Archive for Guest Editorials

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..

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..

Nobodies: How the Jedi Have Always Come From Nothing

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“They were filthy junk traders. Sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me.”

When many heard these words in The Last Jedi, they saw a turning point in the Star Wars saga. No longer was it a tale of legacy, of “mighty Skywalker blood”, but instead a story of how the Force could be found to belong to all, and even a “nothing” like Rey could be attuned powerfully to the Force. It was a sentiment that stirred many people jaded with Star Wars.

It was a sentiment that has been present in many parts of Star Wars, both canon and Legends, both recent and old. Today I come to praise two oft-derided things, the Jedi Academy trilogy and The Phantom Menace. Rey, though a great example of a Jedi and a great counterpoint to Kylo Ren, was far from the first Jedi whom Ben Solo might have called “nothing”.

In the Jedi Academy trilogy, when Luke Skywalker seeks out those Force-sensitive people who have not been purged by the Empire, he goes to faraway and obscure places to find them. Although Luke does initially frame this as looking for Jedi descendants, he also states that he seeks those known as miracle workers, or the incredibly lucky. He later explains:

“Everyone can use the Force to some extent, but a few have a stronger innate talent.”

He also says:

“Reach out and feel your mind, feel your body, feel the universe surrounding you. The Force stretches around and through everything. Everything is a part of everything else.” » Read more..

No Easy Wins: The Case For Draven

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Going into Rogue One my only thoughts on the character of Draven had to do with the since-debunked speculation that he was really Agent Kallus from Star Wars Rebels. After walking out of the film, however, I found that I was fixated upon the Alliance general. Many fans I have talked to say that they disliked the character, or that while they understood his purpose and saw him as a necessary irredeemable jerk they still did not have much love for him. I was honestly surprised by this reaction because for me he was incredibly interesting and I wanted to see more of him as soon as possible.

Throughout Rogue One we see a lot of shades of grey within the Alliance. Jyn, Saw, Cassian, and Draven are the biggest examples of this. Within each of those two duos is one protégé and one old warrior who has given everything to this war dating as far back as the Clone Wars. Saw and Draven are incredibly fascinating to compare to one another. Each man is an embodiment of the shades of grey within the Rebellion, and yet they are vastly different people.

Saw was hardened due to being a ground-level revolutionary. He lost his sister Steela early on and has sworn to do whatever it takes to win. As he explained to Jyn in Rebel Rising, “Steela was the best part of me”. When Saw’s new war against the Empire began, “I was smarter that time. I didn’t make the same mistakes I had when Steela was still alive.” Saw never got to stop fighting. He never stopped being the revolutionary with nothing to lose, and that shaped him into a brutal, violent soldier who would do whatever it takes even if he had to be a monster. Saw lost his sister, his soul, and has to force away his daughter to protect her. » Read more..

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