Tag Archives: Darth Vader

Another (Almost) Empty New Comic Day, But With A Timeline To Return

Since this pandemic began, everyone keeps asking when we’ll return to “normal.” I use quotes because I’ve since accepted that “normal” is a flawed concept at this point. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the way things were before terms like social distancing became a thing. I question whether we’ll go back to shaking hands.

Flawed or not, we will return to some semblance of “normal” eventually. Movie theaters will re-open. Sports will return, even if it means playing games without fans. For comic book fans, the biggest return will be the release of new comics. Last week, I reported that there were some tentative signs of a break. This week, those signs are no longer tentative.

While none of the major publishers are set to return to full production, they have announced their plan to get New Comic Book Day rolling again. Some series are still on hold. Others are ready to return. Both Marvel and DC have announced new release schedules. Assuming aliens don’t invade or another pandemic doesn’t take hold, we now have dates to look forward to.

Marvel: Marvel Comics to Resume Wednesday Releases for New Comics and Collections Starting May 27

Cosmic Book News: DC Comics May 2020 Release Schedule

For this week, however, the pickings are still limited. There’s not enough to compile a standard pull list, but there are enough new releases to make a pick. Again, the books that came out today are largely digital releases, but there’s still quality awesome to be found. Hopefully, the industry will get going again and Wednesdays will be awesome once more.

It’s not quite the “normal” I fondly remember, but it’s getting close to it. After over a month without comics, I’ll gladly take it.


My Pick Of The Week: Dr. Aphra #1

What do you get when you take a gleefully amoral archaeologist/adventurer and put them in a galaxy far, far away? The short answer is a uniquely lovable woman named Dr. Chelli Lona Aphra. The long answer is an incredibly elaborate, but wonderfully fascinating story.

In the vast landscape of Star Wars lore, Dr. Aphra is a relative newcomer. She debuted in the pages of Darth Vader #3 in 2015. I vividly remember reading that comic. I had a feeling that she’d go on to have a major impact on the galaxy. In the brief time that Marvel has been producing Star Wars comics, she certainly has. I would argue that she’s one of the greatest achievements of this modern Star Wars comics.

If you need convincing, then “Dr. Aphra #1” makes a solid case. What Kieron Gillen created five years ago, writer Alyssa Wong and artist Marika Cresta run with in this issue. It effectively demonstrates who Dr. Aphra is, what she’s about, and how she conducts herself in the middle of a galactic war.

In terms of canon, the events of this issue take place after the Battle of Hoth from “Empire Strikes Back.” However, Dr. Aphra is no Rebel agent or Imperial operative. In fact, since her debut, she’s done plenty to piss both sides off. Darth Vader wants to kill her. The Rebel Alliance wants to kill her. She’s ticked off so many people in the galaxy that a lesser character would’ve been frozen in carbonite by now.

The fact that she isn’t and is still pissing off imperial and rebels alike is a testament to her skill. She’s part Indiana Jones, part Lara Croft, part Boba Fett, and part Black Widow. She doesn’t have a political agenda and she doesn’t take sides in wars. She’s just out to explore the galaxy, find new artifacts, and steal massive amounts of credits along the way.

Dr. Aphra #1” has her do a little of everything. It starts with stealing from the Empire on Hoth. From there, it becomes a setup for a heist that requires a bit of archaeology and a crew that’s as brazen as her. Wong takes every opportunity to highlight Dr. Aphra’s most defining traits along the way.

She might be an amoral thief who hangs out with questionable characters and pursues unhealthy romantic interests, but she has a charm to her that’s unique in the galaxy. She’ll push buttons, break rules, and draw the wrath of Darth Vader himself, all while having fun along the way. “Dr. Aphra #1” dares you to have a little fun with her while exploring a less scrupulous side of a galaxy far, far away.

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How “Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker” Made Rey A Great Character

I love Star Wars.

I love watching the movies on a lazy afternoon.

I love talking about Star Wars with my friends.

However, I generally avoid talking about Star Wars online.

It’s a frustrating, but inescapable fact of life these days. Being a Star Wars fan online is like unknowingly entering a street fight, being given a rusty knife, and having to pick a side on the spot. No matter which side you pick, you’re going to piss off the other side who will forever claim that you’re not a true Star Wars fan. That usually comes after being hurled with enough insults to make you want to punch your computer screen.

It’s why I’ve rarely written about Star Wars. I did write a few pieces on Ahsoka Tano and the sequel trilogy, but I’ve resisted writing more. The current state of the fandom is just not conducive to meaningful discussions or criticism. Unless you’re talking about how adorable Baby Yoda is, you’re bound to get caught up in discussions about how “The Last Jedi” ruined the franchise forever.

I don’t care for those discussions. I have my opinions on the original, prequel, and sequel trilogy. I try not to share or discuss them online because it’s just too frustrating to deal with people who think Star Wars has become some liberal plot to spread hatred over anyone with a penis. There’s no reasoning with that crowd. Even Obi-Wan Kanobi would say those people are lost.

