Rey

Reflections on The Last Jedi

I can say, with little remorse, that I have not yet purchased The Last Jedi. This isn’t to suggest I never will. The need – not a want, a need – to place the film next to the other Star Wars films on my shelf will eventually take over. For now, I can fight that urge, pushing back against the feeling that my shelf looks incomplete. But why am I fighting this feeling? Why not give in and just buy the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise? I am a die-hard Star Wars fan after all, so why haven’t I gone out of my way to purchase and obsessively watch the film? Good questions.

I don’t review films on this site. I don’t review films on this site because I am not a professional reviewer, a critic trained to offer an appraisal of a piece of work. I am a fan of Star Wars, I have opinions, but those opinions do not give me the authority to offer any truly nuanced or unbiased “take.” I don’t review films on this site, but I am never-the-less, here and now, ready and willing to offer my thoughts and opinions on The Last Jedi, doing so with as little bias as possible. But again, this isn’t a formal review, and I don’t get paid to say these things.

A Smattering of Things I Liked

Paige Tico
Paige Tico
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi. The movie has some remarkable moments, and to me none is more remarkable than the moment Paige Tico sacrifices herself to save the small Resistance fleet. Tico, a character who never utters a word, a ball gunner in a Starfortress Bomber blasting away at First Order TIE Fighters. In a desperate moment, with everything on the line, Paige climbs out of her gunner’s chair and performs an act of sacrifice heroism, unleashing the bombs that destroy a First Order Dreadnaught. The action saves the fleet; the action takes her life.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and I genuinely appreciate the acting of Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver. I was captivated by Driver’s portrayal of Kylo in The Force Awakens. I was swept away by his portrayal in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren is not just a villain in The Last Jedi, he truly is the “monster” Rey calls him. The Dark Side isn’t just strong in him, it consumes him in a flame that burns hotter than Mustafar. He is ready and willing to destroy everything to prove himself, to be like his grandfather, to be his grandfather, to be greater than his grandfather. Darth Vader, Lord of Death. Kylo Ren, Supreme Lord of Darkness. Redemption isn’t even on this guys radar. Only death, only destruction, only darkness, only power.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and there are smattering of moments and characters and events I really enjoyed. I loved the design of the Resistance Bombers, the First Order Dreadnaught, the AT-M6 Walkers, the Resistance capital ships. I liked the geography of Crait, and the fact that Caluan Ematt is a General leading the Resistance forces on the planet. Laura Dern is great as Vice Admiral Holdo, although I wish her sacrifice – which is visually incredible – had been saved for Episode IX since it overshadows the sacrifice of Paige Tico. Carrie Fisher’s final portrayal as Leia Organa is  very moving (sans the weird space floating moment) and her final interaction with Luke, even though he isn’t physically present, is quite touching.

KyloRey
Kylo and Rey fighting together is a pretty cool sequence. Watch closely and you’ll notice that Rey should have easily been killed.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I could list other things, other aspects of the film I genuinely liked. But I am not here to just list things, and I don’t think you want to read a list. The truth is, those aspects of the film I just listed – and a few others here and there – are all I can muster when it comes to this film. I can identify “things” about The Last Jedi I liked and that is all. I envy those who have been so moved by this film, who have elevated it into top place in their Star Wars rank lists. I wish I could do the same – it wouldn’t supplant The Empire Strikes Back in my list but #2 is a fluid spot – but sadly I cannot. I am a life-long Star Wars fan and this film just doesn’t move me, it just doesn’t feel right. There are a handful of profound moments but this movie just isn’t very profound.

Wading into the Shallows

I am well-aware that those who love The Last Jedi see incredible depth in it, that they believe this film has done something to Star Wars that is magnificent, breathtaking, groundbreaking. I understand what they are saying, I even understand how they are thinking. I just don’t agree. The common refrain I run into is that the writer/director Rian Johnson has “let the past die,” jettisoning aspects of the Star Wars saga – even aspects of The Force Awakens – to tell a unique and different type of Star Wars story. Perhaps nothing points to this more clearly than by Rian Johnson’s depiction of Luke Skywalker as a broken shell of a Jedi, a man determined to die in-exile.

Heading into the film I knew Luke Skywalker was going to be broken in some form and I was perfectly fine with that reality. “Luke Skywalker has vanished” the opening crawl to The Force Awakens tells the audience in the very first line and to its credit The Last Jedi shows us that the line is not solely about being geographically lost. Heck, the film could have been titled “The Lost Jedi” because Luke Skywalker has completely lost touch with who he was when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. “I am a Jedi like my father before me,” young Skywalker once proudly declared to the Dark Lord Sidious in the single most important moment in the Original Trilogy. “I’m ending all of this. The tree, the texts, the Jedi. I’m going to burn it all down,” he now tells Master Yoda (who appears as a Force ghost). Damn, the Luke Skywalker we knew really has vanished!!! It’s no wonder so many older fans of the franchise have lamented that this isn’t the Luke they remember…

Is This REALLY Luke?

In a guest post on this site – An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga – my friend Nancy  succinctly notes that the Luke Skywalker we experience in The Last Jedi “…could not cope with the crushing disappointment of Kylo’s turn towards the dark side and the guilt he felt towards letting Leia and Han down.” To this we can add that he feels equally guilty for Ben Solo’s ultimate turn to the Dark Side. You know, that moment when he stood above his sleeping nephew, ignited his green lightsaber and contemplated, momentarily, ending the boy’s life. When he recalls the event, Luke initially lies to Rey about what happened. Or rather, he offers a “Kenobian” point-of-view to his new protégé. But I digress. Ben Solo, frightened as he wakes and looks up at his uncle holding the blade, defends himself. Who wouldn’t? But then the young Solo does more, tearing down the Jedi Academy that Skywalker had built, killing the students (with the help of other students who had dark feelings?) and fleeing to the warmth, love, and manipulation of Supreme Leader Snoke.

