Breaking Up With Star Wars
Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Ughh, a text from my dad read, the Jedi council is so blind and naive.
It was a balmy afternoon in January. The season 2 finale of The Mandalorian had recently aired, and my father was taking it upon himself to rewatch every piece of Star Wars media he could in an attempt to combat his withdrawals. As the cinephile that sired me, his love for 80s cult classics almost surpasses mine. But he had fallen off the Star Wars train shortly after introducing it to me (and inadvertently creating a monster) sometime in 2005, while I went on immersing the beloved “pew pew” movies into every degree of my personality.
Yep, you heard it here first: you can blame my most insufferable tendencies on a Mr. Luis O. Scott. You can take up your gripes with him from now on, though my childhood bore the brunt of my obsession. There was a chance of it ebbing in high school, with no controversy and no new content besides The Clone Wars (which everyone agreed was a show for children and consequently no threat), and I learned to compartmentalize that part of my personality (or rather suppress it) before the release of the sequels.
Unfortunately, I have not known peace since.
In a way, it’s good that dad is only just now returning to the galaxy far, far away that has been living rent-free in my head for so many years. He’s always been on the periphery — a casual fan, not one to join forums or even discuss the movies with his like-minded peers — so he’s managed to avoid all of the major implosions within the fandom. I envy him for that, at least. It must be so peaceful.
But Mando’s second season, with all its easter eggs and callbacks, managed to drag franchise purists back into the fray — and they are watching everything now. The prequels: Darth Vader’s origin story, which, apparently, is considered camp in some circles. The animated series: some of the best media in the entire franchise, if anyone cares — watch The Clone Wars and Rebels for clear skin. The standalone films, my personal favorites, which include Rogue One and Solo. The original trilogy, of course. And… umm… the sequels. I guess.
After my dad’s initial text I served as his Star Wars sherpa, offering my objective opinions on timeline coherence and the most ideal viewing order. I received many, many more texts, some of which I will be framing, and spent long hours with him on the phone discussing everything. We bitched about the Jedi council (we are both Yoda antis), gushed over more niche Jedi like Ahsoka and Kanan, and eventually turned to one of my most favorite subjects: the uber-problematic, kinda-misogynistic, definitely-racist machiavellian behemoth that keeps the whole franchise running: Disney/Lucasfilm.
Now, my love for Star Wars runs deep. I’ve never celebrated Halloween, not even as a child, but I have dressed up in full Princess Leia costume at least 5 times before hitting puberty. I used to carry my original trilogy box set to every sleepover I went to. I’ve bought trading cards. Recently. I’ve spent [redacted] on deadstock graphic t-shirts from the prequel era. I even enjoy Jar Jar Binks (to an extent, I’m not insane).
All this, on its own, isn’t that bad (Right? Tell me it’s not that bad). But in the face of all the blatant erasure, tokenization, gatekeeping, neglect, bullying, and I-could-go-ons that the studio and the fandom perpetrate… it’s a bit masochistic of me.
There was a time when Star Wars brought me nothing but joy. I was on the internet chatting with strangers about Natalie Portman and her character Padmé, the #girlboss of the prequels, before I’d even hit puberty — and making weird time-consuming edits on MS Paint, before LiveJournal, Twitter, and Photoshop came into my life to make things easier. But as I grew older, I became radicalized by corruption in the media, especially the treatment of POC in it, and my relationship with Star Wars grew toxic. This awakening came in tandem with the release of the sequels — to this day a thorn in my side — and all that came with them. The mistreatment of Finn and the denial of what could have been the franchise’s first [canon] gay ship are two subjects I could easily harp on for hours. There’s also the matter of representation concerning black women and other women of color, the toxic nature of the fandom, and Lucasfilm’s reluctance to protect its actors (even as they receive death threats, mind you). And I haven’t even mentioned the alien species fitted with stereotypical traits that align them — and not with much subtlety — with caricatures of ethnic minorities.
These issues, and hundreds more, have been festering inside of me for years, even as I continue consuming Star Wars content. It’s made me a little bitter, and a little combative, but I am sure this would happen to anyone who spent a greater portion of their lives loving something only to realize it has not, and will perhaps never love them back.
This is why, when my dad texted me one sunny day in February saying They should remake “A New Hope,” I thought I had at last found a solution.
