We’ve been living with Star Wars a long time, haven’t we? The galaxy that George Lucas created years ago continues to expand, now under the carefully profitable stewardship of the Disney Corporation. Star Wars stretches well beyond the Original movies to include so many books they can pretend half of them don’t exist. There are three different animated shows in recent memory and counting. And there’s a lifetime’s supply of comic books, with new titles starring new characters every month. As the universe expands, I find the movies have less and less shine for me, while the offshoots, many of which are notably post-Lucas, are endlessly fascinating. There are a number of reasons for that: First are the failings of the movies themselves, Second the quality of the new materials and Third the possibilities now available for an immersive experience.
I’m going to keep this short, because you’re heard much of it before. I have a rosy colored glasses relationship with the Original Trilogy. As a child, I knew I wasn’t represented, but I was young. I spent a lot of time imagining myself just off screen, in the back of the crowd. Lando had to have a sister, right? A cousin? The Prequels nearly broke my fan relationship with Star Wars. You know the reasons: Jar Jar, Padme who deserved more, Anakin Skywalker. Anakin.Skywalker. This guy grows up to be the toughest MF in the galaxy? I entered the New Trilogy with a contained excitement. I mean, the advertising for Rey was fantastic and with Finn as her Stormtrooper turned Rebel friend — it was all so promising. And I enjoyed it. But as the second film came and went, I found my enjoyment fading. While Rey’s character continued to grow, her supporting cast has all but disappeared in consequence.
We celebrate Finn because he’s a Black man in a Space movie, not because of what he DOES as a Black man in a Space movie. And there’s still no Black women to speak of (because seriously, burying us under makeup doesn’t go very far with me). My excitement has turned to cynicism that the plot will turn up something truly unique. I have a deep fear that the whole plot is “Rey’s been a Skywalker all along!” Which will just prove that I should have stopped giving a damn back when the Midicholorians were introduced and saved myself the effort.
Where the Movies Fall Short
All (soon to be) nine Star Wars movies have succeeded at being gigantic, flashy experiences, well worth the price. Not all of them have captured my imagination, but they definitely seeded the general culture in a way that is hard to overestimate. But while the movies have suggested the possibility of this wild galaxy full of a variety of people, aliens (humanoid and not), and droids, they haven’t delivered on any of that diversity. There are more kinds of droids in a given scene than there are races of humans. There are no openly queer characters, none with disabilities that can’t be addressed with a shiny prosthesis, and certainly none that suffer from the constant war they are all fighting.
Rogue One and Solo both attempted to address some of these shortcomings — featuring more kinds of humans and giving them better (even if some are still stilted, fridged, or stereotyped) roles. However, this doesn’t earn the whole of Star Wars movie-dom credit — rather it shows how easy it would be to do if anyone was truly committed to doing it. The movies continue to cater to a narrow category of fandom, masquerading as “the majority”. I ask no forgiveness for my utter lack of enthusiasm for a series of movies that has every chance to include me, and yet still can’t let Lando have a sister. Or even a cousin.
Written Lore: Comics
Star Wars comics have been around since the beginning, for better or worse. My current kick of Star Wars content outside of the movies started when we put the Star Wars: Adventures comics on the pull list. Each issue features at least one, if not two stand alone short stories, targeted at a middle grade reading level. I fell in love with them as my daughter did, reading fun adventure tales of Rey and the scavengers (Issue #1), Chewbacca at the day spa (it is as funny as it sounds), or Leia befriending some old enemies (issue #22). The variety of stories reminded me of the possibilities of the setting. The Star Wars universe literally has FTL travel, magic, and robots. Any weird and wacky thing can happen. There are so many stories just waiting to be told, and these comics for kids took the opportunity to explore some of them.
Recently, I bought the first issue of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order — Dark Temple entirely based on the cover for issue #2. It features a Black woman holding a lightsaber like she means it.
