The Force Awakens

Directing Star Wars

Reporting Star Wars news is not my thing, in large part because there are more than enough sites – official sites and fan sites alike – that deliver a near up-to-the-minute stream of happenings in the Star Wars franchise. Yet, I felt compelled to say something about the recent announcement from Lucasfilm that J.J. Abrams has accepted the offer to write/direct Star Wars Episode IX. While Episode IX was originally slated to be the brainchild of Jurassic World writer/director Colin Trevorrow, the studio parted ways with Trevorrow, thus paving the way for Abrams to return to the Sequel Trilogy he launched with The Force Awakens.

That Abrams is reentering the Star Wars universe is neither surprising or all that controversial. For the studio (and parent company Disney), bringing a known and successful variable back to the writers/directors chair makes perfect sense. Still, with the announcement I could not help but feel a pang of dismay, having hoped that the head of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, would choose a woman to write/direct Episode IX in the wake of Trevorrow’s dismissal. Abrams may have been the safe and reasonable pick, but choosing a woman could have injected an entirely new and fresh perspective into the Sequel Trilogy, particularly to round out the heroine journey of Rey. But alas, that ship of possibility has sailed (unless, of course, Abrams crashes and burns, prompting a third writer/director to be named…a doubtful prospect).

And so, as we move forward, towards the end of the Sequel Trilogy and into a new era of storytelling that will certainly follow – not only with continued standalone films but also, perhaps, a fourth Star Wars trilogy – I am left wondering: when will Lucasfilm finally hand the writing/directorial reigns over to an accomplished woman? Certainly, there are an endless stream of successful women adding to the Star Wars universe already – authors, editors, producers, production managers, sound mixers, makeup artists, wardrobe and costume designers, artists, actresses, and more. Yet, the most coveted position, that of director, is yet to be filled. Will Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, or another accomplished woman ever be given the chance/opportunity to bring their experiences and worldviews into the Star Wars franchise? My hope is yes, my gut tells me yes, but my heart is tired of waiting.

You might, in turn, wonder: why do you care, Jeff? It will happen someday, so why not let bygones be bygones and just go with the Star Wars flow? I do not deny it, it will happen. I know it will happen, it is only a matter of time (and there is a prime opportunity to really mix things up with a woman directing the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone film). But I do care because I am frankly tired of people like me – translation: men – getting all of the g-damn credit for the Star Wars franchise’s pinnacle achievements. This is neither a slight towards Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy (whom deserves great respect for overseeing the franchise) or against those countless women behind the scenes (or literally in the scenes as actresses). Rather, it is a deeply held desire to sit in a theater and watch a Star Wars movie that does not simply present female characters (and male counterparts) adhering to philosophies that seek, and teach us as viewers, to dismantle normative and oppressive ideologies, but that does this most loudly when a woman’s name appears on the screen as writer/director.

Lest I be interpreted incorrectly, I do not simply desire to watch a Star Wars film (nay, MANY Star Wars films) directed by a woman, but also films directed by persons of color, men and women alike. The experiences and worldviews of women, people of color, persons of different religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities and more WILL bring new, fresh perspectives to the films we experience in theater. I truly hope, nay I pray, that those Star Wars stories are not far, far away.

Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge

With the arrival of Force Friday II on September 1, 2017, “a global fan event celebrating the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi products,” I felt the desire to jump back into the Star Wars toy/collectible conversation once again by doing something special. For those of you who regularly read this site, you know that I don’t often discuss Star Wars products, having only done so a handful of times in previous posts (you can search the site for them if interested). Given the understandable excitement surrounding the new, soon-to-arrive Star Wars film, Force Friday II is a way and a day for fans of all ages to begin adding The Last Jedi merchandise – action figures and Black Series figures, Lego sets, Funko Pops, etc. – to their collections. And, in the spirit of Force Friday II, and as a way of adding to the excitement surrounding it, I thought I’d share the details of my very own Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge, a giveaway challenge that I plan to extend long after Force Friday II is over.

The Giveaway

For the past month, I’ve collected Star Wars toys with the sole intention of giving them away. Thanks to an over-abundance of toys associated with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Star Wars Rebels being on store shelves, and the need for stores to clear their shelves for The Last Jedi merchandise, all of the toys I have purchased have been on clearance. As a personal rule, I never buy any Star Wars products at full price, and purchasing toys on clearance has actually maximized my ability to give away even more! 

So, all that being said, here is the moment of truth, the details about how my Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge will work. In short, I am giving all of those toys that are pictured above to Toys for Tots, a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children in families that struggle to purchase gifts at Christmas time. Once the Christmas season rolls around, I am taking all of the toys I have collected – the those pictured and others I’ll be purchasing –  to a local Toys for Tots drop-off location so I can, in a small way, help children from low-income families add to/create their own Star Wars collection.

And the Challenge is for you to do something similar.

The Challenge

Here’s the thing: I am blessed to live in comfort, with the ability and means to spend some of my disposable income adding Star Wars “stuff” to my already massive collection of, well, “stuff.” But the thing is I don’t need every item that is produced with a Star Wars label, and there are many children who come from families that struggle financially. While there is a tendency to judge these families, and particularly their parents, I refrain from it and have no time for it. Love and compassion are non-negotiable for me, especially when children are involved. In wanting to give away Star Wars toys to families in need, who struggle during the Christmas season to provide gifts for their children, it is my hope that I can bring some small bit of happiness to some of those kids. Star Wars has been, and will continue to be, a massive part of my life, of my self-identity and joy, but what I want to do – what I will continue to do in the future – is give away Star Wars toys so that children in need can experience that same joy.

My hope and challenge to you, my magnanimous reader, is that you will follow suit and do something similar. Whether you go out and buy one Star Wars toy, or ten, or twenty, or a hundred, I hope you will stand in the toy aisle at a store, pick up a Star Wars action figure or Lego set, and say “I don’t need this but there is a little girl or boy out there who deserves it.” Or maybe you will pull something out of your own collection to give away. Or perhaps you know a family in need and are willing to take them shopping, to buy the gifts – any gifts, not just toys! – for their kids at Christmas time or for a birthday.

