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The Saga Concludes – The Minority Report, Year Five

Welcome, one and all, to the final Minority Report, my annual(ish) update on diversity in Star Wars’ screen and printed content. As discussed in my last report, I’ve reached the conclusion that this new era of the franchise has brought us to a point where it’s better that the raw numbers, which have been my bailiwick for more than ten years now, take a backseat and that representation—what types of characters we’re seeing and how they’re used—becomes the primary focus of these conversations. While I still plan on running said numbers for my own edification, I’m going to refrain from these regular updates and save my commentary for when and if something really noteworthy happens.

I first took on this project way back in the days of the Expanded Universe, where most new characters were coming from books and their demographics were both more uniform and harder to notice; now that movies and television are steering the ship, Star Wars has responded to this increased scrutiny with a boatload of new female characters, characters of color, and even a small but not insignificant population of queer and nonbinary characters. But while the weight of focus has shifted drastically away from the usual parade of white guys, there’s still a lot to discuss about exactly how characters like Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Holdo, Val, and L3-37 are used, how they intersect, and what messages their stories are sending.

The thing about that, though, is that I see my own role in those conversations to be much more that of a listener—and ideally, a promoter of great voices from within the relevant communities here at this blog. When I started tracking diversity it felt like no one else was paying attention to it at all (at least in the not-very-diverse forums I was hanging around in back then), so having real numbers to throw around was my way of holding up a flashing neon “PROBLEM” sign. Now that diversity and representation are a huge, flourishing topic of discussion, I see how much I still had to learn, and while I still believe sheer volume is a big part of the solution, this is about much more than which types of people we see walking by in the background and who they happen to be kissing.

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The Pitch: Rey’s To-Do List

The Rise of Skywalker happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is already over. Nothing can be done to change it.

So, what now? Rumors abound, but outside of season two of The Mandalorian and a slate of books and comics that looks pretty similar to last year’s (at least until they spill the details on Project Luminous), exactly what form mainline Star Wars content will take remains an open question. The Old Republic, or maybe the Even Older Republic, seems to be the most likely next step, if only to give the sequel cast some time to breathe and perhaps age up a little.

But the galaxy didn’t end just because the Skywalker saga did; the story of those characters will go on, first in fanfic and almost certainly in officially-licensed material of some sort, someday. Let’s dwell for a moment on what that day might look like.

Rey may be the last Jedi, but even the relatively tight confines of the sequel films have established at least two other Force-sensitives in Finn and Temiri Blagg, better known as Broom Boy. Potentially even Jannah’s entire company of former stormtroopers depending on how strictly you want to interpret ROS’s nudges–imagine for a moment a new Jedi Order whose first class is composed almost entirely of First Order stormtroopers! It’s a hell of a thing. Between that and Rey’s own training seeming to have come at least as much from the original Jedi texts as from the Skywalker twins, you’ve got a recipe for a very different Jedi Order.

And they’ll have their work cut out for them. Another side effect of the saga’s tight-focus ending is a lot of lingering threads and unanswered injustices in the galaxy: slavery, both biological and mechanical; a newly-familiarized Unknown Regions with untold mysteries and threats, the ignorance of which allowed the First Order to rise in the first place; and even within the quote-unquote civilized galaxy, political divisions have been exposed that make the Empire look positively centrist. Not only are the possibilities endless, but it strikes me that they’re uniquely interesting in their potential to underline the ways in which the old Jedi let the galaxy down in the name of holding it together, and the lessons Rey might have learned from them.

So with that in mind, what’s an established, persisting injustice in the GFFA that you think an ideal NJO should take on? If you’re Grand Master Rey, what would you do in your first hundred days?

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What Jedi: Fallen Order Could Have Learned From The Rise of Skywalker

Early on in The Rise of Skywalker, Rey does something I’ve wanted to see in a Star Wars film for ages. For at least the seventh time in nine episodes, our heroes are confronted not by a villain, but by a wild animal. We’re not privy to its exact emotional state, but context suggests it’s protecting its territory, or traumatized, or just plain hungry. It’s also, to one degree or another, scary-looking: this isn’t just an animal, we’re expected to understand, it’s a monster.

