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Old Star Wars vs New Star Wars Part 2: Sexism

Angelina

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Talking about sexism in old Star Wars vs new Star Wars is no simple task. Mostly because you risk becoming an “SJW” just for raising some fairly innocent questions. Questions like, where have all the Alliance/New Republic female high-ranking officers gone? Or, why if we have women in power, their character arcs are so rarely connected to their status? And Force forbid you ask something intersectional, like “Is there any sense at all in Twi’lek females portrayal?”.

That’s because most fans’ view of the problem is that if the most prominent males of this universe were not ashamed to date female politicians, there is nothing for feminists to worry about. That view of female empowerment is a bit flawed. But sadly it’s still very common amongst Star Wars fans.

I tackled this issue before, when I did my piece on Star Wars: The Old Republic and its problems. The situation here is much akin to that in the Game of Thrones series. We have plenty of Badass™ female characters; plenty of Strong Women™ or women in authoritative positions. But sadly, we have little to no well-written female characters, that is, truly empowered female characters. Or at least really independent female characters.

Female characters in the old Star Wars canon are rarely allowed to exist as persons and as rarely allowed real character development. Women are tools, props for men’s stories. I doubt many creators back then even considered personal aspects when working on them.

So let’s see if new Star Wars improved in this aspect.

Character Assassinations: Moving From Films to Novels

One has many reasons to not consider the Star Wars films a pinnacle of feminist cinema. Actually, both the gender relations and the portrayal of the female characters are a tad outdated there. But one also has to acknowledge that even episode III!Padmé had a distinct character arc—and an arc that was not entirely about her relationship with Anakin. (That’s even if we don’t count the director’s cut where she is an Alliance’s progenitor.)

But what if one considers, for example, Revenge of the Sith to be shallow and barely watchable? Well, being one of those people myself, I went to the novelization. Is it not praised as one of the best Star Wars books ever? (Actually reading odes to this book made me cringe and laugh simultaneously.)

Well, guess what I found in the novelization? Some pretty awful sexist scripting of Padmé. Forgive me for the long quote; it is necessary for understanding the depths of the problem. I should confess, I remembered it almost verbatim for ten years, that’s how traumatic it was. You can find this on pages 160-161.

A poor creature to be pitied

This is Padmé Amidala:
She is an astonishingly accomplished young woman, who in her short life has been already the youngest-ever elected Queen of her planet, a daring partisan guerrilla, and a measured, articulate, and persuasive voice of reason in the Republic Senate.
But she is, at this moment, none of these things.
She can still play at them—she pretends to be a Senator, she still wields the moral authority of a former Queen, and she is not shy about using her reputation for fierce physical courage to her advantage in political debate—but her inmost reality, the most fundamental, unbreakable core of her being, is something entirely different.
She is Anakin Skywalker’s wife.
Yet wife is a word too weak to carry the truth of her; wife is such a small word, such a common word, a word that can come from a downturned mouth with so many petty, unpleasant echoes. For Padmé Amidala, saying I am Anakin Skywalker’s wife is saying neither more nor less than I am alive.
Her life before Anakin belonged to someone else, some lesser being to be pitied, some poor impoverished spirit who could never suspect how profoundly life should be lived.

I had enough mercy to remove that part about her life starting with the moment she saw the mature man’s passion in Anakin, but you get the idea. And you thought the film version of Padmé was epitome of sexist scripting!

And this is not film-only disease, sadly.

I can’t say that Bastila from the Knights of the Old Republic game was much of a character. She was written and devised as a Bond girl-esque love interest for the main hero and a sexy tease for the male gamers. Still, she was a Faux Action Girl at the very least, and a legitimate Action Girl at best.

Surely, Meetra Surik was as interesting a character as any; when it was confirmed that female!Exile is canon, many female fans felt understandably happy. Because that meant—at last!—they had a female character that was not in any way an addendum to a male one, a female character with a complex character arc of her own. Last but not least that meant we (female fans) now had a story that was driven by female relationships, as both primary figures, Meetra Surik and Kreya, were female.

You’d never guess she was a warrior who matched him in combat. Or that he is barely 30…

Then Revan came into existence. The book that reduced Bastila to Revan’s passive and complacent cohabitant, and Meetra to a naive looser. Both women’s role was entirely subservient to that of Revan’s, and offensively so. Whether it was Bastila whose love ‘saved him from the Dark Side’ and who was left behind pregnant with his child, or Meetra, whose role was just to be killed and help Revan endure his 300 years imprisonment.

old star wars vs new star wars

You’d never guess her real character arc is falling to womb syndrome

Or let’s take Satele Shan, the Jedi Grandmaster, the hero of several wars between the Jedi and the Sith. The tragic figure who outlived her time and went on to propose somewhat controversial teachings that were meant to reconcile the Jedi and the Sith ideas. What’s her book’s (and comics’) arc?

Well, she was a bad mother and a bad girlfriend who put her religious and social duties before familial ones. That’s bad, folks. Let’s all shame her together until she learns how to overcome it and try to be a good mother to her 30 years old sonion. (Insert long eyeroll here.)

Did New Star Wars Improve It?

As far as I know, yes, they did. Despite Ray being quite a good character and a role model, her portrayal in the movie still lacked depth. She was more of an action flick heroine than a traumatized kid from a bad planet.

The novelization of The Force Awakens expanded on her inner life, her doubts and hopes. Instead of making her one dimensional or switching the focus to other protagonists, the film novelization carefully studied her character. Just as it did for all other film heroes, in fact, provoding us with their inner monologues and reasoning behind certain decisions as well. The kids anthology book Before The Awakening did even more for her story and has provided both intriguing hints to her history and some truly heartbreaking backstory.

Even Phasma fared better in the novelization than in the movie itself. Plus, she’s getting her own stand alone novel in the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi series, coming in just a few weeks.

We Talk Much Of Gender Equality: My Problems With The Alliance

As you may know, most new Star Wars content is situated in period between 20 years prior to the battle of Yavin and 30 years after. That allows us to make some interesting observations about old Star Wars vs new Star Wars attitudes towards gender equality. You’d probably be surprised, but the old canon had much to say about it! This exact verb,  “to say,” is the bane of this theme in the old canon, though.

I propose a simple mental game. Try to remember a single prominent non-Jedi female high-ranking Alliance/New Republic military/intelligence officer. You failed? So did I. Then try to remember a similar ranking and prominent figure, but on the Empire’s side… yep. Lots of them, starting with Ysanne Isard and Admiral Daala.

Which is frankly annoying. Not because female villains are bad, but because lots of characters in the books and the comics ranted about the Empire being thoroughly chauvinist. The Alliance/New Republic was supposedly so progressive that they let women have free access to the military.

Not that there were no female Alliance/New Republic characters. There were female pilots and lots of them. But they were all background figures. None of them ever got promoted to anything more than a team leader. Most of them actually married and left the service. And most of them are clad in latex (described as “she looked like she was naked and just painted her body (insert color)”.

A visual depiction of the problem with this character

Well, not that the Imperial women fared better…

They’ve got some prominent female leaders, that’s true. The problem is, those females are pictured as thoroughly incompent, hysterical, and in constant need of a male voice of reason. It was like a faux action girl, only that the informed attribute was not action-ness, but Acute Political Mind.

And of course, both fall victim to the Never a Self-Made Woman trope. Ysanne is her daddy’s little villain and Palpatine’s lover. Admiral Daala’s success is due to her relationship with Tarkin.

Ysanne is so hysterical and emotionally unstable, in fact, that she manages to lose a war against a single squadron. A war in which she was very much in a strong position, I might add. And that despite all her male colleagues trying to put reason into her head! Actually, all her (male) officers despise her for being so hysterical.

One may ask, how could she manage to climb so high in the first place… (see “Palpatine’s lover”.)