Oh, and this needn’t be limited to Star Wars toys either. While I intend to give away Star Wars toys because they reflect something I love, there are so many other toys representing different franchises that kids would love to play with! The point of this challenge is, quite simply, to spread some love, and if you do that by giving away non-Star Wars toys to kids in need then I say more power to ya!

It is also my hope that other blogs and podcasts – be they Star Wars oriented or not – will challenge their readers/listeners to give away toys to children in need. And if you don’t have a blog or podcast, then I hope you’ll challenge people on social media, or in your non-online life, to participate. 

Lastly, if you do participate, tweet me a pic (@ImperialTalker) of the toys you plan to give away using the hashtag #TalkerToyChallenge. The more visible we are, the more we can encourage others to join in!

Son of Solo

The line, coming in a dramatic moment in The Forces Awakens, is powerful in its brevity and delivery. Han Solo, helping to plant charges which he hopes will give the Resistance an advantage in destroying Starkiller Base, sees the film’s villain Kylo Ren standing alone on a bridge, a bridge which spans a seemingly bottomless chasm. At this point in the film we know that Kylo Ren and Han Solo are related, that Solo is Ren’s father. However, it is not until Solo advances towards the dark-shrouded man that we  suddenly and unexpectedly learn Kylo Ren’s given name. “Ben!!!!”, Solo shouts to get the villains attention, doing so and beginning a conversation which, we also know, ends just as suddenly and unexpectedly when Solo is killed by his tormented offspring.

There are any number of ways one could approach/discuss the events which unfold in this dramatic scene in The Force Awakens. And, I am sure I could provide some well-developed and, I’d like to believe, insightful thoughts on it. But my intentions in this brief conversation far less overarching, and I am much more interested in providing, for now, a small morsel of consideration regarding the moment Han Solo shouts the name Ben.

To begin, when I heard Solo pronounce Kylo Ren’s true name, I was, undoubtedly like many others, struck by the fact that Ben is also the pseudonym used by Obi-Wan Kenobi whilst he lived on Tatooine (Ben Kenobi). Assuredly, this is an indication that Han Solo and Leia Organa named their only child after the famed Jedi Master, perhaps as a way to honor the man who, from a certain point of view, brought the lovers together. Plus, if we backup and consider the countless ways The Force Awakens borrows from/echoes A New Hope, it seems appropriate that the film includes a character named Ben. And yet, that Kylo Ren’s real name is Ben has another equally important and symbolic meaning, one that resonates as loudly as Solo’s voice when the name leaves his mouth.

A Hebrew name originating in the Jewish Tanakh, Benjamin (the anglicized form of Binyamin) is often translated in two distinct ways: “Son of the south” or “Son of the right hand.” Thus, taken alone as a masculine noun, “Ben” quite literally means “Son” and/or “Son of” (Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira = Joshua [Jesus] son of Eleazar son of Sira). Ben is used in both given names and surnames of Hebraic origin, although philologists who study Hebrew will be quick to point out that “Ben” is used in a number of other ways as well.

While I would enjoy delving deeper into the nuanced meanings and usage of “Ben” and “Benjamin” in Biblical texts, my reason for noting its usage as a masculine Hebrew noun should be fairly obvious. On the one hand, Han Solo is not just yelling the name “Ben!!!” to get Kylo Ren’s attention, but he is also, quite literally, yelling “Son!!!” On the other hand, we can translate the name Ben Solo as the “Son of Solo.”

I cannot say with any authority that the writer(s)/director of The Force Awakens, when  choosing the given name for Kylo Ren, were aware that the name Ben could be translated as “Son” or “Son of.” While it is likely that the name was chosen to create superficial connection with Ben Kenobi, I am never-the-less left wondering whether Ben was also chosen because of it’s original Hebrew meaning. Still, intentional or not, the meaning in the name Ben is present, rippling outwards as it leaves Han Solo’s lips. With these complimentary meanings in mind – “Ben” = “Son” and “Ben Solo” = “Son of Solo” – the potential for new insights about The Force Awakens may emerge. And if they do, I hope you will share some of those insights with me.

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

 

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia (An Imperial Talker Review)

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, co-authored by Tricia Barr, Adam Bray, and Cole Horton, is at one and the same time intensely fascinating and slightly overwhelming. This latest addition to the catalog of Star Wars reference books contains a veritable mountain of images and information broken into five distinct chapters, each chapter having a handful of subsections. The breadth and depth of Star Wars knowledge in this book will certainly keep the more “die-hard” fan occupied for long periods of time, but might also leave the more casual fan feeling somewhat dizzy by the scope of what Star Wars has to offer. Even as a self-proclaimed die-hard fan, I readily admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed at times by all The Visual Encyclopedia has to offer. Still, this was and is hardly a reason not to explore the book. In fact, I encourage Star Wars fans of all types to do so, patiently and methodically working through the book so as to savor the journey to the summit of the Star Wars mountain.

So what exactly does this particular mountain of Star Wars knowledge contain? In the book’s foreword, Dennis Muren (Senior Creative Director, Industrial Light & Magic) notes that, “In this title you’ll see firsthand the thousands of objects that are inspired by our world, but are uniquely Star Wars.” And right he is, as this reference source presents through countless images and bits of information how the galaxy far, far away is derived from concepts and ideas that we are all familiar with on some level. Identifying specific categories of inquiry, the authors, as I already mentioned, organize the the Encyclopedia into five chapters: Geography, Nature, History, Culture, and Science and Technology. In this way, the book’s organization invites readers to begin in a chapter of their own choosing, beginning an exploration based on one’s personal interests in the real-world or Star Wars universe. Of course, one can also start on page one and simply go from page-to-page, but know that this isn’t required to grasp all the Encyclopedia since it is not set-up in narrative form.