Inside, Issue #1 quickly introduces the character of Padawan Cere Junda, a hot headed young Jedi who finds that diplomacy is not her strength, but is something she will have to learn to survive when her master is killed. This is a five issue miniseries leading up to a video game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. However, neither the plot, the style, nor the art have the feeling of being just there for the sake of it. It has all the spit and polish of the other Star Wars comics miniseries. I’m looking forward to where the story goes next, and how Cere Junda joins the ranks of noble Jedi fighting for what’s good in the galaxy.
There are plenty of other Star Wars comics out there of widely varying quality. I read #1s of a few and then never a #2. Some I don’t even pick up at all. It is fun that these exist in print and digital and they can be easily shared between fans of different ages. These are right on time for this fan/parent.
Written Lore: Novels
I wanted more, so I picked up Older’s Star Wars: Last Shot novel, which re-arranged my expectations of licensed fiction. It wasn’t just a space romp, which I expected. It was thoughtful and tragic and funny. It explores the corners of the universe I’d always wondered about, the places the Rebellion hasn’t gotten to and the Empire doesn’t yet care about. And it did so with a vibrant cast of characters most of whom aren’t cis, white, or male. In fact, Han Solo maybe the only one in the whole book. This was the universe I was always hoping Star Wars would give me. Last Shot was the first tie-in book I read that took the power of space opera and blew it wide open, not by telling some huge story, but by telling a small one. A story about a guy struggling to be a father while also trying to live up to his image of himself.
Look at this book cover. No really. Look at it. Do you know how rare it is to get a Black woman featured on the cover of a science fiction space opera? I do, and it is damn hard. But there’s Vi Moradi being rebel scum on the cover of Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire. Again, I didn’t expect much from this book. It is a tie-in novel between a movie and an amusement park. But from such an excuse to make money comes a book that does what none of the movies bothered to do. It engages not only a variety of characters of different races and classes, it also grapples with the aftermath of combat. The nightmares. The tremors. The adaptive behaviors that hide your feelings and alienate your friends. And it does all that with a Black woman main character who is neither superhuman nor stereotypically flawed. She’s real, all of the characters are. Black Spire has really cemented my admiration for the Star Wars canon novels. They aren’t just messing around in the universe, they are reaching well beyond the movies to become something really special.
Tie-Ins Are Key
You’ll notice a trend through this conversation — the number of tie-in items. Let’s be real: Disney has perfected the multimedia multiverse crossover marketing game. They’ve been practicing on young girls for 50+ years, connecting movies with television shows, tv shows with books, books with costumes, and costumes with amusement parks. Now after having learned their lessons in the hardest, most competitive market out there, Disney has turned their skills on unsuspecting nerds. Older Star Wars fans with disposable income are not ready.
Timed with the end of the third trilogy, Disney resorts have unveiled Galaxy’s Edge, a new Star Wars themed land where you can have drinks in the Mos Eisley Cantina, fly the Millennium Falcon, and go into a Jedi Temple to come out with a custom lightsaber. The characters from Black Spire Outpost, the setting of the Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire novel, are throughout the area, playing their roles (I cannot wait to meet Vi Moradi). There is even an augmented reality downloadable game you can play in the area, breaking codes, finding hidden cargo, and generally geeking out as you search every corner of the outpost. This goes well beyond just some merch and some mouse ears. Disney is offering a full Star Wars experience that will only deepen. Within a few years, we’ll be able to board the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Halcyon for a 2-day stay with even more opportunities to spend money and soak up the fun. This is setting the standard for what is possible now — how deeply one property can immerse the fan in the things they love.
So Much to Enjoy
I haven’t even touched on the animated Clone Wars, Rebels, or Resistance, and the upcoming Star Wars live-action series on Disney+ like The Mandalorian. And the video games! There’s so much to engage with you can enjoy some of it and leave the rest to the side. And all of it, every bit, is more diverse, more open, and more full of adventure and possibility than the movies have ever been.
For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about Star Wars as a property, not because of the movies but in spite of them. Under the right direction of a megacorp that knows that diverse casting and inclusion makes money, Star Wars has a bright future. May the Force be with all of us, always.