Friday, August 17, 2018

'Star Wars Resistance' Trailer Revealed

The first trailer for Star Wars Resistance, a new animated series premiering on Disney XD on October 7, has finally been released. It introduces us to the main protagonist, Kazuda Xiono, a Resistance pilot sent by none other than Poe Dameron (voiced by Oscar Isaac, of course) to a refueling station called the Colossus to identify potential allies and enemies. 
No doubt, some fans are already criticizing Resistance for being "too kid-friendly" to be taken seriously. But we have to remember that The Clone Wars and Rebels also pandered to younger audiences initially, and then transitioned into more mature and complex themes over time. Granted, Resistance will probably not be taking us to Mortis or the world between worlds, but we still can't dismiss it until we've seen at least a few episodes.

No, the biggest obstacle facing Resistance is the competition on the Star Wars landscape right now. The Clone Wars Season 7 isn't premiering for over a year, but it already has a huge fanbase, it's guaranteed to have more adult themes, and it seems to be the main focus of Dave Filoni and Lucasfilm Animation (which is why Resistance has cheaper animation and a more rushed marketing). 
Add that to Jon Favreau's live-action TV series (which will likely begin production in the next few months) and Episode IX (which is filming now), and Resistance will have a hard time making an impact on the fandom in the way Clone Wars and Rebels did. Though with all this other Star Wars content, maybe it's okay if Resistance is just a low-stakes cartoon that we can enjoy without obsessing over. 

At the very least, Resistance should be praised for its strong Asian, black, and Latinx representation among both its voice cast and its characters. Xiono is voiced by half-Japanese actor Christopher Sean and seems to be coded as Asian, so Resistance will be the first on-screen Star Wars story with a main protagonist of color and an actor of color portraying them. Regardless of the series' tone, that importance can't be understated.

In addition to Poe and BB-8, the series will see the familiar faces of Captain Phasma (voiced by Gwendoline Christie) and General Leia Organa (voiced by Rachel Butera).

What do you think of this trailer? What do you hope to see in Star Wars Resistance? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Friday, August 10, 2018

10 Ideas for Keri Russell's 'Episode IX' Character that are Better than Rey's Mom

*SPOILER WARNING* for Thrawn: Alliances.

Since 2014, fans have been theorizing connections between Rey and the other women of Star Wars. Leia, Jyn Erso, and Qi'ra have all been theorized to be her mother, even after Rey told us herself in The Last Jedi that her parents were "nobody." Keri Russell's casting brought on the same tired discussion, with THR even publishing a whole opinion piece on the topic.
To a certain extent, this is Lucasfilm's fault; when they consistently cast white brunettes, it's natural for us to see a resemblance. If they did a better job of diversifying their female characters by casting women of color (which, to be fair, they have been improving on), we wouldn't be talking about how they all must be related. 

But again, Rey's whole arc in The Last Jedi was about accepting that her parents are unimportant and her power comes from herself. It might be cool for Rey to learn that her long-lost mother is a badass Force-sensitive warrior, and Russell already shined in a complex, unconventional mother-daughter relationship in The Americans, but unless JJ Abrams decides to undo Rian Johnson's work (which by all accounts, he won't), we need to forget about Rey's parents. 
So I've compiled 10 alternative ideas for Russell's character that would call for the kind of steely performance she gave on The Americans and the "action-heavy fight scenes" that Variety reported are involved with her role. This ranges from silly ideas to actually serious, thought-out ones: 

10. Captain Phasma

After falling into flames in The Last Jedi, Phasma reconstructs her scarred face and ends up looking like...Keri Russell. But don't worry, Gwendoline Christie still has a role because Phasma made clones of herself at some point. Like, a bunch of clones. And Keri Russell Phasma leads the Gwendoline Christie Phasmas into battle. Or something.
(Okay, so this is the worst idea on this list, but you can't deny that Russell would rock that armor.)

