The Saga Concludes – The Minority Report, Year Five

Welcome, one and all, to the final Minority Report, my annual(ish) update on diversity in Star Wars’ screen and printed content. As discussed in my last report, I’ve reached the conclusion that this new era of the franchise has brought us to a point where it’s better that the raw numbers, which have been my bailiwick for more than ten years now, take a backseat and that representation—what types of characters we’re seeing and how they’re used—becomes the primary focus of these conversations. While I still plan on running said numbers for my own edification, I’m going to refrain from these regular updates and save my commentary for when and if something really noteworthy happens.

I first took on this project way back in the days of the Expanded Universe, where most new characters were coming from books and their demographics were both more uniform and harder to notice; now that movies and television are steering the ship, Star Wars has responded to this increased scrutiny with a boatload of new female characters, characters of color, and even a small but not insignificant population of queer and nonbinary characters. But while the weight of focus has shifted drastically away from the usual parade of white guys, there’s still a lot to discuss about exactly how characters like Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Holdo, Val, and L3-37 are used, how they intersect, and what messages their stories are sending.

The thing about that, though, is that I see my own role in those conversations to be much more that of a listener—and ideally, a promoter of great voices from within the relevant communities here at this blog. When I started tracking diversity it felt like no one else was paying attention to it at all (at least in the not-very-diverse forums I was hanging around in back then), so having real numbers to throw around was my way of holding up a flashing neon “PROBLEM” sign. Now that diversity and representation are a huge, flourishing topic of discussion, I see how much I still had to learn, and while I still believe sheer volume is a big part of the solution, this is about much more than which types of people we see walking by in the background and who they happen to be kissing.

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What Jedi: Fallen Order Could Have Learned From The Rise of Skywalker

Early on in The Rise of Skywalker, Rey does something I’ve wanted to see in a Star Wars film for ages. For at least the seventh time in nine episodes, our heroes are confronted not by a villain, but by a wild animal. We’re not privy to its exact emotional state, but context suggests it’s protecting its territory, or traumatized, or just plain hungry. It’s also, to one degree or another, scary-looking: this isn’t just an animal, we’re expected to understand, it’s a monster.

And in six of the nine episodes, the heroes fight the monster, either killing it or distracting it or driving it off. This type of scene is just one of those things Star Wars does—like Threepio telling you the odds or someone having a bad feeling about this, a monster fight is how the screenplay lets you know this is a Star Wars movie. Old adventure serials loved that shit: the dianoga and the wampa and the rancor were George Lucas emulating the spirit of a guy in a lizard costume wrestling with Flash Gordon, and while few would call those scenes the films’ best material, they’ve never demanded any deeper consideration than that. [1]Not that that stops us.

But then, in this episode, the hero has a different idea. She passes her already-ignited lightsaber to Finn, walks slowly to the big snake-worm-thing, and uses the Force to heal a wound in its side. Not just the Force, but the Force of her own life—instead of killing an injured creature, the quick and easy path, she gives a little of herself to it, and in so doing saves all involved.

This is who Rey is, who she’s always been. To my mind it’s why she can get angry in a fight, more visibly angry than Luke ever got, and never let it consume her. Empathy isn’t something she has to stop and center herself to achieve, or have rubbed in her face by her father’s robot arm, it’s her baseline. Like so much in Rise, I go back and forth on whether the filmmakers intended this reading or just stumbled onto it while setting up some things that happen later in the movie, but hell if it doesn’t work. And what made it especially satisfying for me personally was its timely, if coincidental, refutation of Jedi: Fallen Order.

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A Short History of Disappointment, or, Why I’m Going to Like The Rise of Skywalker

Author’s note—as the title should make clear, there are no spoilers in this piece. I do, however, discuss lots of things that might happen in the film, and with those details certainly out there by now, note that I won’t be reading any of your comments or reactions until Thursday night. Godspeed, Rebels.

As someone who prides himself on rolling with the punches where new Star Wars content is concerned, I have some pretty big worries about what could unfold in The Rise of Skywalker when I sit down to watch it tomorrow night.

As someone who once strongly doubted whether there even needed to be a sequel trilogy, I’m worried that the story they chose to tell will lose its newfound convictions and prove that old me correct—that everything new about this conflict will be undermined by an effort to justify the sequels as part of a nine-episode story.

I’m worried that the failings of the New Republic, instead of being the organic growing pains of a new democracy, will have been part of an insidious long-term strategy employed by the First Order, and that the First Order itself will be an insidious long-term strategy employed by, erm, Darth Sidious. That what we’ve actually been watching for the last four years was one man playing a four-dimensional dejarik game that required him to be dead for thirty years.