That Ben Solo-turned-Kylo Ren destroyed everything Luke had painstakingly built in the years after Return of the Jedi makes sense. It was the story I expected after watching The Force Awakens. The surprising bit is that Luke Skywalker took a completely non-Luke Skywalker action which was the catalyst for Ben’s final step into the Dark Side. With the momentary ignition of his green lightsaber as he stands above his sleeping nephew, the scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke cast aside the exact same blade, refusing to kill his father, is itself thrown aside.

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Skywalker declares to Rey at one point in the movie. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren tells Rey at another point in the film. Over and over again, The Last Jedi champions what it is doing: tearing down the foundations of Star Wars with something new and radical. The movie spends a lot of time self-referencing with quotes and metaphors (a building literally crumbles, burying Luke, when Ben defends himself) to prove this is the case, to make us believe we are watching a radically new and fresh version of Star Wars. The thing is…

I don’t buy it. From my vantage point, the self-references and metaphors – and the shallow depth of the film – are just clever tricks distracting us from the obvious. Namely, that we have seen this story once before:

A teacher takes on a gifted, young student who has incredible power. The teacher trains the student, but the student has dark thoughts and feelings, and those thoughts and feelings grow like a virus in the mind. Eventually, the teacher must confront the student, and the student fights back. While the teacher chooses not to kill the student, the damage is already done. The teacher is left feeling guilty and flees into exile. The student puts on a mask that represents their dark turn. Years later, the two finally confront one another again. The teacher is aware of their own shortcomings, that they failed the student. The student believes they are the more powerful now, but little do they know that their teacher is truly more powerful than the student can possibly imagine. Their final battle ensues, and in a critical moment, the student slashes a red blade through their former teacher…only to be left stunned and confused by their former teacher’s final lesson.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker?
Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo?
Rey and *insert the villain from Episodes X, XI, XII*

LukevsKylo
Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren face off on Crait.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


We Need to Talk about Rey

Speaking of Rey, for being the heroine of this new trilogy, The Last Jedi goes to ridiculous lengths to build her up through Acts I & II only to have her be a non-factor in Act III. Her story is an interesting one and I genuinely like Rey, but for all of her training with Luke, her Force connection with Kylo Ren, and her (brash) decision to run off and try to save Ben from the monster within him, her story is effectively set aside in the Final Act. Why? Because this film isn’t about Rey. It is really about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Don’t get me wrong, Rey has a lot of cool character development and some intriguing bits happen to her. Never-the-less, from my vantage point, Rey is ultimately set aside in what is supposed to be her own story. 

Of course, one could argue that Rey’s connection with Kylo Ren is the most fascinating aspect of the movie. In fairness, I wouldn’t entirely disagree. The relationship between Kylo Ren (Dark Side) and Rey (Light Side) is where a lot of the philosophical “depth” in The Last Jedi comes into play. This depth is certainly interesting, but it is a depth that is knee deep at best. For all of the Ontological-meets-Ethical Dualism which Rey and Kylo Ren represent, specifically as it relates to the “Balance of the Force” (whatever the hell that even means at this point), any opportunity to truly dive into the mysterious abyss of the Force never really happens. An opportunity certainly existed, one where Luke  could have helped Rey work through her connection to Kylo (and vice-versa with Snoke helping Kylo work through his relationship with Rey). This would have been a prime opportunity to highlight Luke (and Snoke) as mentors, while shedding light on this intriguing and new conception of the Force. Instead, the movie gives us only fleeting glimpses of these deeper philosophical undertones while simultaneously distracting us from them (i.e. – Kylo being shirtless; the two awkwardly touching hands; Rey running off to save Ben). Then again, I’m not sure the film even knows how to take things into the deep end of the pool. In fact, I would liken it to this: The Last Jedi (and Rian Johnson) give off the impression of a college freshman who took Introduction to Philosophy, read snippets from the I Ching, the Avesta, the Gathas, and The Jedi Path, and is now acting like a pretentious know-it-all who has minimal grasp on what they are saying. Which leads me to this…

“Getting” The Last Jedi

As Nancy and I were chatting recently about the film, she mentioned that “…there is this attitude that if you didn’t like Rian Johnson’s vision then you weren’t smart or deep enough to ‘get’ The Last Jedi.” In other words, it is as if one must possess a gnostic knowledge to truly “understand” the esoteric depth at the core of this movie. If only Nancy, or myself, or others who do not love and worship the film as a gift to Star Wars had the special knowledge to understand it, we would finally see just how profound The Last Jedi truly is. But like I said earlier, I really don’t think it is very profound.

For over two hours, I watched a film I had already seen before. Or rather, I watched a film that took thematic elements from a handful of films that I have already seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE things in this film that are new, and things in this film that are intriguing. I mean, I have NEVER seen the aliens in the Canto Bight Casino before (but I have been confronted by never-before-seen aliens in a casino/cantina-esque setting before). Yet, for all the new stuff in this film, as a whole it just came off as an amalgamation of ALL the Star Wars films, pretending to be something radical and fresh while simultaneously offering philosophical possibilities that are never really teased out.

I envy those who have experienced The Last Jedi as this new and fresh dive into the Star Wars universe. Truly, I do. I wish I had the gnosis they possess and the connection tot he film that leads them to see it as philosophically deep and spiritually mystical. Then again, I don’t really believe there is any there “there,” or at least not enough to elevate The Last Jedi to the top of the Star Wars pantheon. Rather, The Last Jedi is just a film masquerading as something truly special, a “child in a mask” playing Star Wars dress up. Does it attempt some intriguing things, even getting away with a handful? Of course it does. But the thing is, if I want to really experience Star Wars, I will watch the Original six films. Hell, I’ll even watch The Force Awakens – which is also a derivative amalgamation but is at least AWARE it is – and I will definitely watch Rogue One – which woefully lacks women but is never-the-less a stellar homage to A New Hope. On the flip side, if I feel like watching something that is “technically” Star Wars but that thinks it is way smarter and self-important than it really is, I’ll watch The Last Jedi. Granted, I’ll need to buy it first, and right now I have better things to spend my money on.