I clung to those six little words like I was strapped to Luke Skywalker’s back as he sashayed across the swamps of Dagobah. Granted, my dad might have been experiencing cinematic whiplash — coming down from the masterpiece of Rogue One will do that to you — and was feeling a way about A New Hope’s jaunty plot holes… but he had complained about other plot holes before. So had I. So had everyone. Star Wars is rife with them. It's a saga of disparate, conflicting creative visions, suffering to this day because the filmmakers refuse to just… come up with a concrete plan. Or communicate with each other! And the midquels, animated shows, novelizations, and comics can only do so much to fill in the gaps. So the idea of all of that being fixed — all my frustrations, my anguish, my anger being glossed over and retconned, people of color being cast, and not sidelined, and not taken advantage of or sent death threats — it felt like a dream come true.
I started thinking about what I would do if I had Thanos’ magic gauntlet (we’re muddying the waters here with an external cultural reference, I know), if I could snap my fingers and start over. If I could go back in time and cast more people of color in the originals, get rid of the stinky Luke/Leia “Will they? Won’t they? Oops, that’s incest” plotline, and make sure George Lucas knew from the beginning who their parents were. If I could cast a black actress like Vinette Robinson — or (gasp) someone even darker! — to play Padmé, and not have her die of… (checks notes) …sadness — she deserved to survive, at least to help Bail Organa start the Rebellion, why lie — to help patch up that plot hole of Leia literally remembering her mother. If I could fix every single aspect of Finn’s arc in the sequels, retain his co-lead status alongside Rey, let him and Poe do their respective thangs (wink), nix Poe’s drug dealer backstory, establish from jump who Rey’s parents are (cough Rey Kenobi), and not even bother with a certain divisive ship? It all felt so good, so right.
For about five minutes. Before I started thinking about Carrie.
I don’t think there’s any celebrity death that has devastated me as much as Carrie Fisher’s. She was like the crazy auntie that just seemed to get you when you were a kid — the one who taught you (accidentally) what drugs were, how to bully men, how to write stories that were personal and unflinchingly honest. She was always fun, always energetic, but also suppressing an equally-palpable amount of sadness. It wasn’t until you got older, and your own mental illness reached its full potential, that you began to finally get her, too.
I spent a great number of years trying to emulate Princess Leia, trying to be brave and fearless in the face of my loss and in spite of my inner demons. But when I got older, I started to gravitate more towards Carrie. I write the way I do because of her, and in a way, I became even braver when I discovered and connected with who she actually was under the trademark space buns. She’s become a sort of patron saint for the outspoken, clinically unstable woman — she’s shown me how to deal with the worst parts of myself, to face my trauma and all my embarrassing shit, and make jokes about it if I have to.
I’m most grateful to Star Wars for giving me this, for giving me her, and for giving me a number of other hers who have been equally inspired and empowered by Carrie.
A few weeks ago I sat down for another conversation with my dad, after he had forced his way through the sequels, and I told him about my silly little notion of remaking all Star Wars content. He admitted it was a good idea, in theory, but pointed out something important: it wouldn’t erase the racist fandom, racist executives, the irritating discourse — but it could erase all the good that’s come of it. It wouldn’t change how other black actors are treated in their own multi-million dollar franchises (the plight of Ray Fisher and Anna Diop rings a considerable bell right now). Those things would not change, he felt, because the world as a whole has not changed — and it’s exactly how I feel, too.
Do I often fantasize about Leia being played by a woman of color, a what-if that has since been confirmed by George Lucas? Yes. Often. I would definitely be different (maybe even more insufferable, who knows) if the characters I grew up loving, like Leia, like Han, like Padmé, had looked like me. But at the same time, I cannot erase Carrie, or what she did for me as a child. What she is still doing for me. I couldn’t erase Finn and John Boyega, or Bodhi Rook and Riz Ahmed, or Val and Thandie Newton — and their contribution to my lives, however recent. They were still done very dirty in respective ways, but it’s like my dad said: the world is still changing. The way movies are made is (hopefully?) changing as well. We’re unlearning and unearthing new stuff every day. But the key, I guess, is not to dwell on it. To make note of what was done wrong in the past, and to do it differently in the future.
My relationship with Star Wars will forever be complicated. I will forever be discussing things that hurt me, critiquing character arcs and behind-the-scenes BS that left bad tastes in my mouth. But now instead of raging about it in multiple Twitter threads that no one will read, I will be mature and articulate them in prose and editorial features for zines my friends invite me to contribute to.
Just kidding, I’m still gonna rage on Twitter. But with the intention of holding the industry accountable, of making sure the machiavellian titans know this sort of thing can’t continue. I think that’s what it is to be a grown-up and still stanning the things you loved when you were a child. It’s part of you, almost like family, or country — and you can’t let it go, but you can’t look away from the stuff that makes you sick. You have to live in it. All of it. Or otherwise, live without it. And frankly, I owe it to my ten-year-old self, and all the [redacted]s of dollars I’ve spent on Star Wars merch, to stick it out till the end.