Despite my reservation about discussing Star Wars online, I’d like to share a sentiment in the spirit of “Star Wars Day,” also known as May the 4th be with you. As it just so happens, that sentiment involves one of the most controversial characters to come out of the sequel trilogies since Jar Jar Binks. It’s bound to earn me plenty of hatred and resentment, but I’m going to channel the strength of a Jedi and share it anyway.

Rise of Skywalker” made Rey a great character.

I’ll give everyone a minute or so to fume.

I’ll give several more to those who despise “The Last Jedi” to insult me through their computer screen and claim I’m not a true Star Wars fan.

Are you done? Good, because this is something that really made the sequel trilogies work for me. It’s what elevated them above the sub-par prequels while also making Rey one of my favorite characters in all of Star Wars. She’s still no Ahsoka Tano, but “Rise of Skywalker” made her a character worth rooting for.

Since the movie has been out for months now, I’ll spoil the reveal that made this movie so powerful to me. Rey finds out that she’s not a nobody who was abandoned on Jakku for drinking money. She’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious.

It’s not the most jarring revelation in the history of Star Wars. It’s nowhere near as shocking as Darth Vader revealing to Luke that he’s his father. However, it doesn’t have to be shocking to have an impact. More than anything, this revelation gives Rey’s character greater meaning to the first two movies.

Before this revelation, I was somewhat indifferent on Rey. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t like her as much as Finn or Kylo Ren. I know she was frequently bemoaned as a Mary Sue. While I don’t agree with that sentiment, I understand why some painted her with that label.

Even without that dreaded label, which I think is a bullshit label to begin with, I didn’t find her story that interesting. After “The Last Jedi,” she became this weird anomaly within the Star Wars universe. She just happens to be this orphan of drunks who has incredible power with the Force. Even without any formal training, she’s able to use advanced skills and take down experienced Force users like Kylo Ren.

Before “Rise of Skywalker,” I thought she just didn’t have an interesting character arc. I got that she was a good soul who wanted to do good in the galaxy. I respect that. There’s certainly a place for those characters in any story. I just didn’t find it very compelling.

Then, “Rise of Skywalker” changes that by making her the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. Suddenly, that arc becomes a lot more interesting. She’s not just a sad little orphan girl. She carries the legacy of the galaxy’s most infamous despot. All that good she sought to do now becomes a lot more meaningful.

It also becomes a lot more dramatic in that it give greater weight to her journey in the previous movies. When I go back and watch the previous two movies, I don’t just see Rey as this hapless soul who got caught up in this galaxy-wide conflict. I see someone who carries the burden of being a Sith Lord’s granddaughter.

It’s a burden similar to what Luke Skywalker endured in the original trilogy. I would argue it’s greater for Rey because Darth Vader wasn’t pure evil. He was a fallen Jedi who Luke fought to redeem, eventually succeeding in “Return of the Jedi.” There’s no redeeming someone like Palpatine.

He’s not just a powerful Sith Lord. He’s the embodiment of hate and tyranny. He’s never going to see the light. He can only ever be stopped and Rey has to be the one who stops him. To save the galaxy and break free of this burden, she has to kill her grandfather. It a powerful struggle, which she even tries to run from at one point. When she ultimately succeeds, it’s as beautiful as it is satisfying.

I went into “Rise of Skywalker” with mixed feelings about Rey. I came out a genuine fan of hers. Now, I see her as one of the best parts of the sequel trilogy. I also count “Rise of Skywalker” as one of my favorite Star Wars movies. I know that’s not a popular sentiment, but I’m not apologizing for it.

What made “Rise of Skywalker” feel even more satisfying over time was how some fans managed to figure out her heritage. Below is a video from the YouTube channel, Nerd Soup, that predicted Rey’s link to Palpatine with brilliant detail. The fact that this movie was uploaded on December 10, 2017, nearly two years before “Rise of Skywalker” came out, makes it even more impressive.

Regardless of how hostile certain fans get, Star Wars will always be near and dear to my heart. Thanks to “Rise of Skywalker,” Rey is one of my favorite characters. She’s still not my favorite, as that title still belongs to Ahsoka Tano, but she’s proven herself worthy of this wondrous galaxy far, far away. If you don’t agree with me, then that’s fine.

With that said, Happy Star Wars Day to all. May the 4th be with you.

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Report: Rosario Dawson Has Been Cast As Ahsoka Tano For “The Mandalorian” (And The Galaxy Is More Awesome)

At a time when the stream of bad news seems endless and unyielding, you need to embrace the good news as much as you can, no matter what form it takes. Most of the time, you have to focus on the little things. While those can be good, there’s still a place for big, awesome revelations that make the world feel slightly less terrible.