Ben Kenobi: Desert Father

Theory: Rey is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Since The Force Awakens hit theaters, the idea that Rey is related to Obi-Wan  has picked up quite a bit of steam among pockets of Star Wars fans. I’ve not only seen this theory show up across the interwebs, but I have a handful of close friends who are pretty adamant that Rey is directly related to Kenobi. On the surface of things, I’m really not surprised by this theory. If one doesn’t believe Rey is a Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi does feel like he should be the next likely choice. Plus, it is a rather easy leap to go from Skywalker to Kenobi, particularly since Kenobi makes an auditory appearance during Rey’s Force Vision sequence in The Force Awakens. At one point during the Vision, we hear Kenobi say “Rey” while, at the end of the Vision, Kenobi can be heard saying “These are your first steps.”

What could Kenobi’s words to Rey mean!?!?! What do they imply about his relationship with this curious orphan from Jakku? Only time will tell, but for some people his words to Rey are at least partial proof that she is directly related to the former Master of Anakin Skywalker and guardian of Luke Skywalker.

But here’s the thing: I don’t buy it. Actually, not only don’t I buy it, I think it would be a massive mistake for Obi-Wan to be Rey’s grandfather. Do you hear me Lucasfilm – IT WOULD BE A MASSIVE MISTAKE!!! 

Listen, I’m fine with all types of speculation and theories, and say more power to ya if you believe Rey is directly related to Obi-Wan. But keep this in mind: if Kenobi has a granddaughter, that means he had a son or daughter of his own, which means he had sex. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing Obi-Wan Kenobi, during his nineteen years in exile on Tatooine, took the time to flirt with someone, let alone have sex with anyone. A relationship of any kind, be it a committed affair or a one-night stand just doesn’t fit who Kenobi is – a Jedi Master, sworn member of his Order and devoted follower of the Light Side of the Force, with a moral obligation to protect the child of his former padawan at all costs.

In fact, in those moments when he was not actively watching over or protecting Luke, Kenobi-in-exile on the desert world of Tatooine should always be viewed as a hermit.

Granted, it is easy to overlook Kenobi’s religious isolation since his early life was massively expanded by the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series. The Obi-Wan who comes to mind for many a Star Wars fans is undoubtedly the younger, more active (and attractive) Jedi Knight/Master who battled Darth Maul and fought in the Clone Wars, not the wizened old man living a life of poverty and spiritual contemplation as he watches over a young boy. Yet, it is important to remember that it is the older Kenobi that informs all of his other iterations. While the stories about his younger life provide interesting and exciting depth to his character, it is his introduction in A New Hope that sets the tone for how we are to view him, and at least in part, how we should view the Jedi Order. 

When the mysterious old “wizard” named Ben first appears in A New Hope, elements of hermitic life bleed off of him. He wears simple and unassuming robes, lives in solitude on the edge of Tatooine’s Western Dune Sea, and he speaks about his devotion to the mystical and mysterious energy field known as “the Force.” For all intents and purposes, Kenobi is meant to be a pop culture re-imagining of a Desert Father.

Beginning their religious practices in the late 3rd Century CE, the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of Early Christianity were ascetics who lived in seclusion – some as hermits, others in small communities – primarily in the deserts of Egypt. Believing it necessary to withdraw from society, these monastics lived austere lives, believing the harsh desert environment would teach them to eschew the need for material possession and tame their ego. As well, the Desert Fathers engaged in numerous spiritual practices – to name a few: recitation of scripture, interior silence and prayer, kindness and hospitality – all with the hope of becoming closer to and united with God.

Menas

Now in the Louvre, this icon of Jesus (right) with St. Menas (left) is from the sixth century and is one of the oldest in existence. That Ben Kenobi happens to look a bit like this depiction of Menas, a desert father, is coincidental, though the resemblance is striking.

Now, it is absolutely worth pointing out that the above paragraph only scratches the surface of the Desert Fathers and their place in Early Christianity. Then again, my intention is not to write an academic treatise on them and the way they influenced Christian monasticism (here is a link to book if you are interested in learning more about them). Rather, my brief description of these ascetics is to highlight the obvious: Obi-Wan Kenobi shares a number of similarities with them, similarities that are clearly present in George Lucas’ seminal film. Again, that Kenobi lives on a desert world is one thing, but that he is also a hermit, a member of once grand religious order, lives an austere life, and is devoted to his “god” (the Force) is reason enough to view him as the Star Wars equivalent of a Desert Father. And, as such, it is imperative that this fact not be undercut by Kenobi’s going off and having “relations” that would take him away from his moral duty of safeguarding Luke Skywalker and, as was added in the 2005 film Revenge of the Sith, his spiritual aspiration of learning to preserve his life force upon physical death. Both are religious commitments which Kenobi is wedded to on Tatooine, duties that he, as a character, would not shun out of a desire for companionship or sexual enjoyment.

LEGO Star Wars: A Paucity of Female Minifigures

Many moons ago I published a post titled The Brick Side of the Force in which I share a snippet of my collection of Star Wars Lego sets and minifigures. As one can imagine, since publishing the piece in March 2016 I have since added a number of new sets to my collection. However, my Lego collecting has also slowed quite a bit since then for two very specific reasons. Perhaps the most obvious reason is because Lego sets are expensive and buying them, even at sale/clearance prices, adds up over time. But while money is a big reason for my Lego slow down, the other reason is the alarming reality that there is a discouraging paucity of female minifigures being created and accompanying the Star Wars sets that are released every few months.

While a number of female characters from Star Wars, human and alien alike, are certainly represented in minfigure form, The LEGO Group has otherwise not done enough to create equal representation among Star Wars minifigures. There exists an abundance of male Star Wars characters in minifigure form, but a dearth of women. As a collector of Star Wars Lego sets, but even more importantly as a man who strives to highlight and tackle the insidious ways our society and world places greater importance on men over women, I felt compelled to call attention to this issue with the hope that doing so will spark a conversation and some form of change. And, in order to shed light on this problem, it is necessary to provide numbers. It isn’t enough for me to just say “there are more male minifigures than female minifigures.” No, that just wouldn’t do. Numbers are necessary to start this conversation and highlight just how problematic this issue is, and the first set of numbers I want to share are my own.

