Archive for Guest Editorials

Connective Tissue: How The Force Awakens’ Characters Inform The Last Jedi – and Vice Versa

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Reviews and reactions to The Last Jedi—a film released seven months, and also an eternity ago—have become well-worn by this point. But beneath heaps of praise, as well as tiresome accusations of feminist cabals destroying the Galaxy Far, Far Away, a curious middle ground has emerged—the notion that The Last Jedi, while a perfectly competent film, was a bad follow-up to The Force Awakens.

To be clear, Episode VII and VIII are very different films, but I’ve been irked by how often “TLJ ignored TFA” is accepted as fact. Other writers have addressed TLJ’s solutions to TFA’s supposed “mystery boxes”, but I find discussions surrounding TFA’s new Big Three much more interesting. While much of the common wisdom around this film holds that TLJ jettisoned the character arcs of TFA to tell its own story, evidence shows the opposite is true.

More than I expected on first viewing, TLJ sticks to TFA’s character arcs with near reverence, often relying on subtle moments from TFA to ground interactions. And on the flip side, after watching TLJ, TFA’s characters feel incomplete without the resolutions provided by the trilogy’s second volume. » Read more..

Souls, Reprogrammed: The Complicated Droids of the New Canon

lando-l3-comicIn Solo, we’re introduced to a fascinating new character. She’s all about liberation: she knows the plight of her people, she knows what’s holding them back, and she’s excited and able to fight for her own liberation – and others’. She will not let people in power, either over her or over others, rest easy in their oppression. They will be challenged at every turn. She is not afraid to use her strength against people who fight her and oppress her kind.

Her name is L3-37, and she’s a droid. Normally, droids are not treated as anything more than appliances, really. Astromech droids are used for navigation in Rebel starfighters. Other droids act as servers, masseuses, or torturers. (Hey, someone has to do it, right?) But rarely do we see a droid in such, well, personable fashion. Since the introduction of the Legends character HK-47, disobedient droids have been growing in prominence, taking on a wealth of characteristics. From murder bots (Triple Zero and BT-1, for example) to droid liberationists like Elthree, Star Wars is forcing us to consider something new: maybe droids are more than just machines. Can they truly think, or even obtain sentience?

Long ago, before the Legends reboot and the new canon, Becca Hughes asked us to consider what the franchise had to say about droids’ sentience and the way they were treated in secondary materials. She compared the role of Artoo and Threepio in the films (as characters in their own right, robots or not) and compared them to the battle droids (rather soulless automatons, created so that the heroes would have something not alive to destroy). Ultimately, these questions led her to investigate the role of Darth Vader, and his cyborg parts, and look into what it would mean for the franchise to feature a sentient, living droid. Would it break the franchise to consider a droid as a sentient, living being? One way that this question may “break” the narrative bounds of this franchise is by how it reflects on our heroes. I will look at the first question through the lens of C-3PO, followed by an investigation of K-2SO and L3-37. » Read more..

Qi’ra’s Choice – A Play on the Femme Fatale Archetype

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I have never been fond of the femme fatale. While that role gave a female character something more to do in the mystery/crime genre, exchanging passivity for vileness has always seemed a poor tradeoff. Moreover, the femme fatale frequently was punished at the end of the tale, not just for being evil but for also for daring to step outside of the usual definitions of femininity at the time of the archetype’s inception.

This development of the femme fatale as an active and evil player in the mystery/crime genre was a reflection of anxieties surrounding the changing roles of women in America in the 1920s and the 1940s-50s1. Female characters were given power in the genre by male authors, but that power was designed to denote terror, not heroism2. Heroism was instead assigned to the men who were capable of overcoming the wiles of these women and bringing them to punishment in the end.

The femme fatale exists as a test for the hero, to see if he is able to reject emotion and retain the isolation that is threatened by his attraction to the femme fatale. Will the hero be able to resist her and do the right thing? Raymond Chandler, a major influence in the noir sub-genre, was particularly fond of this trope. In the original novel Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, the hero and the femme fatale commit suicide together rather than being caught. In Chandler’s script adaptation, the hero instead decides to shoot the femme fatale, thus removing the element of choice in her death and reestablishing the aspect of punishment. » Read more..

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all original research for this piece is sourced from “Femme Fatale”, part of The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction by David Schmid, 2016. []
  2. Stuart, Esther M. “Femme Fatales and the Shifting Gender Norms of the 19th Century” (2017). Electronic Theses & Dissertations. 1602. []

Droids, Sex, and Consent: Should It “Work”?

