Technically Pop, “Star Wars”

Baby Yoda, with eyes closed, reaches out with his left hand as if to use the Force.

The first Technically Pop of 2020 goes so long that we split it in two. In Part 1, Josh Cohen, Alexandra Edwards, and I discuss the nine Star Wars films that make up what is now known as “the Skywalker saga.” In Part 2, we are joined by special guest Susana Morris, Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, to discuss The Mandalorian and the relationship between Afrofuturism and the Star Wars galaxy. Throughout, we indulge in our shared love for Baby Yoda.

Recommended Reading: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Russian Trolls, and the Disintegration of the Discourse”, “Critic Camille Paglia Thinks ‘Revenge of the Sith’ Is Our Generation’s Greatest Work of Art”, “George Lucas on Akira Kurosawa”, “Why some Indigenous people see themselves in Star Wars icon Baby Yoda”, Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America

Show Notes: Since recording this episode, we have learned that Ben Schwartz was involved in writing punch-up on the script for The Rise of Skywalker. We have also learned that the Obi-wan Kenobi show for Disney+ is being re-written.

Part One

Part Two

 

Music credit: “Amazing Plan” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Technically Pop

Star Wars: Part 1

Season 1, Episode 4

Transcript

 

Josh:  I’m Josh Cohen.

Alexandra:  I’m Alexandra Edwards.

Corey:  I’m Corey Goergen. And this is Technically Pop.

[Theme Music]

Corey:  And we’re back for our first show of the New Year–of the new decade.

Alexandra:  2020–it’s like so future-y!

Corey:  2020! And we have a topic that is future-y as well. We’re going to talk about Star Wars

Alexandra:  Excuse you! This is the past.

Josh:   Yes, sir. Long time ago–

Alexandra:  —Star Wars happened in the past,

Corey:  I–you know, in my head, I was thinking that, and I thought I’m just gonna say it anyway, and no one will call me–but I forgot the room that I was in.

[Laughter]

Corey:  Yes. So, we are going to talk about a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We’re going to talk about the Sky–the Skywalker.

Alexandra:  [hums Star Wars Theme]

[Laughter]

Alexandra:  Sorry, I’m never doing that again

Corey:  Thank you for that. No, that’s staying in.

Josh:  I think you owe Disney five dollars. [laughter]

Alexandra:  I would like to deposit it directly into the John Williams retirement account because the man is old, he deserves a rest. [laughter]

Josh:  He’s headed to the grave!

Alexandra:  He’s still doing excellent work. I just think he deserves a rest — you can put it down for a while, John.

Corey:  So, as you can hear, we’re very excited to talk about this but we just as we always do blanket spoiler warnings. We’re going to spoil–we could spoil anything regarding Star Wars; we might spoil Watchmen. And if you haven’t watched Watchmen, go watch Watchmen. But we’re gonna get into it. So, I thought we’d start by going around and just talking about our own personal histories with this universe, and then we could get into the actual conversation about the Skywalker saga.

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Josh:  So yeah, so I was the perfect age –uhh– for the remastered–digitally remastered 1997 rereleased 20th anniversary. All three films in the theaters. So, I was like, 9, 9, 10 when they were coming out. So all in that year, basically another generation of–you know-being a kid, seeing Star Wars, falling in love with it instantly, umm, getting all the action figures, which I still have in a box at my parents’ house–umm–even very obscure ones, you know, that aren’t from the movies. I read 50 Star Wars novels, give or take. I’ve been reading some of the new comic books, you know, playing the new video games, Jedi Fallen Order, all that stuff, obviously. Saw the prequels in theaters. So yeah, so since I was a kid, I’ve always loved Star Wars, very important to me, important mythology, very formative. Yeah.

Alexandra:  So, it’s very important for me to say up front that I grew up in a Star Trek family. That was a very sort of specific cultural divide going on in my household. That being said, I did watch original trilogy as a child, I had an Ewok stuffed animal. I had the Ewok Adventure taped off of TV and would watch it, I think, probably frequently. I saw the Phantom Menace in theaters, and it did not speak to me. Again, we were a Star Trek family, and, just, it just didn’t grab me. And I’m a little bit older than you are, Josh, so I think I was probably 13 when–umm 14, maybe when Phantom Menace came out, and then my shameful confession is that I actually have never seen episodes two and three.

Josh:  Wow.

Corey:  Excellent.

Alexandra:  I’ve heard a lot about them. I’m married to an incredibly active Star Wars nerd. So, when the new trilogy came out, when Force Awakens came out, we sort of jumped back into the Star Wars universe and got really invested in it. And I’ve been invested in a new stuff to an extreme degree, but I’ve held out–I’m not watching two and three.

Corey:  I wouldn’t persuade you otherwise.

Josh:  I will, I will say three is it has some cool moments. It has some things that are worth watching, particularly that the final sequence you know, which the always provocative Camille Paglia has described as like the pinnacle [cross laughter] of 21st century multimedia art. It’s–it’s good–Ewan McGregor makes it, I mean, he is–he’s doing–he’s transcending all the flaws of the writing and he’s doing some—his performance is pretty cool.

Alexandra:  See, the thing that annoyed me about that is that I was a huge Ewan McGregor fan literally at the moment that Phantom Menace came out and I was very mad that Star Wars had made it so that he could not show his dick in movies anymore. [laughter] That’s like where I was. Corey, what’s your history?

Corey:  Yeah, Ewan McGregor’s, the least emb–he embarrasses himself the least of all the actors.

Yeah, so I have liked Star Wars since before I was fully capable of understanding full movies. So, I, you mentioned something similar but when you were kid to just have like, homemade taped movies?

Alexandra:  Oh yeah, yeah, like hundreds at my house–

Corey:  Yeah, yeah, there was just like there was a cabinet of–

Josh: — VHS recorded TV stuff–

Corey:  –Like when my dad had HBO for a month at some point, right?

Alexandra:   I mean, they would do like the free months and yes, —

Corey:  You’re right–that’s exactly what–

Alexandra:  –And you would do it at a lower quality so you can get three movies on a tape.

Corey:  Yes, yeah. So, we had a tape with what I now know were Return of the Jedi and another tape with Empire. But they just had Star Wars on the side. [laughter] And I–I think I would just put them in and wherever they were, that’s what I–I would watch, and that would be Star Wars. So, like I was really into the Cloud City stuff in Empire. I was in love with Jabba’s Palace.

Josh:  Sure.

Corey:  I once argued with my aunt because she put Empire on for me at her house. And I said, there’s no snow in Empire Strikes Back. [laughter] And later, you know, I was like one Christmas when they would all come on TBS, or whatever. I watched them all through. And I got into the novels. I read probably more than 10 but fewer than 25 of the novels. I, like, I tapped out around the time that, like, Princess Leia was being courted by some like rich prince and had to like consider marrying him for the good of the republic.

Josh:  Yeah, the Prince of the Hapes Consortium, yeah. [laughter]

Corey:  That was I think the time that I was like, uhm. But I loved many of those novels–went to see the special editions in the theaters–I was a teenager. The prequels I think the Phantom Menace was like I was in high school. It was the–I think–the first time that my parents did away with whatever my curfew was, so that I could go to the midnight showing with friends–I was a very dangerous youth, clearly.

Josh:   Yeah.

Corey:  Yeah. And didn’t connect–I tried to convince myself for a long time that I liked those movies and kept going to see them. Yeah, and now I’ve been back into the new Disney stuff. Similar, less likely to try to talk myself into liking it, I suppose.

Alexandra:  It’s interesting to me that a lot of the history of like our generations engagement with Star Wars is not a linear kind of engagement, right? That it’s sort of piecemeal. And when it comes to us, it comes to us and we see it, but there’s not a sense of, like, someone sits you down, and you watch episodes four through seven in order, right? [agreement] Yeah, it’s such a fascinating like massive piece of storytelling. That it’s hard to know, like, who’s got what piece of information? Right? Like, who knows what?

Corey:  Yes, and those, the original trilogy is so episodic that it can work that way. I mean, it’s like by design, right? It’s every 20 minutes they’re doing something else–

Alexandra:  Right.

Corey:  in a very clean and easy way to, to follow with whatever level of engagement that you want. Right? So, it works for a five-year-old. It works for a 13-year-old who wants to get really obsessive about Salacious Crumb, which I did. [laughter] I–I’m sure that I had nightmares about him chewing on C3PO’s eyeball at one point. Yeah. It was the first cute thing that was also scary, I think that I’ve ever seen.

Alexandra:  See, that’s how I felt about the Labyrinth, the characters in the Labyrinth?