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Southern and Northern Mustafarians.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

For me, going through the book page-by-page, skimming through the images and info, gave me my initial bearings before really digging into anything concrete. From there, I worked through the book in non-linear fashion, very slowly jumping to different pages based on momentary interests and personal inquiry. During one reading I found myself enamored by the chapter on Nature, discovering new things about the various creatures and alien-species in Star Wars. I never knew, for example, that two types Mustafarians existed, Southerners being stocky while their Northerner counterparts are tall and thin (see image above). In turn, as I explored the chapter on Culture, I was struck by the vast array of royal outfits that Queen Padmé Amidala of the Naboo wore in The Phantom Menace. Fashion in Star Wars has never been a personal point of interest for me (I don’t do any form of cosplay) but the images of Amidala’s outfits, and the explanation that her “elaborate gowns reflect their [Naboo’s] culture,” left me intrigued and reflecting upon other forms of royal and political attire in Star Wars.

To this point about personal interest, the majority of my time spent in The Visual Encyclopedia thus far has centered on the Science and Technology chapter. Of the five, it is the longest chapter, having the most subsections arranged into categories ranging from binoculars, equipment, and medical technology to blasters, warships, all forms of land vehicles, plus a whole lot more. For the sake of brevity I won’t go into detail about everything I found so fascinating about this chapter, but I will note that I was particularly happy to encounter two specific land vehicles that I have always desired to see more of in Star Wars: the UT-AT “Trident” tank and the AT-OT Walker. While the Encyclopedia only has a picture of these two war machines accompanied by their respective names, it is never-the-less reassuring to know that there are Star Wars writers/authors keeping the lesser known vehicles (among other things) in mind.

The Star Wars universe is exceedingly vast and The Visual Encyclopedia does a nice job of covering a great deal of the expanse, the UT-AT and AT-OT being a clear example of just that. Still, the reference book does have its limitations, hardly a shock since Star Wars is far too great to be encapsulated in only 199 pages. Since the Encyclopedia is rooted primarily to the Star Wars movies and television shows, one will be disappointed if they enter the book hoping to encounter a wealth of information and images from the array of Star Wars novels, comics, and games. Further, the book does contain a handful of notable absences. While he is quoted, and his unique shuttle Delta-class shuttle is depicted, there is no image of Director Orson Krennic, the antagonist in Rogue One. One will find Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso in the book, but her father Galen Erso, who developed the Death Star’s planet-killing weapon, and her mother Lyra are no where to be found. And speaking of parents, perhaps the most disappointing absence is that Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, does not receive an image in the Encyclopedia, just another reminder that she continues to be an unfortunate afterthought in the Star Wars canon.

Limitations and curious absences aside, Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia is never-the-less an enjoyable reference book that will leave an interested Star Wars fan occupied for quite a while. Try to take in all it offers in a single sitting and one very well might abandon the effort with feelings of being overwhelmed. But fortified with the patience of a Jedi Master and an eager willingness to savor the journey, and one will surely end up expanding their personal knowledge and understanding of the Star Wars universe.


Thanks to DK Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck

“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”  Gautama Buddha

Ever since The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015 there has been a lot of speculation about the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. To be fair, questions about Snoke’s identity began even before the film came out, but in the wake of the movie’s release the conversations about the First Order’s mysterious, Force-sensitive leader exploded. Just doing a simple Google search of “Snoke” will result in a trove of articles, videos, and podcasts attempting to identify/explain who Snoke may or may not be. With the next film, The Last Jedi, only months away, conjecture about Snoke will undoubtedly ramp up, and if his identity remains a secret beyond Episode VIII the cavalcade of Snoke theories will continue to pour onto the interwebs until Episode IX arrives.

Like others I too have my own theories and hypotheses about Supreme Leader Snoke, and while I won’t be putting each and every one to paper in any elaborate form, I never-the-less find myself constantly drawn back to my Snokie thoughts. Honestly, I just can’t help myself. Mystery breeds curiosity, it attracts me like a moth to a light, drawing me in and igniting my imagination. From there my imagination runs wild, my brain using the information available to me – information from the Star Wars movies, novels, comics, games, etc. – in hopes of figuring out something about Snoke’s mysterious identity. At times I return to the same theories my mind has conjured up, at other times I head down a different path, a new thought leading me on an imaginative journey which may center on Snoke’s disfigured face, or perhaps his connection to Kylo Ren, or his relationship with General Hux, or his statements about the Force/Jedi, and so forth.

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Kylo Ren stands before Supreme Leader Snoke.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Mystery breeds curiosity, and as the trove of Snoke-related articles/podcasts/videos prove, the mystery surrounding Supreme Leader Snoke has captivated Star Wars fans of all types. While I certainly haven’t sifted through every Snoke theory or hypothesis, I have dabbled in a handful that have crossed my path. Some theories have left me really intrigued, and I have incorporated ideas from these theories into my own musings. At other times I have found theories uninteresting or based on questionable Star Wars logic. Still, even in moments where I am not captivated or believe a Star Wars-related flaw exists in the theory, I can still appreciate that the theory means something to that person, that they put the time and effort into its construction. After all, it is hardly my place to trash someone for engaging in space fantasy inspired speculation, to tell someone their Snokie ideas suck simply because I might not agree or because I have my own theories. 

Yet, there has been a proclivity within elements of the Star Wars fan base to do just that, to tell people that their Snoke theories suck. The phrase “Your Snoke Theory Sucks” has become a spontaneous, uncritical and churlish way to throw shade on any theory that explores Snoke’s mysterious identity. Well, I am here to tell you this: if you have a Snoke theory, it absolutely does not suck. Is it possible that when Snoke’s history, background and identity are finally revealed that your theories, or my theories, end up being incorrect? Absolutely! The potential to be wrong is omnipresent, a reality that always exists when one engages in contemplative and abstract thought. But here is a little secret: when it comes to Star Wars, I don’t theorize because I think I am 100% right, I theorize because it is fun. And if you have fun theorizing about Snoke, or anything else in Star Wars, then I say keep it up. We all might end up being wrong, in fact we probably will be wrong, but who the hell cares? 


