Archive for Guest Editorials

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.
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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. []

A Grown-Up Watches Star Wars For the First Time, Part Two – The Originals (and TFA)

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When was the last time you met an adult who had never watched a single Star Wars film? What if you could introduce them to the series, one film at a time, and ask them their thoughts as they went along? That’s exactly the situation I’ve found myself in, as my friend Kelsey just started watching the Star Wars films this year. After viewing Episodes I, II, and III, Kelsey agreed to be interviewed to satisfy my curiosity about her experience and reflections on the series so far; Eleven-ThirtyEight ran our first interview in June. This follow-up comes after Kelsey watched Episodes IV, V, VI, and VII in order (although not Rogue One or any other canonical material). This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What were your thoughts watching A New Hope, coming in straight from the prequels?

I liked it! But I imagine it would be massively confusing without having known anything else about this universe…I can’t imagine that this was the first movie the public saw!

Any questions you had coming out of A New Hope?

I wish we got to see the little hooded creatures in the huge tank w/o their robes… I couldn’t tell if the beady eyes were cute or scary, haha. Also, how thick is Darth Vader? Why didn’t he feel a disturbance in the Force when he was in such close proximity to Leia and Luke? That should’ve been at least double disturbance! Also, Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice speaking to him suddenly was like, nothing. He should’ve been freaked out! Or was he happy because he recognizes it as Obi, which might mean he’s not really dead? Or maybe he doesn’t realize it’s Obi and just decides to listen to this invisible person that no one else seems to hear…weird. » Read more..

Arbiters of Compassion: What Luke Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn Teach Us About Finn

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It’s almost timeless in its use. In Beauty and the Beast, a prince and his castle were cursed for failing it. In Tales From Watership Down, the folk hero El-ahrairah tested the integrity of a warren through it. In Hebrews 13:2, the Bible says that some have entertained angels by passing it.

This is the test of compassion.

It’s the moment when a character encounters an individual who is undesirable to or unvalued by society in some way. Helping or showing compassion to this individual appears, on the surface, to pull time and effort away from the character’s goal. The test is: will the character divert from their path to help this individual, or will they continue on their way? Their choice in this matter reveals their true self and results in consequences.

Probably the most iconic test of compassion in Star Wars takes place in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is tested by Yoda, who is currently concealing himself as an annoying local. When Luke’s impatience overrides, at last, his mask of politeness, he fails the test, which nearly costs him his Jedi training. By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, he’s learned his lesson and applies it on a much larger scale, twice. » Read more..

Why It’s Healthy for Fans to be Constructively Critical

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One of the best aspects of fandom is the constant ongoing discussions you can have with your fellow fans. Interpreting stories, theorizing about where they might go, fanning out over our favorite characters tends to fill us all with amazing satisfaction. Star Wars has offered us the richest content for over forty years, and we should of course be grateful. However, in these ongoing discussions, it is also okay, and should even be encouraged, to be constructively critical as well.

Each of us is a different consumer with different backgrounds that will inform how we take in a property. While there are certainly many shared things we love, we may love those things for different reasons. For Rey, an example of a character that most people love, some love her for her courage. Some love her for her ingenuity. Some love her for being a paragon of feminism. Some love her for her mystery. Or for all of the above and more! Those same backgrounds and interpretations feed into whether each of us likes or dislikes a story or its elements.

Fans shouldn’t be hard on each other for being critical of certain aspects of our favorite franchise. Just because you recognize a few blemishes in your favorite film, TV series, book, or comic doesn’t mean you love it any less than others. It should be okay for me, for example, to say that I think that Rogue One, a film I love dearly, handled Saw Gerrera poorly by oversimplifying him in writing and performance (don’t get me started on how much I don’t like Bor Gullet, haha). While others might see a great character who exemplifies someone destroyed mentally and physically by his crusade, I saw a caricature with (mostly) weak dialogue and overacting from Forest Whitaker. The performance didn’t sell me, and Gareth Edwards’s previous interpretation of the character (which we glimpsed in the first Rogue One teaser) intrigued me more. Please note that this is not a dig at the reshoots (criticism of which, in my opinion, is mostly filled with hot air), which are normal for most films, but a criticism of the creative process going into this particular character. » Read more..

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