Corey:  Oh, I couldn’t do it–

Alexandra:  –which kind of looked like Salacious Crumb, right, cause it’s all Jim Henson, right? And they’re the ones who, like, they can remove their heads, and they tell Sarah like, “Well, why don’t you just remove your head?” And she’s like, “My head doesn’t work that way.” That’s how I felt about that.

Corey:  I wouldn’t have slept for a month. [laughter] I’m so glad I didn’t see that.

Alexandra:  I’m really sorry if I traumatized you now as an adult.

Corey:  Oh, no: I’m gonna deal with it now.

Alexandra:  Okay,

Corey:  Yeah.

Alexandra:  Okay. So obviously we are here in the first month of 2020. And in the last month of 2019, 42 years of storytelling came to an ostensible end, question mark? with this ninth film of what Disney is now calling the Skywalker Saga. And I’m wondering now that we can look back on the cycle as a whole. What do we think of it? What does, specifically what does the Skywalker saga tell us about our culture or media or entertainment or any of these sorts of big high-level questions?

[silence…laughter]

Alexandra:  Just silence…. is that too large of a question to try to tackle—

Corey:  My initial answer is not a productive answer, but my initial answer is that it teaches us that the internet was a mistake. [laughter]

Alexandra:  Actually, you know, I agree with that 100%

Corey:  I think it’s hard to talk about it now, because it’s so infected by. Like, it’s hard to talk about the movie as this distinct thing from the conversation about the movies. Like we were texting earlier this week to plan this and we were talking about Star Wars fatigue, and I said, “I’m fatigued by everything except Mando and baby Yoda,” but it’s really, it’s just, I’m fatigued by the endless conversation.

Josh:  The discourse strikes again.

Corey:  Yeah,

Josh:  I think that–Okay, so we’ll come at this a few different ways, I’m sure. But one way to think about this is George Lucas in reflecting in Empire of Dreams, which is one of the great documentaries about the making of the original trilogy. He reflects in this like, kind of moment of like, irony or circumspection, that the whole story of Anakin’s fall to the dark side, which, of course is what he is most interested in. Right? He goes back and does the prequels. He doesn’t continue Luke’s story, he chooses to go back and tell the rest of Anakin’s story even though we all know where it’s headed. He felt, in some ways, the irony that that was his own story in the sense that he started out as this Maverick creator, independent filmmaker, someone who was giving the finger to the studio system. Famously, Spielberg doesn’t direct Return of the Jedi, because that would have caused friction with the–the Directors Guild, the whole opening credits, or the whole lack of an opening credits sequence, you know, that was like mandatory at the time, you got to show the billing right the beginning. Lucas is like, No, I’m going to do this crawl. It’s going to be like old world war two serials, I’m going to have this really awesome cold open where you’re in space, you see a ship that becomes part of the Star Wars, you know, cinematic language, right? And we all recognize that It sounds so ridiculous now to think that that caused any type of controversy or that that was revolutionary because it’s just so accepted that you can do a cool cold open and plug the credits in somewhere else but

Alexandra:  Well, you do still have to pay extra

Josh:  You do. Yeah,

Alexandra:

there is like a monetary remuneration if you’re going to hold the credits till the end but certainly many movies make that trade off.

Josh:  Yeah, yeah.

Alexandra:  Particularly the Marvel films. Happy to do that.

Josh:  Yeah, yeah. So, Lucas, you know he’s got these bold ideas. He’s shooting on location in insane places you’re not supposed to shoot on location. Everyone doesn’t don’t shoot in snow. Of course, we have the Battle of Hoth. You know, he goes to North Africa to shoot this Tatooine stuff, it’s a nightmare. Like there’s sand everywhere. It’s the desert, right? All this bold filmmaking and what ends up happening? He ends up creating Industrial Light and Magic. He ends up forming a corporation, it becomes a huge success. There’s all these licensing agreements. There’s an empire of toys, right? And he in the documentary he notes that, what happens to Anakin and he sets out to defeat the bad guys. And then he becomes Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith. Lucas, he sets out to make something with his own creative vision. And he ends up becoming what a corporation, a brand, a studio. So, I think one way to look at the Skywalker saga is precisely that. The story of going from Lucas is this guy in Modesto, Northern California. He’s supposed to be running his dad’s hardware store he’s dreaming of, you know, he’s reading Joseph Campbell or whatever. He’s dreaming of the hero’s journey. And he was at some point probably read Dune and he was watching Kurosawa films and he’s thinking about these big archetypal stories, coming of age, being part of something a code, right like a samurai code. He so he tells a story, and a lot of it a lot of the story of Star Wars is technical innovation, right? It’s like “How do we make this model on a string look like a ship flying through space for the first time that anyone’s ever done that,” right? And then we get to, you know, flash forward to 2012 or whatever when Disney acquires the rights and so there’s a lot of direction Star Wars could have gone. Lucas could have kept making more movies. He could have hand-picked a successor, you know, the way that like Frank Herbert or Robert Jordan, you know, when you’re writing a big fantasy epic or sci fi epic, and you die, you know, your estate has to select someone to continue your 20 million book. [laughter] I’m sure this will happen to George RR Martin, because he’ll never finished Game of Thrones, right? They could have done that. There’s a lot of ways it could have gone but the way that it goes is the biggest corporate entity of them all–Disney, which is trying to eat everything in media–takes it over and it’s like we are going to make this one corner of our empire. So I think that’s–that’s one thing we can look at is this trajectory from an individual idiosyncratic filmmaker with an idea that no one thought would work at the time to the biggest media company out there, making it their flagship or a flagship brand, and they’re trying to do something with it to mixed results.

Alexandra:  That’s a really fascinating read, I think and it takes us out of the sort of geopolitical questions of what Star Wars like represents in terms of how we think about conflict. And instead, I like this sort of focus on– I’m fonder, maybe of the nine-film cycle, if I think about them in that way that you’ve just outlined so thank you.

Josh:  There you go.

Alexandra:  Done

Corey:  Hey, I think that’s right. And I think you want to talk about Mary Sues let’s talk about being George Lucas and naming your chosen one, Luke. And I think just as the story of Anakin is the story of this, like wily creative genius who doesn’t listen to his mentors going, becoming the empire that he once resisted right? The story of Luke is very much the story of that character succeeding, right? This is also–

Alexandra:  See I’m also frustrated by that reading though, because all of these massive films made by these sorts of groundbreaking quote unquote “auteur” filmmakers. They’re all movies about making movies, right? This is all Nolan’s entire career is, right, making movies about the process of making movies. Like it frustrates me how insular the stories that these big filmmakers get a chance to tell really end up being, right? As true is that as—as–as apt as the reading may be and as willing as I am to go with a theoretical thread? Can we just I don’t know. I mean, I also want Star Wars to tell me something about the Star Wars, the wars in the stars. [laughter] And when there will be star peace.

Corey:  Well, there can’t be. There can’t be star peace because it’s in the–it’s in the title.

Josh:  Yeah. So, this is, this is not, not to fatigue us with the discourse, but this is… thinking back to Force Awakens, right, which we have to acknowledge is a huge hit. 2 billion plus. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. One is, of course, there had been a dearth of Star Wars content. It’s back for the first time in a long time. It’s very flashy. It’s JJ Abrams. JJ knows how to make a flashy movie

Alexandra:  He knows how to put together an ensemble of characters–

Josh:  –great casting–

Alexandra:  Introduce them in such a way that you care about what’s going to happen to them.

Josh:  Yeah, wonder what’s going to happen next. Yeah. The thing is, with Disney with Force Awakens, they make this decision that you some people have argued out there in the ether, dooms this trilogy.

Alexandra:  We won’t name them but just some people in the world.

Josh:  Some people in the ether, because at this point I’ve read so many takes on this, I can’t remember how many people, who is, who to attribute this to but some people have argued you doom the whole thing by having it reset and remaking A New Hope. Right? That instead it–so with the old EU, with the novels and the comics, all this stuff that I grew up loving because there was no other movies and when the prequels came out there was such a disappointment. And these were the things that carry the story forward right? What happens? Oh, Luke created a Jedi Academy, new generation of Jedi, new bad guys, etc. Right? The idea of a new republic that was under threat is really the premise of most of those books. And then it takes different forms and there’s new conflicts and new villains. But that’s the basic premise is that the Empire has been defeated, and there are remnants to fight. And there are schisms within this new republic and there are new Jedi and they’re always in danger. There’s always gonna be villains, right? There’s always gonna be danger, but there’s a kind of philosophical difference between: “Yep, there’s a fascist government that controls everything. And there’s an insurgent group fighting them,” which is a story that had been told. There’s a difference between that and then yeah. The Jedi succeeded Luke succeeded. There’s now a new republic, which in theory existed in this interim right between Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens, which we have not seen on screen we may see in a Disney plus series maybe who knows. There’s comics about it, right? There’s, there’s new comics about what Luke was doing and being a great Jedi and all this stuff. I wonder if philosophically that decision to remake A New Hope, as successful as it was commercially, kind of put them behind the eight ball because it forces them to try to retread some of the same terrain, try to do some of the same moves instead of saying, What problems would a Jedi Order have, right? Obviously, we see that the prequels to some extent. But I don’t know what do you guys think about that? Do you wish that this new trilogy had taken a different direction from the beginning? Or do you just wish it had been executed differently? Or what do you think?

Alexandra:  Well, I think that it’s very telling that they did decide to: number one, bring–bring JJ Abrams on but, number two to then mine–I think there’s something specific about this moment. Force Awakens comes out in 2015. Nostalgia. There is something about the cultural power of nostalgia.

Josh:  They definitely made that decision.

Alexandra:  Yeah, absolutely. And–and in making that decision are participating in a larger sort of recurrent cycle of–

Josh:  Stranger Things, remaking Ghostbusters.

Corey:  So many of these remakes are set in the ruins of the sets of the old movies, right The Jurassic World reboot. Yeah, this new Ghostbusters, right, where the old Ecto One is hiding somewhere.

Alexandra:  So, I just don’t know that, I don’t know that it would have occurred to them to—to–

Josh:  To not do that.

Alexandra:  Yeah, yeah to do it in a different way. Would it have been more interesting? Possibly. Would it have forestalled or helped to usher us past this, this current wave of nostalgia? Maybe? I don’t know. But it seems now and maybe this is a kind of teleological reading of this, but it seems now impossible to think of them not just dipping into that nostalgia pool.

Josh:  I think Bob Iger said in his recent book that he just released a few months ago, he said something along the lines of look, we looked at what people like. They love the original movies. We looked at the–we read the reviews of the prequels. everyone hated that. that was terrible. Now there is a sizable portion of fan culture who will defend the prequels. Most of the general audience did not like them. Obviously, the originals were a key hit. So, they looked at them, they said, Oh, we need to just reverse engineer whatever people like. So, let’s make them feel like it’s 1977 again.

Corey:  It’s also, this is not going to be an exclusively meta reading but there’s–so I apologize in advance Alex, but like all those–And I think JJ Abrams has said something like this, but like I– and I buy it that the weight of doing it of doing this at all must have been immense into like, all those shots of Rey alone in the wreckage of the Star Destroyer read as like really, like JJ working through his own feelings about doing it. So, I like this is not answering your question, Josh. Which is “is this a mistake?” It probably was a mistake, but I don’t know.

Josh:  That has an autobiographically lens–

Corey:  Well, but just what else would you do with this universe except sort through the wreckage of these movies that everyone loves.

Josh:  Okay, this is interesting to me, this interesting question because we actually have a sizable data set now, because we have JJ Abrams making two Star Trek movies. Yes, we have him making two Star Wars movies. We have his sometimes collaborator Damon Lindelof making Watchmen. We have a, we’re getting a growing sample size of taking something–now Watchman doesn’t quite have the weight to the entire culture that Star Wars does. [cough] Excuse me, but it does have the weight to a certain group of people. So, the interesting thing is, in the ’09 Star Trek reboot, I think JJ does a pretty good job of retelling. Right, he introduces this time travel plot. And he read, he kept–you have Kirk and you have Spock and the casting is great. And you have another way of introducing kind of an alternate origin story. The whole thing about JJ is he’s really good at origin stories. He’s really bad at everything else. Right. So, He does this pretty successfully, then he does Into Darkness. Also pretty cool movie. Also same kind of–

Alexandra:  Disagree, wholeheartedly.

Corey:  Spoken like a Star Wars fan.

Josh:   Yeah, that’s true!

Alexandra:  –yeah I was gonna say even with–

Josh:  Its more Star Wars-y

Alexandra:  Yeah with the ’09 Star Trek right that the critique from the actual sort of Star Trek fandom, the people who are still invested in Star Trek qua Star Trek–

Josh:  There’s not a standing around on a planet. Yeah,

Alexandra:  Yeah, absolutely totally it’s too fast paced. Star Trek is stately and it’s somewhat boring

Josh:  If you thought that was fast-paced, Yeah, wait till we talk about Rise of Skywalker. my point is he has, he has experience doing this exact thing. And part of the reason I think it fails is that they just do this too quickly. They try to make three movies in five years. And–and they are completely erratic in their executive decision making, right? So, they do Force Awakens, there’s no plan for what the next movie is going to be, because then they give Rian Johnson complete creative control. Now, if you want to do that, if you want to do Star Wars by committee, why make it a trilogy? Why not just say, JJ Abrams is going to do a movie, and Rian Johnson’s gonna do movie and Colin Trevorrow or whomever is going to do a movie and they’re all going to stand alone. And we’re going to churn out Star Wars movies just because honestly, we want to start making back our investment. And then maybe we’ll start thinking about a longer story. Maybe we can take some of these characters from each of these movies and tie them into something bigger. Or you need to wait. Develop a story that’s a three-movie arc. And if you still think these three directors are going to execute this larger story, that’s fine, right? the MCU didn’t start out with this perfect formula. They kind of backed their way into it right? They made Iron Man, it was a hit. They made another one, less of a hit.

Alexandra:  Let’s not name it.

Josh:  Listen, I will–I I’m the guy who likes the Matrix Reloaded. I like Iron Man 2, I like Batman vs. Superman, but even I am not fully on board with The Rise of Skywalker. So maybe that says a certain thing. But my point is

Alexandra:  Oh, I was thinking about the Hulk movie that they made with Ed Norton

Josh:  Oh, yeah, yeah that that one should not be named. Yeah, you’re right about that. You’re right about that.

Alexandra:  Sorry. Let’s bleep it out.

Corey:  I forgot it existed.

Josh:  They get to this formula over time, right. It takes them many movies, it takes them a Kenneth Branagh Thor origin movie that then they decided that wasn’t that great. It takes them till Winter Soldier, and they land on a writing and directing and producing team that then they realized, this is the formula. Critics like this movie, audiences like this movie, it took them a lot of tinkering. And then they got there and then they’re like, this is it. This is the new thing. We’re going to map this out. Right? If–If Disney had given themselves the chance to either map out a longer story, or just do a bunch of random Star Wars stories that aren’t necessarily connected, right? You wouldn’t have the problems that they had with making this trilogy makes sense. And–and the whole Skywalker saga thing. I mean, it’s just a marketing thing, right? Like, it nothing ended. Yeah, right?

Alexandra:  which was my–

Josh:  Rey ends the movie by being like “I’m Rey Skywalker, I’m claiming this identity. I have a new lightsaber.” Like in 10 years Daisy Ridley will be back to do the further Adventures of Rey.

Corey:  I think based on John Boyega’s social media activity over the last couple of weeks, his relationship to the Star Wars universe ended–but nothing has actually ended.

Josh:  Oscar Isaac, too. They’re pissed.

Corey:  So, I just, one quick conspiracy theory. I don’t buy that they didn’t have a plan for the trilogy.

Josh:  You don’t think so?

Corey:  I think they had a plan.

Josh:  And this was it?

Corey:  No. I think that they had a plan. And that plan involved getting three movies done in five years, four years or five years, five years with A-list directors. And that meant three different directors, but that there was a plot arc every bit as substantial as what George Lucas had when he made A New Hope. And maybe even when he made The Phantom Menace. I think that they lost their nerve after The Last Jedi.

Josh:  They scrapped it–

Corey:  –and they tried to do something–

Josh:  How does that, how does that square with the difference between Force Awakens and Last Jedi? Because they told Rian Johnson he could make whatever he wanted.

Corey:  I don’t think those differences are as significant as people say, and I don’t buy that–

Josh:  You think they told JJ–that there was some communication between JJ and Rian?

Corey:  I think there was some communication. I think that Rian Johnson did not have final cut on that movie. I think that he was getting things okayed.

Josh:  Well, the–So part of what has come out is that in theory, he was going to write the third movie and maybe direct it and then the supposedly, once they were like, No, actually you’re not going to direct the third movie. Then he made some changes to the last Jedi to say, Okay, if this is my only shot. I want to make this particular–

Corey:  Oh, that’s interesting.

Alexandra:  I think it’s also important to remember that within the context of the process of making these films, right, that Disney does originally kind of structure an anthology-esque thing into the new trilogy, which is that the first episode is Han’s movie. The second episode is Luke’s movie, and they meant for rise of Skywalker to be Leia’s movie.

Josh:  100%

Alexandra:  Wouldn’t have even been called Rise of Skywalker necessarily, that title comes much later. And unfortunately, we lose Carrie Fisher before that can happen, right? So in part, there’s a scramble to recontextualize, what do we do with the fact that she’s now gone? The anchor of our film is now gone–

Josh:  That does cause problems.

Alexandra:  The culmination of the emotional arc of the films is gone. But I agree that forcing yourself to continue to meet the 2019 deadline becomes a kind of a fool’s errand. It’s a decision that makes sense from a risk averse business point of view, doesn’t make sense from a creative point of view because Rise of Skywalker top to bottom, T to B–

Josh:  Has story problems.

Alexandra:  And is the kind of cake that needed to be in the oven longer.

Josh:  Yeah, yeah. Well, okay. Just to just quickly about the whole comparison to Lucas and Disney, right. Lucas’s thing was, he had too much story. Right, right. He had so much story that he realized this isn’t one movie. This is two movies, right? And he made that he made Star Wars, right, a new hope, Episode 4 in 1977. And then he had a chance when it was such a success to make a sequel. And then he realized that what he thought was the second movie was also two movies, right? And then when he gets to the end of Empire, and Jedi, he thinks, you know, one day when the technology catches up, I’d like to tell the rest of the story which is Anakin’s story. And in theory, he had mapped some stuff out and in fact, he gave Disney scripts for Episode Seven, which they were not too keen on making, probably because George Lucas is an idiosyncratic, weird guy with really, really deep interest in force theory and they didn’t want to go that direction.

Corey:  I didn’t want to go that direction either.

Alexandra:  If I had to hear the word midichlorians one more fucking time–

Corey:  Yes. So, what became A New Hope was–originally had a full trilogy of things in it. But while he was making A New Hope, Darth Vader is not Luke Skywalker’s father.

Josh:  Yeah. That occurs to him in the moment.

Corey:  While he’s making Empire Strikes Back, Leia is not Luke’s sister. And I think this like, this idea that Oh, if only we had three scripts when we set out. I don’t think that would have solved the problems of this trilogy, I guess.

Josh:  Yeah, that’s a really good point. I guess the differences. I think they felt the compulsion to have a twist or to change things from the last Jedi that that I primarily disagree with, right. So, the idea that we haven’t even said it, yet. But spoiler alert, spoiler alert. Spoiler alert, Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. What connection has she had to a guy who has never been in these movies? So I don’t buy–I buy them, maybe they talked about Palpatine, that maybe somebody read Dark Empire which is a great and super weird comic were Luke decides the only way to beat the dark side is from within, and he apprentices himself to the clone Emperor. And I have the action figures of dark side Luke and clone Emperor Palpatine which I can show you guys later. It’s bananas and–and they–somebody probably took that it was like Yeah, well, let’s bring the Emperor back. There is nothing. There’s his voice in one snippet of force awakens. You cannot convince me that they really thought this was going to happen. There’s nothing in Last Jedi to suggest that he’s out there somewhere. And so, to bring him in at the end to try to create some kind of closure, to make it feel like this larger story, that he was always out there. They didn’t lay enough groundwork and I think they also, there’s–they have so much. There’s so much chaotic stuff with firing, you know, they fire Lord and Miller off Solo, they bring in Ron Howard right they fired, they fired Trevorrow, they bring JJ Abrams back, like they just were indecisive. And that’s not the mark of a creative team that’s like “we have a story we’re trying to execute.”

Corey:  And this is why I don’t fully believe that Rian Johnson made every decision in the Last Jedi, is that. They fired many people off of many of these movies, right. So, I think maybe it’s one of those things where we had the full freedom to do what he wanted, so long as what he wanted to do was what Disney also–you know what I mean? Like there’s like ways that that language gets muddy.

Alexandra:  Oh, there’s, I mean, this is filmmaking by committee, and I don’t care how much they wanted to taut that these individual filmmakers were writing and directing these films, it’s filmmaking by committee. There’s nothing to suggest that Disney approached the Last Jedi in any way differently than they approach any Marvel movie since that acquisition, or any of the other Star Wars movies. At every step of the process, Rian Johnson was subject to the creative control and guidance of story group, Kathleen Kennedy and everyone else whose names we don’t even know. Because filmmaking relies on hundreds of people whose names you will not know to make decisions. Right?

Corey:  And it’s focus grouped to death. Yes, surely. Not to death. Because it’s a lovely film. It’s actually very much alive. But it was heavily–Right. I mean, I just, I just, I feel like he’s an easy scapegoat for everyone that isn’t happy with this trilogy, in terms of the quality of the films, in terms of the profitability of the films, it just becomes easy to go, oh, Rian made those decisions and Rian’s gone. So, come back and love Star Wars again.

Alexandra:  And in fact, what we got is another sort of nostalgia-fest that is fun in the moment and then empty the second it finishes and you start to think about what the actual story decisions were with Rise of Skywalker.

Corey:  I have to confess though, that I left the theater when Chewie died, so I don’t know. I don’t know what happened in the rest of it. What happened in the rest of Rise of Skywalker?

Alexandra:  He might have been on a different transport.

Josh:  Yeah, I’m obviously kidding. The thing about Rise of Skywalker, right, is it doesn’t take any of the risks that Last Jedi takes. Chewie should have died, for instance. The idea of Rey using force lightning, you need to delve into that. It can’t just be one scene where she just talks to a droid basically. And then that’s it. You need to grapple with these things.

Alexandra:  She has like 17 new force powers in this film.

Josh:  Yeah. So, she’s–there’s force healing, right. She uses force lightning unprompted.

Alexandra:  Somehow two lightsabers together, like–

Josh:  Yeah, she passes the lightsaber, she can deflect force lightning, she passes the lightsaber to Kylo, which is very cool. It’s a cool moment.

Corey:  And I don’t think we would be complaining about those things if the movie was narratively satisfying. But the reason, Like, it was cool when she passes the lightsaber. Also, I think that connection makes sense from a narrative perspective.

Josh:  Yes. The Rey/Kylo stuff is good.

Corey:  Right. And from a performance– right, those are great performers who have interesting chemistry together. I mean, he has interesting chemistry with a wall but that’s beside the point

Alexandra:  He has interesting chemistry with his own pants.

Corey:  [laughter]

Josh:  With his mask, I mean, really everything.

Corey:  That silly mask in this movie.

Alexandra:  This movie does one thing consistently, which is that it, it fundamentally changes the stakes of the universe. It changes what is–who’s alive. What pieces, what props are whole and complete and immediately backtracks on those decisions, whether they were made in last Jedi or whether they were made in the moment in the own–in this movie itself. over and over again. So, Rey has rebuilt her lightsaber off screen and it’s never…

Josh:  Rebuilt Anakin Skywalker, his lightsaber, which has now been lost and found and destroyed. Yeah.

Alexandra:  right. Yeah, exactly. All of–you know, most of this off screen without any explanation of how that is even possible, right? Um, rebuilds Kylo’s mask, kills Chewie then revives him, wipes Threepio then immediately gives him back his memory

Corey:  Destroys the planet but then rescues everyone that we cared about from that planet.

Alexandra:  Okay, but Babu Frick did nothing wrong.

Corey:  No, I know.

Alexandra:  It’s just important for me to say that.

Corey:  None of this is Babu’s fault. Nobody is mad at Babu Frick. But again, right, like, you think you’re watching Keri Russell and Babu Frick die, right? And then they show up with the cavalry at the end.

Alexandra:  “Don’t worry, we’re fine!”

Corey:  Yeah, yes. With Lando, who we thought we left behind to face certain torture from the first order, but he’s fine too. Yeah.

Alexandra:  It is the mark of a film that doesn’t trust its own narrative arc.

Corey:  Arcs, plural. Because there’s about seven.

Alexandra:  You’re not wrong. You’re absolutely not wrong.

Josh:  I guess another. So again, thinking about the this in the context of the broader saga or whatever. I think one of the reasons that makes the original trilogy so good is it’s a way for kids and also adults, primarily for kids, right, to think about loss. The first movie, Luke faces the loss of his newfound mentor Obi-wan Kenobi. The second movie he faces Really the loss and this dramatic confrontation with–with Vader who becomes his father so he–it’s the loss of what he thought was his father as being this long dead heroic Jedi. And then of course, in the final movie, his father dies and sacrifice himself. So, all the way through there’s different kinds of losses. And it’s a way sci fi and fantasy are always a good way to process sort of real world complicated emotional issues, things like death, things like you know, mourning and grief, things like that. What you’re saying about the way that Rise of Skywalker keeps reversing itself is it refuses to do that, right? It refuses to kill off chewy, not because we don’t like Chewie. Chewie is a beloved character. That’s precisely why Rey should be forced to reckon with her powers. It’s unique–part of Star Wars is coming of age and part of coming of age is being aware of things like death, things like tragedy. An entire planet is destroyed and Princess Leia has to watch and it’s her planet and she knows her parents are there and she can’t do anything. there’s so much there’s–there’s so much sadism on the part of Tarkin and there’s so much vulnerability on Leia’s part, right? These are like deep important issues that because it’s in a sci fi context, a space fantasy context–You can’t always just talk to kids about genocide, right? But–but in a distance context, you’re able–kids are able to think about that. And that’s part of the transition to adulthood is, is being a kid, you don’t have to think about the horrors of the world being adult you sort of have to. so, coming of age stories are always moving us along that path. In this film, Rey is let off the hook for you know, thinking that she’s killing chewy. Everyone is collectively let off the hook by having to think of a droid C3P0 as having sort of moral status like a human like could be immoral to erase his memory. Because then he gets it back because R2 just has it and whatever. Honestly, like, it’s pretty funny, right? It’s pretty funny when C3P0 says like Babu Frick, one of my oldest friends, there’s some funny lines of dialogue that they get out of this stuff, but it sacrifices, the integrity of the story. And there’s too many little things. That’s like, okay, you clearly just did this. I timed it. When I watched the movie the second time. It’s under three minutes from when you think Chewie gets blown up to when you see him on the first order ship.

Corey:  It’s very fast.

Josh:  It’s not even, like, a period of time for the audience. It’s immediately like “we know you’re not gonna like it if Chewie dies, so he’s back. He’s back.”

Corey:  It also adds another caper to a movie that has too many capers, right? Because they have to go rescue him. This– I will. So, Babu Frick did nothing wrong. Another thing that I did like about this movie is that I like to C-3P0 again for the first time in a long time.

Josh:  Well he had something to do.

Corey:  Well, and he’s funny. He is funny. Yeah. Was he funny in the last one? Because he’s not funny in The Force Awakens when he’s like, “look at my red arm!” Right? Is he funny in The Last Jedi? I can’t remember what he does there.

Alexandra:  He’s barely in it.

Corey:  Yeah, that’s what I–

Josh:  He doesn’t do a lot, yeah.

Corey:  But like, he’s there. He’s funny. He gets this moment of like agency. And he like, chooses the brave option. He gets that great moment that makes the trailer, right. Yeah, he’s like “one last look at my friends.” And yes, it’s his new friends. Not his old friends, but who cares.

Josh:  It’s pretty sappy. But–

Corey:  But it works. It works. Sap works in this universe. It works. And then yeah, it just immediately wiped away by the magic memory backup. I have a lot of questions about how data works in this universe?

Josh:  R2’s just backing up his memory, yeah

Corey:   Well, yeah, there’s that, there’s that opening. That’s another tangent. I’m sorry. There’s that–

Alexandra:  There’s a real ethical question there. To just have someone else’s memory. Anyways, go on. Please continue.

Corey:  No, no, this is, actually I’m more interested in this than what I was gonna say which is that cord they get the spy report from is weird to me in the beginning of the movie. And in Rogue One there’s wireless transmission of data. But that’s it. And it doesn’t go through shields. Anyway. I’m more interested in this question of, is R2D2 committing identity theft of other droids?

Alexandra:  At the very least, like a real invasion of privacy?

Corey:  Yeah. 100%.

Alexandra:  Unless we assume that C-3P0 can’t think private thoughts ‘cause droids don’t have–Listen, droid rights.

Corey:  Droid rights.

Josh:  The best part of Solo, the droid uprising. Yes. The Phoebe Waller Bridge droid uprising. [coughs] Excuse me. Well, the interesting thing is that this isn’t explicit in–I can’t remember which movie it’s explicit in or if it’s just in the larger canon, but the idea that droids have their memories wiped periodically, right? [agreement] And that’s how R2 and Threepio have personalities, because they have never or it’s been so long since our members been waiting, which of course is a really interesting statement about personhood that we are memories and yeah, you know, we have a narrative about ourselves. And of course, when Threepio gets reset, he’s just like, “is every day like this for you guys?” Because he’s a brand-new self. He’s tabula rasa.

Corey:  Yeah.

Alexandra:  Another good line. Good laugh.

Josh:  Good laugh. There’s some good laugh lines here.

Alexandra:  I want to know who did punch up on this, because they did pretty good.

Corey:  The punch up’s good. Yeah, there’s good jokes here.

Alexandra:  Yeah, for sure. Yeah, they earned their paycheck.

Josh:  But another–So another way to think about this in terms of–this idea of loss and cost, right and the I think one of the problems that we sort of talked about here is that there’s no real cost there’s no real losses other than the expected ones of like, well you know, Carrie Fisher has died. So, you know, Leia at some point will–will become one with the force, I should say. The Last Jedi really grapples with limits, right with limits and loss and failure. And like, for instance, Luke’s x wing is submerged for years and are too. And so even at the end of the movie, when he wants to help, he cannot simply fly there, right? [agreement] This is something that Rian Johnson does so brilliantly is that he takes this sort of desperate–desperation mission that you could argue is you know, the plot of the original Star Wars. We’re going to try to destroy the Death Star we’re a small force; we’re outnumbered; we’re going to try to do it; it’s a mission of desperation, but what choice to be had right? Rian Johnson takes that is like, “Well, you can’t simply retell that story over and over again because it becomes very stale.” And I think we’re in a different moment in 2019, 2015, 2012, whenever, then 1977, where we want a little more nuance; we don’t just necessarily want the same kind of like deus ex machina. Like they’re going to get saved by a big fleet from nowhere. So, this movie–it has Rey one of the many things that it kind of reverses is that Rey flies Luke’s X-Wing. Why? Simply because it’s cool that she flies his X ray now, it’s still been submerged in water. Like how long did those engines take to dry right? To take a totally random tangent in a movie like Interstellar, spoiler alert if you haven’t seen that Christopher Nolan movie, when they’re on the planet with the huge waves, and they’ve got a fire the engines, there’s actually like a time where they’re sitting there and they’re like, “the engines are flooded, right, we’ve got to wait!” And of course, it all fits in the narrative of, like, can they get back to the ship?  And there’s all this tension, right? again so with last jet I Lucas stuck on up to he’s made these choices there are limits–your choices put limits on your life, right? And then, of course, he uses this cool force power of astral projection, and so the force is able to transcend those limits. It still is a Star Wars movie. An act of desperate hope still defeats the bad guys, right? But it’s within certain constraints. The Force doesn’t let you just do anything, right? And I think a problem with–with rise of Skywalker is, like there’s no real constraints. It’s like, oh we’re just going to fly this planet, we’re going to fly to that planet. A bunch of good guys are going to show up out of nowhere because Lando and Chewy went and got them right we’re gonna kill Chewy and we’re gonna bring him back. Ray’s gonna fly Luke’s X-Wing. Who cares if it’s been–spent decades submerged in water, right? Yep.

Alexandra:  To come back to umm JJ’s previous franchise engagement, right? This is actually also the problem with Into Darkness, and why I think Into DarknessStar Trek Into Darkness is not fundamentally a good film, which is that again, we have the replay, okay spoilers for like All Star Trek ever. We have the replay of Kirk, Spock, one of them dies. And what happens when these two men who are comrades in arms and have been through so much together, when one is them leaves this world, and how does the other cope with that grief, right?

Josh:   And they just reverse that

Alexandra:  –and they just reverse it immediately. But not only do they reverse it immediately, I mean, the solution is in into darkness, that they generate a serum out of Khan’s, super blood. I think that’s, like, literally the line is, like, “we generated a serum out of Khan’s superblood–”

Corey:  Somehow!

Alexandra:  Somehow! um, and then they never, ever, I mean, that is the last like, two seconds of the film, right? And never do they grapple with the fact that, guess what? You just solved death. Death does not exist in the Star Trek universe anymore [laughter] because all you have to do is generate a serum from super blood, right? So–

Josh:  We don’t even get a serum for why Palpatine comes back. To be fair, there’s nothing about clones. It’s just like, I’ve died.

Corey:  There’s–To be fair, we get like six reasons because Charlie from LOST goes, “maybe it’s a clone or a dark Force magic, Or–”

Josh:  Right, right.

Corey:  He just throws out six, and you can just pick the one that you think it is. But I think–I and I, I, you’re both right, like universes need limitations, there need to be consequences for choices. But I think what those limitations are, and what those consequences are, can be flexible to suit the narrative and I think–I think we wouldn’t be so hung up on how Palpatine came back within the science-slash-magic of Star Wars because the line between science and magic in Star Wars is not particularly strong. If it made narrative sense, if there was any kind of like hint before but, you know, and I think the same like Rey flying Luke’s X-Wing would make sense, if there was narrative ground laid throughout these movies that, like, she has some connection to Luke, whether it be, like, she is a fan, but she’s just, she has a connection to Han Solo in the first movie.

Josh:  Yeah, right.

Corey:  Throughout this movie, it’s a connection to Leia that I actually think, despite the limitations of the filming, like, could have actually been successful. I wasn’t crazy about like the young CGI Luke and Leia training, but–but there’s no narrative groundwork for these things. If there was a follow up Star Trek movie about what the crew tries to do now that they’ve solved Death–

Alexandra:  right.

Corey:  –that would be fascinating. I would watch that movie.

Alexandra:  But that’s not what Beyond ended up being about.

Corey:  It doesn’t happen. And I don’t want to scapegoat anyone. But I have a theory about JJ Abrams. Uhm…that goes back to LOST, the show, television show that he made with David Lindelof, you mentioned Lindelof?

Josh:  Yep.

Corey:  A little bit ago, who went on to revive Watchmen another…maybe not as widely beloved, but a beloved nerd franchise–

Josh:  Sure

Corey:  Property–property. So, they’re making LOST. LOST premieres post 911 like very soon, like, it’s like, 2002, 2003, something like that. ABC big network hour-long drama. It’s Robinson Crusoe, right? This plane crash lands on a deserted–seemingly deserted island. There’s 30 survivors. And the island is full of mysteries that are scientific, magical blah, blah blah. But the other thing that show does is these flashbacks to the characters’ lives before they crash. And this–you mentioned how good JJ is at origin stories. These flashbacks are thrilling. throughout the first season, you learn all these really cool things about these characters. And what happens to them in their flashback is thematically resonant with what’s happening on the island. It’s like a stunning achievement–this first season of this show. And it’s like in the early days of like internet conversations about television, there was lots of which I was a part of. I don’t know if you all were, like following the conversation about LOST on the internet, like week to week, episode to episode. Sometimes this was, like, really constructive and thoughtful. And there were lots of interesting theories being floated around. But there was also lots of anger about this show. And the anger was directed in a couple of ways. And one of them was, there all these mysteries about this island: there was a–there’s a hatch. There’s, like, this smoke monster that seems to be able to grab people. Dead–dead fathers appear in the woods. There’s a young child who seems to have magical powers. Like, where’s all this going? Are there answers to these questions? And JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof would always say, this show isn’t about the mysteries the show is about the characters.

Alexandra:  [Heavy sigh]

Corey:  And we on the internet would say “no!–

Alexandra:  No!

Corey:  “This show is about the mystery!” And I think we were both–were both wrong. I think that–the–when we got the answers to the mysteries, we were not satisfied. Did you watch last Have you watched LOST?

Alexandra:  So, I watched the first half of the first season, and then I magically watched the finale– [laughter]

Corey:  I want to do a podcast where you explain what you think happened in that finale! [laughter]

Josh:  I never watched it.

Corey:  Okay, so the mystery, the solution the mysteries are not, they’re not for the most part satisfying–

Alexandra:  Unfortunately, there’s one solution to this, which is that in fact, this world has had no rules all along, right? That’s the solution too— all the mysteries boiled down to one thing and–

Corey:  What we needed–what–but I don’t think there was a, like, scientific solution to what was happening on this island that would have been satisfying. What we wanted with satisfying character arcs. But this was a show that was, like, conceived in one era of television and then, like, aired through a new era of television. And these were great characters for, like, a week-to-week non-serial show where everyone resets back, right? there’s–there’s the like, well-meaning, natural leader who doesn’t always get it right. There’s like the former con woman who’s trying to make a new go of it. There’s the there’s the disabled person who’s magically cured on the island there, which is problematic for 100 reasons. There’s — there’s a Han Solo figure on the island. But after the first couple of flashbacks, there’s nowhere else to go because these characters weren’t fully realized. Like by season three, there were like, flashbacks about the origin of a character’s tattoos, which–

Alexandra:  Who cares?

Corey:  –no one cared, right? I mean, it fell apart because the characters weren’t fully realized enough to sustain six seasons of forward momentum, right? Um, and I think Lindelof and JJ Abrams learned the two very different lessons from this and Lindelof now makes these very tightly-knit character-driven things that are, like, still genre, right? He made The Leftovers which I have not watched, but people seem to be fully satisfied by. He makes Watchmen which goes back—and he–he maintains, “this is a remix. This is not a continuation of…” But it’s a continuation of Watchmen and it does this really fascinating thing, which is: it takes a clear problem with the Watchmen comic strip, which is this strip that is set in 20th century America and features one character of color, I think. And he solves this problem in a way that makes so much sense that you can’t imagine it wasn’t conceived of in the show. Are you okay? If I spoil this? Yeah, no. Okay, so the one masked vigilante in the Watchmen universe whose– whose identity isn’t known in the Watchmen universe is hooded justice, who in early 20th century America wears a hood over his face and a noose around his neck. And in the original Watchmen comic strip, this is a white character, and the Watchmen show just says -like, “no–that’s nonsense.” It makes it a black character. And it totally restructured the entire universe in this fascinating way. But the show is ultimately driven by the character of his granddaughter.

Josh:  Yeah.

Corey:  And it’s a character driven show that does all this interesting genre stuff. And it works because it’s doing both at the same time. JJ Abrams took something else that we complained about with LOST and ran with it, which is we would complain that characters don’t tell each other the secrets they know on the show. And I re-watched watched Phantom–umm–Force Awakens. They’re constantly shouting plot points at each other [agreement] that we’ve already seen. They’re kind of like, “we have to find the robot! The robot has the map!” And I feel like that’s a lesson JJ Abrams learned and he’s just–keep– he keeps filling mystery boxes with unsatisfying solutions. But characters talk about the secrets that they know.

Josh:  Yeah, that is fascinating. I think that’s so accurate. Watchmen is brilliant. Lindelof did such a great job. [laughter] Rise of Skywalker doesn’t have, you’re right, it doesn’t. If you think about Finn and Poe at the beginning of the movie, and you think about them at the end of the movie, what has changed? What is different? What is their arc? There isn’t one, right? If you think about Rey, she obviously has a little more of an arc. If you think about Kylo, a little more of an arc in the sense that he finally turns back to the light becomes a Jedi. It certainly could be better developed. People have complained about the length this movie —this movie is too short. This movie should be 20 minutes longer and have a lot less like you said a lot less plot, right? A lot less quests, a lot less things to do and more time developing the characters.

Alexandra:  Yeah

Josh:  –and then they’re introducing new characters on top of that, right? We have this storyline of Zori Bliss, played by Keri Russell, who probably has the third coolest costume in Star Wars after Vader and Boba Fett amazing costume really cool character. If you when you watch it, it’s like she starts out she’s mad at Poe for an old debt. So, it’s like shades of Han and Lando right? Then it becomes Rey knocks her down and like uses her lightsaber and then it’s like, oh, you’re cool. So, I’m going to help you guys. Then it becomes. I’m getting off this hunkajunk I somehow have scored this captain’s medallion that I can use on my ship to make it look like a first order ship. It’s going to get me through a blockade. Then it becomes, oh, Poe you should take this. You need this more than I do. What?

Corey:  –Yeah, it’s, it’s the Han Solo arc–

Josh:  –over five minutes–

Corey:  –in five minutes. Yes. But I also–

Josh:  And then she doesn’t even go with them. She gives them the thing. Like I believe in what you’re doing. I’m not gonna come with like,

Corey:  Yeah

Josh:  It makes no sense it’s way better if you space it out. Maybe she betrays them. Maybe eventually she comes around to respect them then she helps them you need you can’t just shove in if you’re going to do it in that compressed of a time. The only thing you’re doing, like I think you’re right about JJ. I mean, she’s flashy. She looks really cool. It was like a great press release like new character. Look at this cool costume Right, she looks like the coolest Power Ranger you’ve ever seen.

Corey:  Well, and the this is also the Lando role.

Josh:  Yeah,

Corey:  In the third film, right. And the Lando role in the second film, people, you know, didn’t like write the Benicio del Toro character. People didn’t like that plot so he couldn’t come back and fill that role. So, when a new character and if you make a carrier so you can also give her a heteronormative love interest which like, puts the damper on the Finn/Poe ship, right?

Josh:  Right, right.

Corey:  But yeah,

Josh:  And you pair off Finn with–with Naomi Ackes’s character,

Corey:  Right

Josh:  Who also is a great, fascinating character, right? store who’s defected from being a stormtrooper. And there’s this moment of recognition where she’s like, Wait, you’re a stormtrooper. He’s like, Wait, you’re a stormtrooper. And you could have done something with that. That could have been a whole story, but really, all they do is just run around. They don’t change as people. Yeah,

Corey:  That was a great moment. That little exchange, it was really not…Yeah–

Alexandra:  But thank God we do learn in the Visual dictionary that most black people in the Star Wars universe are related to each other.

Corey:  Uh,

Josh:  Yes. Because–because apparently, she’s Lando’s daughter?

Alexandra:  Possibly? maybe it’s–it’s actually,

Josh:  Coming to Disney+ 2021 or something who knows–

Alexandra:  Yeah,

Corey:  Yeah. Is that better or worse than my read of the scene when I was watching it which is that we were supposed to believe that Lando was hitting on her neither reading night there’s no good interpretation of that weird scene–

Alexandra:  No, there’s not at all. And it is another thing that sort of like you’re stuffing more stuffing into an already full turkey —

Josh:  Well again–

Alexandra:  You don’t need any more —

Josh:  If you cut out some of this stuff about daggers and sit fleets and wayfinders then you could have had a cool story where she meets Lando in the middle and her and they’re on a mission together and they actually learn about each other and share their experiences and then put some pieces together Oh wait you were here, whatever. Like if we find in the course of the movie that she’s his daughter, and we, you know, you get some character development of both of them. What is older Lando? Like, you know, what has he been up? W– we hear a little bit about what he’s been up to, but like, how is he changed since we saw him, you know, at the end of the Battle of Endor or whatever? And who is this new person and what Yeah, you could do a story about that. But it takes time that that takes screen time it takes writing, it takes some you know, and

Alexandra:  This is why I say I think I’ve moved from mining metaphors to cooking metaphors [laughter] longer in the oven. Because that’s the kind of thing that you come back to a script A month later and say, you know, this is just too much stuff that’s going on we need to pull this scene out. And maybe it goes to story group.

Josh:  Yeah,

Alexandra:  We do something with it in a tie in. But there’s not enough time to sit with the script because of Disney is like totally self-enforced. timeline, breakneck timeline that there was no chance ever to sit with What they came up with and say, is this the right is this the right place to begin the movie? Do they need to speak? [laughter]

Josh:  Or if they’re gonna crawl if they’re gonna speak Can we hear them speak I see people’s live reactions to them speaking I know there’s an

Corey:  Film is an audible medium [laughter] we can hear the dead speak.

Alexandra:  Listen, like there’s–there’s a version of this in which the first act is Palpatine revealing himself

Josh:  –Is the crawl, right? Yeah. 100%

Alexandra:  Yeah, not somehow Palpatine has returned

Josh:  [scattered gasps] Yeah. Well, I mean, like you said, like the Watchmen writers’ room. They spent 10 months on the pilot. Yeah. And that’s what it takes. That’s why that show is so good because there’s a lot to work out and there’s a lot of you know, they have a lot to think about and how to blend you know, take in it’s the same challenge right taking beloved characters and source material and revitalizing and telling a new story with it right.

Alexandra:  So, the source material and characters who have been treated poorly.

Josh:  Sure, yeah.

Alexandra:  In recent memory and we have to kind of counter the negative connotations with what Zack Snyder has done to them.

Corey:  Yeah. Yeah.

Alexandra:  Yeah. But this is so fascinating to me, because I think I mean, we are all professors of English, right? We all teach English at a college level, and we teach process and the need to take time with things. So, it’s interesting to me that entertainment, people who do this for a living have still somehow not figured out this crucial element, which is that you have to sit with things for a while. Just because you can make a movie that fast does not mean that you will make a movie that fast. That is good.

Josh:  Well, this is I think this is maybe part of the speaking of lessons that were learned or weren’t learned. I mean, this is the Disney Pixar story all over again, right? Disney Animation went into this huge, huge drought where they couldn’t make a movie that was a hit because basically, they didn’t respect any of the critic. And they the various executives who didn’t have artistic backgrounds were kind of calling the shots and a lot of it was deadline driven. It was like, if you can get your movie done by this date, then you’ll get a deadline. And if you can’t, you know, they were pitting projects against each other. There’s this weird negative culture. And then Pixar was turning on all these hits. Why? Because it was more creative driven. And they were thinking about story like, what are the key emotions of the characters we’re going to the stories about right? And then does he kind of came around was like, Oh, we should just acquire Pixar, we should basically pay them to do what we’ve been failing to do. And again, like the MCU, they work their way into figuring out you have to have a coherent story that you develop over a number of years, and for whatever reason with this, they didn’t like Lucas’s scripts. They figured Kathleen Kennedy could do no wrong and they just were kind of like, yeah, we’re just going to go for it. We’re going to make back our four and a half billion dollars, which they have.

Corey:  I–and I–I don’t want to. We don’t we don’t have to litigate Scorsese right now. But Martin Scorsese has distinguished what he does, which is cinema, from what the MCU is, which is theme park ancillary. He has a better term that I’m coming up with right now, but that basically,

Alexandra:  –he’s just said they’re theme parks–

Corey:  Yeah, okay. Okay,

Alexandra:  –they’re theme park rides is what he said–

Corey:  –and I don’t want to, I don’t want to like adhere to his hierarchy. And I think cinema is the wrong word as I watched his most recent film across three nights on Netflix. [laughter] And it took me three nights. But um, but I, what the grain of truth that’s in what he’s saying is that your shareholders don’t care about the creative process. They care about whether the movie’s going to come out in time to maximize the return on their investment and in Galaxy’s Edge, and in these various tie-in novels, and in this big Triple A video game that’s coming out. And I just, I don’t think we’re going to get that. I mean, we’re going to talk about the Mandalorian in just a minute. And that’s, I feel like maybe the last place where we’re going to get that sort of thoughtful… And I think it’s because Disney didn’t expect it to do what it’s done. And I wonder how they’re gonna ruin it too.

Alexandra:  But here’s the thing. I disagree, because I think that there’s a way to adhere to deadline and, you know, ship when you said that you were going to ship right, and to still have satisfying story that speaks to the things that we care about in Star Wars. And the way that you do that is that you have to be willing to put that universe through the experience of loss.

Josh:  And it’s not like HBO doesn’t have shareholders, right? Or FX, right? And they’ve just decided we care about awards. Yeah, we care about People talking about our shows. Right? And–and that’s why you get something like Watchmen. This

Corey:  This wasn’t a defense of Disney. Let me just be clear: I’m not defending the shareholder priorities

Josh:  No, no I know, but–

Corey:  I just think I think that’s where they–they gave and George Lucas took, I should say, what $7 billion for this? And

Alexandra:  I don’t know. I said yes. Like I knew.

Josh:  I think it’s four and a half. And then he got some undisclosed Disney stock–

Corey:  –billions of dollars. He says he took it on faith they were going to make his movie. Didn’t–he could have gotten that in writing, right? I mean, if they’re going to drop $4 billion, he could kick them a billion back, and they’d make a script, right? I mean, I–I don’t. And I’m, I’m saying this someone who’s also fooled by this. I don’t know. Like, why are we surprised by this? I guess.

Josh:  I think I’m surprised just because The Last Jedi was so good.

Corey:  Yeah, right.

Josh:  It’s almost now it looks like how did that even get made?

Corey:  Yeah.

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Josh:  In light of the new one it just seems like they lost their nerve. Like you said earlier, it seems like which we haven’t even talked about that we don’t need to get into all the details of like the social media controversy, which a lot of it was manufactured, or at least amplified by bots and things like that. But they just looked at like, oh, people aren’t happy. Like, we’re Disney. We can’t make people unhappy.

Corey:  Right,

Josh:  Right. We have to market to the broadest possible audience. And some people didn’t like this. So, let’s play it safe. Let’s bring back beloved characters.

Corey:  And I think the safest possible audience, which is what you think of as your existing fan base, right, which is the most vocal.

Josh:  Yeah, yeah. But at least I mean, at least by box office. Last Jedi was more popular.

