Episode 8 Title Reminds Me of a Scene in Heir to the Empire

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As many of you know already, Lucasfilm/Disney has released the official title of Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi.

Based on how Luke Skywalker is explicitly described as “the last Jedi” in The Force Awakens, I think it’s also possible that the term may apply to multiple Jedi. After all, the term “Jedi” is both singular and plural (one of my pet peeves is when people say “Jedis”).

But the title also reminded me of a scene that took place in a novel published a long time ago. In the first Expanded Universe novel Heir to the Empire (published in 1991 and no longer canon thanks to Disney), Luke says to himself, “Then I am alone. I am the last of the Jedi,” to which Obi-Wan responds, “Not the last of the old Jedi, Luke. The first of the new.” I also put this line in a graphic arts project back in high school too, haha (sigh I feel old).

Anyway, it would be cool if this line is in Episode 8.

I know the Expanded Universe is no longer considered canon, but Disney has still kept some elements of it. Grand Admiral Thrawn (who was also introduced in Heir to the Empire) was reintroduced in the Star Wars Rebels animated series and is officially canon. And let’s face it, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren is basically Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus.  I also can’t imagine Disney not wanting to incorporate Mara Jade into their canon either (yet another character from Heir to the Empire). I’m still hoping that Lauren Dern is playing her!

Why You Should Watch Saw Gerrera’s Backstory in Clone Wars Before Seeing Rogue One

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Saw and Steela Gerrera in The Clone Wars: A War on Two Fronts  (Season 5, Episode 2)

“I’m not a terrorist. I’m a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism.” – Saw Gerrera (The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episode 4)

I should have written this post sooner since Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been out for a while now and most people have seen it. However, even if you’ve already seen Rogue One and haven’t watched The Clone Wars animated series, I think the latter will only enhance your viewing of the former.

I think it’s unfortunate most moviegoers aren’t fully appreciating Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, in Rogue One. His character is the first to make the leap from an animated show to film in the Star Wars universe. To really appreciate his character and understand his context, I highly recommend watching his backstory in the Onderon arc of The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episodes 2-5 (you can stream these if you have Netflix). The Clone Wars series as a whole is 6 seasons long and while I recommend watching it in its entirety, it is not required to understand the episodes in which Saw appears. At the very least, you just need to know that The Clone Wars takes place between Attack of the Clones (Episode II) and Revenge of the Sith (Episode III), and that Anakin has a padawan named Ahsoka Tano.

Major spoilers ahead for The Clone Wars and Rogue One.

The Onderon episodes first aired on Cartoon Network on October 6, 2012, so it’s understandable that some fans may not have seen it. Also, as I noticed on Twitter, there are a lot of fans who have just started watching The Clone Wars now. I personally miss The Clone Wars a lot. It took me a while to enjoy Star Wars Rebels and even though I keep up with every episode, it’s still not as great as The Clone Wars. 

Saw and Steela are characters created by George Lucas. They were always meant to play important roles in the Star Wars franchise. If you’ve seen the trailer for Season 3 of Rebels, you’ll notice that Saw Gerrera plays a significant role. It’s clear that Lucasfilm is not finished with the character, despite his quick and, frankly speaking, badly written demise in Rogue One. Below are some reasons why I think watching Saw’s backstory in Clone Wars Season 5, Episodes 2-5 make his presence in Rogue One more impactful and significant.

1. You learn an interesting fact about who trained Saw, Steela, and the Onderonian rebels

In Rogue One, Saw Gerrera is mentioned a lot by the other characters. Mon Mothma and the Rebel Alliance refer to him as an “extremist,” yet the narrative clearly wants us to sympathize with him. When Saw’s rebels attack the patrolling and occupying Imperial forces on Jedha, the scene looked like a live-action Clone Wars episode, particularly the Onderon episodes.

But who trained Saw, Steela, and the Onderonian rebels? Who taught them the tactics? The connections not only bridges the prequel era with the new Disney canon, but it also reveals some fun irony. That is, Anakin Skywalker was one of the individuals who helped train the Onderonian rebels. What Anakin didn’t realize is that he would become Darth Vader and that his training of Saw would eventually lead to inspiring a resistance movement that would destroy the Death Star!

2. You discover the heart-breaking depth of Saw’s character

There is a line Saw says in Rogue One when talking to Jyn. After he asks if she was sent to kill him, he says, “There’s not much of me left” (don’t know if that’s the exact quote; I only saw the movie twice!). The line is heart-breaking if you know Saw’s backstory. Now, The Clone Wars doesn’t explain Saw’s physical injuries, but it provides some context for the trauma he has experienced. In particular, he feels responsible for the death of his sister, Steela.