My Collection

As of the day this post was published, my Lego Star Wars collection consists of ninety-six sets of various sizes. Out of those sets, and not counting any droids, I have a total 267 minifigures. Of those 267 minifigures, the male-to-female breakdown is as follows:

Men: 248
Women: 19

Yeah, you read that right. After buying or being gifted ninety-six Lego Star Wars sets, and out of 267 human and alien minifigures, I only have nineteen women!!! A paltry 7% of my minifigures are women and the other 93% are men!!! Allow me to break these numbers down even further…

Not including Darth Vader, I have six different versions of Anakin Skywalker in my collection but only two renditions of Padmé Amidala. I have four different versions Obi-Wan Kenobi, and two versions of Master Yoda, but two of the exact same Ahsoka Tano. And, while I am happy to have Asajj Ventress, I also have two versions of Clone Commander Gree in his Battle of Kashyyyk camouflaged armor.

I have three varieties of the Mandalorian Sabine Wren from the show Star Wars Rebels, a positive fact for sure but, then again, I also have three versions of the Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus. While my collection includes two versions of Ezra Bridger, I only have one Hera Syndulla minifigure. I have two versions of Rey from The Force Awakens, and I happily have Maz Kanata as well, but I also have five First Order stormtrooper, all with male faces if their helmets are removed. I’ve got four mini-incarnations of Han Solo, three of Luke Skywalker, two of Chewbacca, but only one Princess Leia. Heck, if I did include droids in these numbers, I have more mini-renditions of R2-D2, C-3PO, and Chopper than of Princess Leia.

Sabine and Kanan
My three Sabine Wren minifigures with my three Kanan Jarrus minifigures.

Of my thirteen Rebel pilots, only one is a female: an A-Wing pilot. This is even more absurd when one realizes that the Rebel U-Wing Fighter (set #75155), which I have in my collection, came with a male minifigure even though the solitary U-Wing pilot we see in Rogue One is a woman! Not counting Jyn Erso, of my seven Rebel soldiers, not a single one is a generic female. I have eight Mandalorians but none are women even though some Mando warriors in The Clone Wars animated series are women. And in my collection of Jedi, the only women I have are Ahsoka Tano (whom I already mentioned), Luminara Unduli, Barris Offee, Stass Allie, and Satele (a character from The Old Republic MMO). 

Before going any farther, I am going to pause and acknowledge that this reality is partially my fault. When I began collecting Star Wars Lego sets in the year 2012, it did not occur to me at the time that the more I added to my collection, the more I was creating an astonishingly male-centric battalion of minifigures. Sets have come and gone with female minifigures that I either didn’t buy or were not gifted to me, minifigures like the Jedi Shaak Ti, the bounty hunter Sugi, and the First Order Captain Phasma. But while I am partially culpable in creating this unequal representation within my own collection, there is an even greater issue at play. Specifically, The LEGO Group just doesn’t create enough minifigures based on female Star Wars characters and there is an overemphasis placed on creating multiple versions of male figures. In the past year, I have sought to only purchase sets that include female minifigures and, to say the least, it has been really tough because Lego simply does not have enough sets that come with women. 

Shopping for Lego Sets

In February 2017, Lego unveiled new Star Wars sets on store shelves in the United States and, as a collector, the male-to-female minifigure disparity was palpable. Of the fourteen sets that arrived (not counting large-scale buildable figures), only one came with a woman: Battle of Scarif (set #75171) which includes Jyn Erso wearing her Imperial Ground Crew disguise from Rogue One. Otherwise, not a single set that arrived in stores had a female Star Wars character. Adding insult to injury, the Micro-Fighter U-Wing (set #75160) came with a male minifigure even though, again, the U-Wing pilot we encounter in Rogue One is a woman. Talk about discouraging.

But wait, it gets even worse! Of the thirty-four Star Wars Lego sets that hit store shelves in 2016, there was a total of thirteen women in minifigure form. The set Assault on Hoth (set #75098) alone comes with twelve men, Toryn Farr being the lone woman in the set and 1/13 of 2016’s female minifigures.  Additionally, it is worth mentioning that of the nine large-scale buildable figures Lego introduced in 2016, three were of female characters: Rey (#75113), Captain Phasma (#75118), and Jyn Erso (#75119).

The year 2015 gave Star Wars fans thirty-five Lego sets but only nine minifigures were women. Coming with the First Order Transport (set # 75103), Captain Phasma is intimidating in her unique chrome stormtrooper armor; however, remove her helmet and one will be disappointed to discover a solid black head without any facial features. As well, six large-scale buildable figures were also introduced in 2015 but none were of female characters from the saga. 

In 2014, thirty-two sets with minifigures were available for purchase but only two of the minifigures in 2014 were women. Two!!! Plus, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Sandcrawler (set #75059) that arrived in 2014 includes Uncle Owen but DOES NOT include Aunt Beru. In fact, this is no different than the previous version  of the Sandcrawler (the 2005 set #10144) which also included Uncle Owen but not Aunt Beru. 

Hera and Ahsoka
2014 female minifigures: Hera Syndulla (green) and Ahsoka Tano (orange). Syndulla came with The Ghost (set #75053) and Tano with Coruscant Police Gunship (set #75046).

Twenty-nine Lego Star Wars sets hit store shelves in 2013 but just six minifigures were women. Additionally, a female Jedi padawan was included with a promotional set given to journalists at the premier of The Yoda Chronicles in May 2013.

In the year I began collecting Star Wars sets, 2012, Lego sold twenty-six different sets that contained minfigures. Yet, there were only seven women scattered among all sets. For comparisons sake, the set titled Palpatine’s Arrest (set #9526) comes with six male minifigures alone.