Natasi Daala fares just a tiiiiiiiny bit better when it comes to hysterics. Namely, they couldn’t decide whether she should be a hysterical woman or an ice queen, which makes her character fluctuate quite a bit. Also, her only desire in her whole life was to be united with her school love and be a good wife to him. Too bad they killed him, so she went on to be a Galactic head of state (until a sensible male replaced her via coup d’etat).

Did the New Star Wars Improve It?

This is an admiral I like much better… at least visually she’s perfect

Yes. First of all they dropped the facade of a male chauvinist Empire; it was thoroughly unfounded idea, based only on real-world perceptions of the authors. In the Star Wars universe the systematic oppression of women is not based on… well, actually, anything but the authors’ desire to evoke certain real-life parallels.

Palpatine based Imperial ideology on the Sith ideology, and the latter, while certainly racist, held nothing against women. Actually, the gender of a Sith Lord didn’t matter, only their power did.

Additionally, Palpatine’s native culture—the Nabooan—were racist, but never sexist.  They were more than okay with female politicians and military leaders, but they were certainly not okay with those filthy Gungans.So, depicting the Empire as racist and classist while not sexist is actually more logical than the old canon’s version of it.

And of course now we have many great female figures in the new Star Wars. Some of them are even high-ranking Alliance officers. Besides General Leia, Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo is prominent enough to feature in Vanity Fairpersonally I really look forward to knowing more about her.

There are some pretty excellent Imperial aligned female characters as well. One of the most beloved characters of the new canon comic books and the first New Canon original character to get a solo comic book run (Doctor Aphra) not only worked for Vader, she’s also queer and Asian. How’s that for intersectional diversity?

Overall Situation: Females As Plot Device

But what was the most annoying when it came to the old Star Wars depiction of women was how they were handled story-wise. A narrative may be completely in agreement with patriarchal values, but the female character can still be interesting in her own right, have her own character arc, and even her own storyline. One of the perfect examples is Rebecca and Ulrica from Ivanhoe. Being perfectly in line with quite unfeminist views of the time, both still have their own arcs. What’s more, both don’t exist just to serve male characters’ stories (if anything I’d argue it’s the other way round).

So, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t be so pissed off if they had just adhered to Traditional Values™ and created loads of wives-and-mothers who occasionally kick asses, but otherwise are happy to stay in the kitchen.

Not that it wouldn’t make me sad; it’s just that I can tolerate movie!Padmé, despite her patriarchy brain, but not book!Padmé. The main difference between the two is that movie!Padmé still has interests, beliefs, and life beyond being ‘Anakin’s wife’. Heck, her entire conflict with Anakin is based on her choice to adhere to those interests and beliefs instead of those more in line with being Anakin’s wife!

And sadly, that doesn’t mean wife-and-mother thing only. I just can’t instantly remember a single female character that has her own life in Star Wars Legends. Even those famed for being Badass™ and Action Girl-y™ have little to no purpose story-wise other than to serve male characters’ progress.

Mara Jade is more than famous for being one such a strong woman. But does that strong woman exist in isolation of her interaction with Palpatine or Luke? Even her death is nothing more that being fridged to mark her nephew’s fall into darkness. In the same vein, that nephew’s twin sister is constantly used as a character in someone other’s story rather than having her own.

Leia, who was an awesome role model for many girls (despite all the problems with her scripting), managed not to be a protagonist in her own story so many times it’s hard to name exact number. Even when she was a central character, which is a rare feat, she was doomed to stay passive and just react to male characters’ actions. This case was made even more blatant in the Russian version, where the book about Leia not having any choice was named ‘Princess Leia’s Choice’. Go figure.

And of course all these women suffer from Sansa syndrome, that is, their entire personality changing accordingly to plot needs and depending upon which male character they interact with. One of the most blatant cases of this (and of storyline highjacking) was Jarael, a female deuteragonist of the Knights of the Old Republic comic. She was given a very interesting backstory with carefully seeded conflicts… only for whole her backstory to be revealed as a part of the antagonist’s motivation and relevant to his, not her, character arc!

In fact, any time a hope is born that Jarael would at last have a story arc of her own it is revealed to be actually about one of the males around her. Even her old rivalry with Chantique is, in the end, not hers to deal with!

Did New Star Wars Improve It?

More than anything. Reading new Star Wars books and comics is as refreshing as a glass of lemonade in a hot afternoon. Even when there are two protagonists, male and female, and those two are in love—think Lost Stars, for example—both are given full and complex stories. Those stories may be related, but they don’t overshadow one another, and both characters exist in their own right, not as a tool or a prop for someone else.

Conclusion

Despite this piece being long enough, it doesn’t cover all aspects of sexism in the old Star Wars. It doesn’t, for example, cover the problem of alien females being used as sexual objects of human (read: white) male character, for example. It doesn’t cover the objectivation and over-the-top sexualisation of females in visual media. Or, for that matter, the very disturbing romance plots and subplots that too often resemble Stockholm syndrome more than real love and devotion.

This problem lies deep. Is it time-dependent? Is it audience-induced? I don’t really know. What I do know, however, is that Disney has been doing its best to improve on this matter in the New Canon Extended Universe. And I hope it won’t fail.


Images Courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney

Russian. 27. Literary translation student, history undergrad. A happy Star Wars/Tolkien nerd, ASoIaF fan. Found delight in fruitful procrastination.

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Kiernan
Member

This is a great read. I absolutely agree that even in the “good” parts of Legends, the women in Star Wars fall apart under the slightest bit of scrutiny. I liked the wide variety of examples you can name that show how flimsy the “strong women” in those old Star Wars books really are.

i thoroughly enjoyed reading this thought-provoking article. also the captions on your pictures are hilarious

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

Thank you! I really tried my best.

Ruw
Guest
Ruw

Ugh, that excerpt about Amidala made me cringe hard. And your overview gave me flashbacks of sci-fi I read as a kid, not just Star Wars related, where female characters were either non-existent or one of the stereotypes you mention. Reading the new Star Wars novels alone is a wholly different experience when it comes to this (seriously, how effing amazing is Lost Stars?), and that’s something I find very uplifting.

Jordan F
Member

Fucking Lost Stars! I avoided it for so long because of the Young Adult tag.

Easily one of the best Star Wars books ever written. I loved Ciena and Thane and everyone in Corona Squadron and Mon Mothmas cameo just made my heart sing. Such a great book.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

I’ve noticed that the young adult content new canon provides is mostly very good. Like, not “we’ll dumb down so those teens can understand” but “we’ll try our best to elevate our reader”)

Jordan F
Member

Agreed! I still rate probably Dark Disciple and the Aftermath: Empire’s End as my probable favourites!

Have you read the Battlefront novels at all, Twilight Company and Inferno Squad?

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Well, I’d just finished Inferno Squad, and it’s an entertaining reading imo. And thought provoking, too.
Though I still consider it a bit… problematic. They try to make us guessing “who is the good guy”, which is maybe great, but the outcome is, “you may be a bloody terrorist, yet if you are on the right side of the conflict, you are a mostly good guy”. Not the idea I’d like to be propagated right now, given political situation.

Jordan F
Member

It’s funny that you mention that because I kinda had trouble buying some of the Dreamers, take for example little Piikow and the twilek lady Rahna as terrorists. They just seemed too nice to me.