Check out this piece by Michael from My Comic Relief for an expanded take on the topic:

Really, Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck

Lando Loiters in a Marketplace

In my last post – The Force Awakens Without Lando – I noted my disappointment that Lando Calrissian did not make an appearance in The Force Awakens while the other main characters from the Original Trilogy were included. I’m not going to rehash that entire post here, but I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t done so. I will point out that in the post I acknowledged that The Force Awakens was a good movie even though Calrissian was missing from it. And besides, I am hopeful that he will be appearing in Episode VIII and/or IX.

So why, might one ask, am I discussing Lando once again? Is there more to be said about his absence from The Force Awakens? No, not really. Instead, I wanted to extend the conversation on Lando by turning to the 30-year period of time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So far, only a handful of stories have taken shape (across various mediums) which have begun to populate this New Republic/Rise of the First Order era. And yet, of those stories that have begun popping up, two characters in particular have been noticeably absent from this era: Luke Skywalker and (you guessed it) Lando Calrissian.

A while back, a guest post from Michael Miller considered Luke’s absence from this era of stories, and I definitely think you should check out what Michael had to say. In the meantime, I’ll cut right to the chase: I find it incredibly odd and definitely confusing that Lando has been such an incredibly minor – and at times blatantly absent – character in the this particular era of the Star Wars timeline. Now, I say this with the full awareness that Lando has popped up in a few post-Endor stories (I’ll come back to these momentarily). Plus, it’s important to note that Lando has been given a great(er) deal of attention in stories that take place before Return of the Jedi. Notably, in the show Star Wars Rebels, Calrissian has made a couple of fun cameos and Lando was the main character in a five-part Marvel comic series aptly named Lando. In fact, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Lando series was one of my favorite story-arcs added to the Disney canon, perfectly capturing Lando’s personality, vocabulary, demeanor, and overall style.

Yet, even though Lando is the star of his own comic series and has a spattering of appearances on Rebels, I am left to wonder why he is not a more noticeable and active presence in the stories unfolding in the weeks/months/years following the Battle of Endor. Like I said, he has shown up here and there, but these moments are few in number and relatively shallow.

For example, in Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline, set 24 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Lando sends a message of support to Leia as she deals with the fallout of the Galactic Senate learning that she is the daughter of Darth Vader. A kind gesture on Lando’s part, to be sure, but nothing he actually says in the message is detailed, nor does he factor into the novel in any other way. 

In the four-part Shattered Empire comic series, set in immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor, Lando actually appears in Issue #001 and #003. In Issue #001, Lando participates in the battle (flying the Millennium Falcon) and is present for the celebration which immediately follows the Rebel victory, chatting it up with Han Solo and other soldiers. Nothing new or surprising there. On the other hand, in Issue #003, Calrissian leads a New Republic into the Battle over Naboo, stopping the Empire’s operation to destroy the planet. Pretty awesome, I have to admit. Besides, it makes perfect sense that in the days, weeks and months after the victory at Endor, Lando would continue to serve as General in the Rebellion-turned-New Republic. However, his very next chronological appearance on the Star Wars timeline makes a lot less sense…

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General Calrissian takes command of the Battle over Naboo.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: Shattered Empire, Part III

In July 2016, Lando was part of an update to the game Star Wars: Uprising. While I eagerly welcomed his addition to the game, hoping that his arrival would add a dynamic new layer to the game plot/story, my enthusiasm quickly turned to utter confusion and disappointment. Allow me to explain. When one initially meets with Lando in the Longstar Marketplace on the planet Burnin Konn, Lando lays out his profitable reasons for sneaking into the Anoat sector (which serves as the location for the game and is under Imperial blockade) and is willing to cut you in on the deal. In turn, Lando gives you a job to raid the Imperial base on Nar Hypa, a moon orbiting the planet Mataou, a mission which yields some basic materials, credits, and trophies (which can be used to purchase other goods). Excited to discover what would come after my first “Lando Job,” I quickly became discouraged when I realized Lando was not going to immediately send me on another run. Surely, I figured, if I waited a day a new mission would be ready for me…and I was right! Logging into the game a day later, I was greeted by an in-game message that “Lando has a job for you.” I eagerly scooted over to the Longstar Marketplace, sought out Lando, and was presented with the EXACT SAME MISSION! The same map, Imperial forces spread out in the same places, and a similar payout. Since Lando was introduced into Uprising, his “jobs” are always the same. And, to make things even more ridiculous, Lando just keeps standing around the Longstar Marketplace. One would presume that at some point he’d make his way to the Carbon Score Cantina… 

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The “Lando Mission” description.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: Uprising

Now, unless one counts some credits and a handful of in-game material as meaningful, Lando’s presence in Uprising is, to put it bluntly, entirely pointless. That is, it is pointless as of right now. While Lando’s inclusion in Uprising currently lacks any significant purpose, I am hoping that his role in the game will be expanded, especially considering the game is set in the days/weeks/months following the Battle of Endor. In short, since a (former?) Rebel/New Republic General was able to infiltrate the Imperial blockade of the Anoat sector, making his way to Burnin Konn, one would think (and hope!) that he would have plans to provide aid to the forces fighting Imperial oppression in the sector. Of course, Lando might also end up indefinitely loitering in Longstar Marketplace, his presence having no outward effect on the overall goal of breaking the Empire’s blockade and freeing the sector. Honestly, at this point, who knows what will happen with Lando in the Anoat sector.

Then again, who knows when or how Lando will show up again in a post-Endor story. I’ll be sure to update this post the next time he does.