I hate the fact that Steela is killed off at the finale of the Onderon arc. Not only was she a powerful character, but she was also among the few Black women in the Star Wars universe (I’m including the novels and comic books). What upset me about her death is that it fueled the trope of Black women characters being killed off to become martyrs that inspire revolutions led by white protagonists (another example is Rue from The Hunger Games).  Supervising director of The Clone Wars Dave Filoni even expressed his regret about killing off Steela:

I will say this about Steela. When I think of her, I think that she’s one of the biggest regrets I have this season, which is I wish we hadn’t killed her. We all ended up liking that character very much. I thought she was very successful. Dawn-Lyen Gardner played her and played her brilliantly. I just thought that there was an opportunity to bring a character like that back in the future because we liked her so much by the time we were ready to kill her… She was just a fantastic character. I thought the design for her turned out great. Yeah, really enjoyable. Big regret.

This regret seems to have been shared by Disney after they bought Lucasfilm from Lucas. The inclusion of Saw Gerrera in Rogue One may have been an attempt to make up for Steela’s death, but unfortunately, it seems that Lucasfilm made the same mistake by killing Saw off so quickly.

But my point is, if you watch the Onderon episodes before watching Rogue One, you can understand how damaged Saw is, not just physically, but emotionally as well. Without context, I fear some people will simply dismiss and pathologize Saw.

3. You’ll have a better understanding of his relationship with Jyn

In Rogue One, Jyn expresses anger at Saw for abandoning her when she was 16. Saw tells Jyn that he was afraid people would have recognized her as the daughter of Galen Erso and used her as ransom. The scene also has Saw justify his decision by stating that he knew Jyn was one of the best soldiers he knew, and therefore could survive on her own.

But is this really the reason why Saw abandoned Jyn? In the last episode of the Onderon story, Saw feels responsible for Steela’s death. He fires a rocket at a gunship, which crashes into a cliff that Steela was standing on. The last time we see him in The Clone Wars, Saw is filled with guilt. Is it not possible that Jyn reminded Saw of his sister, and that Saw was afraid of being responsible for Jyn’s death? This doesn’t justifying abandoning her, but knowing Saw’s past provides more context to explain his actions and decisions.

4. You don’t see Saw as an extremist

Although the narrative in Rogue One does not seem to be vilifying Saw and his rebels, it does seem to “otherize” them. But Saw is used to these labels because they’ve been attributed to him before. In the Onderon episodes, he is frequently referred to as a “terrorist,” but it’s very clear that the narrative wants you to be on Saw’s side. When you see Saw’s backstory and see him as a hero, not an “extremist” or “terrorist,” you have a better appreciation of him in Rogue One.

Overall, in addition to having awesome characters, it’s impossible to deny the political messages in the Onderon episodes. The episodes shift our attention from the Jedi to focus on marginalized resistance fighters, particularly two Black protagonists, who stand up against oppression. It is definitely one of most radical mainstream cartoons I’ve seen. I would actually advocate showing it to kids to teach them about politics, too! There are a lot of similarities with Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as well as U.S. wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The resistance movement against the droid occupation of their planet is led by Steela and the rebels are explicitly deemed “terrorists” countless times throughout the episodes. It’s hard not to see this as a deliberate effort to challenge the mainstream perception of “terrorist.”

Lastly, there are some critiques I have of these episodes, which I mentioned above (my biggest complaint being that they killed off Steela), but overall, I think the Onderon story is not only entertaining and fun, but also really compelling and nuanced. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned that the Jedha scenes in Rogue One were inspired by these episodes!

White Feminist Critiques of Rogue One and the Erasure of Race

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Major spoilers ahead for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Do not read any further if you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t want to be spoiled! There are also some major spoilers for The Clone Wars animated series.

Full disclosure: I loved Rogue One. I saw the film on opening night right after my class ended and I was enthralled all the way through (it also happened to be the last day of my semester, so it was the perfect way to celebrate). While I enjoyed last year’s The Force Awakens, I felt that the film was missing spiritual and political themes that were quite prominent in Lucas’ previous 6 films. Aside from the racially diverse cast, I thought it was unfortunate that The Force Awakens didn’t take risks or delve further into the Star Wars mythology.