I’m curious who did you think the novel tried to paint as being nice besides being a terrorist? I can really only think of the Mentor.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

That’s it exactly what was my problem with this book. All Dreamers are terrorists. That’s what they did and what’s their goal. They love Gerrera and they are loyal to his memory. But they are so nice and so justified all the way round we as the readers almost ignore they are (and were) terrorists. Y’see, when you live in a country where terrorist attack is very much a real threat, such attitudes become something icky. Yep, it’s like, I know many people working for ISIS or our local (Chechen) terror cells are quite honest and maybe even nice persons,… Read more »

Ruw
Guest
Ruw

Right? I only gave it a try because I was very impressed with Bloodline and saw it was from the same author. Not at all what I expected from something marketed as a “YA lovestory”. It did such a great job at exploring the “enemy side” and made the Empire seem real – as in filled with actual people, who’d have valid reasons to serve the regime, be it because it actually affected their lives in a positive way, out of ignorance, sometimes willful, sometimes not, honest to god conviction, the sunken cost fallacy or whatever else. Ciena’s and other… Read more »

Jordan F
Member

I know exactly what you mean! Claudia Gray is amazing, Bloodline was the first EU book I’ve read, so she was my reason for reading lost stars as well. I couldn’t even find a bloody copy in Australia, even on iBooks but there was a very lovely PDF online which saved me. It’s such a strong book all round, even secondary characters like Jude, Kendy, Yendor (who pops up in Bloodline iirc) and especially Nash. Oh Nash you creepy, scary man. I really didn’t expect that book to go there with him. But for me, like I said before, my… Read more »

LadyThana
Member
LadyThana

Thank you for writing this! You’re totally right, as soon as I think a bit about all my favourite female characters they fall apart, even my all-time favourite Iella Wessiri. I haven’t kept up with much of the New Star Wars but I’m glad they’re doing better. I didn’t comment on your racism article but I recently re-read the X-wing books and I was struck how few of the alien pilots were given much character, and how many were killed off when very few human characters died (with the sort-of exception of Jesmin Ackbar, who didn’t really get a lot… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

It’s interesting, as it was my re-read of the X-wing series (and a bit of anti-Disney hype) that prompted those articles in the first place.
While I really love those books, I love those characters, I just couldn’t help noticing the sad trends those books follow and endorse even.

Actually I’d argue that Navara’ven got some really good character arc; maybe it’s because he’s male.

And I’d probably never forget the deeply sexist and offensive Rylot scene from (iirc) ‘The Bacta War”. That one with Sienn’ra.

Leo
Guest
Leo

Mmm, I’ll believe they’re doing better only when they don’t give us a Rey (coughblatantlyovercompensatingfortheleadbeingfemalecough), but when they have the confidence to write a lead female main movie character like Luke.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Like, Jyn Erso?

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

You do realize that Twi’Leks and other alien “sex objects” are objectified more by other aliens like the Hutts, the Pikes, and other alien gangsters rather than white male humans, right? Also, Star Wars doesn’t make distinctions between different colors of humans. They’re all human. A white male human has as much privilege in the Empire as a black male human, or an Asian-looking male human, etc.. Also, I find the women in Legends to be far more human and satisfying. Bastila is powerful, but haughty as fuck. Her descendant Satele goes through phases, from a lover, to a rather… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

I’ll probably find some leisure time to answer your angry rants. Probably when you’d learn that there were no aliens workers in Lucas Arts corp., and therefore any Alien woman in the Star Wars universe was objectified certainly by human being. Y’know, it is about what author creates, not about ‘how it is rationalized in a fictional universe’.

P.S. Clone Wars series is NOT old EU. It goes against old EU, it ignores old EU, it was created by Disney and it is the first legitmate installment of the new canon, so… go learning more, fanboy.

Robin Jansson
Guest
Robin Jansson

I thought Star Wars Clone Wars tv series was created before Disney bought Lucasfilm or do you mean Star Wars Rebels?

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Before the official Legends/canon divide, you mean? The deal was proposed in 2008/09 and completed in 2012, with the series finishing in 2014. And the team working on Clone Wars is precisely the SW dept of Disney we have right now. But that’s not my point. Y’see, Clone Wars make no sense in the old EU. They directly contradict the old EU material in so many instances it’s hard to count, most blatant being the fate and overall characters of Quinlan Vos and Barriss Offee and all Mandalorian content up to the Mandalore (planet) georgaphy. This era (Clone Wars) was… Read more »

Robin Jansson
Guest
Robin Jansson

what is your opinion on Clone Wars and Rebels.
Some things in both series I like and other things I wonder if the writers were high when they wrote that.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

That’s not in any way ‘my opinion’. It’s plain and simple facts. Take ‘Republic’ comics or ‘Medstar’. Compare to Clone Wars. You just can’t be a paragon Jedi and a disenchanted Darksider at once, as well as a society can’t have multiple different histories (at once), or you can’t die several times (and every time a different death).

That’s never a question of love/hate. It’s a question of, again, continuity (or, rather, DIScontinuity for that matter).

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

The Clone Wars contradicted old EU content, but so did parts of newer EU that came after the Marvel comics. In the old Expanded Universe, Boba Fett used to lead the Mandalorians before he became a Bounty Hunter. That was later retconned to be a rogue Arc Trooper being the Mandalore, Mandalore the Resurrector. Plus, George Lucas was the one overriding things, and he had the right to, because anything made by him overrides previous canon. Also, the most notable change they made was with the Mandalorians, and that’s because Karen Traviss was hated by the other SW authors, particularly… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

What I like the most about your answers is, you are talking to yourself, never ever answering the questions you were asked.
Happy talking, I’d better not bother with further trying to interrupt your soliloque. A nonversation is not a choice I usually prefer.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

That’s just a very standard response from someone who’s losing. “I’m not listening to you anyways!” Here’s the short version for you, because you obviously can’t be bothered to read long responses: Lucas contradicted SOME old EU stuff with the Clone Wars, not all, but so did other EU stuff, like the bit about Boba being leader of the Mandos before being a bounty hunter being retconned so that an old ARC trooper was the leader, or the Ghorman Massacre starting the Rebellion being replaced with the Declaration of Rebellion from Force Unleashed because Starkiller took down an ISD factory.… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

No, that’s just a quick summary of the problems with your… let’s call it manner of answering. How does the fact that Lucas was involved contradict the fact that the series can’t prove anything about old EU – being not a part of it. Like, not at all. How does a fact that straight male may find an Alien woman attractive contradict the fact that Alien women are objectified BY THE AUTHORS and used as a pleasure toys for white human male protagonists? How does the fact that Clone Wars, superwised by the same team that superwises the SW dept… Read more »

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

Because there was a hierarchy of canon, and Lucas was at the top of it. C-Canon is where most of the old EU lies, but they were below G-Canon-Lucas canon. In fact, the only things Lucas contradicted were Clone Wars stories-but he left the rest of the Expanded Universe unaltered and even added to it with Force Unleashed at the same time. There’s even a joke costume in Force Unleashed that depicts Starkiller in the same animation style as the Clone Wars show. The authors were just portraying how sexuality in Star Wars runs. And no shit, of course, they’d… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Yep, there was several types of canon! Great you know it! Now do your homework better to learn that G-canon is NOT EU.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

No shit, of course G-canon wasn’t EU. But it heavily drew upon the EU and saw a lot of it as canon, such as the capital being Coruscant, the Jedi Council being a thing, oh, and Palpatine’s quest for immortality. The last of which had nothing to do with a galacitc takeover plot. They could have just written a story of how Anakin was getting shafted by the Jedi, but they included Palpatine’s search for immortality there and made that the hook for Anakin to join. Why? Because in Dark Empire, the guy does have a method for immortality, and… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

You still don’t understand what do I say…

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

No, it is you who fails to understand.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

So, you not only agree that objectifying took place, you actually endorse it? Seems we have nothing more to discuss here.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

You act like only one gender can objectify. People objectify things all the time. Women objectify men in movies and Yaoi comics. Men objectify sexy women in media. People who are homosexual or bisexual objectify people of the same sex as they are whom they find attractive. You’re acting like hormones aren’t a thing.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

So you’re complaining about it from a real-life perspective? Then why complain about objectified alien females? Granted, yes, many white straight males find them attractive, but that’s because A) they’re male, and B) they’re straight. You’re also forgetting that straight males of other races or even women with homosexual or bisexual leanings might find them attractive too. It’s not just about what an author creates but the audience for it. Um, no, the Clone Wars still counts for both the old EU and the new. That’s why characters invented in the Clone Wars TV show had both a Legends and… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

It was not in any way ‘made’ – the series was in production from 2008 until 2014, quite a long time. And the team working on the series is just the team that’s now superwising the SW dept. You really don’t know what are you speaking of. Also, Wookiepedia bends all way backwards to reconcile irreconcilable – that is, to put together dfferent parentage, different backstory, different personalities of loads of characters. Because, you see, Maul’s mother was Kycina, not Talzin. And Barriss was a paragon Jedi who died saving her padavan from the Order 66, not a Darksider traitor.… Read more »

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

The series was made in 2008, and it kept getting extended up to 2014. And the main head honcho who was making all the decisions there was George Lucas himself. He was the one shooting all the ideas around, from Cad Bane, to the Malevolence, to Ziro the Hutt’s speech mannerisms. Disney had nothing to do with its production at all. The reason why they overrode EU stuff is because Lucas was directing it-and because he had every right to override EU content-but he didn’t override everything. In fact, the Expanded Universe had already done it before-Boba Fett’s backstory involved… Read more »

Kraas
Guest
Kraas

“Y’know, I just can’t understand why people obsess over how a new canon is good just because it tries to pander to feminists.”