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Prior to the release of Solo, co-writer Jonathan Kasdan stated in an interview with The Huffington Post that he “would say” that Lando was pansexual and added that he loved “the fluidity — sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald [Glover] appeals to and that droids are a part of.” Glover would soon jump on board, asking, “How can you not be pansexual in space?” The younger Kasdan tweeted in self-congratulation, “Sorry to have brought identity/gender politics into… NOPE. Not sorry AT ALL ‘cause I think the GALAXY George gave birth to in ‘77 is big enough for EVERYONE: straight, gay, black, white, brown, Twi’lek, Sullustan, Wookiee, DROID & anything inbetween [sic]”.

Of course, this metatextual promise of LGBT representation followed a now-familiar pattern and remained exactly that—metatextual, and at best implicit in the film itself. And yet there is the faintest glimmer of some sort of loving, though platonic (and opposite-sex), relationship between Lando and L3-37. It’s never explicit, and Lando devotes most of his fawning attentions on attractive, apparently female, humanoids. But it is there. It’s present in Lando and L3’s bickering yet comfortable relationship, in how L3 only recognizes Lando as captain and not as owner or master. It’s there in Lando’s tolerance, though not acceptance, of L3’s revolutionary droid ideology. It’s certainly there in L3’s suggestion to Qi’ra that she has contemplated a relationship with Lando, that she believes (or at least jokes) that Lando loves her, that she knows that they would be physically compatible (“it works”) though not compatible as a couple. And it is most strongly there when a distraught Lando rushes through the battlefield on Kessel to recover his fallen companion, frantically attempting to repair her even as she dies in his arms.

But now a Star Wars film has injected droid sexuality squarely into its canon by way of a throwaway line without actually addressing what this means, and in so doing the franchise is now loaded with certain disturbing implications. Allowing for droid sexuality rapidly complicates the issue of droid sentience—droids who can and will have sex or the performative appearance of sexual desires could, if lacking sentience, be creepy sex tools; if they are sentient, then at worst they are sex slaves. » Read more..

From Lira San to the Kessel Run: Star Wars and Relativity

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The Solo film is approaching fast, with our first canonical look at the Kessel Run that made the Millennium Falcon famous. We have multiple confirmations now that the Kessel Run is made hard to navigate by black holes in the vicinity, among other things, and this wouldn’t be the first time the new canon has shown this kind of environment as a navigational hazard. Indeed, the heroes of Star Wars Rebels faced such phenomena in their journey through a star cluster, in the second season episode “Legends of the Lasat”.

Black holes and their surroundings are the topic of the astrophysics research I do for a living, so I’ve wanted to talk about this since before I finished writing about Concord Dawn. Because I absolutely loved this scene. Accompanied by the marvelous music of Kevin Kiner, magnificent visuals depict a maelstrom of gas and dust that swirls around a number of bright, hotter spots where the black holes whose gravity dominates the entire region might be located, but they are left unseen. Indeed, the fun thing about these objects is how small and compact they are compared to their mass: the spherical event horizon of a black hole as heavy as our entire Sun would be a bit less than six kilometers wide. When the camera in the episode is pointed sideways, away from the accreting dust, blue streams of ionized gas can be seen coming out of the biggest hot spots. Some in-falling, disintegrating objects, probably asteroids disrupted by tidal forces, complete the picture. I liked it so much that I remarked at the time how, given its description in Legends sources, this could have been a great depiction of the Maw, the black hole cluster located near the Kessel Run.

But there was more. Despite the term “black hole” appearing in concept art, Hera says “imploded star” instead. They probably changed it to make it sound more exotic, but in doing so they actually increased its accuracy! The explanation is as follows. Natural ways to end up with a cluster of black holes involve massive stars exploding as supernovae. Stars tend to form in clusters, and the heavier they are, the faster they burn their fuel and the shorter they live, so massive stars don’t get very far from each other before dying. And if some of these had more than twenty-five times the mass of the Sun, they could leave black holes behind as their cores collapse (or implode). However, the formation of those stars will also produce many more of lower masses. The ones with more than eight times the mass of the Sun will live a few million years longer and their cores will also implode, but this time creating neutron stars. You would also expect some of these in a cluster of black holes like this, and “imploded star” includes both. » Read more..

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