9. Supreme Leader Snoke

Episode IX should probably just leave Snoke lying on the floor of this throne room with his lower half cut off and his tongue hanging out. But if they decide to bring him back in any fashion, why couldn't he look like a beautiful 42-year-old human woman? Hell, give her one of those golden bathrobes, too. 
8. Rey's older sister

Here's an idea that would actually justify Russell's vague resemblance to Rey while still staying true to the concept that her parents were "nobody." Rey's much-older sister may not share her Force sensitivity – that would suggest that their bloodline is important after all – but if she was similarly abandoned by their parents in the middle of nowhere, it would make sense for her to have the same self-taught fighting skills. 
Of course, it would be a waste of time to introduce an estranged member of Rey's family when she already has established relationships with Kylo Ren, Finn, Luke, and Leia that are surely more relevant to the plot. But this idea is still better than Russell playing Rey's mom! 

7. Maul and Qi'ra's daughter, Qy'lie Maul

Yeah, this is gross. Maul is at least 20 years older than Qi'ra and was weirdly predatory towards her in their one conversation. ("You and I will be working much more closely from now on"? Ew.) But could you object to the awesomeness of seeing Keri Russell with reddish skin, a double-bladed red lightsaber, and horns poking out of her hair? No. No you couldn't.
6. The leader of the Yuuzhan Vong Grysks

One of the key elements of the Expanded Universe is the Yuuzhan Vong, a species of terrifying extragalactic invaders. The newly-released novel Thrawn: Alliances introduces the Grysks, a similar species that seems to serve as the Vong's canon replacement. The book preludes their invasion of the known galaxy, but the story of how our favorite characters deal with this threat has yet to be told. 
The Yuuzhan Vong
The conflict between the Rebellion and First Order has more than enough excitement and intrigue without the introduction of a third party. But if the Grysks were to appear in IX, why not let Russell play their leader? Put her in enough makeup and prosthetics that she's unrecognizable. Let her chew scenery with long monologues about suffering and torture and all kinds of Grysk mythology—in a hoarse alien accent, of course.

5. Maz Kanata's girlfriend

Between referring to Chewie as her "boyfriend" in The Force Awakens and hinting at a sexual past with the Master Codebreaker in The Last Jedi, it's clear that Maz hKanata as been intimate with all sorts of beings—quite possibly, regardless of gender. We know for a fact that she'll be back in Episode IX, so maybe she'll bring along her latest lover, a fellow pirate played by Keri Russell either as a regular human or an alien.
No, just kidding. Maz belongs with Chewie. It just makes sense. This is the key romance of the Sequel Trilogy, not Reylo. He can send Malla the divorce papers in the mail.

4. Mon Mothma's daughter, Minnie Mothma

While Mon Mothma may not be an iconic legacy character like Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and Lando, she was even more instrumental in the formation and success of the Rebel Alliance. Having Russell play her daughter – another Rebel leader who shares Mothma's integrity but isn't afraid to get her hands dirty – would be a great way of acknowledging her.
And as far as we know, Mothma is still alive (though pretty damn old) by the time of the Sequel Trilogy, so why not let Caroline Blakiston reprise her Return of the Jedi role for at least a scene or two? At 85, Blakiston is roughly the right age, too. Regardless of who Russell plays, Lucasfilm should seriously consider bringing her back. 

Bonus idea: Russell's character is half-Bothan; when Mothma famously lamented "Many Bothans died to bring us this information," she was actually mourning the loss of her secret Bothan lover, with whom she had a child. (Try saying "Mon Mothma's half-Bothan spawn" 10 times fast.)

3. A Jedi Knight

We've (finally) moved on to the more serious ideas. This theory mostly arises from the fact that Russell's part seems to have been the one reportedly codenamed "MARA." In the Expanded Universe, Mara Jade is Luke's wife and a fellow Jedi. While that same character can't possibly exist in the canon anymore, it's possible they were using her name as a placeholder for a similar female Jedi in the same general time period.
It would make the most sense for this character to be an experienced Light Side warrior who's been in hiding for the past several years but then re-enters the picture. It would also be fascinating to see her as Rey's much-older apprentice who's never learned to hone her Force sensitivity, but it's doubtful the film would take the time developing that relationship.