Addition: On September 22, 2016, the game developers of Star Wars: Uprising announced that Uprising will permanently shut down in November 2016. As someone who consistently played the game since it came out, I am naturally disappointed although not surprised. The game failed to live up to a number of expectations, and while I enjoyed the lore which it added to the rich Star Wars canon, game play consistently fell short, particularly given its repetitive nature which I detailed (in part) with the “Lando Missions.” 

In light of this development, I am left wondering what this will mean for Lando Calrissian, Perhaps, even though Uprising is shutting down, a novel or comic will be written that completes the game’s primary story – the liberation of the Anoat sector – with Lando taking on a larger, more central role. Or, perhaps he will simply be stuck in limbo, continuing to stand around the Longstar Marketplace on Burnin Konn while the New Republic defeats the remnants of the Empire at Jakku. I suppose only time – and more stories – will tell what Lando’s role will end up being. 

The Force Awakens Without Lando

Admittedly, I was disappointed that Lando Calrissian, our favorite smooth-talking “galactic entrepreneur,” was left out of The Force Awakens. While arguments in defense of his absence have typically revolved around that fact that he was not an “original” character in the Original Trilogy, I have consistently felt that this argument is flawed. True, Lando was not in A New Hope and was only introduced at the outset of the Third Act in The Empire Strikes Back. But from his first appearance as Baron Administrator of Cloud City and onward, Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams) was elevated to “origial character” status, playing a critical role in the major events which unfold in the remainder of Original Trilogy.

This being the case, it’s especially important to remember (as if one could really forget) that Lando not only commanded the Rebel Starfighter squadrons during The Battle of Endor, but that he also flew the Millennium Falcon into the superstructure of the Second Death Star and (with the help of X-Wing pilot Wedge Antilles) destroyed the battle station. So sure, Lando wasn’t an “original” Original Trilogy character, but his actions – culminating in his heroics in Return of the Jedi – absolutely established him as a character equal in importance and stature with R2-D2, C-3PO, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Han Solo. The iconic last scene in Return of the Jedi, which includes each of these heroes, as well as Lando, is visual proof of this obvious fact (see the featured image above). 

Further, the “not an original character” argument also falls short because Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb, both secondary characters introduced in Return of the Jedi, were in The Force Awakens. While it is pretty damn awesome that Ackbar and Nunb are in the film, it is none-the-less perplexing that Lando was left out while they were not. In fact, this is even more perplexing when one remembers (again, not that one could forget) that Nien Nunb was Lando’s co-pilot during The Battle of Endor. His co-pilot!!!

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Lando and Nien Nunb in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Now, in stating, albeit briefly, why I think this particular argument for Lando’s absence is flawed, I also have to acknowledge that after watching The Force Awakens, I don’t really think Lando could have fit into the movie all that easily. It is certainly conceivable, for example, that he would be hanging out at Maz Kanata’s Castle on Takodana, but had he been there when Han, Finn, and Rey enter, his presence would have taken away from our introduction to Maz Kanata. And, had he been a member of the Resistance high command on D’Qar, his presence may have felt much more like a basic cameo, just one voice among many offering insight into the battle against the First Order.

These two possibilities are certainly not the only spots Lando could have appeared. However, I don’t really find it necessary to speculate on every moment Calrissian could have popped up in The Force Awakens. Instead, I’d much rather note that these and many other scenes could have accommodated Lando and his unique, out-going personality, but in doing so the scenes – and by extension the film – would have needed to be fundamentally altered to make his appearance meaningful. Certainly, writer/director J.J. Abrams might have been able to find a way to do this, perhaps installing General Calrissian into the Resistance and putting him center-stage to determine the attack plan against Starkiller Base. Yet, for whatever reason(s), Abrams chose not to include Lando, and again, while I’m disappointed by Lando’s absence, I think the movie Abrams made is a good one even without the “old smoothie.”

Besides, with Episode VII in the books, we must now look toward Episode VIII and IX for Calrissian to make another glorious onscreen appearance. And, even though the IMDB page for Episode VIII does not list Billy Dee Williams as part of the cast, I can certainly imagine a scenario in which Lando’s inclusion hidden until the last possible moment. In fact, I would be quite pleased to go into the film unsure if Calrissian was to appear, only to find out he IS in the movie.

Granted, there is the possibility that Lando will not be in Episode VIII (or even IX), and if this is the case my disappointment is gonna quickly morph into outright anger…and I have a feeling I won’t be the only Star Wars fan feeling that anger.


Check out my follow-up to this piece: Lando Loiters in a Marketplace

Generational Echoes in the Star Wars Saga

Guest Talker: Andrew

A few weeks ago while watching Return of the Jedi, I was struck by a particular scene. In fact not a scene per se but a small section of a scene that lasts for just over ten seconds in total. It occurs in the middle of the film just after Luke Skywalker contemplates his father (now Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker) and pronounces, “then my father is truly dead“. Luke is led away by Imperial Stormtroopers and as the doors shut one senses a distinct lapse in Vader’s demeanour as he places his black gloved hand on a steel girder in the corridor where the scene takes place. Although Vader is masked, one is left with little doubt as to the turmoil boiling within him which his son has sensed only moments before being escorted away.

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Captured, Luke stands before his father.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

This is a scene that I am extremely familiar with and it’s no exaggeration to say that I have viewed it hundreds of times at this point. Many of you reading this will be in the same position. An interesting point of note however, is that as time progresses in Lucasfilm’s new canon, layer upon layer of light and shade is gradually being cast onto erstwhile familiar scenes. What made this particular scene reverberate once again for me was both the advent of a sequel within the cinematic saga – namely,  The Force Awakens, and the work on Anakin/Vader’s back story that we are now aware of from the new canon (the novel Lords of the Sith, and television series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels).

