Rumi, Bulleh Shah, and The Last Jedi

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee...

Yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self...

~ Bulleh Shah

There is a moment in The Last Jedi that touches upon the theme of this beautiful poem by Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. Before I continue, I have to warn that MAJOR SPOILERS are ahead! Don’t read further if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet!

SPOILERS start now:

One of my major disappointments with The Last Jedi was the way Rian Johnson handled the Star Wars lore. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking, “Man, Rian really went all Order 66 on the Star Wars mythos.”

But I actually think he did some things that were more thoughtful than I initially suspected. In fact, I remember watching the scene with Yoda and thinking, “Hmm, this reminds me of a Sufi poem I once read.” I couldn’t remember which poem or story exactly, but I figured it must have involved Jalaluddin Rumi. I didn’t think about this scene later because I was too caught in processing the rest of the film.

When Yoda burns the sacred Jedi texts, he’s basically teaching Luke that the Force cannot be found in books, but rather within one’s self. The larger message is one that challenges religious dogma and rigid orthodoxy. By the way, it’s interesting to see Yoda’s own arc when we compare his anti-dogmatic stance with his rigid principles in the prequels.

But even more interesting to me is how this scene seems to carry similar themes with spiritual traditions in our own galaxy. Whether Rian Johnson is familiar with Islamic or Sufi literature, I don’t know, but it is interesting how similar the Yoda scene is with a particular story about Rumi. The following tale is about the first time Rumi met his teacher Shams-e Tabrizi:

“Rumi was sitting in his library with some books and his pupils gathered around him. Shams came along, greeted them, sat down and gesturing toward the books, asked: ‘What are these?’

Rumi replied, ‘You wouldn’t know.’

Before Rumi finished speaking, the books and the library caught on fire.

‘What’s this?’ cried Rumi.

Shams retorted, ‘You wouldn’t know either,’ and got up and left.

There is actually another version of this story, as mentioned below:

“Jami, Amin Ahmad Razi and Azar all tell a version of this mythical encounter, but substitute water for fire.

Rumi was sitting near a garden pool with a few books when Shams arrived and asked, ‘What’s this?’

Rumi replied, ‘These are called debates, but you needn’t bother with them.’

Shams touched them and threw them in the water. Rumi got upset at the ruin of these rare and precious books. Shams reached in the water and retrieved them one by one. Rumi saw that there was no trace of water damage on them.

‘What secret is this?’ he asked.

Shams replied, ‘This is spiritual inclination and entrancement, what would you know of it?’

The excerpts cited above were quoted from the book, Rumi: Past and Present, East and West – The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi (p. 166).

Yoda setting fire to the Jedi texts also reminded me of this poem by Bulleh Shah:

Masjid dha de, mandir dha de,
dha de jo kucch dainda,
Par kisi da dil na dhain,
Rab dilan vich rehnda

You could tear down the Mosque and the Temple,
break all that can be broken,
but never break anyone’s heart,
ecause that is where God lives.

Emphasizing one’s inward relationship with self and God, and challenging the outward, dogmatic aspects of religion is a common theme in Bulleh Shah’s work. We’ve seen this throughout the Star Wars films as well. As Luke laments the fact that Kylo destroyed his Jedi Temple, Yoda reminds him that the Force lives within us all.

Here’s another poem by Bulleh Shah that carries a similar message:

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee,
jaan jaan warhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich warhiya naee,
aa-vain larda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal lariya naee

Yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self,
You rush in, into your Temples, into your Mosques
But you have never tried to enter your own heart,
Futile are all your battles with Satan
For you have never tried to fight your own desires

This is perhaps Bulleh Shah’s most quoted poem and it serves as a reminder to not only confront our own egos, but also establish a deeper and honest connection with ourselves. When Yoda tells Luke, “The greater teacher, failure is,” it makes him realize that he never really processed his failure. He avoided it rather than confront it.

As disappointed as I am that Luke was not physically on the planet to fight Kylo Ren, I can appreciate the deeper, spiritual theme Rian Johnson seemed to be going for. Luke had entered his own heart and became at peace with himself.

He became One with the Force.


What I Loved and Didn’t Love About The Last Jedi (Spoilers!)