2. A Dark Side warrior

The Star Wars canon is sorely lacking in female Sith Lords and evil Force-users of the like. Russell would nail it as a cold, ruthless villain, and the revelation that Snoke trained "at least one other apprentice" in addition to Kylo has already set up the idea of another powerful dark warrior in IX.
Whether this character was a Knight of Ren, another leader in the First Order, or an old apprentice of Snoke's who re-enters the fray, it's doubtful that she would play second fiddle to Kylo—you just don't cast Keri Russell as someone who takes orders from someone as immature and unstable as him. That could mean some serious battles between her, Kylo, and Rey. 

1. The warrior queen of Mandalore

It's about time that a Star Wars movie highlighted the Mandalorian people in the way that The Clone Wars and Rebels have. Canonically, they seem to have sat out the Galactic Civil War, but as far as we know, they're still standing strong by the time of the Sequel Trilogy. Why not let Russell play their ruler who the Resistance seeks out for help?
Between Satine and Bo-Katan Kryze, and Sabine Wren and her mother Ursa, Mandalore already has a huge precedent for badass female leaders in the canon. The last time we saw the planet, Bo-Katan had taken the legendary Darksaber and the ruling power that came with it, so why not let Russell be Bo-Katan's daughter who inherited both the mantle and the sword? 

Just think of it: an armored Mandalorian warrior swooping in on a jetpack, slicing through stormtroopers with the Darksaber (which would look amazing in live-action, by the way), kicking all kinds of ass with Mandalorian blasters, flamethrowers, and other gadgets, and then taking off her helmet to reveal none other than Keri Russell. That's exactly the kind of role she deserves.
(The one hitch in this idea is that Making Star Wars just reported Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars TV will be centered on Mandalore, albeit in a different era. This series will likely premiere less than a year after Episode IX, so Lucasfilm may not want to overwhelm us with Mando content.)

Bonus idea: Russell's character is named Satine Kryze, after her aunt. This would make for a lovely tribute to the fan-favorite Clone Wars character who stole Obi-Wan's heart.

No matter who Russell plays, we can be sure she'll give a powerful performance, and we know for a fact she'll kick ass, too. At the end of the day, there isn't much more we can ask from a supporting female character in Star Wars.

Who do you want Keri Russell to play in Star Wars: Episode IX? Which idea on this list is your favorite? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Friday, July 27, 2018

'Episode IX' Cast Announced

Lucasfilm have officially announced the cast of Star Wars: Episode IX before it begins production on August 1. The full cast includes returning actors Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, and Billie Lourd, with Star Wars veterans Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams. The new cast additions are Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, and Keri Russell.
But perhaps the biggest announcement is that Carrie Fisher will be back as Leia Organa, using unused footage from The Force Awakens. The film's novel adaptation included a conversation between her and Rey before Rey left for Ahch-To, so it's possible we'll see that scene on the big screen as a final sendoff for Leia as she passes the torch to Rey. 
Other notes from this announcement:
  • Episode IX is explicitly described as "the final installment of the Skywalker saga." They're already making it very clear that this is the end of an era. (You can bet the marketing will capitalize on this.)
  • Mark Hamill is back! While there was always a good chance of him returning in Force ghost form, it's interesting that they're not even trying to keep it secret.
  • Naomi Ackie, who seems to have taken the role codenamed "Caro," will follow Solo's Thandie Newton as the second black actress with a major visible role in Star Wars (unless her character is an alien like Nyong'o's). It's depressing that "black women in Star Wars" is still a big deal, but we'll root for her anyway. 
  • Even though Fisher will likely only have a few minutes of screen-time, her daughter Billie Lourd has been upgraded to the main cast; Kaydel Connix will continue to have an important role in the Rebellion.
  • Richard E. Grant (Logan, Game of Thrones) totally looks like he'd play a First Order leader.
  • Though Billy Dee Williams' return as Lando has been reported for a little while now, it's still good to hear it confirmed. He and Chewie better get to fly the Falcon again...
What do you think of this cast? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Seven Hopes for the 'Clone Wars' Revival

*SPOILER WARNING* for the next season of The Clone Wars. Everything in this post is either speculation or details already shared publicly by the creators, but if you want to go into the revival completely fresh, you might want to stay away.

