Archive for Mike Cooper

Humansplaining: Star Wars From the Aliens’ Perspective

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Human diversity in the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been a major focus of this site, and myself personally, over the years, but there’s been a parallel conversation running alongside that all along in the representation of droids and aliens: how many, which kinds, what are they doing? While real people seeing themselves directly and fulsomely represented in these stories—in the films especially—is certainly a higher priority, Star Wars is arguably not very well equipped to address things like racism and sexism in a direct fashion, and instead normally chooses to do so through subtext and metaphor.

The Mos Eisley cantina is notable for being not just the first major showcase of the galaxy’s alien demographics, but for the first instance of “metaphorical prejudice” in the form of Wuher banning the droids from his establishment. That moment coupled with an Imperial officer describing Chewbacca as a “thing” not long after makes George Lucas’s view of prejudice quite clear—even if the overall whiteness and maleness of the film’s protagonists does him no favors.

Droids and aliens, then, have never been there just for texture, but for metaphor as well—a way for the story to comment on real human biases without overtly importing them into its universe. While Solo‘s recent efforts to engage with droid prejudice were, well, inconsistent at best, the fact is that the films have never even attempted to put nonhuman prejudice on the front burner.

Lack of foregrounding, however, doesn’t equate to silence: if you choose to take the demographics seriously and not just as texture you’ll find that the films have been saying quite a bit. The goal of this piece, then, is to do just that—assume every human role and every nonhuman role is one hundred percent deliberate, and extrapolate accordingly. To be clear, this is very much a thought experiment, and not a suggestion of intentional messaging on the part of the creators.1 ILM and Lucasfilm’s creature shop (whew, just calling it that in this context is awkward) have done a lot of amazing work over the years, but how that work is distributed throughout the story tells a story of its own. What messages do we come away with when we treat that subtext as text? » Read more..

  1. Though it does seem to be in some cases, as I’ll discuss later. []

Diversity Versus Representation: The Minority Report, Year Four

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As you may know, a little personal project of mine is to tabulate and track the demographics of named Star Wars characters from year to year, so that we fans can discuss with some accuracy how diverse they are (or aren’t). If this is the first you’re hearing of it, click the series tag at the end of the piece or see last year’s entry for a more thorough explanation. It’s been an interesting year for this subject—two new films have been released since my last update, and only three original adult novels.1 This is a self-explanatory phenomenon, of course, because two films means two novelizations, which means two fewer original stories. Add in the final season of Star Wars Rebels and for the first time, the amount of visual Star Wars media in a given year equaled the amount of published media—at least by the methods I’ve chosen for this project.

While that’s very much out of the ordinary for the franchise—last year’s update included one film, one season of Rebels, and eight novels2—it helped bring into focus something I’ve only vaguely acknowledged over these last few years: when characterizing the overall diversity of the franchise no amount of novels can really compare to the representational value of a movie star. So even though there are far more novels overall than films or television series, the latter category deserves at least equal weight to the former, debatably even moreso—and with multiple live-action television series on the way it’s only getting more important.

Another development of the past year was the dawn of the #SWRepMatters social media campaign. Short for “Star Wars Representation Matters”, the hashtag was started by a group of fans on Twitter that includes several former Eleven-ThirtyEight guest contributors to highlight different communities of underrepresented people and why they belong both in the Star Wars universe and behind the camera (or pen). It’s been a great campaign to watch (with no signs of letting up!) in part because of the diversity of participants—one reason I choose to talk about this in such a dry, academic way is because I’m not from an underrepresented community; I can’t speak about it as insightfully and passionately as fans who really do long for that representation, and I wouldn’t presume to be an arbiter of which characters are or are not “good representation”—numbers, though, I can do. » Read more..

  1. One of which, Most Wanted, is technically “young adult” but for my purposes I’ve found that distinction to mean basically nothing. []
  2. Ahsoka, Catalyst, Empire’s End, Thrawn, Rebel Rising, Inferno Squad, Leia: Princess of Alderaan, and Phasma. []

Star Wars Resistance: More Grown-Up Than You Think

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While it’s common for long-time fans to think of the Disney purchase and subsequent continuity reboot as a big dividing line in the Star Wars franchise, what you might call the “modern” era of Star Wars actually began much earlier in the form of The Clone Wars. Blazing its own path between Episodes II and III, borrowing liberally from the Expanded Universe without adhering strictly to its details, TCW in retrospect is a perfect example of how modern Star Wars storytelling would come to operate.