Why can’t it pander to me instead?!

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

I want it to be able to pander to EVERYONE. Not just men, not just women, not just whites, or blacks, but to give good stories and characters that people of every race and sex would find appealing. For example, Dragon Ball Z has almost no mainstay black characters, unless you count Uub at the end, and all he does is get insulted by Goku and spar with him. Yet it still has a large fanbase among African-Americans. Why? Because the characters and the story were engaging, that’s why. They didn’t give a damn about race or ethnicity, they just… Read more »

Ruw
Guest
Ruw

Well, Dragon Ball Z, as any other anime, was created to appeal to the Japanese audience with very little regard to any other “wide” audience outside of Japan, be they white or black. I mean, it… doesn’t exactly offer a lot in terms of white characters either.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

Most of the characters look less like Japanese and more like whites. But it doesn’t seem to appeal much to Japanese audiences specifically, either. There’s no Japan in the show. Just a vague Earth with a dog for king.

Ruw
Guest
Ruw

I love how “writing women as actual characters” is “pandering to feminists”. That damned womanfolk.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

You know what’s writing women as actual characters? Making them three dimensional with highs and lows, not making them Mary Sue characters. Starkiller gets flak for being a Gary Stu, but at least that crew-cut jackass has the excuse that Vader put him through training from hell. That’s the difference between women in the old EU and women in the new.

Ruw
Guest
Ruw

I absolutely agree with your definition of an actual three dimensional character and absolutely disagree with your perception of where they are being done better. And I admit, I’m not super well-versed in the old EU, but from what I’ve seen there and from what I’ve seen in the new canon – yes, I find female characters in the new canon – the ones I’ve seen – much better defined characters.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

Try Tales of the Jedi and the KOTOR games as a starter.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

KotOR II is a thing. Tales, though – not so much. It is very much 90s thingie, only the girls kick some asses and are called queens and all that.

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

Shouldn’t you like it then?

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Apparently you didn’t read my piece, then. Try once, and pay attention to the section about strong women…

HGEMPEROR
Guest
HGEMPEROR

I did. I was just joking around.

Kraas
Guest
Kraas

The only female Rebel Alliance members I can name besides Leia are Mon Mothma (who got lines that were originally meant for Leia in RotJ) and Toryn Farr (who is the lady that Leia tells “get to your transport!” in ESB, and she is a major character in “Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM” from Tales of the Bounty Hunters). But that’s it.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

There were much more in the EU books/comics, but they were never prominent enough. Sometimes it lead to awkward moments like “a woman who’d just organized a full-scale anti-Imperial rebellion on a whole planet joins the Alliance to become… an agent without any rank”.

Kraas
Guest
Kraas

I used to be really into the EU way back in the day so I might be forgetting some. I got burned out and stopped paying attention around the time the New Jedi Order was getting started up.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Ah, the NJO… it was boring as hell((

Jordan F
Member

That bit from the RotS novelisation makes me sad, because there are a lot of beautiful parts in that book that would have been amazing onscreen and a lot of internal dialogue that was really nice to hear too, namely Dooku, Windu, Yoda, Bail and Anakin. It’s really a shame that Stover was incapable of giving Padme the same kind of depth. I especially really loved the description at the beginning where there’s a battle above Coruscant and all the adults are terrified and the kids are all just like “hey don’t sweat it, Obi-wan and Anakin are here, they… Read more »

Star Wars heeft het moeilijk met vrouwen | De Zesde Clan
Guest

[…] Net als de criticus van website Hello Giggles vind ik het lastig dit soort uitglijders los te zien van een mannelijke dominantie achter de schermen. Die is enorm. Ryan analyseerde de 17 films die in de loop van 41 jaar in de bioscopen draaiden. Ze bekeek welke mensen op creatief gebied de leiding hadden. Denk aan scenarioschrijvers en de regisseurs. Van de 24 werknemers die dat soort inhoudelijke sleutelposities bekleedden, waren 23 van het mannelijke geslacht. Dat betekent dat mannen 96% van de macht hadden en hebben. Mannen besloten Leia in een slavinnenkostuum te hijsen. Mannen zadelden Nathalie Portman op met een… Read more »

Analysis

My First Queer: Evil Queens

Barbara

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This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!

Looking back at the other My First Queer articles, I have to say my experience is going to be rather different – but then again, each of those was different, too, and the experience is varied. Still, mine differs in the way that it is much more focused on attraction, instead of the more generalized realizations of queerness or powerful stories of love.

The second is definitely because there were none to be had. The first is, perhaps, because I grew up in a very liberal household. I knew about the existence of the the letters of the LGBTQIA acronym — except queer itself, I guess, because it doesn’t really have a Czech equivalent — probably by the time I started middle school, and certainly by the time I was fifteen. There was no need to discover the idea of queerness.

What was an entirely novel concept, on the other hand, was the idea that it could somehow relate to me, or to anyone close to me.

After all, in most media queerness was — and still is — only incidental, something that happens to the side characters, and as everyone is a protagonist of their own story, I never considered that it would be something to touch me in person. When I try to think of the first piece of media where I encountered a non-straight relationship, it’s difficult. I have been reading fantasy intermittently since I was eleven. Some of that fantasy probably contained background queer characters in a casual way that went well with my general expectations of “this is something that exists somewhere in the world but doesn’t concern me in any way”.

I do remember the first book where a non-straight relationship was at least a little bit prominent: the Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski. If you know Sapkowski or have read the books, you know it’s not…exactly an ideal introduction into the world of queerness. The protagonist — or one of the protagonists — of the book, Ciri, runs away from an attempt on her life, almost dies in the desert, and finally joins up with a band of outlaws. The first night with them, she is molested and almost raped by one of the men. One of the other women stops him…and then slides into bed in his place.

This is the beginning of Ciri’s first romantic relationship, which ends with her lover/rapist being brutally murdered by a man who then proceeds to enslave Ciri. So, you know. Not exactly the pinnacle of representation, and definitely not something you would want to model your romantic life on.

This choice always feels impossible in-game, precisely because Ciri’s relationship history is so charged,

Sapkowski’s books have other mentions of wlw, too: the long-lived sorceresses being bored of their relationships with men and so trying women for a time until they discover it’s not any better. That caught my attention a little more.

I loved everything about Sapkowski’s sorceresses. Powerful, beautiful and arrogant, I can say with the benefit of hindsight that however over-the-top and mired in sexist stereotypes, they were a combination of my life goals and my wife goals.

However narcissist that sounds, the kind of person I want to be has always been similar to the kind of person I want to have, be they women or men, because I’ve always been more fan of the concept of “marriage of true minds” than “opposites attract.” That probably didn’t help with making matters clearer, since it provided a comfortable excuse for why I cared about them so much: I wanted to be like them.