2011 offered nineteen Lego Star Wars sets with eight female minifigures distributed among them.

Store shelves in 2010 were stocked with seventeen Lego Star Wars sets, and out of those there were three women in minifigure form. Two of those women – Aayla Secura and Ahsoka Tano – were included with the 2010 Clone Turbo Tank (set #8098). Again, in comparison, Luke Skywalker was included in four different sets in 2010. 

Eighteen Star Wars sets were sold in 2009 with a total of five female minifigures distributed among them. It is also important to note that in 2009 Lego released six limited edition Collectible Display Sets available at San Diego Comic-Con. Each Display Set came with three minifigures apiece. Two of those Collectible Sets came with a single female each: Ahsoka Tano in one and Asajj Ventress in another.

In 2008, the year The Clone Wars movie and television series debuted there were sixteen Lego sets and five minifigures that were women. Of those five female minifigures, one was Juno Eclipse, a character from The Force Unleashed, a popular video game which also debuted in 2008.

And before 2008, from 1999 when Lego first introduced Star Wars sets up to 2007, there was, so far as I can tell, ninety-seven sets sold in the United States that contained minifigures. Yet, out of those ninety-seven Star Wars sets, there were only twelve female minifigures spread among twelve different sets. Once again, by way of comparison, over that same eight year span, Han Solo was included in nine sets, Anakin Skywalker in eleven sets, Obi-Wan Kenobi in twelve sets, and Luke Skywalker in twenty sets.

Now, to arrive at these numbers, I relied on two websites, Lego.com and Brickset.com, while also falling back upon my many long hours of shopping for Lego Star Wars sets. This being said, I readily admit that I may have miscounted in some way, shape, or form as I calculated these numbers. And, if so, I am happy to fix any miscalculation. Plus, I should also mention that I kept my count strictly focused on the sets that reflect a scene or vehicle from Star Wars, and which also come with minifigures. In short, I did not consider any of minifigure key chains or magnets, or count any of the Lego Star Wars books/video games that may come with minifigures. Nor did I include any of the polybags that only include a minifigure (none of the minifigure polybags have ever, so far as I can tell, come with a female character anyway). I did, however, include the annual Lego Star Wars Advent Calendars in my count. The first arriving in 2011, each Advent Calendar comes with a handful of minifigures; however, through 2016, not a single female minifigure has been included in any Advent Calendar.  

Clarifications being stated, it is safe to say that The LEGO Group has done an outstandingly terrible job of offering female minifigures in Lego sets. With Star Wars popularity growing by leaps and bounds thanks to Disney’s 2012 takeover of the franchise, Lego stands to profit even more in the years ahead from the sale of Star Wars sets. Yet, the utter lack of female representation in the form of minifigures, dating back to 1999 when Star Wars sets were first offered, is an egregious reality that absolutely needs to change going forward. While Lego has certainly offered a handful of more women in the past couple of years, the lack of women should stunt any applause The Lego Group deserves. Even more must be done to fix this gender imbalance, and as a fan of Star Wars and of Lego, I am prepared to stop purchasing Lego Star Wars sets and spend my money elsewhere if the imbalance is not adequately corrected.

Fixing the Problem: Part I

So what could be done to rectify the gender disparity? Well, for starters, The LEGO Group should stop thinking about the Lego Star Wars brand being made solely for young and growing boys. In a response to my inquiry about the imbalance of male-to-female minifigures in their Star Wars sets, a customer service agent with Lego replied by stating:

Our research and experience shows that girls and boys experiment with their gender identity while they play, and they often tend to express themselves differently. Statistically, play themes like LEGO® Star Wars™ have more fans among boys and LEGO Friends is more popular with girls. Based on this research, we tailor our advertisements to a target audience of builders, which is reflected in the resulting print or media campaign.

I certainly do not deny that boys and girls express themselves differently when they play with Lego sets, or any toys for that matter. Nor can I speak to the research that The LEGO Group conducts in their product testing as I am not privy to the way their research unfolds, or the data they collect. But I can say this: the notion that “play themes like LEGO® Star Wars™ have more fans among boys” might be verified by research but it is not in any way a reason to exclude minifigures that reflect the multitude of human and alien women in Star Wars. It might be more boys gravitate to Lego Star Wars than girls, but if that is so then Lego should be doing even more, not less, to incorporate female characters in Star Wars sets so that young boys, as they play, can be empowered by, and grow in respect for, the women in their every-day lives. 

And so, the importance of fixing this issue is greater than just ensuring that I, as an adult collector, have more women among my minifigures. No, this issue is truly about values, about the way we teach children, and particularly young boys, to respect and admire women. As well, it is also about showing young girls who enjoy Lego Star Wars that the women they encounter in the saga – all women, not just Princess Leia, Jyn Erso, or Rey – have value and are critical components of the galaxy far, far away. Through the power of play, The Lego Group has the capacity to help boys and girls alike be positively impacted by female Star Wars characters, not at the expense of male characters, but in tandem with them. And, it is my hope, that The LEGO Group considers, and enacts, new ways to incorporate Star Wars women into their popular toy sets.

Fixing the Problem: Part II

So, what are some ways and steps that The Lego Group could start taking to close the gender gap among Star Wars minifigures? One very small but incredibly important step is when a set is created which reflects a scene/vehicle in Star Wars, female characters should never be replaced by a man. That both U-Wings come with a male pilot who replaces the female pilot from Rogue One is not only disappointing, it’s just pathetic. Either someone at Lego didn’t do their homework, not realizing the pilot in the film was a woman, or a conscious decision was made to replace her with a man. Regardless as to how it happened, it shouldn’t have happened, period.

Lego Soldiers
In Battlefront, the Rodian (green) and Duros (blue) are playable characters, both of which are male. The female alien one can play as is a Twi’lek.