Late yesterday, a uniquely awesome story broke in the world of Star Wars. Say what you will about the movies, but “The Mandalorian” was a perfect manifestation of everything that’s great about Star Wars. It had a little of everything on top of the galactic level of cuteness that is Baby Yoda. It’s hard to imagine this show getting any better.

Well, according to SlashFilm, “The Mandalorian” is about to raise the bar once again. This time, it comes from a familiar source and one that has a special place in my heart. That source is Ahsoka Tano, a character I go out of my way to praise and chrish with every midichlorian in my being. If SlashFilm’s report is true, she’s about to make her live-action debut in the next season of “The Mandalorian,” courtesy of Rosario Dawson.

SlashFilm: ‘The Mandalorian’ Season 2 Casts Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano

We have exclusively learned that Rosario Dawson will appear in The Mandalorian season 2 and are excited to report that she will be playing a fan-favorite character previously only seen in the Star Wars animated productions. Dawson will be playing a live-action version of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi padawan apprentice who appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. This would be the character’s first appearance in live-action.

I cannot put into words how excited I am. I’m already a fan of Rosario Dawson, having grown fond of her character in “Daredevil” and “The Defenders.” She has what it takes to bring Ahsoka to life. While Ashley Eckstein will always be Ahsoka’s true voice, I believe Rosario Dawson can bring her spirit to life.

Ahsoka reflects the best of what Star Wars can be. She embodies the journey, the struggle, and the hardship that comes with doing the right thing when everyone else is doing so much wrong. Her instincts aren’t always right and her attitude isn’t always endearing, but there’s no denying her spirit.

She’s a special soul and one that the world of Star Wars needs right now. I really hope this report turns out to be true. I look forward to seeing Ms. Dawson don her Togruta attire. Between her and Baby Yoda, the future of Star Wars looks both bright and adorable.

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A Beautiful (And Detailed) Breakdown Of Ahsoka Tano’s Story In Star Wars

Last week, I expressed my genuine excitement about the final season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” A big part of that excitement is due to the prospect of seeing more Ahsoka Tano, a character I’ve praised before and will likely praise again in the future. I make no apologies for that excitement. I also won’t apologize for calling Ahsoka one of the greatest characters in Star Wars.

By that, I don’t just mean the greatest female character. I know great female characters have become politically charged in recent years, sometimes for all the wrong reasons. However, Ahsoka’s greatness transcends that whole debate. I’ll go so far as saying that she’s one of the best characters in Star Wars, period.

That’s not a slight against fans of Han Solo, Princess Leia, Rey, Kylo Ren, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, or Darth Maul. I understand why those characters have dedicated fans. For me, personally, Ahsoka is the character who best reflects everything that is great about Star Wars. Between her and Luke Skywalker, they help make this galaxy-spanning saga as epic as it deserves to be.

I could write countless articles on why Ahsoka is such a great character. I doubt that would be enough to cover everything. Other than binge-watching the show on Disney-plus, it’s hard to grasp everything that makes her such a compelling character. Thankfully, others who are more talented and articulate than me have already done a much better job than I’ll ever do.

For those who don’t have time to binge-watch six seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” here are a couple of video essays from a user named XBadgerKnightX, who has made some quality Star Wars themed content over the years. However, it’s his videos on Ahsoka Tano that really stand out.

There are plenty of other articles and videos that highlight Ahoska’s journey and why she’s such a compelling character. These two are the best I could find. If you’re not convinced about Ahsoka’s value to the Star Wars mythos, I encourage you to watch both videos.

Here is Part 1.

Here is Part 2.

If, after all that, you’re still not convinced, then I don’t know what will. I can only assume you’ve been corrupted by the Sith.

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The Final Season Of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Is Coming (Along With More Ahsoka Tano)

Some things are worth waiting for. At the top of that list are things like finding the love of your life, going on a dream vacation, or having your first legal glass of whiskey. For Star Wars fans, the seventh and final season of “The Clone Wars” is likely at the top of that list.

I’m not talking about the sub-par movie that Hayden Christiansen will never live down. I’m talking about the incredible animated TV show it spawned. Say what you will about the quality of the prequel Star Wars trilogy, and many things have been said, but it still brought us the The Clone Wars.” For me, that was worth enduring Jar Jar Binks.

This show encapsulates everything that’s awesome about Star Wars. Even if you never saw the movies or are only marginally familiar with them, this show has plenty of appeal. From the animation to the story to the voice acting, every details is perfectly refined to maximize everything that’s great about Star Wars.

It’s only flaw was that it ended abruptly after Season 6. There’s a long, convoluted reason for that. It’s not worth getting into, but it doesn’t matter now. The Disney overlords that now own Star Wars are giving The Clone Wars the last season it needed to complete the story.

As someone who fell in love with this show, I couldn’t be more excited. Given that I’ve seen all the Star Wars movies, I know how it ends and where it leads. Anakin Skywalker is still going to become Darth Vader. The republic will fall and Emperor Palpatine will rise to power. However, I’m still excited and the reason for that can be summed up in two words.