It’s also a great model for what future Star Wars animated television would look like—when Star Wars Rebels came along in 2014, despite being set deep into the Dark Times, some of its earliest episodes were lighthearted to the point of distraction. An entire episode revolved around stealing fruit. Sabine, only a little older than Ezra, could waltz into and out of Imperial facilities seemingly on a lark, with little apparent danger.1 Stormtroopers, even in death, were treated as jokes to a degree not seen on screen since Return of the Jedi, more akin to battle droids than truly lethal soldiers of an all-powerful Empire. Looking back, though, this tonal shock seems less about any reasonable expectation of what the show would be like (and on that fair minds can differ) and more about where The Clone Wars had left off.

Like many animated shows, TCW started in a very simple place with a very limited library of assets, and its protagonist Ahsoka had all the innocence and whimsy of Ezra and Sabine put together. But over six seasons and forty-plus hours of material it became something very different, and infinitely more complex—not just artistically, though definitely that as well, but in terms of the “seriousness” of its storytelling. It’s easy to argue that Ahsoka’s existence strengthens not just Anakin’s arc but the prequel era as a whole, but the fact is you could excise her completely without losing a vital piece of the saga—if not, Revenge of the Sith wouldn’t have worked in 2005. But even people who don’t know about Ahsoka and don’t care to might very well wonder why the clones turned on the Jedi so easily, or how the whole “Force ghost” thing worked, or what happened to Sifo-Dyas, or how exactly Anakin was supposed to “Balance the Force”. For better or worse, the prequels left a lot of open questions, and in choosing to address them, TCW became a much more mature show. » Read more..

  1. Only much later did we learn that this “spunky” young character had combat training and experience to rival even Kanan’s. []

Escape Pod: Essence Transfer

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After a lengthy dry spell, welcome back to Escape Pod, our recurring series in which we choose one thing from Legends and argue for its inclusion in the new canon.

When Obi-Wan Kenobi first stated “if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”, there was next to nothing explaining what that actually meant—even after we’d heard his voice in Luke’s head later in the movie. The rest of the original trilogy implied certain things when Obi-Wan was followed by Yoda and even Anakin Skywalker, recipient of that original warning, in apparent life after death. The prequels provided the first evidence that it wasn’t just a standard Jedi thing, but rather something that had to be proactively learned, and The Clone Wars finally spelled out the whole deal by showing us Yoda’s own Force ghost training just four short years ago.

Our own Mark Eldridge recently did a deep dive into the lore—and more importantly, the principles—of existence beyond death and what it means. In his conclusion, he stressed how important said principles are to the core messages of the franchise:

…the Force ghost mystery takes us to the heart of Star Wars: the selfless choice or the selfish, letting go and finding enlightenment or clinging on and causing suffering. Future filmmakers may be tempted to introduce a form of “dark side” immortality, but should resist the thought, because it would fatally undermine the value system at the heart of a series which was designed to teach these lessons to children.

That’s no hypothetical concern, either. With more than three decades passing between the first time we saw Obi-Wan vanish and when we finally received a full, official explanation, countless fans grew to adulthood without those answers, many of them ultimately creating Star Wars stories of their own, and without a full understanding of this subject1, the Expanded Universe was rife with immortality. Most famously, in one of the earliest “modern” EU stories, Palpatine himself returned in a cloned body six years after his death at Endor. » Read more..

  1. exactly what Lucas himself knew at any given point is probably debatable, but he certainly wasn’t sharing []

Second Look: In Defense of Bad Decisions

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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A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the real world, a human being exists in a superposition. Their capacity for love or hate, honesty or guile, can evolve wildly over the course of their lives, or even from day to day. The second you try to nail someone down, best-case scenario, all you’ve really captured is an echo. Worst-case scenario, it’s an outright fabrication.

Star Wars has a reputation for grabbing an extra-thick Sharpie and drawing hard, clear lines between good and evil, but I would argue that that’s a function of aesthetics more than storytelling—you know immediately that Darth Vader is evil, until suddenly he’s not. You know immediately that the Republic is a good thing, until suddenly it’s an Empire. You know immediately that stormtroopers are bad guys, until one of them has second thoughts.

So when two “good guys” come into conflict, who exactly are we supposed to root for?

The Last Jedi delights in forcing these questions on us, making us second-guess who the hero is and what that role really requires of them—but while Luke Skywalker is the marquee Questionable Hero, the one who has engendered far more interesting debate, for my money, is Poe Dameron.

» Read more..

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