It’s day two of Dragon*Con! Nanci and I are settling in for the second major Star Wars Expanded Universe panel, Masculinity in the Star Wars universe. Once again, Expanded Universe authors Timothy Zahn, Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole, and Kevin J. Anderson are on hand for the discussion. Also here is Doctor Carol White. Highlights under the cut:
To mark the occasion, KJA just ripped off his shirt. Yes. KJA just ripped off his shirt.
Dr. White: How have your perspective on masculinity in this universe changed as you’ve grown as a writer?
Allston: Coming from a left-leaning family, my perspective hasn’t changed too much. I have noticed that among Expanded Universe writers, there is a lot more awareness towards the mirror of female characters as compared to evolving American culture. Unfortunately, you still see pushback from loud segments of fans that want women to stop asking for female characters to take on greater roles.
Stackpole: I have never viewed that if you write female characters more completely, male characters will be lessened. I love writing Corran, but writing Mirax is great because they play off each other and complete each other’s characterization. I’ve noticed we’re getting more female roles in this universe and being expanded to deal with the hopes and dreams of everyone out there.
Dr. White: It’s been difficult to see where Star Wars fits into the masculinity discussion, particularly Luke Skywalker. How does the original trilogy fit into this?
Stackpole: Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I saw the sort of “reconquest of masculinity” that Dr. White talked about. I saw attempts to recapture whatever this masculinity is over the years. As for Star Wars, the structure was that the structure of masculinity fits more into the 30s and 40s pulp stories.
Allston: Some of this was also influenced by Lucas’ appreciation of Asian cinema. The roles that we look at in Star Wars aren’t based on our own and the ones were comfortable with.
Zahn: If there’s a single masculinity theme in Star Wars, it’s the taking on of responsibility. Lando, Luke, and Han have to take this up. On the other hand, Leia and Mon Mothma have already embraced it;
KJA: If you look back at it, Luke was basically asexual throughout the first three films. There was serious discussion in the early Expanded Universe that perhaps Luke shouldn’t get married. On another note, all of the good leaders are female, Leia and Mon Mothma. All of the bad leaders, Vader and the Imperials, were male.
Dr. White: It’s interesting you brought up the Empire. The Imperials seem to be hyper-masculine. What about the Expanded Universe?
Stackpole: Oh, we fixed that!
Allston: Kevin balanced it with Daala.
Stackpole: And I introduced Ysanne.
Allston: The EU showed that there were women in the Empire, but they were still a fraction of the proportional strength of the Empire. You also have to consider, with the exception of Thrawn, the Empire is almost always portrayed in a negative light.
KJA: You know, even all the droids seem to be plainly male.
Allston: If you reflect the 1970s discomfort with strong females, why aren’t we uncomfortable with Leia and Mon Mothma? If this is a reflection of the norm of the culture, the Star Wars universe demonstrates that strong females in important roles is the status quo.
Zahn: You could argue that Leia is the least free of all the characters. She was born into politics and the Rebellion. This was the job she was groomed for. So, is she the modern, liberated woman? Or is she Elizabeth I?
Q: What do you make of Luke’s role as a nurturer in the context of masculinity?
Allston: I personally don’t look at it any more than he’s just an innate nurturer. It’s part of who he is. I don’t intellectualize it more than that to make it a gender issue.
KJA: I think Luke definitely becomes a nurturer in the EU, but I think in the films he’s somewhat of a bratty kid until the responsibility is thrust on him. He’s not an overly brave and masculine character at this point.
Stackpole: I think you’re looking at Luke redeeming Anakin as part of the cycle. You have to remember that when the films were made, that context didn’t exist for anyone.
Doctor White: So what about the absentee father in Star Wars?
Stackpole: It enables rebellion, I think. You’ve got Luke, Wedge Antilles, Corran Horn. All who didn’t have fathers in their lives, and they had to learn to define themselves through their own visions of masculinity. For Corran, after his father died, Wedge assumed that mantle upon joining Rogue Squadron.
Q: What about women in the Star Wars military? Is it anti-female? How would Thrawn think of it?
Zahn: You have to consider that there are physiological reasons for an army to be predominantly male. Thrawn, on the other hand, views things around who can do the job. If she can be a brilliant turbolaser gunner, he’ll put her on a turbolaser gun.
Q: Is there a time you’ve found yourselves setting up a cultural gender role?
KJA: Dave Wolverton did, think of the Witches of Dathomir.
Stackpole: I did more with cultural stuff than I did gender roles.
Q: While you’re working on your stories, have you been told by Lucasfilm or Del Rey to back away from some kind of gender or cultural role or inversion?
Allston: Yes, I had some scenes that might have been a little too much in the Wraith Squadron books that might have been a bit too much for younger readers. The second time was in Starfighters of Adumar when Wedge began his pursuit of Iella. Del Rey thought Wedge was being too aggressive, but Allston countered that he’s a fighter pilot. He asked Del Rey to trust him on this one, and it worked out.
KJA: We were discussing whether or not to put gay characters into the Expanded Universe, and a lot of discussions were had within Lucasfilm. At the time, they decided this wasn’t a direction they wanted to go.
Allston: But there is an openly gay character in the universe now.
Q: What do you think of the facets Leia has to switch between?
Stackpole: I’m not seeing a problem with the many layers of Leia, who can be in touch with her femininity one moment and be a cold-blooded killer the next.
Allston: It’s a lot like how I write Wes Janson in the Wraith Squadron books. He’s a nutcase, but at the drop of a hat he can turn into a stone-cold killer because that’s his job. That kind of duality also exists in Leia.
Q: What about Padme as a feminist icon?
Allston: Padme was a mess. The only way I can reconcile her character is if she’s a needy, messed up human being. Leia isn’t any of these things.
Zahn: The scene that made me furious was watching Padme, a woman who just gave birth to two beautiful children, just giving up the will to live.
Q: What do you think about the influence Star Wars has had on masculinity?
Allston: You have to remember that Star Wars is often a mirror to our own world.
Stackpole: Because there were only two known females in the entire universe, any female character we added were going to expand the percentage of female characters. We got notes from Del Rey saying that it was okay to use female characters, but there was no pressure to include them.
Q: When you’re first plotting a novel, what makes you decide the gender of a protagonist or side characters?
Stackpole: Whatever feels right for the story.
Zahn: Whatever feels right for the characters. It’s something that “you know when it’s right.”
KJA: I will say that when there’s a large cast of characters, I do notice when I need to balance out the gender numbers a bit.
Q: Mara Jade is masculine. Did you do that to overcompensate?
Zahn: No. Mara Jade is who she is. She’s a product of her nurturing.
Stackpole: If there’s a trait that is mistakenly used to describe her as masculine, it’s how emotionally remote she is in the earlier novels.
Zahn: I see your point. I wouldn’t describe that as masculine, I’d view that much more as damaged.