Ahsoka Tano

I’ve mentioned her before. I’ve made my case as to why she’s one of the best characters in all of Star Wars. Everything that made her great began in this show. She became the kind of character that Star Wars fans of every generation can root for within this show. Now, she’ll have a chance to further demonstrate her strength in one more season.

Watch the trailer. See all the ominous signs of what’s to come. See the emerging darkness within Anakin. Most importantly, watch how Ahsoka sets herself up for an battle that’s sure to be another epic struggle.

Say what you will about Baby Yoda, but to see Ahsoka Tano battle Darth Maul in a light sabre duel is more than worth a Disney Plus subscription.

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The Ambiguity Of Anti-Heroes And How To Make Sense Of Them (According To Overly Sarcastic Productions)

Certain concepts easy to discuss, but poorly defined. You could get 100 people in a room, get them talking about art for hours on end, and at no point will anyone have a clear definition of what constitutes art. For some, it’s a beautiful painting by a long-dead artist. For others, it’s a banana taped to the wall.

The conflict occurs when discussing anti-heroes. I know because I’ve discussed them before. I’m guilty of throwing that label around and attaching it to certain characters. However, despite having a definition, the concept is still poorly defined. It’s so poor, in fact, that you can argue that almost any character with the “hero” is also an anti-hero to some extent.

Like art, it’s one of those things we think we know when we see. Given the sheer volume of superhero comics I’ve read over the years, I like to think I can point out and define an anti-hero better than most. Even with that experience, I doubt my standards are flawless. In fact, I’m fairly certain most peoples’ standards are ridiculously flawed.

I say this because I recently came across a new video by Overly Sarcastic Productions, a wonderful YouTube channel that I would highly recommend for all aspiring writers. Whether you’re writing adventure, sci-fi, or erotica romance, this channel offers invaluable advice and lessons.

My favorite part of the channel is its ongoing series, Trope Talk. It covers a wide range of writing topics, from paragons and pure evil villains to romantic sub-plots and reformed villains. Recently, it tackled the concept of anti-heroes in a comprehensive, colorful way. What made it even more compelling, in my opinion, are the characters it singled out to make the most important points.

There’s a lot I could say about it. Rather than spoil it, I strongly encourage everyone to watch the video. If you think it’s wrong on some areas or missed something, then please make your case in the comments. As both a comic fan and an aspiring writer, I’m always happy to discuss such topics.

If nothing else, I hope that video convinced you to go watch “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Seriously, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan and utterly despised the sequel trilogy, go check it out. It may not have Baby Yoda, but it has plenty to offer, both for anti-heroes and so many other wonderful things.

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Every “Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker” Criticism In A Nutshell

Recently, I saw “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.” People tried to spoil it for me. People tried to give me reasons not to go see it. I still saw it and I loved it. It was, in my opinion, the best of the sequel trilogy.

Having said that, there’s a reason why I haven’t written about it or done a full review, as I’ve done before. That reason has less to do with why I loved the movie and more to do with all the whining about it by a small, but vocal segment of the fandom. I won’t name names or cite outlets because they don’t deserve the publicity. The most they deserve is pity and a galactic-sized middle finger.

The most I’ll say about this movie is it’s great. It caps off the story. It has so many wonderful moments that are worth celebrating and if you like it, don’t let some asshole tell you you’re flawed because of it. You’re not. You like what you like and others don’t. Some people are just assholes about it.

That said, you’ll find plenty of YouTube videos and articles criticizing this movie to no end. They say a lot without telling you anything of substance. So, as a service to both Star Wars fans and people who are generally opposed to assholes, here’s all their criticism summed up in a single gif.

giphy

You’re welcome and may the Force be with you.

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The Future Of Villains And Villainy

marvel-avengers-infinity-war-thanos-sixth-scale-figure-hot-toys-feature-903429-1

What is happening to villains these days? That’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a remarkable shift in how we approach villainy in movies, TV, comic books, and video games. I’m not just talking about the superhero media, either. However, that happens to be the most visible manifestation of this change.

As a long-time fan of both superheroes and quality villains, I welcome this change. At the same time, I’m curious about where it’s leading and what it means for the future. Villains are as old as storytelling itself. From the Bible to “Star Wars,” these stories work best when there’s villainy to oppose the unfolding narrative. Villains have always evolved alongside the heroes that oppose them, but that evolution seems to be accelerating.

I’ve discussed the unique journey that villains undergo and how they set themselves apart from heroes. Traditionally, a villain’s primary purpose was to both oppose the hero and highlight how heroic they are. The sheer malice of characters like Lex Luthor help contrast the pure selflessness of characters like Superman. It’s easier to appreciate those heroes knowing they have to deal such malicious opponents.

Then, something remarkable happened. Audiences began demanding more of their villains. It wasn’t enough to just have a villain oppose a hero. People began wanting villains who were understandable and even relatable to some extent. Ironically, they wanted a villain they could root for.