Likewise, as someone who both wants and expects Kylo Ren to take some sort of step toward redeeming himself, I’m worried that his fall will be blamed on coercion or even outright brainwashing by Palpatine and/or Snoke. That he, and his parents, and his master, will turn out to have done nothing worse than be ill-prepared for the machinations of an evil wizard or two.

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Let Every Village Send a Warrior – The Case Against a Galactic Republic

My memory doesn’t work like most people’s. I’m bad with hard details—from minor trivia-question stuff like what year the TIE interceptor debuted in-universe all the way to the major plot mechanics of books I read even a handful of years ago. I can tell you that Kenobi is my favorite Star Wars novel, but when writing my recent EU Explains piece I still had to read the plot summary on Wookieepedia to remember what the hell actually happened in it. What does stick in my mind is the big picture, the tone, the flavor of a character, a book, an era. That’s why I’ve always been into the sweeping, historical aspect of Star Wars canon(s); I have a good eye for context, and I enjoy picking out new insights from the tapestry of stories the franchise puts out and how they interact—intentionally or otherwise—even as their particulars are quick to flee my mind.

What’s been especially interesting over the past five years has been the things I notice about the new canon that feel distinctly different from Legends continuity. Foremost among these is the sense that the Galaxy Far, Far Away is bigger now; more anarchic, harder to get around. [1]Even as hyperspace travel seems much faster than it used to be. While the EU tended to portray galactic society as not too different from contemporary Earth—where the relationship between Corellia and Rodia, say, was roughly along the lines of that between Vermont and Colorado, or Greece and Luxembourg—in the new canon there barely is a galactic society. Luke Skywalker is a myth, the Empire was good for employment, and it’s entirely possible to go through life without running into anyone who’d testify otherwise.

While novelist Alexander Freed has played with this provincial take on the galaxy more than most, one particular detail in his recent novel Alphabet Squadron really stood out to me. The central protagonist Yrica Quell isn’t the only Imperial defector in the cast, but as a participant in Operation Cinder, she is by far the most loyal Imperial in the book not currently serving with the Empire. Yet despite her cooperation with the worst the Empire could dish out, we also learn that during Yrica’s youth, her sympathies were with…the Rebel Alliance. Lacking any other way to receive flight training, she enlisted in the Empire with the express intention of learning just enough to ditch them and fight for the other side. Sound familiar?

As much as Yrica’s backstory reads like Luke Skywalker’s worst-case scenario, the commonalities of their two stories—combined with the rest of Alphabet‘s cast of rebels—catalyzed something in me: maybe the galaxy is just plain too big, too ornery, to individualistic, to comprehensively govern. Maybe its natural state is not representative government so much as rebellion itself.

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References
1 Even as hyperspace travel seems much faster than it used to be.

The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. XVI – Obi-Wan on Tatooine

“Years ago, we removed one child from Tatooine, thinking him to be the galaxy’s greatest hope. Now I have returned one—with the same goal in mind. I hope it goes better this time.” [1]From Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller

Well, here we are. After several years, countless rumors, and (if you believe those rumors) multiple false starts, Ewan McGregor is officially returning to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. What may or may not have once been planned as a spinoff film a la Solo: A Star Wars Story will instead be produced as a streaming series on the imminent Disney+ platform, meaning that this thinnest of concepts—guy sits in the desert for twenty years—will end up receiving at least as much screentime as an entire film trilogy put together.

But with that extra screentime comes different expectations. Without a hard two-to-three-hour time limit, streaming television can tell stories that film, perhaps Star Wars films in particular, just can’t; the stakes can be lower, the dangers more psychological, the character development more methodical. With a playground of two decades at their disposal, Lucasfilm can cherry-pick the most interesting thing (maybe the only interesting thing) that could possibly have happened to Obi-Wan during his exile and build a series around that, rather than try to tell an epic, multi-decade story just for the sake of filling a gap. With the timeline revealed at D23 placing the project around year eight of Obi-Wan’s nineteen-year desert vacation (during Solo‘s time jump, which may or not be important), it seems as if they do indeed plan on the former, which is music to my ears.

But even then, how much could really have happened to him? If Obi-Wan’s streaming exploits are too elaborate, too significant, doesn’t that undercut the whole idea of his exile? What if Luke gets trampled by a bantha while Obi-Wan is off fighting the Crimson Dawn?

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References
1 From Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller