Broaden Your Diversity Horizons

Insisting that only women/creators of color should write women/characters of color is part of the problem.

It’s an inevitable protestation brought up every time a comic company announces a new comic about a character that’s not a white guy. Most recently, the internet is all aflutter because Brian Bendis (who happens to be white) is writing Riri Williams, the black teenage girl who’s going to be the new Iron Man. Some parts of the internet want to see a WOC on the book instead. While I can most certainly appreciate the sentiment behind the movement, I find it to be a little more harmful than helpful for two very big reasons.

First, it sends the message that only women should write women or POCs should write POCs. For some books, having creators who have had the same life experiences as the characters is absolutely invaluable. Very few people would disagree that the life experiences of Sana Amanat and G. Willow Wilson do not play a fundamental role in creating Kamala Khan. Ta-Nehisi Coates also brings a unique point of view to his Black Panther book. So yes, there are absolutely some books that require a creative team with that intimate knowledge and strongly benefit from it. Every book doesn’t. In a way, it’s almost insulting to those everyone involved. Writers are supposed to have imaginations. If they only wrote about things they specifically experienced, fiction would be terribly boring.

Second, I truly believe that it actively discourages white male writers from creating characters of color. Bendis and artist Stefano Caselli get credit for creating Riri and hey, this is hardly the first time Bendis has created a young black character to take over the mantel of a white guy… Miles Morales anyone? Objectively speaking, why would someone want to create a diverse character when they know they’re just going to be faced with backlash for wanting to write a character they’ve made? I’m not saying we need to give white guys a gold star for making diverse characters but maybe a little credit or a nod of appreciation wouldn’t hurt.

The solution isn’t to stop asking for more women and minorities to get jobs creating comics (and everything else) we love so much. Instead, the solution is to ask for it more broadly and praise it when it happens. We should celebrate the work of Marjorie Liu on Han Solo and Becky Cloonan on Punisher a hell of a lot more than we do. To me, assignments like those are more groundbreaking than if Liu had been asked to write a Rey book or Cloonan a Wasp book (although I would not object to either of those.) Start bringing up the names of female and POC creators on your wish lists for books like Batman and Wolverine and not just Wonder Woman and Spider-Woman. And yes. I hope that in fifteen years, there’s going to be a young black woman writing the adventures of Riri because the character inspired her as a kid.

But (and this is a big but) let’s not pigeonhole or discourage writers from writing diverse experiences. We should absolutely continue to make our voices be heard in asking for more diversity amongst both the characters and creators. Change happens because people speak up and show that there is a demand for a certain type of story or character. Hold companies accountable but do so broadly and not just in a narrow lane.

What It’s Like to Watch All 7 Star Wars Films in a Row

When you first buy a ticket for the Star Wars marathon that leads up to The Force Awakens, you’re probably on an adrenaline high and thinking how incredibly awesome it will be and how you can’t wait for December.  And then you realize that you’ve just agreed to sit in a movie theatre with a hundred other nerds for 21 hours.  Twenty. One. Hours.

Uh-oh.

12:20 AM: Your alarm goes off and you roll out of bed, somehow putting on the clothes you laid out the night before.  You’ve had about 3.5 hours of sleep but it’s going to have to do.

12:50 AM: You arrive at the theatre, armed with your supplies for the day.  The pillow is useful.  The blanket remains shoved in the bag and your ‘I Survived the Battle of Jakku’ sweatshirt is quickly ditched because it is hot as hell already.

1:00 AM: The Phantom Menace starts!  You roll your eyes as people start mocking trade negotiations.

1:02 AM: You down your first frappachino of the day.

Somewhere between 1:10 and 3:10 AM: You’re stupidly happy because you forgot how much you love TPM.  People make Jar Jar jokes but that’s nothing new because you’ve been on the Internet.  Padmé Amidala is the Queen of the Galaxy and holy crap, that freaking Duel of the Fates!  You also roll your eyes and glare at the people who laugh when Anakin is sad as he leaves his mom and contemplate punching the guy next to you for being a dick.  It’s okay though.  They won’t drag you down!

3:12 AM: The credits roll and you make a desperate dash for the bathroom but then realize that there was no need because for once, the line for the ladies room is the short one.  This is going to be good.

3:18 AM: You try and offer the folks running this thing a smile and a kind word and let them know that you appreciate that they are doing everything they can to fix the air issue since you’ve just witnessed them have the same conversation 10 times in a row with everyone complaining, Continue reading

Luke Skywalker and the Secret Ninja Jedi Order

R2D2-and-Luke-Skywalker-in-The-Force-Awakens

This post contains spoilers for the “Journey to the Force Awakens” books and comics. 

Regular readers and listeners of Tosche Station already know my feelings about Luke Skywalker. He’s by far my favorite character in the Star Wars universe, and the reason I got invested in the Expanded Universe and read tons of books set after Return of the Jedi, even when I soured on certain events. I needed to know what happened to Luke after he became a Jedi. I wanted to know if he trained other Jedi, got married, and had children. We got answers in the form of books and comics: Luke started a Jedi Academy on Yavin 4, married Mara Jade, and had a son named Ben. He rose to the rank of General, resigned his commission after the Battle of Mindor, and dedicated his life to rebuilding the Jedi Order. His life wasn’t all roses, however. He had a brief dabble with the dark side about six years after the Battle of Endor, and many years later his own nephew/apprentice became a Sith and killed his wife.

luke-skywalker mindorBut the Expanded Universe is now Legends, and we have a new canon. New films, depicting the events 30 years after Jedi. We never thought this day would come. Now everything we once knew about the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been altered, and we’re left to wonder about the events that happened between Jedi and The Force Awakens. We’re just now getting some answers in the form of AftermathShattered Empire, and other books in the “Journey to The Force Awakens” line. But they’re just drops in the bucket, and only succeed in creating more questions. Then you add in the marketing for TFA, which has been very light on story but high on visuals and Force themes. We’ve seen Han, we’ve seen a tiny bit of Leia, but no Luke whatsoever (at least from the front).

Which leads to the most common question echoed about the internet: “Where is Luke Skywalker?” Or, better yet: “What the hell has Luke been doing in the galaxy?”

I don’t know what Luke’s been doing for the past 30 years, but I’m pretty certain he’s up to something hugely important during the events of TFA. And my favorite theory, the one I’ll cling to until December 17 (and probably even after that, even if I’m proven wrong) is that Luke is off the grid, training a group of secret ninja-like Jedi Knights.

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The Dragon Con Aftermath Panel

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of moderating the Aftermath panel with author Chuck Wendig. I was super excited for this event because, as I explained at the start of the panel, I love Star Wars, I love the Expanded Universe, and I love Chuck Wendig’s writing.

I was nervous, of course, as I always am before panels. Even though 2015 marked my third year (!!!) doing panels at Dragon Con, and even though I’ve been co-hosting the podcast for over 3.5 years (!!!!!), I still worry about freaking out while talking in front of a crowd. Not only that, but this was my first panel interviewing someone famous and my first panel without Brian on stage as well. I was all on my own. Could I handle the pressure? Would I say something really dumb? Would I have to run off the stage to barf?

Thankfully, none of those things happened. (Of course they didn’t. Anxiety sucks!) And most of that had to do with the fact that Chuck Wendig is a hilarious and awesome human being. I’d had a few Twitter exchanges with him prior to the convention, and met him the night before the panel at his Barnes and Noble signing. It was comforting to know he was just a regular guy, and that he would be just as tired as I was come Friday at 8:30 pm after not going to sleep until some godforsaken hour that morning. (We were up all night to get Star Wars!)

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The Expanded Universe Should Only Expand, Not Change

I love the Expanded Universe. I love that it exists. I love that there are books and comics and even video games to fill up my Star Wars obsessiveness in the absence of film and TV shows. I love that Heir to the Empire jump-started the fandom way back in 1991. I love that the barrage of books and comics kept the fandom going strong during the 1990s. I love that the EU always drove the Star Wars story forward, no matter what was happening onscreen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: without the EU I would not have become a Star Wars fan.

I don’t always like the way people treat the Expanded Universe. I hate that people look down upon it. But I also dislike when fans treat it as just as important as what’s onscreen. This might seem odd, coming from an EU fan like me, but it’s true. I hate when people take something that happened in a book and assume it will have huge consequences for the Sequel Trilogy. Yes, everything is canon now, but that doesn’t mean every story holds the same weight.

Nor should they.

(spoilers for Star Wars #6 and #8 under the cut)

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Separating the Art from the Artist: Why I’m Torn About Lords of the Sith

Lords of the SithI don’t want to feel conflicted about this, but there’s no way around it.

It goes without saying that an LGBTQ+ character being introduced into the Star Wars story group era canon is unequivocally a good thing. Any step to diversify one of the most prolific and powerful pieces of entertainment in the world is welcome. Despite this obvious good news, I can’t help but be wary. Not because I don’t doubt there are good intentions by the story group and the folks at Del Rey, but because the author who is introducing this character has a pretty dubious history when it comes to speaking about diversity.

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Unlearning What You’ve Learned, and Why It’s Impossible When You Know Nothing

Yeah, I’m still bouncing over The Force Awakens teaser. When I say bouncing, I mean I’ve been watching the teaser ad nauseum and drooling over Oscar Isaac and the new X-wings. I like the teaser the more I see it, and appreciate what they were able to convey in such a short amount of time. We can assume we’ve seen the new big three, and that there’s still a conflict between the Empire and “Rebellion”, or the New Republic, or whatever it’s called now. And then of course there’s the voiceover, which tells us something big has happened in the Force. This is all more than we officially knew, but we still know very little.

And this makes it impossible for me to to unlearn what I’ve learned about the post Return of the Jedi era. Allow me to explain.

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The Importance of She-Hulk and What the Jedi Could Learn From Her

she-hulk 1Not long ago it was revealed that the current She-Hulk comic series will come to an end with issue 12. It was a sad day, not only because the book is fantastic, but also because the character has something very important:

She-Hulk has a life.

She has friends and a career and a commute to work and a bar she hangs out at and she has all of these things while still continuing to be undeniably She-Hulk.

She-Hulk, AKA Jennifer Walters, attorney-at-law, is close to my heart for all kinds of reasons, but what makes her stand out, other than being tall and green, is that she continues on with normal, everyday things while existing outside of the expected. She falls outside of the perceived norm but she refuses to let that define her. She is tall and she is strong and she is green and she continues to be tall and strong and green in everyday life, when she’s at her day job or getting drinks after work or meeting friends for coffee.

She-Hulk is clearly different from the way people are expected to be and is perceived by many as abnormal and intimidating, but she continues to live and work alongside the un-superpowered members of society. She does not let the parts of herself that are considered divergent from the perceived norm alienate her and she does not hide them. She embraces them and continues on with her life and I think that that is incredibly important.

She-Hulk is different, she embraces that, and she does not let that define her.

This is not something you see a lot in superhero comics and that is a huge shame. It’s a missed opportunity, both because it can be extremely comforting and inspiring to see characters like that and also because it makes a lot of sense from a setting standpoint.

In worlds like the Marvel or DC universes, there is a sizable population of people with superpowers. The idea that no one would incorporate their powers into their everyday life or that no one with superpowers would continue to have a life beyond that while still displaying their superpowered nature is, frankly, ridiculous. And yet you rarely see someone with superpowers have a life beyond superheroic or supervillainous antics unless they’re hiding their powers or are someone whose “everyday” life is already far outside of what anyone would consider ordinary, like an eccentric billionaire inventor. The few exceptions to this are people like Carol Danvers, AKA Captain Marvel, who is superpowered and can demolish buildings with her fists, yes, but still appears to be a typical human. Carol Danvers walking down the street looks like just another person walking down the street; Jennifer Walters walking down the street is a giant green woman. That she is different is noticeable, whether or not you know who she is.

she-hulk in courtThere’s also character and storytelling potential in giving characters lives outside of superpowered antics. By doing so, there’s a greater variety of kinds of stories you can tell. She-Hulk incorporates her superpowered status into her work as a lawyer, often working on superhuman related cases with the unique understanding of someone who is, herself, a superhuman and she’s able to pursue dangerous leads and accept dangerous cases that a lawyer without her superhuman toughness wouldn’t be able to.

And, of course, there’s also the added benefit of being able to work skills and interests from a character’s daily life into their superpowered antics, something you see some of from characters with secret identities as well, but for the most part there’s a very small range of careers that superpowered individuals have. For every Barbara Gordan, using her librarian skills to aid in her crime-fighting as Batgirl and later as Oracle, there are how many genius scientists? Incorporating careers with less obvious applications for heroics into the story is interesting and adds variety to the stories themselves.

This is where the Jedi come in.

Back in the Olden Days of the Star Wars Legends books, before Episode I was released and changed everything forever, Jedi were allowed to have lives beyond simply being Jedi. Some were Jedi full-time but there others who maintained careers and families.

Then the prequel trilogy came along and presented a different kind of Jedi Order, one in which all of its members live entirely as Jedi and as nothing else. They live in the Jedi Temple with other Jedi, travel to do Jedi things on the orders of the Jedi council, and are not permitted careers or families so that they may remain wholly dedicated to the Order. They can leave the order, but they are chosen to be inducted into it as small children and are raised their whole lives to be Jedi and nothing else. There are no part-time Jedi. There are no people living their lives where they chose and then acting independently as Jedi when they see the need. There seem to be a few more specialized Jedi, but their role is clearly to support the other Jedi.

The old Jedi Order lived apart from the galaxy it served, separating itself so that its members could devote the entirety of their lives to being Jedi.

While I can understand why the old Order went in this direction, I feel like the new Order should be a bit more like She-Hulk. Even beyond the clear problems that come with separating yourself like the old Order did (please note how the Emperor was able to create a demonizing fiction about them and how they no longer exist), image the storytelling possibilities. Imagine people with great Force abilities, being trained in the Force and working to serve the galaxy with it, but having lives and careers beyond that. Imagine Jedi pilots, Jedi relief workers, Jedi construction workers, using their Force abilities while participating in the world around them, in addition to full-time Jedi knights.