The announcement of #CloneWarsSaved brought waves of excitement...and also questions. The only official details are that the revival will be 12 episodes on Disney's upcoming streaming service, and the teaser trailer and poster pretty much confirmed that the Siege of Mandalore storyline will be the finale (no surprise) and the Bad Batch arc will also be adapted.
With so much left unknown, there's a lot for us to look forward to when the beloved show returns next year. Here are seven hopes for the seventh season of The Clone Wars:

Original content

When The Clone Wars was cancelled, there were about two and a half seasons of incomplete content remaining. As detailed on The Midi-Chlorian Center, two major storylines were adapted into comics or novels, two episode arcs (including the Bad Batch) were released online as unfinished story reels, and most of the rest has been revealed through sketches and discussions with the creators.
If the revival were just an on-screen adaptation of some of that content, it would be perfectly satisfying and no one would complain. And no matter what, there will certainly be at least a few small surprises. But after five years of waiting, it would be great to see new and original content. (Especially since otherwise, the Bad Batch arc would just be the same as the story reels we've already seen, only with much better animation.)

And if the creators wanted to not only adapt the Dark Disciple storyline but retcon the ending so that Asajj Ventress doesn't die? Well, then they should go right ahead. 

Longer episodes

When The Clone Wars was airing on television, each episode was 21-22 minutes total so that it could fit the 30-minute timeslot with commercials added. But since the next season will be on Disney's streaming service, there's virtually no time limit. Each episode could hypothetically be over an hour, like the theatrical film that debuted the series.
That's not very realistic; they probably would have mentioned if each of these 12 episodes was actually several times the length of a regular one. But at the very least, we can expect each of the new episodes to not have as strict a time limit; they might be closer to 30 minutes than 22.

All this means is that we can hope the 12 new episodes will amount to more total content than 12 regular Clone Wars episodes would.

Rebels references

One of the great opportunities this revival has is to include Rebels references that wouldn't have been possible if the series had continued as originally planned. Rebels included older versions of many major Clone Wars characters, so it would only be fair for Clone Wars to do the same in the reverse direction. 
The Kanan comic series already explains what young Caleb Dume and his master Depa Billaba are up to at the end of the Clone Wars, but it would still be neat to see them pop up in a hologram or in the background of a scene. There's even a Clone Wars design for Billaba already.
During the Siege of Mandalore, there's even better opportunity to see familiar faces. Ursa Wren and Fenn Rau were both dedicated and skilled Mandalorian warriors who allied with Bo-Katan in Rebels, so it would make sense for younger versions of them to appear as her lieutenants who fight alongside Ahsoka, Rex, and the clones. 
Not to mention Sabine Wren, who's about two years old at the time of the Siege of Mandalore. If Ursa's going into battle, it's not just to restore justice to her home, but to ensure that her infant daughter doesn't grow up under Maul's rule. At the very least, Ursa could mention that she has a young child back at home. And if we got a glimpse of baby Sabine, maybe doodling with markers (hinting at her passion for art)? That would be pretty great, too.

Maul's perspective

No matter what, Maul will have a huge role in the Siege of Mandalore arc; Ahsoka's main motivation is to finally capture (if not kill) the nemesis of her old friend Obi-Wan. But we deserve more than just a couple scenes of him reacting to the mounting threat against him and then a climactic duel with Ahsoka. After all, The Clone Wars is what made him such a fascinating character.
Canonically, Maul has returned to Mandalore after the Son of Dathomir storyline that ends with the death of his mother (Mother Talzin) and the collapse of his Shadow Collective syndicate. What's he going through? Is he falling into the insanity we saw from him earlier in The Clone Wars and later in Rebels? Is he still just laser-focused on killing Obi-Wan? Does he know that killing Ahsoka would deal another major blow to him?
Another unique opportunity presented to the revival series is to explain Maul's cameo in Solo; how he went from defeat on Mandalore to ruling Crimson Dawn in about nine years' time. We could see him communicating with other crime lords, maybe even a younger Dryden Vos voiced by Paul Bettany.  