While honoring female characters by not replacing them with men, The LEGO Group can also include more women by identifying when/where female characters show up throughout the series and, in turn, ensuring that they are included with sets. Assault on Hoth could have very easily included Princess Leia in her Hoth outfit, and Aunt Beru should have accompanied Uncle Owen with the Lego Sandcrawler(s). Or, consider the two smaller sets that reflect the popular Battlefront video game: Rebel Alliance Battle Pack (set #75133) and Galactic Empire Battle Pack (set #75134). In Battlefront, one can play as a male OR female character, changing at random whenever one chooses. This being the case, there was absolutely no reason for female soldiers to be excluded from either battle pack. A female trooper could have easily replaced one of the four Rebel soldiers, while the Imperial technician in the Empire pack could have been a woman. When Battlefront II arrives, and if Lego plans on creating new Battle Packs or sets based on the upcoming game, I hope that the Imperial protagonist of the game not only receives her own figure, but that more women are included as minifigures as well to honor the games gender diversity. 

Seventh-Sister
The Seventh-Sister.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Rebels Season 2, Episode 5: “Always Two There Are”

My hope is also that Lego not only finds ways to include more generic females in sets – pilots, soldiers, cantina patrons, etc. – but that they additionally create minifigures based on female characters who appear in the two popular animated series. While Duchess Satine of Mandalore and Mother Talzin were, at times, critical to the plot of The Clone Wars animated series, neither have ever been given minifigure treatment. Nor has Bo-Katan, the female Mandalorian warrior who was part of the Death Watch terrorist group, although Pre Vizsla, leader of the Death Watch, has been rendered in minifigure form. Additionally, Jedi Master Adi Gallia, a member of the Jedi High Council, and Jedi Librarian Jocasta Nu, are great female characters from The Clone Wars who could become minifigures. As for the show Star Wars Rebels, while the Imperial Inquistor known as the Fifth Brother is included in Captain Rex’s AT-TE (set #75157), his popular counterpart, the Seventh Sister, is nowhere to be found. Likewise, while the popular Grand Admiral Thrawn accompanies The Phantom (set #75170), Governor Arindha Pryce, who appears in Rebels Season Three, has yet to become a minifigure but would be perfect addition in a set based on the show.

The designers at Lego could easily create minifigures for Duchess Satine, Mother Talzin, Bo-Katan, Adi Gallia, Jocasta Nu, the Seventh Sister, and Governor Arindha Pryce, including them with sets that reflect their canonical endeavors. In turn, as Mother Talzin is the leader of the Nightsisters, it would be equally appropriate for a Nightsister Battle Pack to be sold that contains a handful of the Dathomiri witches. It would also be appropriate for The LEGO Group to branch out into other mediums of Star Wars storytelling, such as novels and comics, to create more female minifigures. Women such as Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, Norra Wexley, Everi Chalis, the Jedi Depa Billapa, Dr. Aphra, Sana Starros, Ciena Ree, Evaan Verlaine, and the Zabrak Jas Emari, and many more could be rendered as minifigures to be sold individually in polybags or with new sets based on these other storytelling mediums.

AuntBeru
Aunt Beru deserves a Lego Minifigure
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Of course, the foundation of Star Wars are the array of movies that fans of all ages have grown to love, and while the franchise needs to continue to do a better job of promoting female characters on screen, The Lego Group should never-the-less continue to find ways to incorporate women from the movies in sets and polybags far more often. Main characters like Princess Leia, Padme Amidala, Rey, and Jyn Erso will undoubtedly continue to given minifigure treatment, although my hope is they will appear with more frequency. Yet, I also want to see other women from the films, supporting and/or minor characters being given minifigure treatment more often or for the first time. Mon Mothma, Captain Phasma, Maz Kanata, Shmi Skywalker, Bazine Netal, Sy Snootles, Jessika Pava, and, of course, Aunt Beru are just a handful of female characters who could be included in Lego sets that reflect the canon of Star Wars films.

Finally, in wanting The Lego Group to create more minifigures based on the human and alien women in Star Wars, I also want more Star Wars stories to incorporate women in leading, secondary, and background roles. Certainly, the franchise has done a good job at this in a number of ways, but more work still needs to be done. As a lifelong fan of Star Wars, I will continue to advocate for women to shine within the Star Wars canon, something that all Star Wars fans should demand. At the same time, as an avid consumer of Lego Star Wars, I will continue to advocate for Star Wars women to be given greater treatment as minifigures. 


If you are passionate about this topic, and wish to see more female Star Wars characters turned into Lego minifigures, then follow the link below and contact The Lego Group.

Lego Customer Service

 

Fan Reactions to The Force Awakens

While I certainly love sharing my own views on Star Wars, and I could talk to no end about The Force Awakens, it’s also nice and refreshing to get some different perspectives and hear other voices.  I’ll definitely be offering my own thoughts and experiences of the film in more of my posts, but for now I wanted to mix things up. So, like I did during Ewok Week, I gathered a smattering of reactions to The Force Awakens from fans of the Star Wars franchise. Check out what they had to say and keep the conversation going in the comment section!!!


From Jenmarie (Check out her blog Anakin and His Angel)

Now that I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times I can tell you that I have fallen more in love with it after each viewing. Each time I’ve seen it I’ve noticed more ties to the other films, I’ve experienced different emotions during pivotal scenes, and I have grown to appreciate the characters even more than I did the first time. I went in knowing that this was going to be a continuation of an incredible story but that it would also be filled with new adventures being led by new faces. I have never really compared the films but have rather seen them all as one taking place at different times with unique stories all intertwining with each other. In my experience, this mindset has allowed me to appreciate each film within the Star Wars Saga for what it is to the very fullest which has resulted in my primary focus being on what I love most about these movies.

