Archive for Scotch Tape and Popsicle Sticks

Bugs in the System – The Great Unspoken Subplot of Star Wars

finn-rebelscum

As a general rule, I try to stay away from retrospective pieces here at Eleven-ThirtyEight. Sometimes, like with David’s excellent Jaxxon piece on Monday, there’s a new hook that makes old information freshly relevant, but by and large my feeling is that Star Wars material released prior to the Disney era—and certainly the original trilogy in particular—has had its time in the sun and continuing to poke at it years or decades later is tantamount to navel-gazing and doesn’t really advance the conversation. That can be fun, don’t get me wrong—but it’s not something I’m interested in doing here.

Sometimes, though, new stories create a fresh context for that old material. Luke’s behavior in The Last Jedi might create a new lens through which to view his training, for example, or a pending film might prompt the revisitation of related material from the Expanded Universe. Even if you discount Legends, Star Wars remains a gigantic body of work and there are always new threads, new patterns, that can be isolated when the moment is right.

Despite the scattershot nature of the eight saga films’ release timeline, despite being written out of order and across multiple generations and largely on the fly, one such thread has lingered in the background since the very beginning. It has a logical starting point in Episode I, pays off in Episode VI, and most impressively, continues in a sensible and compelling way in the sequel trilogy—all with very little in the way of open acknowledgement from the creators. This thread, to my mind the great unspoken subplot of Star Wars, is the quest for the perfect soldier. » Read more..

In Defense of Bad Decisions

poe-transports

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the real world, a human being exists in a superposition. Their capacity for love or hate, honesty or guile, can evolve wildly over the course of their lives, or even from day to day. The second you try to nail someone down, best-case scenario, all you’ve really captured is an echo. Worst-case scenario, it’s an outright fabrication.

Star Wars has a reputation for grabbing an extra-thick Sharpie and drawing hard, clear lines between good and evil, but I would argue that that’s a function of aesthetics more than storytelling—you know immediately that Darth Vader is evil, until suddenly he’s not. You know immediately that the Republic is a good thing, until suddenly it’s an Empire. You know immediately that stormtroopers are bad guys, until one of them has second thoughts.

So when two “good guys” come into conflict, who exactly are we supposed to root for?

The Last Jedi delights in forcing these questions on us, making us second-guess who the hero is and what that role really requires of them—but while Luke Skywalker is the marquee Questionable Hero, the one who has engendered far more interesting debate, for my money, is Poe Dameron. » Read more..

Let the Past Die: The Last Jedi Flings the Torch

—this piece contains major spoilers from The Last Jedi

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When Rian Johnson was announced as the director for Episode VIII, I recall one of my first thoughts being “oh shit, the ‘Ozymandias’ guy”. While I had seen Looper and liked it well enough, Johnson’s work on Breaking Bad was the most interesting to me in light of this job—what would a TV director do with Star Wars?

So it’s fitting that one of the easiest comparisons people are making to The Last Jedi is ’33’, an early episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica that sees the heroes’ fleet hounded indefinitely by the Cylons with no escape in sight. We knew the Resistance’s escape from D’Qar would be an early set piece in the film, but never in a million years would I have expected that escape to be the entire film. Though maybe that’s on me—The Empire Strikes Back is mostly about the heroes running away as well.

Nevertheless, it felt like a bold decision in a film full of bold decisions. Both supporters and detractors can generally agree that The Force Awakens was the safe version of a new Star Wars movie—it needed to be loved by as many people as possible or the whole operation would have been limping right out of the gate. But The Last Jedi expands the cinematic (and tonal) language of Star Wars enough for both of them. Actual, non-Force-based flashbacks, time lapse shots, X-Men-style telepathic conversations, and that crazy lightspeed ramming sequence are just some of the new ideas Johnson injects into the saga here, and while one or two of them may not be well-regarded in the final analysis, you have to give the guy credit for daring to try. » Read more..

The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. XV – The Origins of the Jedi

ahchtobook

With The Last Jedi seemingly poised to spend a good chunk of time in the environs of the first Jedi Temple, it is likely to include revelations about the history of the Jedi, or even the Force itself, that affected Luke Skywalker profoundly and perhaps contributed to his belief that “it’s time for the Jedi to end.” We’ll have to wait a couple more weeks to find out what those revelations might be, and just how much detail we’re given. But in the meantime, did the Expanded Universe ever get into this?

You’d better believe it did—though impressively, Lucasfilm resisted the impulse to fully explain the Jedi’s beginnings for almost thirty-five years. In 2012, the comic book series Dawn of the Jedi by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema finally pulled back the curtain and stitched the few scant details we did have into a much larger tapestry of brand-new characters and conflicts that still felt true to their trademark brand of Star Wars melodrama. The series was successful enough that a tie-in novel, Into the Void by Tim Lebbon, was released about a year later (and only one year before the reboot was officially announced, meaning the whole project came in pretty close to the wire). Let’s talk about what they came up with. » Read more..

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

jyn-sausagefest

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. []
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