No matter what, scenes with Maul will most likely also see the return of Gar Saxon and Rook Kast, his lieutenants from the Son of Dathomir comic who led his super commando soldiers. (Saxon later appears in Rebels.) Maybe Bo-Katan and Rex will throw down with them while Ahsoka duels Maul. 

Justice for Padmé

Padmé is one of the key characters in The Clone Wars who consistently shows up to fight both on the front lines and in the halls of the Senate. She may not be involved in the Bad Batch or Siege of Mandalore arcs, but she still deserves to have a meaningful subplot of her own in the last episodes of the series. 
After all, Padmé doesn't just spend her days waiting for her beloved Anakin to holo-call her. At the very least we could have a few scenes of her speaking in the halls of the Senate, maybe protesting Republic intervention on Mandalore (which would put her at odds with her close friend Ahsoka). And her buddies Bail Organa and Mon Mothma should show up too, because there's no way those two would sit out a juicy political campaign. 
Perhaps most importantly, since the Siege of Mandalore takes place directly before and during Revenge of the Sith, we have the opportunity to see when Padmé first learns of her pregnancy—a key moment in the Skywalker saga. Watching her grapple with the news and figure out how to hide it and continue her career would make for a fascinating and relevant subplot.

The Battle of Coruscant

Before Star Wars: The Clone Wars, there was Star Wars: Clone Wars, a 2D-animated micro-series that ran from 2003 to 2005, before being effectively replaced in the canon by The Clone Wars in 2008. It has a lot of awesome and ridiculous elements, and one of the best is its portrayal of the Battle of Coruscant, the end of which we saw at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.
While the huge ground battle on Coruscant shown in the cartoon is no longer canon, the fantastic subplot that sees General Grievous chase down the Chancellor and his Jedi escorts still is. Who wouldn't want to watch Shaak Ti show off some badass moves as she fights off Grievous and his MagnaGuards in 3D Clone Wars animation?
Meanwhile, there's quite a bit that happens during the space battle before Anakin and Obi-Wan arrive to save the Chancellor. In the 2003 cartoon, Jedi Master Saesee Tiin leads a charge across the vacuum of space to board and commandeer an enemy vessel. Antics like that might be a little far-fetched for The Clone Wars, but there's still opportunity for some outer-space action involving familiar Jedi.

The only problem is that the trailer set up Anakin and Ahsoka's reunion as the emotional high point of the season, and the Battle of Coruscant scenes would take place at the same time. It might be distracting to cut between the dramatic reunion scenes and action-packed ones. 

A true ending

Until now, the series finale of The Clone Wars was the end of the Lost Missions episodes released on Netflix, which sees Yoda reflect on the future of the galaxy after returning from a wild adventure. It's not half bad as a conclusion to the series, but the revival needs to give us an unequivocal ending that truly brings everything to a close.
We know the Siege of Mandalore ends with (again, spoiler alert!) Maul's capture being interrupted by Order 66. Maul escapes and Ahsoka and Rex (whose control chip has been removed) go into exile. This is, of course, at the same time as Anakin's assault on the Jedi Temple. 

The best idea is an epilogue in the style of the Rebels finale, narrated by Ahsoka. We could see animated glimpses of scenes from Revenge of the Sith – Order 66, Anakin and Obi-Wan's duel, Luke and Leia's birth. etc. – while Ahsoka explains the rise of the Empire and the supposed death of her master. 

What do you hope to see in the Clone Wars remake? Which familiar faces would you like to return? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' is Coming Back

We prayed. We hoped. We tweeted. We wrote. We continued to support Star Wars: The Clone Wars after its untimely cancellation five years ago, and our dedication has been rewarded: The Clone Wars is finally coming back. The show's tenth anniversary panel at San Diego Comic-Con ended with a teaser for a revival series of 12 episodes coming to the upcoming streaming service Disney Direct.
The teaser begins with ominous footage (likely produced only for the teaser) of rows of clone trooper helmets, many of them familiar, paired with a voiceover from various clones. Using the same music from the second Force Awakens teaser, it transitions into a sweeping shot of what seems to be Fort Anaxes. Anakin, Rex, and Bad Batch leader Hunter watch as a huge Republic fleet collects overhead.