Rogue One, on the other hand, had stronger and more complex political themes that were more reminiscent of the prequel era, especially The Clone Wars animated series. In fact, Rogue One felt like a live-action Clone Wars episode, especially the Onderon arc where we first see Saw Gerrera and his sister Steela Gerrera (side note: I think it should be mandatory for people to watch these episodes [season 5, episodes 2-5] before watching Rogue One to fully appreciate Saw’s character).

I know the prequel films get a lot of hate, but they show more ambiguity and grey areas between the Republic and the Separatists (and this is developed deeper in The Clone Wars). Rogue One doesn’t adopt a simplistic framework either in the Rebellion’s struggle against the Empire. We see Rebel leaders deliver questionable orders and commit terrible acts of violence in the name of the Rebellion. What we see are the harsh consequences of living under the oppressive rule of the Empire.

As much as I loved Rogue One, I acknowledge that, like anything, the film has its flaws. When I took to social media to voice my critiques, I saw a significant number of people making a different argument: the film lacks women and is dominated by men. The problem I have with this critique is that it lacks nuance and represents a failure of understanding intersectionality (PDF link). Furthermore, by describing characters exclusively by their gender, we ignore and erase race. It’s concerning that there are many articles online that are complicit in this erasure. I’ll try to organize my critique of these articles in the points below:

1. Men of color do not have the same power and privilege as white men

In her article, “If ‘Rogue One’ is so progressive, where the heck are all the women,” Gavia Baker-Whitelaw describes the film as “the worst gender imbalance since the original Star Wars trilogy” with an “endless sea of dudes.” The first issue here is that the title of the article suggests that a film can only be progressive on the basis of gender alone. Second, there is a glaring omission of race. The racially diverse cast of male actors, particularly of Mexican, Pakistani-British, Chinese, and African-American descent, are essentially whitewashed and reduced to being an “endless sea of dudes.” I would have been fine with this critique if all of the male characters were white, but race complicates the power dynamics.

Western society demonizes men of color. This is a reality that has existed in the western imagination for centuries. There is a long history in the United States, for instance, of Black men being demonized as rapists and subsequently lynched for it. This demonization continues to this day, as we continue to see police brutality and murders committed against Black men and women. We also see widespread demonization of Pakistanis and Muslims, who are cast as “backwards” and “uncivilized” people who follow an “inherently violent religion.” Hollywood cinema is filled with over a century’s worth of films that vilify Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, and South Asians (and tend to conflate us as “one and the same”). Mexicans are stereotyped as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists, while Chinese – and East Asians in general – are subjected to “Yellow Peril” and “Model Minority” stereotypes in Hollywood films and television.

Seeing these men of color depicted as heroes in a Star Wars film is significant and progressive. Speaking as a Pakistani Muslim man, when I am so used to seeing people who look like me dehumanized, it is refreshing to see a Pakistani Muslim actor, Riz Ahmed, play one of the main characters. Ahmed has been vocal about his experiences with being stereotyped and typecast. Also, as a friend pointed out to me, it was so powerful to not only see a Mexican man in Star Wars, but a Mexican man who spoke with his accent. Throughout media, Latino/as and other people of color who speak with accents are ridiculed, stereotyped, judged, and labeled “incompetent” and “unintelligent.” By casting Diego Luna as a central and non-stereotypical character in Rogue One, the hope is that this opens more opportunities for other Latino/a actors and actresses.

Commenting on Asian representation in Rogue One, Donnie Yen stated in an interview that casting Asians in Star Wars should have been done a long time ago. He added, “It’s only natural to have an Asian character in the film” given how Lucas has said Star Wars was inspired by Asian philosophies, culture, and films. Yen was also outspoken against the idea of using Chinese actors just for the sake of selling tickets in China. Yen urged director Gareth Edwards to depict Asian characters in a meaningful way.

But Baker-Whitelaw’s article does not acknowledge the importance of seeing men of color in heroic leading roles at all. Praise for this representation is absent because her article is written as if race doesn’t exist, as if male actors of color are on an equal plane as white male actors. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the actors are men of color according to her argument, they are just “men.” This also carries the assumption that male actors of color have the same opportunities in Hollywood as white male actors do. In reality, men of color are not treated equally as white men. Furthermore, men of color can be marginalized and oppressed by white women, too. While white women do not have male privilege, they have white privilege, which works to maintain white supremacy. By ignoring the intersection of race and gender, we fail to see these power dynamics.

