manners or not). What are his goals? Well, he wants to build the Death Star and earn the favor of the Emperor. He’s pretty transparent on that end. But it’s more than that – his entire story in this film is political, as his actions are dictated by his rivalries and intrigues with Tarkin and Vader. There’s almost nothing military about his objectives at all, beyond the surface-level needs to secure the Death Star plans. Yet the conflicts that he, Tarkin, and Vader create in jockeying for power create the circumstances for the galaxy to blaze into warfare.

As for the Rebellion? Goodness, they’ve just formed and already they are fracturing at the seams. Not only are there profound disagreements as to how – or even whether – to engage the Empire, but there are schemes within schemes inside the Alliance command structure. Everyone is convinced that they have to do what’s necessary to save the Alliance, even if it means misleading the other leaders and even if it means doing terrible things. The Alliance is much more like the Empire than it’s willing to admit, as Jyn points out. On the micro scale, the Rogue One crew are as riven by disagreements and as attached to their pasts as the rest of the Alliance – but they find a common purpose.

» Read more..

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