But the real emotion is saved for the end of the teaser. Rex summons Anakin and Obi-Wan to a surprise hologram meeting with a grown-up Ahsoka Tano and the Mandalorian leader Bo-Katan Kryze. "Hello Master," Ahsoka says. "It's been a while."
While it's unknown exactly which unfinished episode arcs will be included in the revival, it's certain that we'll get the Siege of Mandalore, the original plan for the series finale that involved Ahsoka, Bo-Katan, and Rex and his troops liberating Mandalore from Maul's rule. The footage of Fort Anaxes and Hunter also indicates that we'll see the Bad Batch arc, centered on the titular elite squad of clones.

Additionally, a teaser poster simply shows a clone helmet painted to look like Ahsoka. This originates from sketches of how Ahsoka's clones decorate their armor during the Siege of Mandalore. The image perfectly incapsulates two of the show's most beloved and unique elements: the clones and Ahsoka. 
Disney's streaming service isn't scheduled to drop until fall 2019, which means we still have a long way to go. At least we'll get a longer trailer with more footage from the episodes before then. (Maybe at Comic-Con next year?)

On a scale of "a lot" to "I'm actually drowning," how hard are you crying over this announcement? Which stories and characters would you like to see in the revival? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Keri Russell in Talks to Join 'Episode IX'

As expected, the Star Wars: Episode IX casting announcements have begun, before it starts production later this month: Variety is reporting that Keri Russell is in "early talks" to join the film. This is most likely connected to the report that the film was casting an actress in her 40s to play a new role codenamed "MARA." May the speculation commence.
For many, her casting (if finalized) would be a disappointment because Russell would be yet another white brunette woman to enter Star Wars. And it's just bad timing considering that today is another #SWRepMatters day on Twitter where fans discuss representation of minorities—this time, with a special focus on Native Americans. (There are some fantastic threads out there that you should really check out.)

However, between Felicity, Mission:  Impossible III, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and (most recently) The Americans, Russell has shown herself to be a versatile actress who can absolutely slay whatever empowered character JJ Abrams hands her. (Stunts wouldn't be too hard for her either.) Her talent is undeniable, and it would be interesting to see what she brings to Star Wars.

And again, this is only the start of the casting news. We can't forget that in addition to "MARA," IX was also looking at black actresses between the ages of 18 and 26 to play a new character codenamed "Caro." Russell's casting may have been announced first, but there's still a solid chance a young actress of color will join the film in the next few weeks.

What do you think of this news? What kind of character do you hope Russell plays? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lucasfilm Puts Standalone Movies on Hold

If you were wondering about the fallout from Solo's poor box office results...well, here it is. Collider has reported that Lucasfilm is putting their standalone A Star Wars Story movies on hold in favor of focusing on Episode IX (which will start filming very soon) and the next trilogy after that.
Though no future standalone movies were ever actually confirmed by Lucasfilm, THR reported last August that an Obi-Wan Kenobi film was in development with Stephen Daldry directing (recently corroborated by TMZ), and again reported last month that James Mangold would be helming a Boba Fett movie. Now those movies won't be happening for a while—if at all. 

After IX, the next trilogy will be conceived by The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson. Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will also be writing and producing a series of films. All of these films – as well as the animated series Star Wars Resistance and Jon Favreau's live-action TV series are expected to center on new characters in new eras and be separate from the Skywalker saga.

While this news is disappointing to some, it's not that bad for Star Wars in the long run. Kenobi could have been a really interesting and exciting film about a beloved character, and Boba Fett could have at least been a fun team-up movie with lots of familiar bounty hunters. But again, The Last Jedi was all about letting the past die and forgetting about old characters.
"No, no, you're still holding on! Let go!"
That's not to say that we should never have more nostalgic spinoffs or origin stories about familiar faces from the Original Trilogy and Prequels. But Star Wars should never just be about characters introduced 40 years ago in new stories that fill in the gaps between these movies. In terms of both space and time, the Star Wars universe is enormous, and if Johnson and Benioff and Weiss want to explore it, Lucasfilm should by all means concentrate on that.