Where does one begin with this movie? Before I continue, I have to emphasize that there will be heavy SPOILERS throughout this post. Don’t read further if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Overall, I loved The Last Jedi. The film was filled with so many amazing moments and twists. It kept you on the edge of your seat. For me, Vietnamese American actress Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico is a standout. I loved her character and wish she had more screentime. Contrary to what many critics are saying, I thought the storyline with Finn and Rose was excellent. The political themes about injustice and oppression (which have always been integral to Star Wars) were most prominent in Rose’s scenes.

Also, what’s not to celebrate about Rose representing the first lead woman of color character in the Star Wars films (there was Steela Gerrera in the animated Clone Wars series, but she never appeared in a live-action film). I vehemently disagree with some movie critics and fans who argue that Rian Johnson could have “trimmed down” the Finn/Rose storyline on Canto Bight. Not only do these criticisms overlook the relevant political issues addressed in those scenes, they also don’t seem to realize the significance of this story being led by people of color characters, particularly a Black man and an Asian woman. It was refreshing to see a sci-fi/space fantasy movie where resistance against oppression is not led by a predominately white cast (unlike so many other films).

The racial and gender dynamics in regard to Finn and Rose were especially powerful and compelling. And, honestly, I don’t think I could ever complain about a Star Wars movie being “too long.” I wouldn’t care if The Last Jedi was 3 hours long. Give me 4 hours of Star Wars, I don’t care!

I enjoyed the scenes between Rey and Kylo as well. The scene where Rey goes into the cavern was absolutely mind-blowing. It even had a horror movie vibe (and I’m sure we’ll see a Star Wars horror movie some day). Furthermore, the brilliantly shot scene with Snoke was probably the biggest surprise. The way the audience reacted was priceless.

But as much as I love this movie, I have to say there were a few things that left me disappointed. One of them was, in fact, the disposal of Snoke. Don’t get me wrong, that scene was amazing and so well done, but I was among those hoping that Snoke was actually Darth Plagueis. Or, if he wasn’t Plagueis, it would have been nice to have learned about his backstory. But it’s fine, I’ll get over it! Especially considering how breathtaking his death scene was.

But my biggest disappointments had to do with Luke and the way Disney is handling the Force. While Mark Hamill was promoting the film, he infamously said to Rian Johnson, “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character.”

And honestly, I agree with Hamill. I was not a fan of how they depicted Luke. It seemed very out of character from when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. Granted, a lot of time has passed since then, but what makes it challenging to accept Luke this way is that we haven’t had the opportunity to visually see this transition occur on screen. Sure, there will most likely be (new canon) novels and comic books that will address this, but for the most part, we are left filling in the blanks.

I think one of the major barriers for me is that I used to read the Expanded Universe (EU) novels and comics growing up (now decanonized). They are as much part of my childhood and adolescence as the original trilogy is. Of course, the EU wasn’t perfect. With so many novels, comics, and video games, there were bound to be some terrible stories (e.g. killing off Chewbacca in Vector Prime), but overall, I was a fan.

If you’re familiar with the EU, you’d know that Luke is profoundly different than who he is in The Last Jedi. The Luke of the EU is consistent, in my opinion, with Luke in Return of the Jedi: The man who throws his lightsaber aside and declares to Palpatine that he will never join the Sith because, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”

The Last Jedi was yet another bitter reminder that I need to come to terms with the fact that the EU doesn’t exist anymore. Luke of the EU is not going to show up. There is no Mara Jade here.

There was one particular image that I’ve been extremely attached to over the years, and it’s a scene in the Dark Empire comic book. Luke makes his entrance onto the battlefield and uses the Force to singlehandedly bring down an AT-AT:

And oh my God, they came so close to doing this. SO CLOSE. Even the shot composition of Luke standing in front of the AT-M6 walkers was nearly identical to the panels in Dark Empire.

I really hoped that Luke would have taken at least one of them down with the Force. But the moment never happened.

What made it more disappointing was the reveal that Luke was not physically on Crait, but rather casting a Force Illusion (okay, at least it was cool to see Force Illusions used in a movie). We never got to see Luke engage in a lightsaber duel with Kylo.

And then came Luke’s death, which caught me by surprise. Had he exhausted his use of the Force to the point that it killed him? I admit I’m not a fan of the way he died.

The other barrier for me is that I am a prequelist (and, yeah, it was cool how Luke name-dropped Darth Sidious). I always viewed the saga films as being a family space drama, as George Lucas described, and I was fine with that. But the new trilogy seems to be gradually decentering the Skywalkers and discarding any notions of the Jedi prophecy.