The most important part, though, is that the sorceresses weren’t really queer. They were still predominantly depicted as straight, focused on the men and interested in them, and their gayness was only incidental, and always connected to men. That, combined with my real-life experiences, likely shaped my views for quite some time. Because the thing is, there was a lot of wlw women around me, but either none of them identified as bisexual, or I didn’t know they did. Just like in Sapkowski! Sleeping with both men and women was just what all the really cool girls did, right? And men found it hot.

What an amazing view to absorb.

Philippa would be so disappointed in me.

Sadly, it held through my actual first experiences with women, and of those around me. Looking back at it, it was insane. A good friend of mine was in a relationship with a girl, they even got fake-married, but I still thought of her as straight and didn’t take it seriously. After all, it was just a couple of gals being pals. In bed.

In short, Sapkowski was the piece of media during my adolescence that got the furthest in having me engage with female queerness, and it did not go very well. But there was another way my identity as a straight girl had the potential to be eroded. Not with explicitly queer women, but with (assumed) straight women I simply found hot. And boy, were there plenty.

Like I said, Sapkowski’s sorceresses hit me exactly in my weak spot. I have always been fascinated by the “evil queen” archetype. If I lived in a country where Disney animated fairy tales were the standard entertainment for children, I’m pretty sure my first queer would have easily and decidedly been Maleficent and the Evil Queen from Snow White. As it is, I only came across them later, and Czech fairy tale films don’t really have any properly evil queens to speak of, for some reason.

So as it was, my first glimpse of this was Circe.

I had a retold-for-children version of Odyssey when I was little, and it was my favorite book. Odysseus was an amazing hero and everything, but there were also beautiful illustrations in my version, and the women in those illustrations were really pretty. Particularly attractive was the evil sorceress who almost defeated Odysseus (and totally would have if he hadn’t cheated by getting help from the gods). She was a-ma-zing.

I dare you not to fall in love.

Not too long after, there was an encounter with Disney after all: I had a book version of Aladdin, and in Aladdin there was Yasmine. In particular, Yasmine in her slave outfit. Yeah, I know.

Looking back at it, I can hardly see for the amount of cringe I’m doing, and I could write dissertations on the orientalization and sexism specific to what can be found in those scenes. But my seven year old self didn’t know anything about that. I just knew that there was, you know, something about Yasmine in that outfit, being so clever as she pretended to be willing to rule alongside Jafar.

I mostly thought it was because she was wearing red and I liked red. Like I said, I was seven.

The next step on this way was the evil queen from Never-Ending Story 2. I remember always being frustrated when she pretends to be good in the middle of the film, because she lost like half of her sex-appeal – though again, I wouldn’t have put it that way when I was probably about ten at this point. Then came Sapkowski, and my love for his sorceresses. And around the same time, there came the most important stepping stone from the realm of media on my way to self-discovery: Monica Bellucci.

I honestly don’t remember how I first came across her. It must have been online, because going through her filmography, the only things I really recall seeing her in are the Matrix films, and before that I was only aware of Asterix and Obelix. And I distinctly remember thinking when it came out, as a connoisseur of the animated version: yeah, she’s a good fit for Cleopatra, she’s hot.

Almost as hot as this one. Come to think of it, Cleopatra from the animated version of this film might actually belong to my series of childhood crushes, too.

So, somehow, somewhere, I discovered Monica Bellucci, and I was immediately smitten. To this day, I consider her effectively the epitome of female beauty.

I was fourteen when Matrix Reloaded came out, and I really enjoyed the scenes with her. A lot. In fact, they probably make me recall that film in a much more positive light than it deserves.  Soon after this, my computer was stuffed with all the pictures of her I could find, mostly of them lightly erotic. Hilariously, yes, I still believed I was straight.

I could continue listing all the other movies I saw with impressive evil queen/femme fatale types in them. Snow White and the Huntsman was a disaster of a movie. But the Queen, oh, the Queen! Well, I think you get the idea.

At any rate, Monica Bellucci was the first woman I have ever seen that I looked at and thought, yes, I want to have sex with her. Not even this, though, was enough to bring any change in how I understood my sexuality. Looking for the media that helped with that, the first media that actually included a healthy queer couple… That would be fanfiction. When I was over twenty, maybe even closer to my mid-twenties.

Yeah.

To be fair, if I had a varied romantic life in the years between, I probably would have figured things out sooner even without any books to help, but as I began dating my husband not too long after my Bellucci-induced awakening, that rather limited my exploration.

My computer was stuffed with pictures like this. Stuffed. How could I think I was straight?

The fact still remains, though. It took twenty years of reading to come across a wlw couple worthy of the name. And it required fanfiction.

I read a lot, though I didn’t seek out queer books – I probably didn’t know that was a thing, to be honest, and if I did, I wouldn’t have searched them out anyway. I was straight, remember? But I read a lot, and varied things – detective stories, fantasy, literary fiction. In none of that did I come across a proper wlw relationship.

The first “femslash” fanfiction I read was a bunch of stories from the Harry Potter universe. It was mostly sexual relationships, combining various Hogwarts girl into pairs and seeing what happened. While fun, it didn’t do much to convince me to take my own preferences too seriously.

I can’t actually pinpoint the one story that did that. What I do know, though, is that as I moved from my reading from HPFF to FF.net and then to AO3, the number of wlw relationships that appeared in my reading increased. Though they were still mostly background relationships, they were at least treated more seriously than what I was used to.

Little by little, the stories chipped away at my denial. But I still can’t help to think that had Sapkowski been less of a sexist clown, and had two of his powerful women been badass wlw queens who ruled the Lodge of Sorceresses, I could have figured everything out so much easier.

In fact, that sounds like an AU fanfiction someone should write.


Images courtesy of Dimension Films, CD Projekt Red, Dargaud Films, Bounty Books, and Fabrizio Ferri

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Analysis

Past Looks Back from Terrier

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Image Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Terrier contains many firsts for Tamora Pierce. Published in 2006, it surprises the reader with the first person journal format. Previously Pierce used close third person, but this works’s for Beka’s story. It also gives the reader their first glimpse into Tortall’s past. Pierce sets this book in 246 HE, almost two hundred years before her other novels. This also is her first police and crime novel. While she dabbled in crime in the Alanna books, and mentioned the Lord Provost, now she tells us how the police system in Tortall works. Or, used to work, we hope.

Spoilers for all of Terrier and for all of Pierce’s other novels

So, What Happened?

Terrier opens with a flashback to George’s youth. Eleni bailed him out of the Guard station and told him about his famous Guard, then called Dogs, ancestress. Then we jump to 244 HE in the past, where we meet Tunstall, Clary, and the Lord Provost. The Lord Provost tells how he caught a gang of Rats, because eight-year-old Beka Cooper tracked one down.

Then, we see Beka on her first day of Puppy training, where she’s assigned to work with Tunstall and Clary as her mentors. She stumbles initially, given her shyness and overconfidence. But eventually, she grows into her job. Beka also connects to a friend from her past, Tansy, who’s married to the grandson of the most corrupt landlord in Corus. A killer called the Shadow Snake killed Tansy’s son Roland. Tansy gives her a strange stone that her husband claimed would change their fortunes. Beka and her Dogs discover that it’s fire opals, mined by Crookshank, Tansy’s grandfather-in-law.

Through her magic with ghosts and dust-spinners, Beka tracks the opals and the Shadow Snake. Crookshank killed 17 people to keep his opals secret. Beka befriends Rosto, Kora, and Aniki, new members of the Rogue’s court from Scanra. She divides her time between the opals, and the Shadow Snake. Crookshank blames the Rogue for Roland’s death, and the kidnapping of his grandson.

Eventually, Beka discovers the location of Crookshank’s mine, and the Dogs move in. They rescue the current work crew, dig up the dead crews, and arrest the guards. A riot starts the next day after the news of Crookshank’s mine breaks. Rosto locates the Shadow Snake and Herum, Tansy’s husband. They rescue Herum, and discover the Shadow Snake was Yates Noll, and his mother, ‘the kindly’ baker. The book ends when Rosts becomes the new Rogue.