Now I’m no neuroscientist, but I’m in no doubt that some neural connection (figuratively or otherwise) fired within me during my recent viewing of this “Vader scene” in Return of the Jedi. I think that having been shown evil and vulnerability co-existing so obviously on screen in the character of Kylo Ren, I may now have increased sensitivity towards those traits within Vader. One can’t help but note the incongruity of Kylo Ren seeking strength in Vader’s artifact (his Mask), when Return of the Jedi shows us, particularly in its last scenes, that Vader himself obviously harbored tensions between internal light and shade. Indeed, those tensions within Vader would have occurred not just in that scene but presumably at other points that George Lucas did not show us. Our insight into Kylo Ren has shown us that witnessing a character purveying violence and atrocities, does not mean that they aren’t conflicted. We know that Ren seeks strength from his Sith relics, erroneously viewing Vader as a pillar of pure, un-tempered dark power.

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Kylo Ren sits with and speaks to his most precious artifact – the mask of Darth Vader.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Ironically it is actually Ren’s insecurities that heighten his ability to strike fear in the viewer. Vader’s representation of ultimate martial strength may have been underpinned by the portrayal Lucas chose to focus upon in episodes III, IV, V and VI. Importantly though Lucas also spoke of the need to use Vader sparingly so as not to dilute his impact on the viewer.

Consider for a moment your perception if all you had seen of Kylo Ren was the Battle of Jakku, the interrogation of Poe Daemeron, and the killing of his father Han Solo. You would in all likelihood take the view that Ren demonstrated darkness and nihilism on par with Vader. As it is, due to the different approach to character portrayal within Episode VII, we have been given an insight with a wider focus as plot device. In turn that insight sends us back to what we have seen before and makes us wonder if the same kind of internal conflict occurred in Vader’s early years, only to be buried deep before ultimately being released by his son Luke in advance of his final hours at Endor.

In The Force Awakens itself we see Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, also struggle with a pull towards the light, the draw of his family, and the effects of surprise dissent and challenge. Vader’s struggle, although less obvious, is sensed by Luke and is driven by his son’s appeal to the traces of the Anakin Skywalker that his father once was. What adds a further dimension to the scene in question from Return of the Jedi, and shades of gray to Vader’s portrayal in the overall saga, is the fact that we now know so much more about Anakin than we once did.

It’s worth noting in this context that I write this article after the broadcast one of the most heart-rending moments in the Star Wars canon, the confrontation between Vader and his former Padwan learner Ahsoka Tano. Forged in The Clone Wars series, their relationship as Anakin and Ahsoka reached its cessation (for the time being) in the Rebels Season 2 Finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Like the scenes within that finale, this scene in Return of the Jedi is rendered so powerful through a contextual knowledge of the Star Wars saga. We now watch such scenes while projecting both forwards and backwards in our Star Wars knowledge. This isn’t compulsory for viewer enjoyment, but it will significantly enhance it.

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Ahsoka Tano receives a Force vision that reveals the truth – her former master, Anakin Skywalker, is Darth Vader.

Photo Credit: Star Wars Rebels Season 2, Episode 18 – “Shroud of Darkness”

Unlike a viewer of the Return of the Jedi scene in 1983 we are now aware of a cinematic portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, the innocent young boy from Tatooine, and his desire to assist the stranded Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé, we are aware of his later awkwardness as a teenager, and his ultimate seduction by Palpatine towards the ways of the Sith immediately in advance of Mustafar. We know of the Shakespearean tragedy of Anakin’s fall in Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and his becoming the symbol of terror known as Darth Vader. Likewise, we know that those events occurred due to a desire to save and preserve family, and in some respects as a response to loss of family, both his mother Simi and his wife Padmé, and his unborn child (in fact his unborn twins although he didn’t know this).

Now we see Vader facing his only son, a son who senses a residual light within Vader through the Force. Luke is certain that there is good left in him. Let’s watch the scene in question, paying close attention as the scene builds towards its conclusion:

The scene begins with an exchange where Luke acknowledges his father and Vader notes his acceptance of the familial relationships. Luke qualifies this however. His first move in this meeting of minds is to state “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker…”. Note how quickly Vader interjects, instantly snapping that, “that name no longer has any meaning for me!”. The reaction of Vader is instinctive; Luke has sparked a reflex triggered by Vader’s most private of ruminations. Luke persists however stating that, “It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten” and concludes “that’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.” Watch Vader closely in the background behind Luke. He marginally but notably withdraws. Crucially there is no sense of aggression or loss of control.  Instead Vader’s eyes, or at least his direction of vision indicated by the direction of his Mask, turns towards Luke’s new lightsaber. One senses an indication of remorse, regret, or contemplation.  The crisp ‘snap-hiss’ of the lightsaber igniting then throws us, and immediately breaks any sense the viewer has that Vader doubts his position in any way. The noise, one of the many unique sounds in the Star Wars universe, snaps the viewer back into focus on the peril Luke is facing.

Vader says to Luke “your skills are complete – indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen.” In doing so he brings the conversation back to Luke as the focus. Luke in turn again  attempts to persuade and this time we start to anticipate a much more noticeable thaw within Vader. Crucially we are given our first verbal indication of the doubt conveyed earlier only by discrete body language. Vader speaks to Luke and states “Obi Wan once thought as you did…”and the soundtrack theme softens. The viewer is now thinking of the brothers in arms that Anakin and Obi Wan once were. Luke tries to persuade but Vader eventually concedes, “it is too late for me Son“. There is a marked sincerity in Vader’s voice and as he utters the words “The Emperor will show you the true meaning of the Force – he is your master now” one is left wondering if the warped mind of what once was Anakin Skywalker now actually believes that Palpatine will do the best for his son, and the best for the galaxy.  

Then comes the highlight of the scene. Luke responds with the words “then my father is truly dead.”  Luke’s tone highlights his disappointment but also his courage given what lies in wait for him. It shows the strength of Luke that he is not cowed in this situation. He is confident that his path lies in his Jedi teaching, and his compassion towards his father.

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“Then my father is truly dead.”

