Archive for Opinion

We Are All Luke Skywalker

—spoilers from Legends of Luke Skywalker ahead—

legendsoflukeTo say Ken Liu’s The Legends of Luke Skywalker has been keenly awaited would be an understatement. Since the great reboot that followed Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, there have been exceedingly few stories of what Luke has been doing after the fall of the Empire. There was Shattered Empire, but that was only one issue out of four and that was more or less it. For some the book has been a disappointment for its lack of actual ‘here’s what Luke really did next’ material. Instead, the book is of a far more playful and trickster nature, built around stories being told of Skywalker. Are they all true? That’s up to the reader, but there are hints that sometimes tip the deck one way or another. Expecting a book coming out ahead of The Last Jedi to have much in the way of revelations is expecting the impossible, the pattern was set by The Force Awakens. If there are major ‘this really happened’ stories, they will be next year, not now. Nor was the book ever deceptive about its premise in its marketing either.

The first story concerns an engineer spinning a tall tale to a rapt audience. It is subtly suggested the audience’s main interest is in how ludicrous a tale can be spun, for it is a tale of mad, bad conspiracy theories aimed squarely at the exploits of Luke, Han and Leia, with one aim: to drag them down and dismiss them as frauds. When the reader engages with this tale, the initial response may well be to opt for outraged dismissal: what a pile of crap, this is an outrage. Yet to do so would be to play into the story’s hands, Liu is quite aware outrage might result. Look further: When we read or watch or play a Star Wars story, we do so separately from our lives. Luke, Han and Leia are not actual people. What if they were? If you were living in that galaxy at the time of the films or after, if you heard three people led the war the take down the Empire that ran the galaxy, then how can you possibly live up to that? If they did that with their lives, what does that make yours? Easier, by far, to spin a few conspiracy theories that render them frauds as then you’re protected, no comparison to lose out to. » Read more..

Wholly Omi – A Female Fan’s Reaction to The Baptist

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I already knew that I was going to like “The Baptist”. I knew from the moment it was announced. It was going to star a non-humanoid alien. It was going to written by my favorite modern author, Nnedi Okorafor. As a result, I was going in thrilled, prepared to love it.

I wasn’t prepared for how it would make me feel about myself.

As usual, Okorafor made the words of her tale dance in such a beautiful way. I could pick out little delightful reflections of other stories, Legends and canon, intended or not. I appreciated the added depth – no pun intended – that she gave her chosen scene. I loved the emotional pace of it all.

But the best part? Omi, the dianoga, is a she.

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming; it was written by Okorafor after all, an author with countless unique heroines in novels and short stories alike. Her novel Lagoon even opens from the perspective of a female swordfish.

But it still came as a surprise because it is such a rare thing in fiction for a woman to be non-human in a monstrous fashion. Most of the alien women in Star Wars and Star Trek tend to be from more humanoid races. Our first view of woman from a reptilian race in Halo hid her mandibles for a more human jaw and gave her a noticeable chest. Even Guillermo del Toro, a filmmaker famous for creating incredible roles for both women characters and monsters, rarely combines the two into one. A more bitter sting was the recent Shadow of War game in which the developers took perhaps one of the most famous female monsters – Tolkien’s Shelob – and made her appear for the majority of her role as an attractive woman. » Read more..

How Foggy is Too Foggy? The Minority Report, Year Three

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One in three named Star Wars characters is a straight, white human man. Three in four are male.

I know that because I’ve done the math—both before the reboot and ever since. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you probably know that, but I find it helpful every so often to restate my case for people who haven’t kept up with this particular project of mine (though the older pieces are of course still available). Once a year, I take it upon myself, with a big boost from Wookieepedia, to tabulate every named character from the previous twelve months1 of Star Wars novels, films, and television, and calculate how many are straight, white human men (hereafter WHMs), and separately, how many are males of any kind.

The percentage of a story’s cast that does not quality as WHMs is what I call its diversity score—for example, one WHM in a cast of ten would means a score of 90. The percentage of non-male characters I call the parity score, with an implied “ideal” score of around 50.2 Diversity scores have much less of an objective “ideal”—the occasional story with no WHMs would hardly be the worst thing to happen, but in a perfect world I’d say an average score in the high eighties/low nineties would be pretty good.

That said, we are nowhere near either of those targets, and that’s why I do this. The numbers can of course be broken down much further and endless productive discussion can be had over how intersectional the human cast should be, the ideal amount of LGBTQ representation, the ideal amount of aliens and droids, and most important of all, the strength of the characters as conceived and portrayed—but the bottom line is we’re not where we should be, and this is my way of looking at the big picture of representation and whether things are moving in one direction or another, so that we might decide how to move forward. That is a question with many, many good answers, none of which I claim to offer here. » Read more..