That helped lead to characters like Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” His impact was so profound that I even called his influence the Walter White effect. However, I think there were others who paved the way for Walter White. If I had to pick one villain that helped kick-start this trend in villainy, it would be Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.”

From this portrayal of villainy, the emerging state of villains emerged and it may very well set the tone for the future. On the surface, this version of the Joker wasn’t too different from the one who had existed in the comics for years. He’s dangerous, destructive, murderous, and callous, like many villains. Unlike most, though, he does what he does with a laugh and a smile.

What made this version of the Joker so memorable was the principles behind his madness. To him, society is corrupt and people aren’t inherently good. As such, he seeks to point out how laughable it is when others try to save it. Batman’s crusade against crime is the biggest joke of all, which helps drive their rivalry.

It’s a philosophy that few other than terrorists and extreme nihilists would buy into, but it’s one that’s understandable to some extent. We don’t have to agree with them or their methods. We just have to see their twisted logic. They can’t just be standard James Bond villains whose motives are indistinguishable from fascists, communists, or terrorists. There needs to be something more personal at work.

We saw plenty of that in 2018’s biggest movies. From “Black Panther” to “ Avengers: Infinity War” to “Incredibles 2,” the villains all had something personal at stake. Erik Killmonger saw his villainous actions as heroic. He wasn’t out to just take over Wakanda. He had a vision in mind that felt justified to some extent, especially to those familiar with real-world historical injustices.

Thanos raised the bar even more in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He never tries to come off as a hero, but he never sees his actions as villainous, either. In fact, when heroes like Dr. Strange call him out, he frames his desire to cull half the population in the universe as mercy. For him, it’s simple math. Half a population is better than no population at all.

These motivations, as devious they might be on paper, have some semblance of merit to it. Both Thanos and Killmonger think they’re doing the right thing. That significantly impacts how the heroes in their stories go about thwarting them, although I would argue that one story was more complete while the other remains unresolved.

In “Black Panther,” T’Challa doesn’t just stop at defeating Killmonger. He actually sees some of his enemy’s points and takes steps to address them. He doesn’t revert things back to the way they were. Wakanda doesn’t return to the same isolated state it had been at the start of the movie. Instead, he seeks to find a middle ground. That, I would argue, is the new template for how heroes defeat this kind of villain.

The resolution in “Avengers: Infinity War,” however, is not as clear. That’s largely due to the story not being complete. There is a sequel planned, but at no point in the three-hour spectacle did the Avengers attempt to prove Thanos wrong. They only ever tried to stop him. That oversight has not gone unnoticed by audiences.

This, in many ways, sums up the new dynamic between heroes in villains. It’s no longer enough for heroes to just defeat their adversaries. It’s not even enough for villains to be exceptionally devious. There have to be larger principles at work. It can’t just be reduced to general greed, ego, or bullying.

Thanos seeks to kill have the population because he believes that it’ll prevent the complete extinction of all life.

Erik Killmonger seeks to empower oppressed minorities to right past injustices.

Dr. Doom seeks to conquer the world because a world under his rule is the only one free of suffering and want. That’s actually canon in the comics.

It’s makes crafting compelling villains more difficult, but at the same time, it opens the door to more complexity. On top of that, it demands that audiences think beyond the good versus evil dynamic that has defined so many stories, going back to the days of fairy tales. It’s a challenge that some are certain to fail. Some already have, sadly.

It also sets the tone for future forms of villainy. How that villainy manifests is impossible to predict, but given the current trends, I think there’s room to speculate. At the heart of this emerging villainy is the idea that the current system just isn’t working. It’s so bad that the only viable option is to destroy and rebuild it. There’s no room, whatsoever, for reform.

This is where the heroes will have to evolve, as well. They can’t just play “Super Friends” and save the day. They have to actually make meaningful changes to move society forward. King T’Challa did that at the end of “Black Panther.” Other heroes need to be as willing. Otherwise, they won’t be able to call themselves heroes. They’re just defenders of a status quo may not be working as well as they think.

It’s an ideological struggle that parallels many real-world struggles. People today have less and less faith in established institutions. As a result, more people are falling sway to populist rhetoric that promises to break down the current system entirely. By and large, people today aren’t content with just preserving things as they are. They seek more meaningful change.

That presents a serious problem for heroes and a golden opportunity for villains. Historically, heroes haven’t been able to effect change beyond a certain point. Some of that is for logistical reasons. A hero can never create a functioning utopia without ending the story completely, which is something major media companies cannot have. There’s too much money to be made.

Logistics aside, the future of villainy will have plenty of raw materials to work with and plenty of societal angst to draw upon. Heroes who save the day, but do little else won’t be able to call themselves heroes in the world currently unfolding. Villains who have a real vision with understandable motivations will find themselves with more supporters than before.

