Tag Archive for Second Look

Second Look: Is the Empire a “White Supremacist” Organization? Should It Be?

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

ro-dsbridge-whiteguys

Mike: Many, many moons ago, before The Force Awakens and before the Expanded Universe reboot, our own Jay Shah wrote a piece entitled Senseless Sexism in the Galactic Empire. His premise, in short, was a) that the Star Wars setting offered no logical explanation for an Empire that actively discriminates against female officers, and b) that in practice the EU’s attempts to engage with the issue had been flawed to the point that it would have been better left out altogether.

Jay was reacting to the simple fact that because Imperials are the bad guys—and more importantly, stand-ins for real-life oppressive governments—many are quick to ascribe any and all bad qualities to them. Surely there’s an anti-alien contingent, as witnessed in A New Hope and further supported by the prequel trilogy, but does the Empire actually discriminate against women, or people of color, as well? It’s easy to get that impression when every Imperial in the original trilogy is a white man (though the Rebels in ANH and The Empire Strikes Back aren’t much more diverse), but looking at their successors in the First Order complicates the issue—as do prominent non-film characters like Rae Sloane, who has largely been met with joy from fans for making the overall setting more inclusive, and demonstrating that anyone can be, well, “the bad guy”.

With all this serving as prelude, in the aftermath of last week’s heated US presidential election, Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta, two writers attached to Rogue One, tweeted the following:

Chris Weitz @chrisweitz
Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization

Gary Whitta @garywhitta
Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.

While nothing tossed off on Twitter (and since deleted) should be taken as canon, and it certainly can’t undo the existence of the powerful, serious black woman who becomes the nominal leader of the Imperial military after Palpatine’s death, I thought Weitz and Whitta’s comments (and let’s be real, the current events that prompted them) merited a revisiting of this topic. So I’ll put the question to all of you: as a separate matter from the “reality” of gender and race discrimination within the GFFA, which can never really have a definitive answer, is there value in explicitly, rather than allegorically, linking the Empire to misogyny and white supremacy? Can there be a sliding scale of interaction with real hate, or is it all or nothing?

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Second Look: First Steps into a Larger World: What the Prequels Taught Me about Life, Politics and Myself

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

BenMaul

The release of The Force Awakens in December saw, predictably, a wave of reflections on the Star Wars prequel trilogy: from brief, usually dismissive asides in reviews of JJ Abrams’s sequel, to a range of works defending the prequels’ artistic value. The most well known are Mike Klimo’s ambitious Ring Theory and the documentary The Prequels Strike Back, though I would also recommend these three articles as particularly eloquent and interesting perspectives on the first three episodes.

Beyond the critical response, the assumption is often that the prequels were generally received negatively by the fan community. After all, the most prominent voices in fandom had long been those of the original trilogy generation, where the response was indeed mixed, as the younger generation has taken time to grow into adulthood and find its voice. But as Abrams says:

“…if you ask someone around the age I was when the original trilogy came out, “Whats your favorite Star Wars movie?” they will tell you one of the original trilogy. If you ask someone around that age when the prequels came out, they will say one of the prequels. And it’s scientifically proven and undeniable.”

Well, I grew up with the prequels, and they are indeed as precious to me as the original trilogy is to that first generation. They were the significant films of my teenage years. I am not going to make the critical case for the prequels’ artistic merits. Instead I am going to tell the story of how they became a fundamental part of the way I see Star Wars, and even helped me to understand my own life a little better. As a new trilogy begins, bringing with it another new generation of fans, I think it is a story worth telling.

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Second Look: Grand Admiral Thrawn: Separating Man From Myth

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

thrawn-lores

As the primary antagonist of the inaugural nineties Expanded Universe trilogy, Grand Admiral Thrawn presented a different sort of Imperial villain – one who was intellectual, collected, and yet not darkly sinister. Thrawn stands out and his Empire seems to take on a different tone from the Empire of Palpatine. He presents a better way – order without cruelty, governance without megalomania. Inspired by Napoleon, Rommel, Alexander the Great, and others, Grand Admiral Thrawn is nigh-invincible – defeated but for circumstances – and with him dies the dream of a better Empire. But is all of that true? We’re a pretty big fan of Thrawn – in fact, he’s one of the early Imperial characters we first latched onto as a villain worthy of respect and admiration (having read Kevin J. Anderson and Mike Stackpole prior to Zahn). He was unlike any Star Wars villain to come before or since, and Thrawn very rightly generated a lot of buzz and excitement when his return to the Star Wars canon was announced at Celebration Europe this July. We wanted to say that first as a bit of a disclaimer – that we’re a big fan of Thrawn – before getting to the gist of this article: which is that Grand Admiral Thrawn is tremendously overrated. Now wait – this isn’t one of those “you should feel bad for liking this, and here’s all the reasons why you’re wrong” pieces. The thing about Thrawn is that he’s not perfect – he is flawed, and has made some pretty colossal blunders just in the Thrawn trilogy set of books.