Past and It’s Benefits

Present and Past with Pounce and Poverty

One of Pierce’s successes is how she links the present and the past together. She does this several ways, through character links, and through class links. The most obvious character link is Pounce. Pierce draws on the emotions regarding the cat and constellation that followed Alanna from In the Hand of the Goddess on. Pounce also follows Beka, and we see how this spirit cat became who he was for Alanna. She uses him to tie us to Beka and her story. Pounce also grows in this story, being somewhat cattier than in Song of the Lioness. “Pounce trotted past the newcomers, carrying a black kitten … I cannot let you maul me about. Do it to him.” (427). In doing so, we see how his patience grows from past to present.

Pierce also uses her ties to the past significantly. She opens the book with Eleni bailing out a young George. Eleni tells him about, “Rebakah Cooper … She was a fierce and law-abiding and loyal, my son. All that I want for you. … Steal and you shame her.” (6). Afterwards, Eleni asks the Goddess to guide him on Beka’s path, instead of the theiving path he eventually takes. By utilizing irony here, as well as at the end, when Rosto plans to build the Dancing Dove, we see how the universe connects past and present.

Also in Eleni’s prologue is the revelation George started stealing because she couldn’t afford to feed them enough. This ties into the other theme that ties present and past together, that of poverty. Beka is the first POV from the lower class since Daine, and Daine talked mostly to the nobility. She counts coppers, and worries about rent. Even though the Provost fostered her, she remains part of the lower classes, which provides valuable insight.

Women’s Rights – Knights, Priestesses, and Pedestals

Lady Knight Sabine of Macayhill proves one of the most influential secondary characters in all of Terrier. She is the first lady knight that we meet that never once is treated differently because of her gender. Alanna struggles with acceptance of her gender. Kel succeeds only despite prejudice against female knights. With Sabine, we see the age that inspires them, where lady knights were never doubted, never disparaged for their skills. Sabine rescues Beka from a tavern brawl that would have killed any other Puppy. She helps Tunstall, Clary, and Beka track down Crookshank’s mine and harry Duwall, one of the Rogue’s chiefs. Her fellow knights and nobles respect her. It’s immensely refreshing.

We also see respect for women’s rights in the religious arena. Fulk often sexually harasses women. When Beka’s Dogs ask him to identify the fire opal, he harasses Beka. They stop him. Clary threatens to send him before the Goddess’s temple. Tunstall clarifies. “At the last eclipse, the Mother of Starlight temple chose Magistrates. Goodwin’s now the Goddess’s Magistrate … She signs a writ, and the warrior [ladies] with the sickles come for him.” (86). While violence against women remains a problem for Tortall, past and present, it’s a step in the right direction. It shows the slow steps of progress.

Finally, in a more meta-textual level, women now have the right to be villains. There’s equality between evil women and evil men for the first time in Pierce’s novels. Roger, Ozorne, Blayce, Rubinyan, all male. Now, the Shadow Snake is the primary antagonist, and she’s Mistress Noll. Yes, we’ve had female secondary antagonists, Imajane, and Delia come to mind. But if you put women on pedestals and don’t let them be flawed, then you’ve only entered another phase of misogyny. Pierce takes steps to correct this here.

The Past and It’s Problems

Slavery

The thing that shocked me most in Terrier was the depiction of slavery. After the very successful Trickster’s Duology, to include slavery and to not even mention freeing slaves dissapointed me. In addition, this is the first we hear of any slavery being in Tortall’s past. While the importance of not whitewashing history is clear to me, Pierce simply could have not included slavery in Terrier and in Tortall’s past. Not only is it slavery, it is child slavery, and state sponsered slavery, and a complete reversal of the slave positions of Scanra and Tortall.

Child slavery proves a significant problem, when Beka investigates the Shadow Snake. She uncovers people who sold their children and claimed the Snake took them, or children genuinely taken for the slave trade. “Slave taking is disliked in Corus, but it isn’t illegal. Kidnapping children without their parents’ leave is illegal though.” (79). To clarify, parents can sell their children into slavery, but other people cannot. It is morally disgusting, and Beka prostests it only minimally.

We know the Crown sponsers slavery because not only is there a, “Ministry of Slave Sales” (384), but illegal slave markets get broken up by Beka and the Guard several times. The ‘illegal slavers’ set up a stable to “look like a proper slave market.” (384). After seeing Aly destroy the slave markets in Rajmuat, after seeing a rebellion that freed slaves, this grows intolerable. Scanra also doesn’t have many slaves since they can’t feed free citizens, let alone enslaved ones. Given that slaves work most of the farms in Scanra in the present, it feels Pierce merely flipped Scanra’s present with Tortall’s past to make the past darker. That doesn’t sit well with me. It shows insensitivity on issues she handled well previously.

Diversity and the Watsonian Lens

On a Doylist level, the amount of diversity in Terrier show’s Pierce’s advancing commitment to intersectional feminism. Take Sergeant Ahuda, the chief of the Guard Post where Beka trains, for example. “She is a stocky black woman with some freckle and hair she has straightened and cut just below her ears. Her family is in Carthak, far in the south. They say she treats trainees the way she does in vengeance for how the Carthakis treated her family as slaves.” (25). While the last sentance is dubious, she still remains a POC woman in charge of several dozen people. That’s wonderful, and Pierce develops her more than she did Sarge, in The Immortals Quartet.

In addition, Pierce shows people of color moving around Corus. “[The Rogue]’d foreigners with him, two Yamanis with their hair in topknots. With them stood the Carthaki who’d had Kayfer’s ear my first knight at the Court.” (399) Bazhir also move around the streets, though in a slightly more insular fashion. This reflects their isolation in Woman Who Rides Like A Man. This amazes from a Doylist sense, that Pierce moved so far from that contentious book.

But, in a Watsonian lens of thinking about books, it proves problematic. The diversity here only highlights the lack of diversity in her first series. Song of the Lioness doesn’t even mention non-white characters until the third book, and I find that depiction contentious. Something had to change between Tortall’s past and the present we see here that changed Tortall’s opinion of people of color. We know it results from the chronological evolution of Pierce’s feminism, but still. It also makes you wonder what happened that Lady Knights no longer were accepted. It may be this question is answered in the next too books. But still.

Police Novels and Modern Feminism

I don’t believe it especially controversial to mention that for the last decade or so, we’ve started having conversations about police brutality and corruption. It spawned movements, endless articles, and websites devoted to tracking cases of brutality and corruption. So, this makes it hard to see feminism and feminist movements in Police and Crime novels like Terrier. From our perspective now, we see a novel such as Terrier that contains moments of ‘police’ corruption and brutality, and find it difficult to endorse. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at.

Thankfully, no police brutality against unarmed and disenfranchised victims occurs in Terrier to my judgement. I might miss something, but the closest thing to brutality I saw lies in the ‘nap tap’. “All of us love that hammer blow of baton against jaw, even if it doesn’t always knock a Rat out. Goodwin has the city’s record for the highest number of perfectly delivered nap taps that end with a Rat carried away, stone unconscious.” (192). Beka hesitates at one point about hitting a tavern brawler that is attacking her with her baton, fearful that she’ll seriously hurt him. They do use riot gear at one point, when a riot forms when the news of Crookshank’s mines gets out. But those two moments are the closest the Provost’s Dogs in Terrier come to modern worries of police brutality.

Police Corruption

Unfortunately, corruption proves differently. Someone kills a Dog that gambled with weighted dice, and Beka sympathizes with him. “Of course there are crooked Dogs. I can name two handfuls myself. … I do not like that he was crooked. But he’d still been a Dog.” (201). The insular community of the Dogs allows some exceptions for bad behavior if the perpetrator was a Dog.