And in six of the nine episodes, the heroes fight the monster, either killing it or distracting it or driving it off. This type of scene is just one of those things Star Wars does—like Threepio telling you the odds or someone having a bad feeling about this, a monster fight is how the screenplay lets you know this is a Star Wars movie. Old adventure serials loved that shit: the dianoga and the wampa and the rancor were George Lucas emulating the spirit of a guy in a lizard costume wrestling with Flash Gordon, and while few would call those scenes the films’ best material, they’ve never demanded any deeper consideration than that.1

But then, in this episode, the hero has a different idea. She passes her already-ignited lightsaber to Finn, walks slowly to the big snake-worm-thing, and uses the Force to heal a wound in its side. Not just the Force, but the Force of her own life—instead of killing an injured creature, the quick and easy path, she gives a little of herself to it, and in so doing saves all involved.

This is who Rey is, who she’s always been. To my mind it’s why she can get angry in a fight, more visibly angry than Luke ever got, and never let it consume her. Empathy isn’t something she has to stop and center herself to achieve, or have rubbed in her face by her father’s robot arm, it’s her baseline. Like so much in Rise, I go back and forth on whether the filmmakers intended this reading or just stumbled onto it while setting up some things that happen later in the movie, but hell if it doesn’t work. And what made it especially satisfying for me personally was its timely, if coincidental, refutation of Jedi: Fallen Order.

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  1. Not that that stops us. []

The Rise of Skywalker: It’s Kind Of A Lot

This piece contains major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker. Like, all of them, probably several times over. Proceed accordingly.

Mike: Well, that happened.

I anticipated that my piece on The Rise of Skywalker two days ago would likely serve better as a semi-conclusive statement on the sequel era than something I forced myself to stay awake for in the aftermath of the movie, so instead of tackling this reaction piece single-handedly I invited the whole staff to weigh in with their first thoughts—but some quick ones from me first, because I’m in charge.

My friend Pearl and I both loved The Force Awakens, but we had absolutely polar reactions to The Last Jedi, and we’ve been arguing about it for two years, and will probably keep arguing about it forever because we’re like that. What I kept thinking during my first viewing of Rise tonight was that the movie felt precision-calibrated to make both of us, despite the separate universes we’ve been living in, equally happy—or at the very least, minimize our unhappiness at all costs.

Palpatine’s alive, but kind of not. Rey’s parents were nobody, from a certain point of view. Rose is there, but she doesn’t do much. There’s a gay kiss, but not the one people wanted. There’s a Reylo kiss, but it’s quick and vague and then he drops dead. Chewie dies and comes back. Threepio “dies” and comes back. There are porgs, but just barely. Hux goes rogue, but just barely. And on, and on—J.J. Abrams seems to screamingly, desperately want to make as many of us as happy as he possibly can, and if it required smothering logical and thematic coherence with a pillow, he was just the guy to do it.

But the thing is, superficial enjoyment is Abrams’s number one skill—and I’m honestly not saying that in a critical way, he’s really good at it. TFA definitely has a much, much easier lift than this thing does, but it’s got superficial enjoyability leaking out of every frame—and when it’s dumb, it’s just as dumb as Rise is. So I find myself in a weird position where I’m intellectually cynical but emotionally content, because a surprise acid trip that ruined your plans for the evening is still an acid trip, and chemically, it’s got you.

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A Short History of Disappointment, or, Why I’m Going to Like The Rise of Skywalker

Author’s note—as the title should make clear, there are no spoilers in this piece. I do, however, discuss lots of things that might happen in the film, and with those details certainly out there by now, note that I won’t be reading any of your comments or reactions until Thursday night. Godspeed, Rebels.

As someone who prides himself on rolling with the punches where new Star Wars content is concerned, I have some pretty big worries about what could unfold in The Rise of Skywalker when I sit down to watch it tomorrow night.

As someone who once strongly doubted whether there even needed to be a sequel trilogy, I’m worried that the story they chose to tell will lose its newfound convictions and prove that old me correct—that everything new about this conflict will be undermined by an effort to justify the sequels as part of a nine-episode story.

I’m worried that the failings of the New Republic, instead of being the organic growing pains of a new democracy, will have been part of an insidious long-term strategy employed by the First Order, and that the First Order itself will be an insidious long-term strategy employed by, erm, Darth Sidious. That what we’ve actually been watching for the last four years was one man playing a four-dimensional dejarik game that required him to be dead for thirty years.

Likewise, as someone who both wants and expects Kylo Ren to take some sort of step toward redeeming himself, I’m worried that his fall will be blamed on coercion or even outright brainwashing by Palpatine and/or Snoke. That he, and his parents, and his master, will turn out to have done nothing worse than be ill-prepared for the machinations of an evil wizard or two.

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