I don’t expect many of you to understand this, but if you do, please tell me (I’m okay… Patrick)
Media-wise, this year’s been strange for me. My two favorite properties turned out lackluster examples, with Ghost in the Shell (2017) and a Mass Effect sequel I didn’t play (too sad). A movie I can’t stand reinvented itself well in Kong: Skull Island, and a modern Alien film wasn’t just good, it had aliens in it. Not only that, I saw a superhero movie, for the first time in five years, and I sat in a Dolby something-something theatre, at her feet, agape, in wonder. To top it off, the greatest of all twists is beginning and I can’t seem to stop it — I think I’m becoming a Star Wars fan.
This has been about two years in the making, with Star Wars under new and specific direction (Kathleen Kennedy), where finally the promise of Rey and Jyn has turned up something so outstanding it entirely occupied my thoughts for two days straight, ruining a weekend: the revelation of Iden Versio in the ‘upcoming’ Star Wars: Battlefront II.
The trick to making Star Wars tolerable? Add women, meaningfully. That should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this site, but there is a major complication here that must be addressed.
Everything seems so obvious now, and perhaps my becoming a Star Wars fan was inevitable. It seems like everything I’d like: space opera with a military bent, cool visual designs. But I never liked how a retro throwback became myth in itself, how none of the movies registered to me as ‘good,’ and a third thing which was always rattling around in my brain but I’ve only recently been able to articulate.
The first Star Wars movie I genuinely loved was Rogue One. It may be the skeleton of a great film, and while Jyn was kind of a non-entity, I really liked Cassian. I like Star Wars (1977) as a movie, and I think The Empire Strikes Back has some interesting elements. The Original Trilogy to me is marred by stretches of boredom and story and characters I don’t connect with. The Prequel Trilogy does arguably slightly better, albeit with worse writing and characters, but more interesting visuals and better action.
The problem, however, and why I can never revisit Attack of the Clones, is the Jedi. It’s not even a conventional criticism, it’s this total nerd thing. In another time, a character like Iden would deeply unsettle me. A bit of that lingers, but for the first time with this series, I’m hopeful.
Soon I will preorder a book that is promotional material for a video-game
For context, there’s a scene in Attack of the Clones where Obi-Wan and Anakin confront a female bounty hunter and cut her hand off with a light-saber. It isn’t just the unflinching violence itself that makes me uncomfortable — first personally and then politically whatever — but the context of the violence, that there’s nothing a female bounty hunter could do in the face of these Jedi fuckfaces because hacks. Take that however you want.
That’s not fair and it’s boring, first of all, but when the all-powerful element in the fictional universe is embodied almost entirely by men, this Attack of the Clones scene could extend to any potential situation. And that’s not a fun universe to immerse one’s imagination in, where men can electric shock or force choke or light-saber cut women with impunity, no matter how badass the woman in question, i.e. bounty hunter.
In the real world, nobody has supernatural powers, and so a woman could theoretically always beat a man in a fight — equality in action, even if people lean on gender dimorphism and forget what 5’7” Bruce Lee taught them. But in Star Wars, I don’t want to see Shae Vizla fly down in that Old Republic trailer, because she’s probably gonna get her ass kicked by some dildo in a robe. That’s just the way of things. She manages to hold her own, but that’s Bioware, who gave us the mathematically equal female character with Commander Shepard.
From The Old Republic
So what of a character like Iden, whose coolness is unfairly furthered by the actress Janina Gavankar’s charisma, who wears a cool uniform, has a cool helmet, and is a special forces commander for an elite unit on a mission of vengeance. And she’s on the Empire’s side, which would potentially see her doing things with greater ruthlessness than the usual plucky hero.
With the arrival of Rey, the universe is a little less unsettling. In my painful mental algorithms, Iden Versio can then comfortably exist in this universe — whether one where only a female Jedi could stop her (technically, no — her story is set shortly after Return of the Jedi), or one where creatively, men are not the center of attention.
And being the ‘center of attention’ isn’t just a string of words, it has specific application, the power dynamic thing. For my fandom, this is just a matter of images and ideas I like and don’t like seeing. When you push women to the supporting end of the cast of character list, that’s under- and misrepresentation for women. For me, as a viewer, it creates the environment where these women are subject to powerlessness in a world of absolute power. The one would be bad enough.
A better tomorrow, or whenever
Look, this whole thing is strange, because it’s dependent on a bizarre metric: that cool or even just cool-looking characters should beat the other characters. Or at least, not be obliterated by them. Jango Fett is cooler than Mace Windu, General Grievous looks cooler than Obi-Wan, stormtroopers, rebels, and so on. But that’s the nature of fandom — it’s not rational, and this may sound like a political thing, and it isn’t. It should be, but it’s a matter of taste first, not sensitivity. I don’t like seeing women get killed in my media, as a start, and to me, a universe where men have such inordinate power is not escapist, it’s just a shade of our current reality — Fury Road says hello.
And I’m aware of the women Jedi — Ayla Secura comes to mind, because she was fun to play in the original Battlefront II. But note that she’s the only Jedi who isn’t seen putting up a fight during Order 66, if memory serves. Then there’s Senya from The Old Republic, who became the face of the expansion Knights of the Eternal Throne, which is pretty much the greatest title of all time, and she seems cool, especially in that trailer. You also have the orange one from the TV series, and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say she’s some kind of protege. And finally, you have the evil white Sith Jedi, Asahi Venture Capital, who’s very powerful (cool episode of the original Clone Wars show) but is that ‘scary crazy’ archetype like Jack from Mass Effect 2 which often demands a lot of bondage.
And it doesn’t matter because that’s focusing on the wrong part of it, given how many male Jedi there are throughout eras. The whole “Rey is a Mary Sue” thing was like some jackass speaking an alien, jackass language — first of all, that’s a bad thing? Second, no she’s not. Third, if you’re gonna out yourself as a guy who hates women*, also realize it, or you look like an idiot.
Awaiting your orders, ma’am.
It’s remarkable, and I know I’ve commented on this before, how fandom can blossom before the thing is actually made real — no doubt people have bought shirts with Inferno Squad helmets emblazoned on them, and will read that book in July. What if the game comes out and sucks? What if — and this is a reach — Iden doesn’t have such a big part to play, in a multiplayer-focused franchise game with established characters spanning 40 years? She may not even be a playable character, but with Star Wars, I’m starting from negative 16. I have no expectations, so this is kind of a great place to be — low standards, ravaged by the series history, during a time of transition. Things are looking up, but I’m keeping my heart close to… my chest. Or whatever.
I do thank Patty Jenkins, but I also thank Kathleen Kennedy, for fostering a more inclusive fictional universe on such a massive scale.
*This seems to suggest I ‘like’ women or am somehow a good guy. If you’re curious, check out this post from last year or so, on Why I Like Anime.