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Let Every Village Send a Warrior – The Case Against a Galactic Republic

My memory doesn’t work like most people’s. I’m bad with hard details—from minor trivia-question stuff like what year the TIE interceptor debuted in-universe all the way to the major plot mechanics of books I read even a handful of years ago. I can tell you that Kenobi is my favorite Star Wars novel, but when writing my recent EU Explains piece I still had to read the plot summary on Wookieepedia to remember what the hell actually happened in it. What does stick in my mind is the big picture, the tone, the flavor of a character, a book, an era. That’s why I’ve always been into the sweeping, historical aspect of Star Wars canon(s); I have a good eye for context, and I enjoy picking out new insights from the tapestry of stories the franchise puts out and how they interact—intentionally or otherwise—even as their particulars are quick to flee my mind.

What’s been especially interesting over the past five years has been the things I notice about the new canon that feel distinctly different from Legends continuity. Foremost among these is the sense that the Galaxy Far, Far Away is bigger now; more anarchic, harder to get around.1 While the EU tended to portray galactic society as not too different from contemporary Earth—where the relationship between Corellia and Rodia, say, was roughly along the lines of that between Vermont and Colorado, or Greece and Luxembourg—in the new canon there barely is a galactic society. Luke Skywalker is a myth, the Empire was good for employment, and it’s entirely possible to go through life without running into anyone who’d testify otherwise.

While novelist Alexander Freed has played with this provincial take on the galaxy more than most, one particular detail in his recent novel Alphabet Squadron really stood out to me. The central protagonist Yrica Quell isn’t the only Imperial defector in the cast, but as a participant in Operation Cinder, she is by far the most loyal Imperial in the book not currently serving with the Empire. Yet despite her cooperation with the worst the Empire could dish out, we also learn that during Yrica’s youth, her sympathies were with…the Rebel Alliance. Lacking any other way to receive flight training, she enlisted in the Empire with the express intention of learning just enough to ditch them and fight for the other side. Sound familiar?

As much as Yrica’s backstory reads like Luke Skywalker’s worst-case scenario, the commonalities of their two stories—combined with the rest of Alphabet‘s cast of rebels—catalyzed something in me: maybe the galaxy is just plain too big, too ornery, to individualistic, to comprehensively govern. Maybe its natural state is not representative government so much as rebellion itself.

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  1. Even as hyperspace travel seems much faster than it used to be. []

The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. XVI – Obi-Wan on Tatooine

“Years ago, we removed one child from Tatooine, thinking him to be the galaxy’s greatest hope. Now I have returned one—with the same goal in mind. I hope it goes better this time.”1

Well, here we are. After several years, countless rumors, and (if you believe those rumors) multiple false starts, Ewan McGregor is officially returning to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. What may or may not have once been planned as a spinoff film a la Solo: A Star Wars Story will instead be produced as a streaming series on the imminent Disney+ platform, meaning that this thinnest of concepts—guy sits in the desert for twenty years—will end up receiving at least as much screentime as an entire film trilogy put together.

But with that extra screentime comes different expectations. Without a hard two-to-three-hour time limit, streaming television can tell stories that film, perhaps Star Wars films in particular, just can’t; the stakes can be lower, the dangers more psychological, the character development more methodical. With a playground of two decades at their disposal, Lucasfilm can cherry-pick the most interesting thing (maybe the only interesting thing) that could possibly have happened to Obi-Wan during his exile and build a series around that, rather than try to tell an epic, multi-decade story just for the sake of filling a gap. With the timeline revealed at D23 placing the project around year eight of Obi-Wan’s nineteen-year desert vacation (during Solo‘s time jump, which may or not be important), it seems as if they do indeed plan on the former, which is music to my ears.

But even then, how much could really have happened to him? If Obi-Wan’s streaming exploits are too elaborate, too significant, doesn’t that undercut the whole idea of his exile? What if Luke gets trampled by a bantha while Obi-Wan is off fighting the Crimson Dawn?

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  1. From Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller []

Second Look: Humansplaining: Star Wars From the Aliens’ Perspective

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

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?

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

The 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, Part III

Welcome to the final chapter in Eleven-ThirtyEight’s 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, as voted on by our entire staff! If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out Part I and Part II as well. Before we get to the main event please enjoy the last of our Honorable Mentions—moments that came up in voting but didn’t make the cutoff.

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Honorable Mention: Hera’s Code Switch, Star Wars Rebels (Mike Cooper)

I remember very clearly how strange it was when Aayla Secura first appeared in The Clone Wars and for some reason known only to the Creator, she had a French accent. It wasn’t just her, though—it was all Twi’leks, at least all that we got to see. I don’t know if it was intended to give the Ryloth arc a Les Miserable vibe or just a random whim on Lucas’s part, but having a distinct cadence—even one transported whole cloth from Earth—quickly set the Twi’leks apart from most alien species in Star Wars, who typically sound totally normal, totally alien, or, um, uncomfortable.

But Star Wars accents, even at their best, are almost always just for flavor, and trying to make sense of them is a fool’s errand. So when we met Rebels’ Hera Syndulla and she spoke with a normal American accent I thought very little of it—even after she was confirmed to be the daughter of French-sounding Cham Syndulla—and certainly never expected it to be addressed in the story. But late in season two they did just that, and Rebels was richly rewarded for it.

Cham finally made his way onto the show for a two-part arc in which our heroes attempt to forge a relationship between their own Phoenix cell and his Ryloth-based rebels. The arc was a great window into the growing pains of the eventual Rebel Alliance—do we fight the bigger fight or concentrate on our own backyards?—and Hera’s upbringing in particular. The well-worn nature of this debate becomes clear when, during a heated exchange with her father, Hera slips back into her native accent. Read More

The 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, Part II

Welcome to Part II of our Memorable Moments feature–Part I can be found here! This thing is long enough already so let’s get right to it…

sloaneposter13. Admiral Sloane Orders the Retreat, “The Levers of Power” (Jay Shah)

Initially, my entire list of favorite moments consisted of key events from RAE SLOANE’s story across different media and throughout the timeline of novels in which we’ve seen her. That would have been a little silly for a list of moments, even though I believe RAE SLOANE’s journey through the new canon has been the most remarkable and every moment we saw her in another context was a surprise and a sheer delight. But if I had to pick a single moment, I would choose her appearance at the Battle of Endor in the short story “The Levers of Power” — it’s the pivot point around which her whole career orients and changes.

Before the Battle of Endor, RAE SLOANE is a dutiful Imperial true believer who does the right thing as she sees it but is unable to rise as far as she merits due to the Empire’s internal politics and her unwillingness to play those games. After the Battle of Endor, RAE SLOANE is one of the most powerful forces in the Empire and becomes the very face of its surviving military as a grand admiral (literally, in the case of propaganda posters).

“The Levers of Power” shows Admiral RAE SLOANE on the precipice, just as her Empire is. It is a harrowing story. The Battle of Endor felt like it could go either way, until disaster mounted on disaster and it couldn’t. We see all the classic hallmarks of RAE SLOANE: her tactical skill, her dislike for power games (exemplified by a particularly odious ISB loyalty officer), and her ability to cut through the expected to get things done. She does not suffer the loyalty officer’s second-guessing as she leads as ably as any Imperial officer could. More than that: when she has to make the key decisive call that the battle is lost and duty requires the fleet to be preserved, she shoots the loyalty officer dead and gives the order to retreat. She has to. Read More