Corruption also comes in the Happy Bags. “Other Dogs collect Happy Bags from each business that wants to know otherwise ill-paid Dogs will watch over them with diligence.” (92). In addition they collect from the Rogue which buys some peace between his Court and the Dogs. “Not taking offense over a bit of briber, are you? … On the very night your Dogs are here to collect their bribes from the Rogue. … That’s different. That’s for all the work every one of us does, to keep the streets orderly.” (107).  But it’s not just for keeping the streets orderly. Dogs get personal bribes as well as the institution of the Happy Bag. And their bribe from the Rogue is not only in repayment for public order, but also keeps the Dogs away from several places. Places where the Rogue hides stolen goods, and where Yates hides from the Dogs.

The Dogs get funding almost entirely from the Happy Bags. Beka does not have a single qualm about the bribes that fund her work. She simply accepts it, and in some way the reader accepts it as well. Or they would if the conversation over police didn’t become so strident in recent years.

The mostly non-existent brutality and the blatant corruption make it difficult to read feminism in this book. After all, intersectional feminist groups spent years discussing and protesting this kind of behavior.

Conclusion

Overall, I believe that Terrier continues Pierce’s trend of increasing feminism. The way she includes diversity, even though it creates a Watsonian problem, convinces me of that. The depiction of slavery remains problematic, but I believe that her overall attempts at feminism trump that. It’s also balanced by the central nature of slavery in the Trickster’s Duology. However, the depiction of police corruption makes this book a harder sell to the modern liberal audience than when Pierce first published it.

Hopefully, Pierce’s expanding feminism continues as we enter the books that I have not yet read or reviewed.


Image Courtesy of Random House

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Analysis

Deep character dives propel Daredevil Season 3: Sister Maggie and more

Michelle W.

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Sister Maggie stands with arms crossed and a skeptical look on her face. She is wearing her full nun habit. Shelves of church paraphenalia are in the background.

This Daredevil fan has got a lot of words to spill about Season 3 of the Marvel Netflix show, which rose out of the ashes of Midland Circle (the messy Defenders and hit-and-miss Season 2) to make some of the greatest Marvel TV so far. And it’s in no small part thanks to getting back to excellent characters.

In Part 1, I explored why Matt is such a walking dumpster fire and that’s why I love him. And I enthused about great story choices made for Karen, possibly the best example of character development of the season. Here, I’ll cover some of the new characters this season, as well as an old favorite villain.

Part 2 of a 2-part article. Spoilers ahead!

Sister Maggie stands in a church basement. She is wearing white shirtsleeves and a black dress, putting on blue gloves, looking exasperated. Angel statues and stained glass windows are in the background.

Sister Maggie

Daredevil fans were excited to see the well-known comics character Sister Maggie appear in the show. Knowing a little about the comics storylines with Maggie, Matt’s mother that he never knew growing up, I was cautiously hopeful that this modern show wouldn’t succumb to some of the pitfalls that have happened with this character in the comics. In some storylines, she was demonized for leaving Jack and Matt when Matt was a baby. In a more recent storyline, post-partum depression was advanced as an explanation, finally giving more sympathy to the character.

This is the explanation that the show wisely goes with. We get a Sister Maggie backstory with  Maggie as a young initiate to the convent, taking a detour in life when she meets and falls in love with Jack Murdock. In this version of the story, it isn’t that Maggie suddenly chooses to enter the convent after having a child. She returns to her original life plan, when her nun friends and mentor come to collect her, since Jack is at his wits’ end in the face of her depression. This gives some interesting ambiguity to comments Sister Maggie makes throughout the season about life choices and directions and regret. She clearly thinks she has made mistakes. Does she consider it a mistake to have left her training to marry Jack and bear his child? A mistake to have left Matt? Or both?

Before these revelations, however, Sister Maggie is a bit of a mystery. We don’t learn for quite a while that she’s Matt’s mother in this storyline. Until then, it isn’t clear, since the show only takes inspiration from the comics, and doesn’t strictly follow their stories. In the meantime, Sister Maggie nurses Matt back to health, curbs his worst self-destructive impulses (or at least chews him out afterwards, since she can’t exactly stop him), and gives him cynical life advice he sorely needs. She’s a hardened person who has seen it all and drinks hard liquor, a vice Matt accuses her of overindulging in. (A perfect example of Matt in a glass house, throwing stones.)

My favorite line from Sister Maggie, and a good candidate for my favorite line in the season, was in this exchange:

Matt: “D’you believe people can change?”

Sister Maggie [after a pause]: “I’m still holding out hope.”

In other words, in her five-plus decades of life, Sister Maggie has never seen anyone change. Her dialogue in the early episodes reveal her to be a deeply cynical person, who nonetheless remains true to her faith in humanity and in God. Joanne Whalley’s acting truly brought this tragic, realistic, and loveable character to life.

Young Sister Maggie talks to Jack across the ropes of the boxing ring.

Secrets and guilt

Though it made sense for the plot, I found Sister Maggie less interesting as a character when her cynicism and sarcasm gave way to profound guilt. First, she blames herself a little too heavily for Bullseye’s murders in the newsroom, since she was the one who encouraged Matt to seek out his friends. She did so for Matt’s well-being, never imagining he would pull those friends into a plan to get testimony from the guy paid off to shank Fisk in prison. And that plan seemed risky but logical – I don’t even blame Matt for the newsroom massacre, much less Sister Maggie. Her guilt here seemed misplaced, and I thought it detracted somewhat from the emotional impact of her later, more important source of guilt.

That, of course, is how she left Matt, and never revealed herself as his mother. It’s an odd parallel to Matt/Daredevil, in a way – she helped raise Matt, in the orphanage, but kept her “secret identity” as his mother from him. Matt finds out who his mother is in a sad and powerful way, overhearing her prayer. His anger at her, and at Father Lantom for keeping her secret from him, is very understandable, and I thought was played well. But we got no more wisecracking, hard-drinking, cynical nun for the rest of the season, and I mourned that.

Not to say the subsequent scenes with Sister Maggie aren’t moving, and important: she confesses to Karen about being Matt’s mother and her guilt for abandoning him. She bravely misleads the corrupt FBI agents several times when Karen and Matt are hiding out in the church, quickly putting together that they can’t be trusted, and risking her own skin. And we get a glimpse of what Matt and her relationship might be like going forward, when Matt tentatively asks her if she can help him with the spiritual guidance that Father Lantom used to give him.

I missed that hard-edged side of Maggie, and I hope we’ll see it again in Season 4 (knock on wood that that gets made). Overall, though, I was more than pleased with this addition of another complicated, interesting female character to this show.

Wilson Fisk

I don’t know if I can gush anything new about Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk that hasn’t already been gushed. His acting as Fisk is the kind of thing that can really irk you when you think about the unspoken rule that no superhero shows can win Emmys or the like, because D’Onofrio certainly deserves some kind of award.

In the first season, I initially didn’t like the character of Fisk. I didn’t see the point of following his slow, cautious courting of the art dealer, Vanessa Marianna. Nor of his love of art, meticulous choosing of cuff links, or expert making of omelettes. There was a genius slow build for this character, though. When Fisk’s childhood murder of his abusive father was finally revealed, with his emotional outburst, “I am not a monster!”, somehow D’Onofrio made that 12-year-old’s panic come through the face of this terrifying adult crime lord. And suddenly it all made sense: the obsessive clinging to all the trappings of civilization, of haute culture, are how Fisk desperately proves his own humanity to himself in every moment. It was brilliant, and I was thoroughly won over on this fascinating character.

Wilson Fisk is back in a similar excellent synergy of writing and acting here in Season 3. Once again, we see his ruthlessness combined with his deep vulnerability and insecurity that he rarely reveals – usually only in the presence of Vanessa.

Wilson Fisk sits facing the camera with a calculating expression.

