Skip to main content

Rogue One, Representation, and the Problem with Rationalizations

RogueOne

About one and a half years ago, we got the first cast picture for Rogue One, and the general consensus (myself included) was celebration of the ethnic diversity, followed almost immediately by dismay at the heavily male cast. But after the first trailer surprised us all with the appearance of Mon Mothma I was hopeful for Rogue One and optimistic that there would be more women. Unfortunately, my fears were proven right when I finally sat down in the theater to watch the movie and it turned out to be a pretty big sausage fest. An ethnically diverse (and quite attractive) sausage fest, yes, but still a sausage fest. 

It’s disappointing because I had high hopes for a movie whose cast represented a range of countries and ethnicities. I was hoping it would continue in the thread of The Force Awakens and make a concerted effort to show a wide range of women as well; I’ve written before on the lack of women of color in Star Wars and I was hoping Rogue One would prove me wrong. But it goes to show that allyship in one area doesn’t always translate to allyship in another. We should definitely celebrate when Star Wars does well. But we should also accept that it will make mistakes…and as fans we should hold it accountable when it does.

It’s hard to admit when things we love aren’t as perfect as we’d like them to be. I’ve found this to be especially with something like Star Wars, where people tend to structure their entire identity around the fandom. So I understand wanting to rationalize away the flaws rather than admit that our favored franchise didn’t put its best foot forward. And there’s been a rash of rationalizations as of late: Leia’s slave bikini is empowering because she uses it to kill Jabba. Padmé didn’t die of a broken heart, Palpatine actually drained her life essence to save Anakin. Rogue One doesn’t show a lot of women in the Rebellion because they were trying to be faithful to how it looked in A New Hope. Read More

Stages Within Stages: The Minority Report, Year Two

Finn_and_Rey_Jakku_Escape

Ever since 2009, I’ve conducted an ongoing study of diversity in Star Wars fiction—first (and still) at the Jedi Council Forums, then here at Eleven-ThirtyEight. Over time, I developed a means of “diversity scoring” various stories based on the demographics of their casts, and began looking for trends and precedents in the franchise, for good or ill. One huge thing I’ve learned from this process is that it’s very, very hard to quantify diversity in a useful way; people inclined to argue with me will often yell “Quotas! One of everything!”, which is an easy logical leap to make but hardly a solution. Not all roles and stories are created equal, so simple math is at best a limited measure of work’s value.

This became especially clear to me a year ago, when scoring the first several works of the new Star Wars canon. While at first glance these stories had established a number of remarkable things like an all-female stormtrooper unit, a black main character for a middle-grade series, and several LGBTQ characters in a single book, these bold steps weren’t showing up in the scoring—if anything, the raw figures were slightly worse than they had been in my studies of Legends material. While the average score has ticked down a little over the last year—from 67 to 60—that feeling has mostly held up. Read More

Context is Everything: The Minority Report, Year One

zaremodel

Not only was Force Friday our first big taste of the sequel era, it was almost the exact one-year anniversary of the release of A New Dawn—and thus, the new Star Wars canon (or NEU, as some are calling it but I refuse to). I celebrated A New Dawn‘s release by officially launching The Minority Report, Eleven-ThirtyEight’s loose ongoing series of diversity-focused articles by myself and others. While the tag has been a useful umbrella for a variety of pieces, up to and including new staff writer Sarah Dempster’s recent (and hugely popular) piece Star Wars’ Intersectionality Problem, as I originally envisioned it, the series’ main recurring feature would be a discussion of my longstanding diversity scoring system. Diversity scores, according to my initial conception, are quite simply the percentage of a story’s cast that is anything other than straight, white human men—WHMs, for short. In practice, though, they’ve become anything but simple.

To wit: on the whole, this first year of the new canon has been like a breath of fresh air. While A New Dawn‘s diversity score wasn’t exactly a mic drop, the series it led into, Star Wars Rebels, has been nothing short of miraculous. While there have been a fair amount of WHMs among its Imperial cast (and it could definitely use more women in this area) the main cast of heroes doesn’t contain a single one—as confirmed on this very site by Pablo Hidalgo. Their ranks of our heroes have grown since the premiere to include aliens like Old Joh, Tseebo, and of course, Ahsoka Tano, and people of color like Lando, Bail Organa, and Commander Sato (and soon, at least a few aging clones). For one of the most heavily child-facing elements of the franchise, Rebels is guaranteeing that the newest generation of Star Wars fans will finally have no shortage of heroes who look like them, and it’s been thrilling to see. Read More

Star Wars’ Intersectionality Problem

rogueonecast

The biggest piece of Star Wars news from this year’s D23 Expo was the reveal of the rest of the Rogue One cast as well as a first look at all of them in costume. Like the rest of the Star Wars blogosphere I was extremely excited by the news and immediately set to over-analyze every scrap of it. My first thought was “wow, what a multicultural cast!” Followed shortly after that was “…but why is Felicity Jones apparently the only woman?” It seems once again that Star Wars fans are being asked to choose between ethnic diversity and gender parity.

The original trilogy movies are, frankly, lily white and heavily male. Leia is the only woman with a significant presence across the three movies and Lando’s the only significant nonwhite character. The prequel trilogy fares a little better, with the addition of strong secondary characters such as Mace Windu or Bail Organa (both male) and Shmi and various handmaidens (all white). But the fact remains: a Star Wars character can apparently be either nonwhite or nonmale…but not both. Read More

The Parity Problem, or Why Padmé is the Best Character in the Prequels

padmekneel

With the dawn of the sequel trilogy less than a year away, 2015 has been a year of relitigation: new and old segments of Star Wars fandom, maybe even subconsciously, attempting to settle old scores and nail down our history one way or another so what we might all move forward together into whatever the hell The Force Awakens ends up being.

Most recently, this could be seen in last month’s brouhaha over two “Slave Leia” stories: first, a parent taking issue with the character’s presence in the toy aisle, where she was discovered by his young daughter. Then, just a couple days later, the new issue of GQ magazine featured a cover and photo spread with Amy Schumer involving the slave bikini, the droids, and pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Some people loved it, some were offended, and some (hi) just found it boring.

That was a couple weeks ago and people are still talking about Slave—excuse me, Huttslayer Leia and whether that scene was good, bad, or just plain unnecessary. For my money, Tricia Barr covered all the right bases and then some. But way before Leia ended up in the news again, 2015 began with the relitigation of, perhaps, an even more controversial element of Star Wars: the death of Padmé in Revenge of the Sith. Read More