It’s no longer taboo to root for the villain, especially when the heroes don’t confront the flaws in their rhetoric. In what seems prophetic now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” may have put it best when Ultron stated:

“I’m sorry, I know you mean well. You just didn’t think it through. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.”

That’ll be the key to the future of villainy, change in a world that resists too much of it happening at once. It’ll make for some complicated villains, but it will definitely make the struggle of heroes even harder. However it plays out, I believe it’ll be worth watching.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, movies, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies, television, X-men

Why Ahsoka Tano Is The Strong Female Character We Need Right Now

ahsoka2

There has been a lot of talk about “strong female characters” over the past several years. I know because I’ve contributed to some of that talk. I also put that term in quotes because it’s one of those terms that people love to throw around, but don’t quite know how to define. The only time most people use it is to complain.

This has been an especially hot topic among “Star Wars” fans lately, a conversation to which I’ve also contributed. It was fairly obvious from anyone who saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that the producers at Disney wanted to promote more strong female characters. The extent to which they succeeded is debatable, but the fact that someone made a “defeminized” edit of the movie should tell much of the story.

Image result for the last jedi defeminized

Now, I can understand why Disney and other big movie studios would make a push for strong female characters. I think it has less to do with their commitment to inclusivity and more to do with improving their brand. They could probably care less about gender politics. They just know that a brand that appeals to more than half the population is a brand that’ll make more money. That is, at the end of the day, the primary goal.

With Disney and “Star Wars,” though, that effort almost seems desperate. Characters like Rey and General Holdo were portrayed as so strong and so capable that they didn’t always come off as interesting or very likable. The movies just can’t seem to get any female character not named Princess Leia correct.

Image result for Princess Leia

The real irony is that “Star Wars” already created an amazing female character who was more compelling, more likable, and more endearing that Rey or Holdo could ever achieve over the course of a single trilogy. In fact, they created her back in 2008 and put her through a journey that endeared her to men, women, and those of unspecified gender.

Her name is Ahsoka Tano and if the term “strong female character” is to have any meaning, she deserves to be the new standard by which all others are measured. She’s not Rey. She’s not Holdo. She’s not Princess Leia either. She’s very much her own character and it’s a character that we need more of in these fragile times.

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To those who only know “Star Wars” through the movie, they probably don’t know much about Ahsoka and that’s a true shame because her journey is very much in line with the larger themes of “Star Wars.” I won’t go so far as to say it’s on the level of Luke Skywalker’s journey, but that’s okay because Ahsoka’s journey is compelling in its own right.

In the lore of “Star Wars” that extends beyond the movies, Ahsoka’s story takes place primarily between “Attack Of The Clones” and “Revenge Of The Sith.” She was a young, immature Jedi who was assigned to a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker shortly after the Clone Wars broke out. To say she had the makings of a great female character at that point would’ve warranted a billion Jabba the Hutt laughs.

From the beginning, Ahsoka was not capable or likable. She wasn’t even that crucial a part to story surrounding the Clone Wars. She wasn’t that well-received by the fans either because she came off as annoying, immature, and distracting. That was somewhat forgivable since she was a kid, but she didn’t drop many hints that her journey would be that compelling.

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That changed considerably over the course of five seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a highly underrated and very well-done TV series that only got better with each successive season. While this series didn’t really affect the movies that much, it is recognized as official canon. That helps make Ahsoka’s story more meaningful.

That meaning takes time to develop, though. Yes, she starts off as childish and annoying as most would expect of someone so young, but she steadily grows and matures. She becomes an integral part of Anakin Skywalker’s story in that he now has this kid sister to look after that he never asked for. Considering what a whiny guy he was in “Attack Of The Clones,” he really needed that.

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What makes Ahsoka’s story most compelling though, especially with respect to strong female characters, is how so much of it is defined by the hard choices she makes. Ahsoka is not like Rey, Holdo, or even Leia in that she often finds herself caught up in situations she doesn’t seek out. Ahsoka is an aspiring Jedi knight. She charges into those situations, making for some pretty dramatic moments.

She’s given no special treatment. Just being a female Jedi who happens to be the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker gets her no passes. She’s held to the same standards. She’s expected to rise to the occasion, which she does time and again. She doesn’t have to be forced into that central role. She becomes part of it like any other non-droid character.

What sets her apart, though, isn’t how well she plays the part of an aspiring Jedi. It’s how she’s allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and make tough decisions along the way. She’s like Luke Skywalker in that she guides the story through the highs and lows of the conflict. There are times she learns a hard less. There are times Anakin Skywalker learns a lesson too. She both complements and supplements those around her.

In that sense, Ahsoka directly contradicts the Galbrush Paradox that often hinders a female character’s ability to struggle, fail, and mess up without becoming a trope. She’s allowed to be a little flawed while retaining a healthy level of femininity. She gets emotional, but not in the same way as Anakin or other male characters. She’s like an alien Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with a light saber.