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Vader tracks Luke’s withdrawal with the Stormtroopers and this to me is critical. At 3:19 on the video, watch Vader and wonder what is going on behind that Mask, knowing as we now do that Luke was right. What are the thought processes that occur? The door of the elevation capsule closes, and Vader turns and looks out the window of the corridor, there are almost ten seconds that pass while the viewer listens to Vader’s mechanical breathing apparatus and looks into the depths of his blank stare.

Projecting forward, and as noted above, we are at the time of writing exploring the legacy of this scene and the events immediately thereafter. The Knights of Ren in the new sequel era have a false understanding of both this event and those immediately surrounding it. They view Vader as a quasi-Divine figure. We are not quite sure of their relationship with the Sith at this point. What is certain, however, is that Ren seeks strength from the ultimate in Vader artifacts, his Mask, indeed literally Vader’s death Mask. Ren seeks strength to overcome the same emotions that trouble Vader in the scene we are contemplating, and then tragically uses the inspiration obtained from that relic to do what Luke refuses to do: kill his own father, Han Solo.

The reason that I now view this section of Return of the Jedi as one of the critical scenes in the saga is because from it we see the linkages that span from the opening scenes in The Phantom Menace and trace the repercussions those events still have around 70 years later. We see how Luke’s relationship with his father is having a direct effect in the sequel era on a misguided Ren’s relationship with his own father. We see the death of one of the saga’s most beloved characters and the hero of the New Republic slaughtered because of a false impression of strength that has cascaded from the myth of the grandfather to the reality of the grandson. We see Luke’s beliefs and Luke’s obvious failure to impart his own beliefs, and their wisdom, to his nephew who has become corrupted.

This is what is beautiful about these films and why the latest developments in the saga and new canon have enriched and embellished films that we have known and loved for nearly 40 years. With the developments in the beautiful animation found in The Clone Wars and now in Rebels, and the love and passion brought to such works by people like Dave Filoni, we can probably look forward to another 40 years of thoughtful and inspired mythology.


Writer’s note: I know that others will have different takes on these cinematic events and portrayals. As always this is part of the enjoyment of these films and I look forward to exchanges with fellow fans on these issues. Find me on Twitter @PartisanCantina and check out my site (Partisan Cantina).

So, What’s Luke Been Up To?

Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller

In the months leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, one of the most prominent questions on everyone’s mind was – Where is Luke Skywalker? He wasn’t in any of the trailers. He was shockingly absent from the poster. We only heard his voice, narrating a slightly altered version of what he tells Leia about his family and the Force in Return Of The Jedi. Speculation was rampant. And there were even those (apparently the ones who’d never watched Star Wars or totally missed the point of the whole narrative) who were insistent that Luke had fallen to the Dark Side and perhaps was even Kylo Ren. Now, all those questions have been cleared up. But the most important question for me still remains. And I hope I get an answer worthy of the mythic hero of Star Wars.

The answer to this question is important because, to put it simply, Luke is important.  Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars. Yes, it’s Anakin’s story but Luke is the force (no pun intended) of redemption that allows Vader to do what must be done. If Anakin is the savior, Luke is the redeemer. And both of them are necessary to bring balance to the Force. So we know where Luke was at the end of Return Of The Jedi – happily celebrating a major victory with his family and friends, while the redeemed Force ghost of his father looks on with Obi-Wan and Yoda. And we know where Luke is at the end of The Force Awakens – doing his mystic hermit thing on a not-so-easily-accessed lake front property in utter isolation. Even R2 was left behind. His hand hasn’t been cared for (presumably), leaving the synthiflesh to rot away and expose the metallic hand underneath.

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Celebration taking place behind him, Luke looks off towards the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and his father.

Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The question I need answered (the question I am so, so scared won’t be answered with the clarity and detail it absolutely needs) is what has Luke been doing in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor??  One of the major faults I have found with the Disney Canon is that (with few exceptions) it gives us no real worthwhile details. It’s all painted in broad strokes. We are left struggling to fill in almost as many gaps during those thirty years as we had before The Force Awakens was released. Disney seems to perpetually tell stories set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, stories (more often than not in my opinion) having little to no significant impact on the saga, while ignoring the gaping holes in the timeline Star Wars fans want to know about.

The major exception to this rule would be Claudia Gray’s beautiful and brilliant new novel, Star Wars: Bloodline. This was the first novel I’ve encountered since Disney took over that gave me the thrill I almost always found with the old EU. It gave a detailed look at the Star Wars galaxy. It expanded on what was in the films in a way that made logical sense.  And the expansions were helpful and felt necessary. Also, she gave us both a picture of Leia that was organic and dynamic as well as new characters who were exciting and seemed to naturally fit in the Star Wars universe. Ransolm Casterfo is the first new character I’ve found in the Disney Canon who seemed as complex and integral to the Star Wars universe as characters like Pellaeon, Natasi Daala, and Talon Karde did the first time I met them.

The novel also left us with some MAJOR question marks in regard to Luke Skywalker. (If you haven’t read Bloodline yet, this paragraph and the next contains minor spoilers about moments Luke is mentioned in passing in the novel but doesn’t address anything that’s central to the plot of the book.) You see, Bloodline is set six years before The Force Awakens. Granted, we only get glimpses of what Luke’s been up to since Return Of The Jedi. But it doesn’t seem like he’s been doing much. He and Ben Solo are bouncing around the galaxy doing…something. 

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The cover of Star Wars: Bloodline.
Photo Credit – Del Rey

A discussion in the Senate sees Lady Carise Sindian remark, “Princess Leia spoke of her brother, the famous Luke Skywalker, who has been little seen in the public sphere for many years now.”  Then Tai-Lin Garr replies, “Since the Rebellion, Skywalker has lived a private life.  He has asked no more of the New Republic than any of its other citizens, nor have we just cause to ask any more of him than the substantial service he has already given.”  So the last of the Jedi decided to…retire?  He’s road tripping with his nephew?  Whaaaat??     