Unfortunately, Star Wars News Net is reporting that Disney will go back to "proven veteran talent" for their filmmakers instead of younger and riskier choices like Gareth Edwards, Colin Trevorrow, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller—all of whom had serious falling outs with Lucasfilm. While the logic here makes sense to some extent, it's bad news for anyone hoping that Lucasfilm would eventually diversify in terms of the filmmakers they pick. 

After all, there are few female directors or directors of color who have the experience of Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, or the other Hollywood bigshots who run in Kathleen Kennedy's crowd, simply because they've had less opportunities. If Star Wars – one of the biggest franchises ever – is no longer even considering fresh and unique filmmakers (who also happen to not be old white guys), that's not helping the industry at all.

What do you think of this news? What would you have liked to see in Kenobi and Boba Fett standalones? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

We Need to Talk About Val

WARNING: major spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story!

Solo has no shortage of characters who deserve thinkpieces. Qi'ra, Chewbacca, L3-37, and Enfys Nest each deliver new and unique perspectives of social inequality and imperialism in Star Wars. But first, we need to talk about one of the film's smaller characters: Thandie Newton's Val. 
Val is introduced as Beckett's deadly, no-nonsense partner and girlfriend (if not wife) who is uneasy about Han and Chewie joining their crew. During the Conveyex heist, she grapples onto the bridge to place charges. When the train approaches and she's pinned down by viper droids, she chooses to detonate the explosives, blowing herself up in the process.

Objectively, it makes little sense to introduce a cool character like this and then kill them off in such a dumb way. Val's abrupt suicide isn't even a sacrifice to save the man she loves; it's just to help them complete their mission and collect a paycheck. The entire cargo is lost anyway just a few moments later, so unlike the protagonists in Rogue One, her death is totally in vain.
The term "fridging" is used to describe when female characters are killed off just for the anguish of men. But Val's death seems almost worse than that; she doesn't know Han well enough for her loss to mean anything to him, and Beckett mourns her for only a couple of scenes before forgetting about her. 

It's also a huge disservice to Newton, who's been acting for almost 30 years but has been earning critical acclaim – including Emmy and Golden Globe nominations – for her performance on WestworldHer character Maeve shares Val's cynicism and take-charge attitude, but also has a deep emotional arc about rebellion, self-discovery, and love (each played brilliantly by Newton) that makes her one of the most compelling and empowered faces on TV right now. 
Poor writing and wasted talent like this should always be called out and criticized, but when it's someone like Val, it crosses the line to problematic content. Because Val is the first visible black woman with a "prominent" role in a Star Wars movie. Including her in the story is a big step for representation (albeit one that should have been taken decades ago), but killing her off almost negates that.

Val has been important to fans since she first appeared in the teaser trailer. Cosplayer Elicia Duncan created a Val costume to wear to the premiere based on the single still of her that had been released, and was rewarded when Newton herself took a photo with her. It's safe to say what drew Duncan to the character was that for the first time, she could see a woman in Star Wars whose skin color and hair were similar to her own. 
And even after audiences saw Solo and realized just how irrelevant Val is to the plot, her importance has not dwindled. Sandra Choute explained on Twitter that in Val, she recognizes the selflessness, confidence, and strength shared by herself and other black women. She acknowledges that Val was wasted, but she's still her favorite character. 
Indeed, Val is actually written and designed pretty well up until her death. She normalizes the idea of black women being fearless, professional, and formidable, but also compassionate at times. Her two outfits are a unisex mudtrooper disguise and a stylish-but-practical leather jacket with a fur scarf. Her afro highlights her blackness and provides important representation for what natural black hair looks like. 
Val's relationship with Beckett is healthy and progressive, too. He may be the leader of their crew, but he trusts her, values her skills, and works with her to reach a shared goal. And as Newton and Woody Harrelson explained in an interview, their characters subvert typical husband/wife gender norms; Beckett is the nurturing one who is quick to trust Han, while Val is skeptical and more interested in completing the job as efficiently as possible. 