I think a lot of fans, including myself, was hoping that Rey would have significant connections to other Star Wars characters that we know – either Luke or Obi-Wan (or both!). We still don’t know who her parents are, but if Kylo is to believed that her parents are “nobodies,” the implications of what this means for the Star Wars mythology are huge.

For example, the very last scene of The Last Jedi shows a young white boy from a low socioeconomic background casually using the Force to grab a broom. What’s basically being communicated here is anyone can potentially use the Force. This is somewhat contradictory to what Lucas seemed to be depicting in his previous films, especially the prequels, that the Force is mostly something hereditary and passed down. The concept of the midi-chlorians, much maligned by many fans (not including me though), will most likely never be mentioned again in the new films.

I shouldn’t say “concept” because midi-chlorians are canon whether people like it or not. I personally don’t think the midi-chlorian count indicated that certain individuals couldn’t ever use the Force; I think Lucas introduced this into the Star Wars mythology to highlight how unique Anakin was. If someone had a higher midi-chlorian count, it meant that they were more attuned to the Force than others. The way Disney disregards this aspect of the Force doesn’t sit well with me.

If The Last Jedi has made anything clear, it’s that this is no longer George Lucas’ universe.

A lot of people will say that’s a good thing, but I’m among those who wish Lucas was still involved, at least in a producer role (just like for Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Clone Wars animated series). Others have noted this too, but you don’t get the sense anymore that these films are created and developed by one person. One had the sense that all of the films and the Clone Wars TV show were interconnected. Now, it feels more like a committee – namely, Disney – creating these stories now.

The literal snapping of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber is a symbolic one. It represents Disney breaking off from the established Star Wars mythology and reimagining it. I had heard rumors that Disney is not interested at all in connecting the new trilogy to the previous films or mythology, and that’s kind of unfortunate and disappointing.

The idea that anyone can potentially use the Force seems to have been Disney’s goal from the beginning. What else would “The Force Awakens” be referring to? And if Rey’s heritage does not, in fact, include individuals who were Force sensitive, then the final scene in The Last Jedi is linked with this theme of the Force “awakening.”

On the surface, it’s obviously far more egalitarian that anyone can use the Force. This creates opportunities for other characters to wield the Force, especially people of color characters. However, as exciting as all of that sounds, what causes pause for me is how it disrupts the Star Wars mythology. Also, admittedly, if that final scene had involved a boy or girl of color, I think I would have responded differently. But I think they could have still kept consistency with the Star Wars mythology and had characters of color who use the Force.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that disrupting the Star Wars mythology takes me out of the movie. It makes me think about the behind-the-scenes decision Disney made to deliberately depart from Lucas’ vision of Star Wars being a “soap opera” about family problems. Rey being a “nobody” is more in line with Disney’s plans than her being a Skywalker and Kenobi. And yes, Star Wars should expand beyond the Skywalkers and perhaps the young boy will be the center of Rian Johnson’s new trilogy, but I’m disappointed with how Disney is concluding the Skywalker saga this way. Unless there’s serious misdirection happening about Rey…

So, those are my thoughts about The Last Jedi. I know my disappointments with the film may sound like I didn’t like it, but it’s always easier to write about the negatives than positives. I want to reiterate that I still loved the movie overall. I may have been disappointed with how they portrayed Luke, but I’m reminded how much I love the new characters – Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose – and how much I look forward to seeing more of their stories.

The Truth of What’s Happening with Directors at Lucasfilm

Here’s a breakdown on what’s happening behind-the-scenes at Lucasfilm:

Kathleen Kennedy = Darth Vader


Gareth Edwards = General Motti (reprimanded, but played by the rules)


Phil Lord and Chris Miller = Admiral Ozzel (cocky, arrogant, unapologetic)


Colin Trevorrow = Captain Needa (overconfident, failed last mission miserably)


Ron Howard = Commander Jerjerrod (obedient, but given a tight schedule)


Tony Gilroy = Boba Fett (dependable, for hire, backup plan when the job doesn’t get done)


Rian Johnson = General Veers (trustworthy, daring, exceeds expectations)


J.J. Abrams = Admiral Piett (loyal, safe, follows orders)


Anyone else who tries to mess with Kennedy’s vision for Star Wars:


Yes, We Need an Obi-Wan Standalone Movie

As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, a standalone Obi-Wan film is in early development at Lucasfilm. Academy Award-nominated director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) is currently in talks to direct the film.