2. The real issue: Lack of women of color

The serious and shameful lack of women of color is not just an issue with Rogue One and Star Wars. It reflects a major problem with Hollywood in general. In recent years, we have seen white women play significant leading roles in blockbuster films and TV shows: Furiosa, Rey, Katniss Everdeen, Beatrice Prior, Black Widow, Kara Zor-El/Supergirl, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, and now Jyn Erso. It’s more challenging to name women of color who have had similar roles.

When critiques point out the lack of women in Rogue One and fail to acknowledge race, people of color, especially women of color, get erased from the conversation. So when Baker-Whitelaw advocates for more women, which women is she talking about? White women? Black women? Asian women? Indigenous women? If the film had 5 women in lead roles and they were all white women, would the same critics speak out against the lack of women of color?

To her credit, when I tweeted this hypothetical scenario to Baker-Whitelaw, she stated she would speak out against the marginalization of women of color. While this is appreciated, it is concerning that recognizing the exclusion of women of color is an afterthought or something that needed to be brought to people’s attention. So much of it has to do with the way we’ve been conditioned to use language. That is, when we say “woman lead” or “woman character,” it is assumed by default that the woman is white. But this should not be the case. “Woman” should not be a synonym for “white woman.”

In another article, “Jyn Erso is Another Worthy Star Wars Heroine. But Where Are the Rest of the Women in Rogue One?” the author Marissa Martinelli makes the same mistake in failing to acknowledge the male characters as men of color. At the end of the article, Martinelli expresses hope that we’ll see “more women, and particularly more women of color.” Although it’s important this was mentioned, the dismissal of race throughout the article (and the fact this was written at the very end) makes this feel like an afterthought.

Instead of advocating for “more women,” why not advocate for women of color characters specifically? I don’t deny that white women face sexism and misogyny in Hollywood, and by no means am I suggesting that they have the same privileges as white male actors. However, what I am saying is that at least white women get cast in leading roles of blockbuster films and TV shows, whereas women of color struggle to find the same opportunities. In her critique of white feminism, bell hooks taught us:

Most people in the United States think of feminism, or the most commonly used term “women’s lib,” as a movement that aims to make women the social equals of men. This broad definition, popularized by the media and mainstream segments of the movement, raises problematic questions. Since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to? Do women share a common vision of what equality means? Implicit in this simplistic definition of women’s liberation is a dismissal of race and class as factors that, in conjunction with sexism, determine the extent to which an individual will be discriminated against, exploited, or oppressed.

The point is, white women and women of color do not have the same experiences. Even among women of color, there are different experiences. So, saying “we need more women” is simplistic and potentially harmful, especially when Black, Latina, South Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, Indigenous, and other women of color are not treated equally.

In her excellent post, “How ‘Star Wars’ forgot about black women,” Monique comments on how Black women are frequently marginalized to Star Wars novels and comic books. She also writes:

Also something that’s annoyed many a black woman fan—the fact that the one black woman we do have in the new Star Wars universe, Lupita Nyong’o, is playing Maz Kanata, a character that is completely CGI… Another strike against Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe is how often black women and other women of color are often cast as Twi’leks, whose women are often enslaved as sex objects.

I would add that one Black character we get to see in the The Clone Wars animated series is Steela Gerrera, one of my favorite characters. She is introduced with her brother Saw in the Onderon arc I mentioned earlier. Steela, voiced by Dawn-Lyen Gardner, is a courageous freedom fighter who leads a resistance movement against the droid occupation of her planet. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Unfortunately, the writers killed her character in the final episode, reinforcing a racist and misogynist trope that women of color must sacrifice their lives to inspire white protagonists to lead the revolution.

3. Challenging white privilege and white feminism

As a heterosexual Pakistani Muslim man, I know I cannot speak on behalf of Pakistani Muslim women or women of color in general. My hope is that this post is seen as a call for solidarity to advocate for more roles for women of color actresses. I think it is critical for white feminists to not only be mindful about their own racism, but actively work against it.

As someone who respects the work of Feminist Frequency, it was disappointing to see no explicit mentioning of women of color in her recent Rogue One review. While she mentioned the word “diversity” to describe the cast at the beginning of the video, she described Jyn as being surrounded by “many, many men,” as if there is no significance about these men being men of color. Furthermore, there is no acknowledgement that white women are more represented in Star Wars films (and in Hollywood) than women of color.