Ahsoka accomplishes all of this without relying too much on sex appeal. Granted, she’s not desexualized in a way that feels overt, which other franchises have tried too hard to do, but her looks are always secondary to her skills and the choices she makes. Yes, she’s cute in ways that men with sexy alien fantasies appreciate, but that’s never the primary appeal to Ahsoka.

Ahsoka Tano

Her biggest appeal is how she navigates the same story as Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kanobi in her own unique way. That story is full of choices and actions that really set her apart. This is best exemplified in what I feel is the most defining and heart-wrenching part of Ahsoka’s story.

At the end of the fifth season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Ahsoka is accused of taking part in a secret attack against the Jedi Temple. As a result, she is imprisoned, but escapes to prove her innocence. She eventually succeeds and is even welcomed back into the Jedi Order. However, at that point, she decides that she has no place in the Jedi Order anymore.

It’s a sad, but bittersweet moment. It’s a moment that breaks her heart and that of others, but one that those who saw “Revenge Of The Sith” knows is the right choice. She chooses to leave the order that she did so much to serve. In doing so, it makes for a truly emotional goodbye between her and Anakin, which also doubles as another sign of his eventual fall.

It’s easy to tell in that moment how much it pains Ahsoka. It pains Anakin just as much. That kind of heartbreak in the face of so much struggle is the kind of impact that helps define a character, regardless of their gender.

It’s that same impact that makes Ahsoka’s later role on “Star Wars Rebels,” another show that takes place before “A New Hope,” every bit as meaningful. In that show, Ahsoka continues following her own path, fighting her own battles, and proving her worth along the way.

It’s in “Star Wars Rebels” where Ahsoka Tano officially outgrows the part of being the snippy side-kick of a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker and becomes an integral part of the larger “Star Wars” mythos. She’s not hardened or jaded like a Sarah Conners type character. She’s still full of heart, hope, and love, doing her part to make the galaxy a better place. Honestly, what more could anyone want of any character?

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Whether you found Ahsoka annoying at first or didn’t care for the female characters the movies tried to push with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it’s hard to look at the person she became and not be impressed. She has complexity, personality, and even a little sex appeal as an adult. In terms of quality female characters, she checks most boxes.

After the recent finale of Star Wars Rebels,” which left fans like me drowning in tears of joy, Ahsoka’s story is far from over. It’s a story that offers unique appeal through a remarkable female character from which little was expected. In the end, that ability to transform from that annoying side-kick to a truly endearing character that makes Ahsoka Tano the kind of female character that appeals to everyone, regardless of gender.

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Why Rey From “Star Wars” Is NOT A Mary Sue

There are a handful of character types that tend to evoke a collective groan from most audiences. Being an ardent comic book fan, as well as a general fan of sci-fi, romance, and fantasy, I’ve listened to those groans and even contributed to them. At a time when it’s easier than ever to share opinions and/or voice frustration, these frustrating characters tend to be more vulnerable than ever.

Chief among those groan-inducing characters is the dreaded Mary Sue. Chances are you’ve heard that cute little colloquialism after browsing gaming and sci-fi message boards for more than five minutes.

Usually, it applies to a female character, but can just as easily fit apply to a male character as well, often in the form of the equally groan-inducing label of Gary Stu. Sometimes it’s a criticism of a character. Sometimes it’s a flat-out insult. In most cases, it rarely has a positive connotation.

It’s for that reason that characters slapped with the Mary Sue label tend to be either controversial or destructive to an underlying narrative. Many writers, myself included, go out of their way to avoid crafting characters that might attract that label. I certainly made that effort when I wrote “Skin Deep” and “Passion Relapse.” I doubt I’m the only one who tries to avoid it.

These days, though, there’s one particular character getting slapped with that label and it has been generating discussions for a couple years now. It comes from “Star Wars,” one of the biggest franchises in the history of modern fiction and one of many productive cash cows for Disney. The character in question is Rey and I know that discussions about her tend to bring out the dark side in any “Star Wars” fan.

Now, I personally really like Rey. After seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she solidified herself as one of my favorite “Star Wars” characters of all time. I wasn’t entirely sold on her potential after seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I’ve since been convinced. Rey is a great character and one of the best things to come out of this new generation of “Star Wars.”

That said, I’m aware of the criticisms levied against her. She is very much at the center of an ongoing debate about female characters, in general, and what constitutes a Mary Sue. I tried to avoid those debates after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I feel comfortable entering the fray now after seeing Rey develop over the course of two movies.