To put it bluntly, I was ecstatic when I heard this news. Obi-Wan is my favorite character in the Star Wars universe and I have been waiting for them to announce a standalone film ever since Disney discussed the possibility of making spin-off films. A large part of why I like Obi-Wan so much is because of Ewan McGregor’s performance in the prequels. While there hasn’t been any confirmation that the Trainspotting actor will return, I can’t see Lucasfilm going forward without him! It absolutely astounds me that some people out there would even (blasphemously) consider replacing McGregor! One article argues that McGregor’s presence in the film will serve as a reminder for how “bad” the prequels were.

Um… No. You want to go home and rethink your life.

Over the years, McGregor has repeatedly and enthusiastically stated that he would be happy to reprise his role as Obi-Wan and often spoke specifically about setting the film between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. When you have an actor who is still passionate about the character and wants to return, why would Lucasfilm not cast him?

I know there is criticism about the new Star Wars films not branching out beyond the Skywalker era, and understandably so. I personally was never a fan of them making a Han Solo spin-off (however, with Donald Glover and Ron Howard on board, my excitement for it has grown). I’ll show up opening night for the Han Solo film, no doubt, but it would be nice to see Lucasfilm/Disney explore new stories with new characters (I would love to see films set in the Tales of the Jedi era).

Having said that, I believe an exception should be made for an Obi-Wan standalone movie. There is so much potential for this film (which, who knows, could even turn into a trilogy) and it could connect deeper to the new Saga films. If you’re among those who are on the fence about seeing an Obi-Wan movie, consider some of my reasons for wanting this:

1. Ewan McGregor returning as Kenobi

This one is obvious. As I mentioned earlier, McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan stands out as one of the strengths in the prequels — something that prequel haters admit themselves. McGregor remarkably captured the spirit of Alec Guinness’ original performance while also making the character his own. One could even make the argument, without downplaying Guinness’ performance, that Obi-Wan’s popularity is mostly due to McGregor.

2. The film will be character-driven

Imagine a lower-budget, smaller scale, and character-centered Star Wars film. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, we see glimpses of a broken Kenobi. He not only watched his fellow Jedi knights perish, but also saw his apprentice – the man he considered “brother” – become a Sith Lord.

There are several layers to unpack here. First, after Qui-Gon Jinn was murdered by Darth Maul, Obi-Wan promised to teach Anakin the ways of the Jedi. Although Qui-Gon expressed he was confident in Obi-Wan’s training being complete, one could argue that Obi-Wan was not ready nor competent to train Anakin. After all, Qui-Gon was adamant about training Anakin and knew he couldn’t as long as Obi-Wan was still his apprentice. To Obi-Wan, he feels like he has failed both Anakin and Qui-Gon. Furthermore, as he watches the galaxy fall under the oppressive rule of the Empire, he feels responsible for all of the hell his former apprentice has unleashed.

A standalone film would allow the opportunity to explore Kenobi’s guilt, trauma, inner turmoil, and struggles with self-doubt. At this point, he is a character who is haunted by the past, present, and future. Perhaps he refuses to use the Force, or, similar to Ulic Qel-Droma in the Redemption comic book, he cannot use the Force (though not for the same reasons as Qel-Droma, of course).

McGregor’s talents as an actor coupled with Daldry’s character-focused direction are an excellent combination for a truly unique and powerful film.

3. The film will be about Ben Kenobi, not Obi-Wan

But wait, you might say, aren’t they the same person? Of course, but there is significance in the fact that Ben says he hasn’t been called “Obi-Wan” in a long time. Sure, he is hiding from the Empire, but I think there’s some meaningful symbolism here, too. Again, this relates to the character-driven approach that this film will most likely adopt. How does Obi-Wan become Ben? How is Ben different?

We have not really seen the character of Obi-Wan explored in-depth, nor have we seen much of this duality in the character. By centering on Ben Kenobi, we will essentially see a different character, or at least a side of the character we haven’t seen before (much like Logan showed us a different side of Wolverine).

From an actor’s standpoint, this is an exciting opportunity for McGregor to deliver a standout (and potentially Oscar-worthy) performance we have yet to see in a Star Wars film.

4. Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse will return as Owen and Beru, respectively

I’m really surprised that movie news sites/blogs aren’t talking about this enough. Think about it, did anyone know who Joel Edgerton was when Attack of the Clones came out? Over the years, movie fans and moviegoers have become more familiar with seeing Edgerton on screen, and his growing popularity works to the film’s advantage. While Bonnie Piesse’s resume isn’t like Edgerton’s, my hope is that the film will develop her character more.

Furthermore, Edgerton and Piesse returning as Owen and Beru respectively will give us a chance to see what their relationship with Obi-Wan was like. Why is Owen so dismissive towards Obi-Wan in A New Hope? Why did Owen want to keep Obi-Wan away from Luke? What was Beru’s stance on all of this? Expect to see this explored in the film!

5. Obi-Wan may be Rey’s grandfather

One theory that has been out there for a long time is that Rey is a descendant of Obi-Wan. I would take it further and argue that Rey is both a Kenobi and a Skywalker. If either of these theories are correct, the standalone movie could show Kenobi finding love again. Given that Lucasfilm was willing to bring a Clone Wars character, Saw Gerrera, onto the big screen, could we see flashbacks of Satine Kryze?

Is it possible that Obi-Wan doesn’t know he has a child by the end of the film? This would explain why Obi-Wan or Yoda didn’t seek out his child during the original trilogy.

Also, if Obi-Wan is Rey’s grandfather, it would explain why he is speaking to Rey in her Force vision.

6. New characters

A standalone Obi-Wan movie doesn’t mean it won’t include new characters. Whether the film stays on Tatooine or goes off-world, there’s potential for Obi-Want to meet new allies and encounter new enemies. I would also hope that Lucasfilm remains consistent in casting people of color in significant roles. In particular, it would be great to see more women of color lead characters in the Star Wars universe (Rose seems like a good start in The Last Jedi).

Some shameless self-promotion here, but last year I mashed up a Mad Max-style Obi-Wan fan trailer that featured Gina Torres as a supporting lead. You can watch it by clicking here!

7. More Darth Vader and… the return of Hayden Christensen?

Obviously, Darth Vader is still alive during this time. It could be tricky to include Vader because of the dialogue in A New Hope where he tells Obi-Wan, “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” Still, it’s possible we could see Vader searching for Kenobi. Also, what if Vader is feeling a “pull to the light” similar to Kylo Ren? I get that people enjoyed seeing Vader ruthless in Rogue One, but we know he is much more complex than that.

I know this is unpopular for some Star Wars fans, but I really hope we get to see Hayden Christensen return as Darth Vader. He received a standing ovation at Star Wars celebration this year and I think it would be amazing if his performance in an Obi-Wan film, no matter how small, surprises people in a good way. Let’s also not forget that we could see Obi-Wan and Anakin again in a short flashback scene, preferably one that would take place during the Clone Wars.

8. Liam Neeson, Ian McDiarmid, and Jimmy Smits could return 

At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda tells Obi-Wan he will teach him how to commune with Qui-Gon Jinn’s Force ghost. A lot of people who didn’t enjoy the prequels tend to say Ewan McGregor was the “only good part.” However, I couldn’t disagree more, and I’m not just saying this because I’m a fan of the prequels. Liam Neeson’s carefully calculated and layered performance as Qui-Gon Jinn is much overlooked in my opinion.

One aspect of Qui-Gon that I find fascinating is how he questions authority, particularly the dogmatic order of the Jedi (which is why he’s not on the council). What Qui-Gon taught Obi-Wan was very different than how Yoda trains Jedi. Since Obi-Wan never completed his training, it would be interesting to see Qui-Gon guide him through his current struggles.

Speaking of positives from the prequels, Jimmy Smits and Ian McDiarmid would also have opportunities to come back as Bail Organa and Emperor Palpatine, respectively (it was great seeing Bail in Rogue One). We didn’t need to see Palpatine in Rogue One, but I think it makes more sense to bring him back for the Obi-Wan film. Palpatine is Anakin’s Sith master and he would be threatened at the thought of Anakin’s Jedi master still being alive.

So, there you have it! Those are my 8 reasons why we need an Obi-Wan standalone film. I’m sure I have more reasons, but these are the ones that come to mind. Again, I think this movie has incredible potential to not only delve deeper into a character we know and love, but also give us a truly unique Star Wars film.

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


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

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


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.