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Second Look: Humansplaining: Star Wars From the Aliens’ Perspective

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

Human diversity in the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been a major focus of this site, and myself personally, over the years, but there’s been a parallel conversation running alongside that all along in the representation of droids and aliens: how many, which kinds, what are they doing? While real people seeing themselves directly and fulsomely represented in these stories—in the films especially—is certainly a higher priority, Star Wars is arguably not very well equipped to address things like racism and sexism in a direct fashion, and instead normally chooses to do so through subtext and metaphor.

The Mos Eisley cantina is notable for being not just the first major showcase of the galaxy’s alien demographics, but for the first instance of “metaphorical prejudice” in the form of Wuher banning the droids from his establishment. That moment coupled with an Imperial officer describing Chewbacca as a “thing” not long after makes George Lucas’s view of prejudice quite clear—even if the overall whiteness and maleness of the film’s protagonists does him no favors.

Droids and aliens, then, have never been there just for texture, but for metaphor as well—a way for the story to comment on real human biases without overtly importing them into its universe. While Solo‘s recent efforts to engage with droid prejudice were, well, inconsistent at best, the fact is that the films have never even attempted to put nonhuman prejudice on the front burner.

Lack of foregrounding, however, doesn’t equate to silence: if you choose to take the demographics seriously and not just as texture you’ll find that the films have been saying quite a bit. The goal of this piece, then, is to do just that—assume every human role and every nonhuman role is one hundred percent deliberate, and extrapolate accordingly. To be clear, this is very much a thought experiment, and not a suggestion of intentional messaging on the part of the creators.1 ILM and Lucasfilm’s creature shop (whew, just calling it that in this context is awkward) have done a lot of amazing work over the years, but how that work is distributed throughout the story tells a story of its own. What messages do we come away with when we treat that subtext as text?

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  1. Though it does seem to be in some cases, as I’ll discuss later. []

Second Look: The Phantom Menace is Innocent: We’re to Blame for Modern Cinema Culture

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

Ah, clickbait. “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is To Blame For Modern Cinema Culture” is a wonderfully clickbaity headline, and I was baited to click. Now I’m going to add my voice to the silliness. The article, by Hannah Jenkins, caused a bit of a stir in the digital gazebo known as Star Wars Twitter, arguing as it did that TPM was responsible for many of the trends in current popular cinema, the good and the bad. Most of these arguments were not particularly convincing. The true legacy of TPM, and the lessons we can take from it, can be found when we look not at the industry or at the movie itself, but at ourselves.

Jenkins argues that TPM’s trailer was a defining moment in the marketing of movies, and there’s truth in this. Suddenly the advert was an event in and of itself, and following the “illegal” sharing of it across the internet, studios quickly had to catch up with this new digital way of consuming these things. I remember spending anxious hours downloading each Attack of the Clones trailer via dial-up on QuickTime (an ironic name if ever there was one), and being irritated by Warner Bros.’ attempts to force us into the cinema to watch Scooby Doo by releasing only a thirty-second trailer for the trailer of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets online. Maybe TPM did lead the way to the era of big simultaneous Super Bowl/Twitter trailer reveals. And Jar Jar Binks was certainly a leap forward when it came to motion capture, though this can be overstated: he was hardly the first fully CGI leading character in a movie, with Casper, Dragonheart and Mars Attacks all preceding him.

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Luke looking out on the two suns before he dies on Ahch-To

Second Look: Eye of the Beholder – In Celebration of Star Wars Fans

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

There was one element of Star Wars Rebels‘ “Twin Suns” that eluded interpretation. Over the course of my multi-part close read, with every ridiculous theory I crafted for the episode’s name, I could not place it. Why were there so many shots of eyes that looked like the suns?

Maul’s eyes were the right color. Obi-Wan’s were similar to the blue of the twin moons, which served as a stand-in for the suns at night. There was a close-up of Ezra’s eye that made the pupil and the dot reflection look like the suns across the blue “sky” of his iris. Even Chopper had a moment where he was cropped by the frame so that only two of his optics were visible. “Twin Suns” did use eye close-ups and point-of-view shots to establish whose perspective the audience was to engage with, so these decisions were not wholly without reason. And yet I still could not make the connection to why these eyes resemble the suns, almost deliberately so.

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The 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, Part III

Welcome to the final chapter in Eleven-ThirtyEight’s 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, as voted on by our entire staff! If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out Part I and Part II as well. Before we get to the main event please enjoy the last of our Honorable Mentions—moments that came up in voting but didn’t make the cutoff.

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Honorable Mention: Hera’s Code Switch, Star Wars Rebels (Mike Cooper)

I remember very clearly how strange it was when Aayla Secura first appeared in The Clone Wars and for some reason known only to the Creator, she had a French accent. It wasn’t just her, though—it was all Twi’leks, at least all that we got to see. I don’t know if it was intended to give the Ryloth arc a Les Miserable vibe or just a random whim on Lucas’s part, but having a distinct cadence—even one transported whole cloth from Earth—quickly set the Twi’leks apart from most alien species in Star Wars, who typically sound totally normal, totally alien, or, um, uncomfortable.

But Star Wars accents, even at their best, are almost always just for flavor, and trying to make sense of them is a fool’s errand. So when we met Rebels’ Hera Syndulla and she spoke with a normal American accent I thought very little of it—even after she was confirmed to be the daughter of French-sounding Cham Syndulla—and certainly never expected it to be addressed in the story. But late in season two they did just that, and Rebels was richly rewarded for it.

Cham finally made his way onto the show for a two-part arc in which our heroes attempt to forge a relationship between their own Phoenix cell and his Ryloth-based rebels. The arc was a great window into the growing pains of the eventual Rebel Alliance—do we fight the bigger fight or concentrate on our own backyards?—and Hera’s upbringing in particular. The well-worn nature of this debate becomes clear when, during a heated exchange with her father, Hera slips back into her native accent. Read More

The 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, Part II

Welcome to Part II of our Memorable Moments feature–Part I can be found here! This thing is long enough already so let’s get right to it…

sloaneposter13. Admiral Sloane Orders the Retreat, “The Levers of Power” (Jay Shah)

Initially, my entire list of favorite moments consisted of key events from RAE SLOANE’s story across different media and throughout the timeline of novels in which we’ve seen her. That would have been a little silly for a list of moments, even though I believe RAE SLOANE’s journey through the new canon has been the most remarkable and every moment we saw her in another context was a surprise and a sheer delight. But if I had to pick a single moment, I would choose her appearance at the Battle of Endor in the short story “The Levers of Power” — it’s the pivot point around which her whole career orients and changes.

Before the Battle of Endor, RAE SLOANE is a dutiful Imperial true believer who does the right thing as she sees it but is unable to rise as far as she merits due to the Empire’s internal politics and her unwillingness to play those games. After the Battle of Endor, RAE SLOANE is one of the most powerful forces in the Empire and becomes the very face of its surviving military as a grand admiral (literally, in the case of propaganda posters).

“The Levers of Power” shows Admiral RAE SLOANE on the precipice, just as her Empire is. It is a harrowing story. The Battle of Endor felt like it could go either way, until disaster mounted on disaster and it couldn’t. We see all the classic hallmarks of RAE SLOANE: her tactical skill, her dislike for power games (exemplified by a particularly odious ISB loyalty officer), and her ability to cut through the expected to get things done. She does not suffer the loyalty officer’s second-guessing as she leads as ably as any Imperial officer could. More than that: when she has to make the key decisive call that the battle is lost and duty requires the fleet to be preserved, she shoots the loyalty officer dead and gives the order to retreat. She has to. Read More