Imagine Jedi navigating what it means to be Jedi in their everyday life.

Imagine Jedi embracing that which makes them stand out from the norm while not letting it alienate them from the galaxy.

If the new Jedi are once again separated, like the old Order was, it won’t be worst thing. But there’s so much potential for so many stories in which Jedi go about being Jedi in different ways and using different skill sets. I would love to see that potential used.

Gender, Race, and the Sequel Trilogy: A Few Possible Directions

It was a happy day when Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie were announced as cast members in Episode VII. And with the later casting announcements of even more women, including another woman of color, it looks like Star Wars films are finally getting better with diversity. Media representation of women and minorities is hugely important to me, especially in science fiction and fantasy, which have the greatest potential to be the most inclusive. And not only will having a more diverse cast mean more potential for good representation, but it will open up world-building opportunities.

When we approach media, we bring assumptions about race and gender with us. But science fiction societies in fictional universes have no need to be bound to the attitudes of our society. The Star Wars films, though, have so few characters that are not male and so few human characters that are not white that you can’t really get a sense of in-universe attitudes. Knowing that Episode VII will have multiple people who are not white and multiple people who are not male (and assuming that Lucasfilm will not make the absolutely terrible decision to make all of the not-white actors aliens), there are a few different directions that they could go with in-universe race and gender biases.

One common approach is to have similar biases and assumptions about gender as our own society. Often this is done unintentionally, but the sexism of the Empire in the Expanded Universe That Was is an example of this being done intentionally. This was done largely to explain the lack of lady Imperials in the original films, but did still help to extend the world-building of the GFFA. Much less intentionally in the Expanded Universe was the rarity of non-white humans, which wasn’t directly addressed the way the lack of female Imperial officers was, it did still imply that the vast majority of humans in the GFFA were white. Fortunately, given the diversity of the cast of Rebels, it looks like this will not be the case from now on. While having the fictional universe reflect our biases is not inherently bad and it can be used very effectively when it’s done well, it is used far more often than one would hope considering the sheer number of possibilities that science fiction universes afford.

Another approach is to establish firm biases in-universe but to have them be clearly different from our own in some way. There are limitless possibilities for how this can be done, including Hapes’ matriarchy-with-dudes-mainly-acting-as-buff-eye-candy system in the Expanded Universe, but my favorite example of this is probably Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series of fantasy books because it’s done so well. In that series there are gender roles that in many ways are very similar to the traditional Western ones but the differences both drive home that this is definitely not our world and emphasize the arbitrary nature of our own society’s views. For instance, men call the shots and do the fighting and eat the spicy man-food… but all scholarly pursuits considered feminine, including engineering. Even the act of reading is ladies only, with very few exceptions.

Stormlight Archives also takes advantage of its fictional universe status in the handling of race. Not only is eye-color the basis of discrimination but Sanderson recognizes that there is no real reason to assume that physical trait combinations in a fantasy world would be the same as here. Again, this method, when done well, is great at emphasizing the alien nature of the world while drawing attention to our assumptions about how things must be.

I do find this one to be the least likely to be as the norm in Star Wars, at least as far as gender goes, but let’s just imagine for a moment a world in which the Imperial Guards are retconned as being all women because only women are considered suited to the task of protecting the Emperor.

The final approach I’m going to discuss is to do away with gender and racial discrimination entirely. This method requires an active effort to include lots of representation of often over-looked groups. The Honor Harrington books by David Weber, which start off as a science fiction retelling of the Napoleonic War, I think do an excellent job of this. The main character, Honor Harrington, is basically Space Horatio Hornblower, fighting space navy battles to save Space England from Space France while gaining a huge amount of recognition and respect and collecting promotions like kittens.

Also, Honor is a she.

Also also, Honor is mixed race, with her mother being described as Asian.

Neither of these things matter in Honor’s home society. Gender discrimination and racial discrimination are not assumed facts of life there. Weber recognizes the flexibility of science fiction and that he can controls everything about the setting. Even with being based on real-world events and even with Honor being based on a historical figure (Admiral Lord Nelson, who was a white man, if you’re wondering), there’s no need for it to be bound to real-world biases and assumptions. Speaking of which, an extra bonus: Space England’s royal family is black. Because what better way to is there to combat our assumptions about racial dynamics than to make the most powerful and visible members of that society people who, in our society, would be marginalized?

This method is one that I think is very important to see, because attitudes and biases about race and gender permeate so our society that we need reminders that those biases and assumptions are not completely natural, that this is not the only way things can be, that a world with equality is possible.

It will be interesting seeing how the sequel trilogy approaches race and gender. I would most prefer to see that last approach, but whichever direction the sequels go, I’m excited to see how the universe develops.