Bending Dex to his will

I have two favorite things about Fisk in this season. One is his manipulation of ‘Dex’ Poindexter, a troubled FBI agent who we eventually see develop into the villain Bullseye. Fisk gives a couple of key speeches to Dex to win his trust and convince him to work for Fisk. In the first speech, Fisk takes a guess that Dex must be miffed about being investigated for shooting criminals that had surrendered, when Dex’s actions (at least from Fisk’s perspective) could be seen as heroic. Fisk’s adept psychological manipulation here was captivating. You could see Dex quickly get bent to his will. And it fits with everything we know about Fisk – how even in prison, in Season 2, he took methodical steps to become top dog and get everything he wanted. He’s a master at this stuff, and it is what makes him so scary.

Later on, Fisk has thoroughly dug through all the files on Dex he could get his hands on, including transcripts of therapy sessions Dex had as a kid. Fisk learns that, as a child, Dex killed his loving, supportive baseball coach in a fit of rage. Fisk’s manipulation after knowing all this is still skillful, although he has the benefit of all that information. Scarier is that he was willing to do so much research on the guy to find his weaknesses. And the synergy with his own life, with Dex murdering a parental figure at a young age, is not lost on Fisk.

Fisk stands in front of a painting, wearing a crisp white suit. The painting is a black and red rectangle on an orange background.

Fisk’s personal art gallery

My second favorite thing about Fisk in Season 3 is a small detail that I find endlessly interesting, which is Fisk’s taste in art. I loved the storyline around ‘Rabbit in a Snowstorm’ in Season 1. Now, as Fisk outfits his lavish house-arrest penthouse, we get to see many other art pieces in his possession. Fisk is clearly attracted to 20th century abstract art, with an emphasis on bold colors and geometric shapes.

I did a quick check with some art historian friends, who identified most or all of the artists represented to be abstract expressionists from the New York School. One looks to be Excavation by Willem de Kooning. Another resembles a Franz Kline. And the red and black rectangles on a smoldering orange background is clearly designed to look like Mark Rothko. (I might be the only viewer who gasped, “Not the Rothko!” when it got destroyed in the final showdown.)

The show made a great choice to go with New York School artists. We already know that Fisk likes abstract art, and this is a famed school that grew out of the city around which Fisk bases his identity. It makes sense that Fisk would see this art as representing some of the highest culture to come out of New York.

Dex stands in his apartment wearing a black suitjacket and white shirt. His apartment is very clean and white. His expression is blank.

Benjamin ‘Dex’ Poindexter (Bullseye)

I am of two minds about Dex. As comics villain origin stories go, this one was pretty good. But I just wasn’t captivated by this character. I was more interested in his use as a tool by Fisk than who he was in his own right.

Dex’s mental illnesses were a bit cliché for a villain: the sociopathic tendencies, the obsessive-compulsive traits. At the same time, these traits made a lot of sense for the character. Dex’s obsessive cleanliness was revealed to be a way he keeps and regains control after a lapse into rage and confusion (symbolized through audio like a swarm of buzzing bees drowning everything out.) His sociopathy, and his struggles to control it and learn empathy, gave him some depth. His therapist was an interesting character in her own right, despite a short amount of screen time.

On the other hand, Dex’s quasi-love interest and (Dex-appointed) moral compass, Julie, gets stalked and fridged for the storyline. Again, even though this plot was relatively well-done – Julie seemed like a real person, with normal responses, for example – this is ground that has been covered so many times in TV that it has gotten boring.

The one thing I really liked about Dex/Bullseye was his fighting abilities. Being a master at long-range weapons made him a perfect antagonist to Daredevil, who excels at close combat. Their battle in the newsroom made it clear that Matt was not prepared for Bullseye’s abilities, and Matt lost the fight. It is important to have your heroes lose sometimes, and Dex’s special skillset was a great way to accomplish this.

I was surprised at the end of the show that Dex did not die. Maybe I shouldn’t have been: a lot of villains in the MCU are spared to be used in further movies or seasons, especially white male villains (see e.g. Fisk, and Billy Russo from Punisher, vs. Killmonger from Black Panther; Cottonmouth, Bushmaster, and Mariah Dillard from Luke Cage). It was a striking scene at the end when, with experimental surgery, Dex prepares to come back as Bullseye.

But before that, Dex’s arc seemed to be bending toward death. In the calculus of action dramas, viewers were owed a tragic (or not so much) death on the part of the villains, to match the tragedies of Father Lantom and Ray Nadeem – not to mention minor characters like Julie, and Jasper, the Fisk-shivving would-be informant. Somehow, though, both Fisk and Bullseye made it, despite Bullseye’s life-threatening injury. I guess the actors signed a contract for longer than one season!

Nelson, Murdock and Page

Finally, there is so much to say about the original threesome we all loved from Season 1. Fans, at least in my corner of fandom, are enamored with the dynamic between Karen, Foggy and Matt, who enjoyed a heartwarming though booze-soaked friendship – it wasn’t for nothing that they were a popular OT3. There’s been a lot of angst over how this happy found family got so destroyed in Season 2, in part due to Matt’s battle with the Hand. We’ve been eager to see the three of them come back together, and Season 3 delivers it.

View over Foggy's shoulder of a buffet table with five people looking up from the food to warmly greet Foggy.

Best Damn Avocado

First, a little bit about Foggy Nelson. Fans of Foggy were pleased to see a big role for him this season. We got him running for District Attorney, in a bold attempt to push the other candidate, Blake Tower, to do something about Fisk. We were granted some comic relief in the form of interactions with Foggy’s best frenemy Brett Mahoney – who often seems like the only non-crooked cop in Hell’s Kitchen.

We finally got to meet Foggy’s family, with his brother Theo played by an actor that I’d believe was related to Elden Henson. Matt saves Foggy’s life in the newsroom fight, which was not highlighted much but seemed to add some balance, as Matt has saved Karen’s life multiple times. And Foggy’s relationship with Marci was explored, although I was disappointed that not much of Marci’s “shark in a skin suit” personality got to shine through; she was mostly relegated to the role of Supportive Girlfriend.

Foggy’s relationship with Matt has been through some ups and downs. Foggy reached a breaking point in Season 2 in particular, drawing a line in terms of how much crazy he could tolerate from Matt. In this season, he seems to have reverted to that intense loyalty that led him to unquestioningly follow Matt in quitting his lucrative law internship to start their own firm. This loyalty-to-a-fault does fit the characters’ backstory, and hearkened to Foggy’s role throughout the comics. But I would have liked to see more emphasis on what the transition involved for Foggy to turn back to trust and forgiveness towards Matt.

Matt, Karen and Foggy sit around a table with food and bottles of beer in front of them.

Reunion

Similarly, though it warmed my heard to see the happy reunion of Nelson, Murdock and Page – hanging out in the Nelson Family Meat Shop, drinking beers, and plotting opening a firm together again – I wondered if this happiness was completely earned. Yes, the three finally started working together again to counter the menace of Wilson Fisk. But there had still been friction between them over Matt’s reluctance to go through legal methods, versus doing it “his way” – the vigilante way. And all the hurts Matt has rained upon his friends seem swept aside in the end.

Plus, Matt appears surprisingly mentally stable by those final scenes (drinking whisky for “medicinal purposes” notwithstanding). At the start of the season, Matt was in religious, identity, and emotional crises, and he engaged in suicidal behavior. It seemed a little miraculous that Matt managed to climb out of his deep emotional hole without psychiatric help.

Then again, I could be succumbing to the trap I’ve fallen in before with the Marvel Netflix shows, and with Daredevil in particular: expecting too much realism and forgetting that it’s all a comic book. Matt physically survived a building collapse. Compared to that, it isn’t too hard to swallow that he mentally recovered from emotional collapse. That realism mistake I keep making is just a testament to the excellent world-building, writing and acting of this show, especially true of Season 3. The care and craft that’s been put into this show makes it feel real enough to believe.


Images courtesy of Marvel / Netflix

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