  1. Note that since the new canon effectively began with A New Dawn, I use that as my rough “zero point” rather than calendar years. []
  2. Nonbinary characters do count toward a work’s score, but there’s so few of them thus far that statistically they barely even register. []

Making Diversity Seen and Heard: Why Star Wars Must Fully Embrace its Multimedia Identity

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

While George Lucas’s famous introduction to the Star Wars universe tells viewers they are light-years away from anything they’ve ever known, one of the reasons the film immediately resonates with such a broad fanbase is because, despite the starships and futuristic setting, children and adults alike see themselves in Luke, Leia, and Han’s struggle. We see not just a story about a rebellion fighting for freedom—we see a coming-of-age tale, and characters lifting themselves up to fulfill their destiny. Or, at least, white fans have been able to see themselves reflected on screen; the franchise’s millions of fans of color, and particularly femme-identifying fans of color, have been forced to make do with a love of the stories and the strength of their imaginations. Until recently, the only place fans could see major characters of color play a leading role was in various novels or spin-offs that never made it into the mainstream consciousness. But with the diverse casts of the new Disney-owned films, and the recent photo (courtesy of director Ron Howard) of Thandie Newton in what appears to be an Imperial uniform, there’s never been a better time for Lucasfilm to not only start featuring women of color in starring roles, but also to draw those characters from a familiar source – the canon Star Wars novels and comic books.

Lucasfilm’s galaxy far, far away used to be a much messier place. Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the formation of the Lucasfilm Story Group in 2013, however, changed the game for Star Wars fans. Previous Expanded Universe stories, known for their sometimes incongruous storylines and for George Lucas’s indifference to their plots, were jettisoned in favor of a cohesive, multimedia approach to the new canon. This initiative did more than clear up Star Wars “fact” and “fiction”; for the first time ever, various franchise media could overlap in timeline, characters, and plots, allowing for truly multi-media storytelling and opening the door for characters of color to play a more prominent role. Fan-favorite non-white characters who previously only existed in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series began to appear in novels or comics of their own, or, in Saw Gerrera’s case, on the big screen in 2016’s Rogue One.

At this point, however, fans have mostly seen movie characters cross over into the non-film media. Few original characters from Star Wars non-film media have appeared on the big screen, which is hugely disappointing not only because it does a disservice to the Story Group’s mission and efforts since its creation, but also because the franchise’s largest strides in representation, especially of women of color, have been made in the non-film media. Because we feel passionately about this issue, we’re working in conjunction with #SWRepMatters, an upcoming social media campaign highlighting diversity (or lack thereof) in the franchise through volunteer podcast discussions, blog posts, tweets using the hashtag, and Twitter threads focusing on specific nonhuman characters and characters of color. Our goal with this post is to highlight how Star Wars can improve its cast diversity to match its enthusiastic audience by bringing beloved non-film characters to the movies and, of course, hiring more femme-identifying actors of color. And there would be no better place to start than by confirming the hopeful fan theory that Thandie Newton is playing Rae Sloane in the upcoming Han Solo movie.
» Read more..

Queer Representation in Star Wars: More a Starting Point Than a Final Destination

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There’s a lot to be said for how quickly Star Wars went from no canonically queer characters to more than a handful. Considering that Star Wars had an Expanded Universe that carried on for over thirty years with barely a mention of gay characters,1 the last few years have had a veritable boom of queerness. There was a point in the past where I could count the number of queer characters on one hand, but that’s not where we are anymore.

So: the canon representation is better than before. We can all agree that it’s better than nothing. But better enough? Not quite.

I think that for many of us—queer fans in particular—it’s been a long time coming to see characters like Sinjir Rath Velus, Kaeden Larte, and even Moff Mors in such a beloved universe. Long enough that, understandably, characters and stories that resonate with fans end up on pedestals of a kind. When underrepresented fans find a character they can see themselves in for the first time, it’s not uncommon for them to then turn around and find a large chunk of fans railing against the existence of so-called “forced” inclusivity. Cue sighs.

Except, when even unremarkable diversity is vehemently defended from all objections, the universe isn’t given a chance to grow in a better direction. We butt up against two main issues here: implicit representation—AKA author headcanon, or Word Of God—and just generally average writing that isn’t always given room to be criticized. (And I think it’s not exactly difficult to figure out which trilogy I might be talking about here.) » Read more..

  1. Yes, I know about the married Mandalorian guys. []
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