Elsewhere, Jason Dias contends that Rogue One “sets feminism back light years.” At first, when I read the title of his article, I was hoping that he was referring to the long history of white feminism marginalizing, vilifying, and/or silencing Black and Brown women. Unfortunately, it is another critique of the film that mostly ignores race and focuses exclusively on gender. To his credit, he suggests Asian women actresses such as Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Q as alternative casting choices for Chirrut Imwe. Though Dias doesn’t mention this, I think it’s worth mentioning here that even though men of color are not as privileged as white women, men of color have privileges over women of color.

Dias goes on to conclude:

Overall diversity was high in Rogue One. We do need diversity in film. Why would everyone be white or talk with an American or a British accent? Why would everybody be equally abled or similarly young or sexy or whatever? Great. And if you ignore the gender of the characters, this is a great movie.

And yet here is the problem. What about ignoring race? If you ignore race, then you erase the fact that this is a rare Hollywood film that portrays men of color as heroes. Again, intersectionality cannot be emphasized enough. None of us have one identity. Bodhi Rook is not just played by a man, for example. He is played by a Pakistani-British and Muslim-identified man. Jyn Erso isn’t just played by a woman. She is played by a white British woman. Intersectionality teaches us that it’s not “either or” when it comes to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and so on. We are all privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, and some are more privileged than they are disadvantaged, while some are more disadvantaged than they are privileged.

It is significant that white women are able to see themselves represented in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but it’s almost important to challenge Hollywood’s whiteness and support more roles and opportunities for women of color. I also think it’s important for white feminists to be honest about how Rogue One would have been hailed a feminist film if the film had 3 more women characters and all of them were white. The fact that many white feminists are not even addressing the lack of women of color raises serious concerns about who gets to lead a Star Wars film and who doesn’t. Back when Mad Max: Fury Road came out, the film was praised as feminist, but one blogger noted, “If Furiosa had been black or brown, I feel like the reactions would have been very different. It would have not been hailed as the second coming of feminist films.”

We heard reports that the Han Solo spin-off film was looking for a woman of color to play a leading role. Three Black actresses, namely Tessa Thompson, Kiersey Clemons, and Zoe Kravitz reportedly auditioned for the role, but then the announcement came that a white actress, Emilia Clarke, won the part. I remember seeing tweets where white people argued defensively against criticism of Clarke’s casting, claiming that she had won the role “because they [Lucasfilm] thought she was the most qualified.” Yet this argument implies actresses of color are not as talented as white actresses. This is why I think it’s problematic to simply say, “We need more women in Star Wars.” It really should be, “Cast women of color in Star Wars.”

On a positive note, it’s encouraging to know that Kelly Marie Tran, an Asian-American actress, is set to play a significant character in Star Wars: Episode VIII. Hopefully, there will come a day where we’ll see a woman of color play the main protagonist in a Star Wars film.

* Note on my use of the phrase “white feminist critiques” – this isn’t exclusively about the racial identity of the authors I’m critiquing. White feminism is an ideology and people can reinforce and perpetuate it, regardless of how they identify their race.

The Force Will Be With You, Carrie Fisher

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It is heartbreaking to hear about the passing of Carrie Fisher. Like so many people around the world, I grew up watching her as Leia Organa Skywalker in films that had such a profound impact on my life. While I did not know her personally, it’s hard not to think that she was part of the childhoods of so many people through her performances.

Beyond Star Wars, Fisher was a mental health advocate and challenged stigma surrounding the subject of mental illness. She spoke unashamedly about her struggles with mental illness, and encouraged and inspired others to seek mental health treatment. Watching her interviews and hearing all of the kind words her co-stars said about her over the years, it always sounded like she was an amazing and compassionate person.

Thank you for sharing your art, humor, and kindness with the world, Carrie Fisher. The Force will be with you. Always.

Welcome!

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The strongest stars have hearts of Kyber” – Chirrut Îmwe

Welcome to Hearts of Kyber!

I am a Pakistani Muslim-American writer and Star Wars fan for life! This is a space where I’ll be writing about my favorite films and television shows – everything from Star Wars to the MCU – through a social justice lens. As someone who strives to be an advocate for anti-racism, feminism, and anti-oppression, I know there is only so much to expect from Hollywood, Bollywood, and other entertainment industries, but my hope is to add to the critical voices of fellow geeks of color who demand change.

I created this blog after the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, so most of my initial posts will be Star Wars-oriented. But over time, I’ll also be writing about other fandoms I enjoy/hate. There will definitely be responses to racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, and other oppressive incidents that happen in fandoms or Hollywood in general.

I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts/rants! Feel free to leave comments!