Not to mention that their relationship is an interracial one—a fact that is treated as utterly normal. In fact, never does anyone treat Val differently because of the color of her skin, much less her gender. The way that she's able to confidently pose as a stormtrooper – a classic Star Wars disguise – with her face and hair visible, without any of the real Imperials doubting her or regarding her as an "other," is part of what makes her so impactful.
This is where we have to be really careful, because it's easy to say, "what's the problem?" They cast a talented, underrated actress in a role that visibly represents black women for the first time in Star Wars, demonstrates what a modern marriage looks like, and empowers women in general—so what do we have to complain about? 

The issue is that when you take a character like Val and kill her off in such a dumb way, you're diminishing the representation she initially provides. For impressionable little black girls who have so far failed to see people like them in Star Wars, you risk sending the message that their lives don't matter, that their heroic sacrifices will fail to make an impact on other characters or the plot, and then yet another white woman with brown hair will take center stage. 
Imagine if Val had a larger role in the story, if she had taken Beckett's place as Han's mentor. Her arc would have been about her gradually warming to Han (maybe even becoming something of a surrogate mother) but still ultimately deciding to betray him—the kind of story we so rarely see from a female character. It would still end with him lethally shooting her, but at least she'd get some solid character development first.

There could actually be a logistical reason for Val's early demise: we know Westworld Season 2 was filming around the same time as Solo's reshoots, and in an interview with Collider, Newton and Harrelson described how the Conveyex sequence was changed by the reshoots, meaning Val might have survived the original version of it. But that still makes it Lucasfilm's fault for screwing up the production of the movie and hinging all of their black female representation on one actress in the first place.
At the film's Cannes premiere, Newton wore a custom dress with imagery of all the black Star Wars characters that preceded Val
Fortunately, Val's part in the Star Wars canon is far from over. The cover for Beckett's one-shot comic coming in August confirms that (no surprise) she'll have a role in the story. With other comics, novels, games, prequels, spinoffs, and Forces of Destiny, there are many opportunities for her to return in the future, maybe even with Newton reprising the role herself. 

And Val is already setting a precedent for black women in Star Wars. Episode IX is reportedly casting a new charismatic and strong-willed female leader, with a preference for African American actresses (as well as, presumably, black women from other parts of the world). Though they could still end up copping out and casting a white actress instead (like what they did with the casting of Qi'ra), at least this kind of representation seems to be on Lucasfilm's mind. 

So there's still hope for more empowered black women in Star Wars' near future. And we can always tune into Westworld to see Newton in a kickass sci-fi lead role that actually utilizes her full talent and consistently does her character justice. But Val? She's pretty damn cool, too. Unlike the writers of Solo or the characters themselves, let's try not to forget about her anytime soon. 

For further reading, check out:
  • #SWRepMatters on Twitter, an ongoing movement in which fans appreciate the representation of minorities in Star Wars (on both sides of the camera) and advocate for more change.
  • Vogue's interview with Newton about the origins of her Cannes dress and how representation matters to her personally.
  • The Daily Dot's spot-on article about why Val's death was a mistake.
  • Nerdist's article about how Solo mistreated its women in general, and how Lucasfilm can prevent this from happening in the future. 
  • A post I wrote last November about Taris, a canonical Star Wars planet where black women are in charge, and the overall representation of women of color in Star Wars.
  • Syfy Wire's article about the history of black women in Star Wars, written on Star Wars Day last month.
  • "How 'Star Wars' forgot about black women" by Just Add Color in November 2016.
  • A sketch from Donald Glover's Saturday Night Live hosting gig last month that brilliantly used satire to point out the absence of black people in Star Wars.

What would you have liked to have seen from Val in Solo? Where do you hope we see her in the future? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @sithobserver, and may the Force be with you all.