That being said, as a fan, I can tell you that The Force Awakens is very much a Star Wars film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you shouldn’t worry. It does a remarkable job of combining the familiarity we have with these movies with the new, and there’s some fresh and extraordinary new content that has made fans like myself go crazy! Like the haven’t-seen-it-in-a-week-withdrawals kind of crazy. Without going into too much detail, the new material consists of things that I’m sure many of us never knew we wanted or could exist in the Star Wars Universe. There are some insanely incredible scenes where the Force is used in a way where you just don’t want the scene to end no matter which side you’re on, light or dark. There are personalities within characters (and a particular droid) that we have yet to see until now and it’s fascinating to watch and  wonder what goes on inside their heads, what their pasts look like, and why they do what they do. There are also brand new themes that will tear you apart emotionally. Rey’s Theme is so powerful, it has honestly messed me up once or twice. The Force Awakens is full of memorable moments (both heart-felt and hilarious), exciting action, and tear-jerking scenes that will leave you sitting there in the rawest of forms. It sounds draining, but it’s a great thing to be so impacted by a new Star Wars movie! GO SEE IT!

From Jake

I thought that the movie was fantastic. It has been years since I was sitting in a movie theater, jaw dropped, waiting for the next scene to happen. I think that the plot and characters were well written, if very derivative (A droid is being hunted for the information it holds, but it crashes on a desert planet only to be discovered by the last remaining person able to use the force who then, through a series of misadventures, makes their way to an older Jedi to be trained, but, on the way destroys the biggest, baddest, most unstoppable space titanic of a weapon”). My biggest issue with the movie actually comes from the original actors. I think that it was great that they reprised their roles, and I went into the movie excited about it but when they appeared on screen it took me out of it for a second, it seemed a little “force”-ed to me (other than Anakin, I loved his cameo). I loved the movie as a whole, though, and am looking forward to the next installment.

From Andy (aka Andykin)

The Force Awakens, oh boy, I was an emotional wreck throughout the whole movie. Seeing all of our beloved characters come back from the original trilogy was like going home. I got those warm fuzzy feelings which lead to lots of joyous tears- the lady next to me for sure thought I was crazy! I was clapping, laughing and crying like a little kid. And of course, I had no shame in it.

FirstOrderTroopers
First Order Stormtroopers
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII:   The Force Awakens

Rey was an incredible character to be introduced to and she delivered; she is easily my favorite new character. I could not be more happy with her and the strength she represents as a female. The First Order is so badass, I LOVED the new modernized feel the Stormtrooper armor has. They got a sweet, sleek, upgrade but kept the integrity of the original design. The riot baton was so cool to see in action!

John Williams, god bless that man, (thank you Steven Spielberg for introducing Williams to Lucas all those years ago) he did it again. My favorite track is the The Scavenger, as it has so many beautiful elements to it and personifies Rey so well. Special effects/sound effects were amazziinnngggg, it’s an IMAX dream and still holds up so well in the standard version. My favorite still has to be the humming and sparking of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, you hear him before you see him coming, and I thought that was genius. You gotta tip your hat to the sound editing team for that and so many other things! (pew pew!) So, uh, I think it’s safe to say that I loved this movie and it’s the best time to be a Star Wars fan!

From Alicia (Check out her blog Not So Super Heroes)

Let me begin by saying, I love spoilers. Love them. I read the epilogue to The Deathly Hallows to prepare myself for the possibility that Harry might die. [Spoiler: He didn’t.] That being said, as the release date for The Force Awakens drew near, I found myself wanting to avoid the dreaded spoilers. And, since I’m not a good enough fan, I wasn’t able to see the film until almost two weeks after its release; the anticipation was killing me. But still I attempted, for the first time, to steer clear of blogs, Tumbles, and Tweets. I failed. Miserably. About a week and a half after the release, I learned the truth about my forever love, Han Solo. [Spoiler: He dies.]

Kylo-Ren-by-kyloxrens-tumblr-kylo-ren-39176197-500-220
Kylo Ren
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Crushed. Inconsolable. There were lots of aggrieved moans and groans. Han dies. I needed to know more. I immediately went to Wookiepedia and got the scoop. Damn that Kylo Ren. Damn him straight to hell. But—by the time I saw the film, I had moved into the acceptance stage of grief and watched the film knowing that my first and constant movie crush was going to die. As I walked out of the theatre, I left with a sense that it couldn’t have played out any other way. And, of course, not being a rube, I knew as soon as the film was announced and Harrison Ford signed on, that they’d kill him off. I just hoped they’d make his death worth something.

I wasn’t disappointed. Star Wars has always been about fathers and sons. The Force Awakens carries that motif throughout. We see Han struggle with his belief that he is not enough to redeem his son, to bring him back from the Dark Side. Han never once shows that steadfast optimism that Luke embodies so clearly in Return of the Jedi. And as Han walks out on the bridge and calls him son by name, he does so knowing how it will end. Han was never enough for young Ben. But finally, in his last act, Han gives Ben everything he has, possibly for the first time.

From Jared

It’s hard for me to sort through all my feelings about The Force Awakens. To start, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood growing up, and through the podcasting and online community I’ve been fortunate enough to become a part of, it’s helped my life become much better.

Over the last year and a half or so I’ve become more and more a part of the fandom, and a large part of that was following The Force Awakens news as it broke, and the advance spoilers that were released through various reports. The build up to The Force Awakens has led me to some of the most meaningful friendships in my life.

Finn
Finn
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Which brings us to the film! To be able to share it with every member of my family, and to discuss it with friends from around the world, it makes the whole experience that much more incredible! I immediately fell for all our main heroes. Finn was my favorite by a VERY small margin, with Rey a close second. The earnest quality and sweetness of their bond, the seeds of romantic potential on both sides (Finn more than Rey) had me like a teenager with all them feels! I’m pulling for both of them in the future saga films. At half an hour into the movie, I was sold, they’re my new heroes.

I loved Adam Driver’s performance as well. He really nailed the quiet rage and, the more violently expressive kind as well! But his performance was exceptional. Overall, this film was a great way to share in something I love with my family and my new Star Wars family together, and to have fun doing so!

I am completely ready for the future of the Star Wars franchise!

From Mark (Excerpt taken from a piece Mark wrote entitled Star Wars and Good Stories.)