Judging from the little information the new Disney Canon has provided us, Luke is apparently completely disconnected from the New Republic and almost entirely cutoff from his family.  We can infer then IN THE PRECEEDING TWENTY-FOUR  YEARS he didn’t rebuild the Jedi Order.  So, I ask again, what was he doing?

The final conversation Luke has with Yoda before his death on Dagobah makes this even more confusing.  As Yoda lays down for the last time he tells Luke, “Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall.  That is the way of things, the way of the Force.”  His final words to Luke are, “Luke…when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be.  Luke…the Force runs strong in your family.  Pass on what you have learned. Luke…there is…another…Skywalker.”  The literal final instruction Yoda – the Jedi Master that Kenobi told Luke to find to complete his training – gave Luke was to pass on what he had learned And the Disney Canon wants us to accept that Luke’s response was, “Nah.”  I don’t buy it.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Luke wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He spends much of the Original Trilogy trying to become a Jedi Knight like his father.  In A New Hope, Obi-Wan taught Luke, “The Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy before the dark times, before the Empire.”  So he knows that the Jedi were an order who protected people during the Old Republic before Vader and the Emperor wiped them out.  He finds Yoda, completes his training, is instructed to pass on what he’d learned, and THEN DOES NOTHING FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS. 

Why??  Again, it makes no sense and a legitimate answer must be given. 

This story must be told and it must be told with a depth and intimacy to rival Claudia Gray’s depiction of Leia in Bloodline. A few lines of exposition (and maybe a few flashbacks) in Episode VIII aren’t going to cut it for me. Luke Skywalker is too important a character for that! We need to understand why he turns his back on everything he was, everything he did, and everything he was instructed to do.

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The cover of Jedi Search, first book in The Jedi Academy Trilogy. 
Photo Credit – Del Rey

As I watched Yoda’s death scene in Return Of The Jedi a few more times, I wondered if perhaps Disney wanted us to buy that Yoda told Luke to pass on what he learned to his family alone. You could make the argument, from the phrasing, that Luke could have interpreted it that way. But we know this isn’t the case. In The Force Awakens, Han tells Rey and Finn that Luke was bringing up a new group of Jedi when Kylo Ren cut the order apart and Luke took off.  We know that there can’t be that many Skywalkers around.  So, in the six years between Bloodline and The Force Awakens, he was (finally!) training new Jedi.  But the question remains, why did he wait?  What was he doing??

In the Expanded Universe, Luke spent much of his time after the Battle of Endor learning everything he could about the Jedi to rebuild the Order. By seven years after Endor (in Kevin J. Anderson’s “The Jedi Academy Trilogy”) Luke was taking his first tentative steps in recruiting new Jedi and training them on Yavin 4.  Yes there were problems.  There were ups and downs. But Luke was passing on what he had learned and trying to restore the Jedi to the galaxy. Why isn’t he doing that in the Disney Canon?  Why isn’t he advising the New Republic in any role?  What could possibly be going on that’s more important than all of this?

All Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi, does post Return Of The Jedi in the Disney Canon is…fight for shrubbery??  In the (weirdly lackluster) conclusion to Shattered Empire, our first new canon look at life post-Endor, we see Luke Skywalker and Lieutenant Shara Bey infiltrate the highly secure Imperial base on Vetine…to save two trees. They’re important I guess?  Luke says of the trees, “These are all that remain of the tree that grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.  The Force is with them.” And they are clearly important enough for Luke to risk his and Shara’s lives by invading this facility three months after the Battle of Endor. But they’re also important enough for Luke to just randomly and spontaneously give one away to Shara so she could plant it in her family garden??  What?  So Luke redeems his father, fights for a shrub (a shrub we never hear about again), and then does absolutely nothing

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Luke, stands before the remains of the Tree that grew in the Jedi Temple.
Photo Credit – MARVEL Comics; Star Wars: Shattered Empire, Part IV

We’re supposed to believe that the man who destroyed the first Death Star, who became the last Jedi Knight, who learned from Yoda, who redeemed Anakin Skywalker so balance could be restored to the Force just walked away?  He did nothing. For over twenty years. He was just sitting around…waiting?  Why?  WHY? 

The cynic in me believes it’s because Lawrence Kasdan remains pissy that Lucas didn’t use the darker ending he wanted for Return Of The Jedi.  As is well documented, Kasdan wanted Han Solo dead and Luke, so broken by his ordeal, to fade into the mist like Shane at the end of the famous Western of the same name.  Lucas didn’t go that route (in part, I’d argue because he understands the purpose of myth and what lesson Star Wars was supposed to be teaching us) and Kasdan has been open about his displeasure with it.  Well now The Force Awakens rolls around and look what happens!  With Kasdan helping with the writing duties Han Solo dies (admittedly, in a powerful moment that I feel served the character and the story well) and Luke Skywalker has disappeared only to be found out in the wilderness alone, not unlike a wounded gunslinger haunted by what he’s had to do (something that doesn’t fit his character or the tone of the end of Return Of The Jedi at all).

Cynicism aside, this is still a MAJOR question that needs an appropriate answer.  There’s no logical reason Luke Skywalker hasn’t been active in the galaxy since the Battle of Endor.  And every instance he’s shown up in the Disney Canon has only served to make his absence and apparent apathy more confusing. So, when the time comes, I hope we get a story that honors who Luke Skywalker is. The relevant question for Episode VIII is no longer Where is Luke Skywalker? but rather What has Luke Skywalker been doing for THIRTY YEARS that is more important than rebuilding the Jedi?  The answer, whenever Disney decides to give it to us, better be damn good.  Luke Skywalker as a mythic hero, and we as Star Wars fans, deserve nothing less. 


Check out these other Guest Talker posts by Michael Miller:

The Nature of Hero

The Seduction of the Dark Side

A Man in Debt to a Hutt