Before I offer my assessment on whether or not Rey deserves the label of a Mary Sue, it’s helpful to highlight just what a Mary Sue is. There’s actually not any clearly-defined criteria, to date, and that criteria is constantly evolving. According to TVTropes.org, the simplest definition of a Mary Sue is a character that’s just too good to be true. More specifically, those traits include the following:

  • A bland, shallow personality that’s overly pure, overly good, and incorruptible
  • Flaws that are forced and only ever meant to glorify her purity and goodness
  • Beauty that is either flawless or idealized for any given world, fictional or otherwise
  • Physical skills that are exceedingly good to the point of never facing any real challenges
  • Mental acuity to the point where she’s never wrong, never foolish, and always on the moral high ground
  • Unlimited and contrived access to every tool or resource, be it something mundane or a Deus ex Machina
  • Always ending up with the perfect romantic partner and/or forging friendships with every meaningful character
  • Being at the center of every plot and sub-plot by default

Again, these are just a few traits associated with a Mary Sue and there are likely more. There are far more thorough insights into the traits of a Mary Sue, one of which was done by the YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Production. After their wonderful breakdown of strong female characters, I would put their assessment far above my own.

Whatever the criteria, the Mary Sue is such a fluid concept, which is part of why it’s such an empty criticism. However, it has become a more serious criticism and since it’s being applied to “Star Wars,” it’s definitely carries more weight than usual.

With all that said, does Rey fit that criteria? Is it a valid criticism to call Rey a Mary Sue whose portrayal is weighing down the overall narrative of “Star Wars?” It’s a debate I’m sure will continue for quite some time, but here’s my definitive response, for what it’s worth.

No. Rey is NOT a Mary Sue…for the most part.

Now, I’m aware I’m being somewhat vague by adding that little caveat at the end. However, there’s a reason for that and I’m fairly confident that they qualify as reasons and not excuses.

For one, Rey’s story is not complete. That much needs to be said from the beginning. It’s something that I find many debates involving Rey tend to overlook. Yes, her story is lagging a bit more than those of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo did in the original trilogy. There are other reasons for this, but they’re unrelated to the debate at hand.

Even with an incomplete story, I believe that Rey has done enough over the course of two movies to prove that she’s not a Mary Sue. I think she established that shortly after her appearance in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

In terms of appearance, she comes off as someone who could put on a set of clothes from Wal-Mart, walk into a typical high school, and not generate much reaction. She doesn’t radiate the kind of beauty or royalty that often defines a Mary Sue. Even if she later proves to have a special destiny, that basically puts her in the same category as Luke Skywalker and every other legendary hero.

In terms of personality, she’s not exactly gushing with love and likability, which is another key trait of the Mary Sue. In many respects, Rey is somewhat cold and detached when she first shows up. She doesn’t whine or lament about her less-than-extraordinary life, nor does she eagerly jump at the chance to join the resistance when she encounters Finn. Hers is a more complex journey.

In terms of skill, this is where I think most of the Mary Sue accusations come from. I admit that I thought her excessive skill with the Force, flying the Millennium Falcon, and defeating Kylo Ren pushed the bounds of her character a bit too much. Even I was tempted to throw that label on her after seeing her accomplish so much with so little training.

However, when I step back and look at the larger plot, as well as incorporate the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I see that those traits aren’t enough to warrant calling her a Mary Sue. They are a flaw in her character. That much, I don’t deny. Just having that flaw, though, doesn’t make her a Mary Sue.

I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did a lot to help distance her from that label. It did so by having her make a few bad judgment calls while also not winning her battles quite as easily. When you look at the sequence of events in that movie, she didn’t actually succeed in most of what she sought out to do. Most of the success in that movie came from others, namely Kylo Ren, Finn, and Poe Dameron.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rey failed miserably in her efforts, I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” established that her skills have limits. She has all sorts of natural talent, but she doesn’t always apply it effectively. That’s not unusual for real and fictional characters. You could even make the argument that her missteps help really help to improve her likability.

A Mary Sue is supposed to be sickeningly perfect and hopelessly ideal, so much so that there’s no need for a plot since they just fix everything with their charm. Rey isn’t like that in either movie. In fact, the final battle in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” didn’t really involve her. More than anything else, her role really complemented all the others by the end of the movie.

Now, I’m certain there are more than a few ardent “Star Wars” fans with X-wings tattooed on their chests who will claim I’m dead wrong. Those arguing that Rey is a Mary Sue have more than a few points to make and I don’t deny that some of those points are valid. I just don’t think they’re sufficient.

Rey is a great character, but one with some obvious flaws. I would call her overpowered and over-skilled, but you could levy that criticism against other iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Batman. Unlike those iconic characters, though, Rey is very new to the cultural landscape and her story still has room to unfold, as director Rian Johnson has pointed out.

I don’t doubt that debate over whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue will continue for quite some time. While I don’t think the next “Star Wars” movie will definitely resolve that, I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be at this point. I think Rey has done enough to subvert this dreaded label.

She’s still a great character with a number of conceptual flaws. I think she has a bright future in our culture. She’ll always have her critics, but all great characters do. It’s just a matter of how they navigate that criticism. Given the cultural weight “Star Wars” carries, I’d say she’s handled it much better than most non-Jar Jar characters could ever hope.

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