“What makes The Force Awakens so refreshing is its clear attempt to move the series back to a place where it can tell stories about people at their most people-y. Stories about a group of individuals; their hopes, dreams, fears, pains. Stories about lives lived. You and I can’t connect emotionally to intricately woven plots about trade negotiations and senatorial upheaval any more easily than we could emotionally connect to a newspaper. But a story about a boy, lonely, eager to do something special with his life, who finds friends and adventure, who feels the crushing disappointment over his father’s identity on top of the grief he’s always felt for his absence… these experiences we can get. These are things any one of us might actually live through.

Good stories are about people. When a story isn’t about people (or at least people-like things), for better or worse we have a hard time figuring out why we should care. Good stories, as those which connect us to other people across time, culture, distance, or even reality (when we’re talking works of imagination), also connect us to our deeper selves. We love the tale because we see ourselves in it. This connection rings so deeply to who we are as humans, it pulls taut the line between us and the first storytellers, passing words around a campfire about gods, humans, and the nature of the seen and unseen world. In this way, we are also connected to the divine, inasmuch as the desire to create comes from Createdness itself.

rey
Rey
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

This connectedness to Being through story and myth is also an answer to one of the more prominent critiques of the new film. Some feel that Episode VII lacks originality. While I agree that the plot follows the same structure as the first movie, A New Hope, I’m just as quick to say that this isn’t cause for critique. Rather, it’s what works about The Force Awakens. The new film is resetting the myth, not reinventing it. This is what we do with good stories. We develop them, not scrap them. Han Solo takes the place of Obi Wan. Rey is our new Luke. The story isn’t unoriginal for these facts because originality doesn’t always come from inventing new themes; in most cases, it comes from using myths we already know to develop new strands of the tale through old character growth and new character perspective.”

(Check out the rest of Mark’s thoughts HERE.)

From Michael

When I walked out of our first showing of the film on December 17th I…I didn’t like it.  I felt horrible owning those feelings but I didn’t know what to do with it. I mean, I thought it was fun and funny and exciting but it didn’t feel like Star Wars. George Lucas’ absence was obvious. Whether you love Lucas, hate him, or are indifferent to him, you can’t deny that Star Wars is his story.  It’s his world, his characters, his myth.  So to have a story set in that world, with those characters, but lacking his influence and his vision in the writing and/or directing felt jarring. It felt wrong.

Mike
Mike stands in line for The Force Awakens
Photo Credit – Me

Walking into the second viewing (1:10 Friday afternoon) I knew what to expect and was ready to appreciate the film for what it was.  By the third viewing (7:50 Friday night) I found myself really enjoying it.  The fourth viewing (9:50 Saturday morning) saw fatigue begin to set in but, after a needed break, the fun was back for the fifth viewing (8:10 Sunday night) and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.  As I’ve spent (more than a little) time with this film over the last few weeks I learned something for certain I’d believed would be true.

Star Wars is George Lucas’ story.  Nothing, in my mind, can be as good as what was created by the original myth-maker.  He thought all of this up and has guided it directly (the original six films) and indirectly (the EU, the Clone Wars TV series, etc.) for over thirty years.  Those are the Star Wars stories I grew up with, the ones I fell in love with, and they will always be the bedrock of all things Star Wars (at least in my mind).  After all, we’d have none of this if Lucas didn’t share his vision with us.  In addition to being the myth-maker, few filmmakers can rival Lucas’ intelligence.  I love Star Wars (meaning ALL six films) and I’d argue what he did in his films mythically, theologically, literarily, and creatively, was unprecedented and remains unduplicated.  Glance at the works of Joseph Campbell.  Google “Star Wars and Ring Theory.”  Read any number of books published explaining Star Wars through various faith traditions (from Christianity to Buddhism to Taoism).  While the new film does a brilliant job referencing Star Wars itself, Lucas did a brilliant job of incorporating the tapestry of human thought, mythology, and theology to give us a story at once both new as well as ancient and familiar.

My initial problem with The Force Awakens was I was hoping it would (or could) be as good as what Lucas created.  I was hoping it would feel like it fit perfectly after Return Of The JediBut even seeking that comparison makes no sense.  Star Wars has moved into a new era.  There was Star Wars.  And now we have Star Wars: the Disney Era.  Those are two very different animals.  Looking at The Force Awakens in this light, I can say I love the film.  I do!  Obviously, I’ve seen it nine times.  It is, easily, the best entry into the Disney Canon (which is how I choose to see this new era) thus far.  I’ve loved J.J. Abrams since Alias and he made a film worthy of the Star Wars name.  He gets Star Wars, even if he can’t replicate what Lucas can do.  The Force Awakens was made with love, by people who clearly love Star Wars.  And the end result is something worth seeing (again and again).

What struck me with The Force Awakens was, no matter how exciting it was to see Han and Chewie piloting the Millennium Falcon again, all my absolute favorite moments centered around the new characters.  And I think that’s how it should be.  In the Disney Canon, Star Wars isn’t the story of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie anymore.  It can’t be.  They are Lucas’ characters and their story was Lucas’ to shepherd.  The story now belongs to Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren. And I can’t wait to see where their story goes!!!  They are captivating, layered characters who have worthily claimed their place in my Star Wars-loving heart.  Yes, the classic characters will always remain on the periphery of the story, as will Lucas’ influence and presence. But they are not the stars of the story any more.

We are now living in the age of Star Wars: the Disney Era and the story will be shaped by the Disney Canon. The myth is moving in a new direction, and if The Force Awakens is any indication, it’s in good hands.  I’ve let go of any illusions that the Disney Era can be as brilliant, connected, and intelligent as Star Wars was with Lucas at the helm.  But that’s okay.  I’ll always have the original six films, the EU, and The Clone Wars.  And as long as we have talented filmmakers who truly love Star Wars, like J.J. Abrams to guide the story, I’ll keep excitedly buying tickets (and spending a day waiting so I could be first in line) to explore the next chapter in a galaxy I love, a galaxy far, far away.