Both in and out of universe, people tend to assume Thrawn is perfect and unbeatable. Out of universe, that can occasionally manifest into excessive fannishness or dislike for a character that is “better” than the film villains. In universe, that manifests in characters assuming that Thrawn is completely beyond the abilities of any of the protagonists to defeat. But Thrawn isn’t invincible – far from it. He makes assumptions, he makes convoluted plans that fail when the slightest thread is unraveled, and he ultimately creates a system that cannot outlast his own demise. He’s also every bit the villain Darth Vader and the Emperor were – he supports the Empire’s mission, and even though later EU books try to put his decision to serve the Emperor into a noble light, the truth is that he literally made a deal with the devil and agreed to serve him.

Here’s the trick though: that’s what makes Thrawn work, and that’s what makes him so good. He operates at a higher tempo than most of his opponents, and gambles with hunches and convoluted plans where the pay-off is so spectacular that it looks like magic. Thrawn not only plays to his opponents’ psychology through his characteristic artistically-informed military tactics, but by causing them to doubt themselves and their own abilities by believing that Thrawn would be aware of their every move. Thrawn uses his own reputation and his opponent’s self-doubts as a weapon, and that’s rather more impressive than if he were simply an all-seeing mastermind. Thrawn’s a genius, but he’s also part charlatan – something that Timothy Zahn himself played off of in his sequel Hand of Thrawn duology that ended the Bantam run of the EU. It’s something we hope to see again in Star Wars Rebels – the mastermind and the trickster, whose evil is of a different shade but nonetheless recognizable as such.

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Second Look: What Will You Become: Saw Gerrera and Armed Revolution

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

saw-whitaker

The Star Wars universe, despite originally depicting a very Manichean struggle between good and evil, has become in the decades since the original movie a very morally nuanced place. I’ve mentioned before that if I look at the current status of the franchise, I’m tempted to consider Star Wars to be more of an anti-war story than a war one, but that’s a debate that we’ve had on this website very recently. Personally, I feel that although the original trilogy no doubt romanticized armed insurgency, George Lucas’s point of view on war and violence had evolved and become considerably more pacifist by the time the prequels and The Clone Wars rolled in.

Behind the curtain of space fantasy, George Lucas told the audience about things like false flag operations, the military-industrial complex, and factionalism in insurgencies. The heroes of the story, the Jedi, lose because they get involved in war. War itself is bad. If we look at the totality of the material that Lucas himself produced under the banner of Star Wars, behind all of the heroics and the swashbuckling, it sure appears to tell us that war sucks. But is there a way to add a bit more nuance to this message without negating it?

Enter Saw Gerrera: the only Rogue One character appearing on the big screen for the first time while remaining an original Lucas creation, having been originally developed for the never-filmed Star Wars: Underworld TV project and first seen in animated form in The Clone Wars, Saw Gerrera is played by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and is set to make a big splash in the galaxy. The Databank describes him as “a battered veteran of the Clone Wars as well as the ongoing rebellion against the Empire, [who] leads a band of Rebel extremists. Saw has lost much in his decades of combat, but occasional flashes of the charismatic and caring man he once was shine through his calloused exterior.” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told Entertainment Weekly that Saw Gerrera is “on the fringe of the Rebel Alliance. Even [they] are a little concerned about him. […] He’s off on his own” and Whitaker says that “he really believes that what he has done is right. He understands that […] worlds could be destroyed if he doesn’t succeed. And he’s one of the only people who will do everything to make sure the Imperial forces don’t.” Saw Gerrera is set to have been of the original architects of the Rebel Alliance, but one who is not in good terms with Mothma, Organa, and the rest. He has his own faction of extremists (called “partisans” in Bloodline) and he appears to be fighting his own fight against the Empire. And that is something that history tells us has happened over and over.

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Second Look: Star Wars and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Check in every day this week to see a new, ah, old piece back on the front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

geonosisplosions

Stories have power—and the narratives our societies choose to focus on will, for better or worse, begin to define our reality. The concept of Manifest Destiny helped usher in an age of colonization and imperialism that resulted in millions of deaths and the enslavement of millions more. The narrative of the “American Dream” fostered economic growth and productivity on a scale never seen before, though often at the cost of work-life balances and to the exclusion of those denied equal access to economic institutions. The 1980s conception of the “Welfare Queen” embedded itself into American consciousness and to this day inhibits anti-poverty efforts while encouraging racial animus.

Stories have power—and because of that, we must make sure we are not focusing on a narrative that may ultimately cause harm to others.  With that thought in mind, I worry: Does Star Wars promote the myth of redemptive violence (defined simply as “the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, and that might makes right”)?

Recently Roy Scranton, an American veteran of the second Iraq war, argued in the New York Times that in Star Wars, “the violence of war has a power that unifies and enlightens…It’s a story about how violence makes us good.” In essence, Scranton argued that Star Wars is simply another piece of America’s cultural myth of redemptive violence. This myth, he argues, is emblematic of the US addiction to war and ultimately helps prop up the same powers that even now wreak violence around the globe.

If his critique is true, then every fan of Star Wars is part and parcel of systemic evil that the myth of redemptive violence has brought upon the world. As a fan, the possibility that this critique might be true frightens me. But is it?

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