Corey:  Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Josh:  It had a broader appeal in some ways. Now, some of that could be, oh, too many movies in too short of a timeframe, but a lot of it is the movie itself. But there was more buzz around this movie. It would, it would have cracked a billion dollars sooner —

Corey:  –if the buzz was better. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely

Alexandra:  Last Jedi, truly for me as the watermark of what Star Wars can be and do and what Star Wars can say about our own sort of experience of the universe, our contemporary kinds of anxieties and issues, and I think mostly just feel I’m very happy the Mandalorian exists, and I cannot wait to talk about it. But I mostly feel let down by the fact that Rise of Skywalker sold me a conclusion, a change in the universe, something that mattered. And then what it gave me was nostalgic drivel, afraid of its own success, afraid to say anything afraid to ever contemplate star peace. [laughter]

Corey:  I agree with all of that. Yeah, yeah. I let’s, let’s, let’s write a spec script for Star Peace, Episode 10: Star Peace.

Josh:  You got —

Corey:  Babu Frik is in the new galactic senate [laughter]

Alexandra:  Oh my God he’s so little they would have to put him up on a tiny counter.

Corey:  We haven’t done enough with the scale of creatures and the Star Wars universe and he’s—so–he’s so cute.

Josh:  His hands are jumbo size —

Corey:  So, he’s still–he can manipulate why he—sorry–That’s why he can manipulate the wires in the back of C-3PO’s old timey robot innards? Yeah, okay, uh, any–any other last words on Skywalker

Josh:  Apparently, we’re all Skywalkers. So–

Corey:  Let’s let the two suns set – [laughter]

Alexandra:  Let the past die [crosstalk]

Together: Kill it if you have to!

Corey:  Awh—on that note, let’s call it. This has been the end of a very long conversation about the Skywalkers.

Alexandra: Check out part 2 of this episode for more on Star Wars. We’ll be talking with Susana Morris about the possibility for Afrofuturism in the Star Wars galaxy

 

 

Technically Pop

Star Wars: Part 2

Season 1, Episode 6

Transcript

Josh:  I’m Josh Cohen.

Alexandra:  I’m Alexandra Edwards.

Corey:  I’m Corey Goergen. And this is Technically Pop.

[Theme Music]

Corey: So, we’re back to record an intro to something we recorded “a long, long time ago.”

Josh: In a galaxy far, far away? [laughter]

Corey: Well, roughly the same galaxy. But, uhh, basically we had too many things to say about Star Wars. So this is part two of what is now a two-part episode on Star Wars. Part one, you have 70 full minutes of the three of us talking about starwars and our relationships to it. This section, we have a special guest and we are going to talk about The Mandalorian and race in the Star Wars universe.

Alexandra:  So, we actually have a special guest today we’re very excited to be joined by Dr. Susana Morris. She is an associate professor in the School of literature, Media and Communication here at Georgia Tech. And personally, she is my favorite Afrofuturist nerd. [laughter]

Susana:   Thank you.

Alexandra:  So, we want to kind of jump into talking about the Mandalorian specifically as another way of getting at this question of Star Wars and what it means to culture. I love it. Do you guys love it?

Susana:   I love it. I love it. I love the child. the child has I mean baby Yoda

Josh:  Baby Yoda 2020

Susana:   That’s really why I would vote for him or them I’m not really sure about baby Yoda’s gender, or if they have a gender, but that’s fine. However, they identify I’m here for them but like I think it was during the holidays and folks were posting all those memes of baby Yoda. And I was like, okay, hmm. Now I have time grading has been submitted. I need to do I want to get Disney plus two I need to find a friend who has Disney plus,

Josh:  Yeah–

Susana:   I did the trial. I have not cancelled yet. And I just was really floored by how good it was. And I really feel like sometimes the best Star Wars stuff is in the series. Rather than the films, the more the more recent films like we just need more. The world is so vast–

Alexandra:  –It needs to breathe.

Susana:   It needs to breathe the need rather than two hours or even though the films are sometimes very long, but I need development. I mean, how many was a six or eight episode?

Josh:  Eight, right?

Susana:   Yeah, you know, and they’re like, what? 45 minutes? I was good.

Corey:  Yeah. Did you subscribe early enough to watch it week by week as it was released or were they kind of all out.

Susana:   They–I think seven of them were out–

Corey:  Okay,

Susana:   –And I had one week of waiting. [laughter] Oh, especially since I didn’t have as much to do so I was like I’m really need and I was reading all the articles and all that kind of stuff. I thought it was awesome.

Alexandra:  It’s very fascinating to me that I feel like baby Yoda has become such like a presence as a meme. And in some ways, like the design of this character is kind of ideal for memeification. But it also makes so much sense from a narrative perspective because how do you like what do you do if you have a character who is the ideal warrior and who is like in some senses invulnerable and invincible, the best of everything right give him the most vulnerable by the cutest

Susana:   The most curious–

Alexandra:  Yeah, little sort of–

Susana:   But also, kind of deadly. Right?

Corey:  Yeah, I mean–

Susana:   when home girl was [laughter]Baby Yoda said, “not my Mandalorian!”

Alexandra:  He has not sort of been introduced into a moral system. Yeah, right.

Susana:   because true–

Alexandra:  And in contrast with Yoda, the original Yoda.

Susana:   That’s right.

Alexandra:  OG Yoda [laughter] in such a fascinating way.

Corey:  Yeah, I feel like Jon Favreau is writing us an email right now for calling him baby Yoda and not the child. Right? This is a very specific distinction that he makes right there.

Susana:   Right.

Josh:  Yoda being a proper name not a species. Yes.

Alexandra:  Exactly.

Susana:   That’s fine. He can be whatever he can be the child. [laughter] It doesn’t matter. It’s just the child is fascinating.

Alexandra:  Yes, absolutely. My favorite I think story from the production of the Mandalorian is that they had the puppet, the child pundit and they were doing their puppeteering on set. And they were saying like, well, depending on what we think about this, like we might go ahead and computer generate over the puppetry work. When we get into post and Werner Herzog said like, use the puppet you cowards.

Corey:  Yes, I think They were going to reshoot everything with the green screen.

Susana:   Oh no

Alexandra:  Oh really,

Corey:  They were gonna shoot everything twice, once with the puppet and once with the puppet gone, and that’s when he said, you know, use the puppet you cowards

Alexandra:  I should have done it in a Werner Herzog accent but I’m not gonna attempt

Susana:   I think the fact that it’s a puppet is so important. It also feels old school in that way. But I read an article that was just talking about how the fact that it’s a puppet and not CGI really makes us connect more because it just feels like an actual little creature like a pet you know? Like, the child is like a badass toddler you know, and one of the Mandalorian and there’s so many moments but when they’re just like in the shit together and the child is just touching all the little buttons and like, Oh my goodness, that’s like every child has in a car or anything I the kitchen. You know what I mean? Just but it actually looks like someone is touching something and it’s we just don’t have the technology to make CGI look that to look warm to feel inviting. And this is a story That’s about warmth. It’s about heart. It’s about someone who can’t show their face unless they’re being you know, given everything that they’ve believed in up right. I mean, even that moment at the end when He reveals Himself, I mean, that’s a moment of great vulnerability, right? Even though here he is in all this armor, right? So that’s really a story about all these things. It’s about human emotions and human time. We don’t need no damn damn CGI.

Corey:  And I–go ahead–

Josh:  I was just gonna say we’ve talked a little bit already about some of the ways that maybe rise of Skywalker doesn’t channel the original movies in the best way but something that the Mandalorian does like you’re just talking about. The reason Empire works is because Yoda the puppet is so lifelike, right? And Lucas has always said and Frank Oz has always said that that movie completely falls apart if you do not buy when he’s miming eating, and when he’s whacking R2D2 with a stick if you don’t buy that this is a real creature like that movie suddenly becomes ridiculous

Susana:   Right

Josh:  But the illusion works because was the puppetry so good. And a similar kind of thing with–with Herzog presence in the show. It’s really, really odd that Alec Guinness decides to do this weird movie called Star Wars where he doesn’t understand the dialogue [laughter] after the fact. Like you can read him talking about a he has no idea what the story is about. He doesn’t get it. But he’s there and he’s a professional and he has such gravitas. And the Herzog thing is similar. And it’s just interesting to me that the show kind of revitalizes these old ingredients in a way that works really well in a way that maybe Rise of Skywalker, as we mentioned earlier, doesn’t necessarily do

Corey:  Yeah, and I think so. I was two things. Number one, the puppet is so important, both for us and for the actors performing with it, and I think the performances with a puppet are always going to be better than a tennis ball.

Josh:  Yeah,

Alexandra:  Listen, we’ve talked about puppets on this podcast–[crosstalk]

Corey:  Right, you’re right, we have.

Alexandra:  How important it is the way that a human any human, not just an actor will interaction, though it is real because we want to we long to like pattern recognizing that is a living creature that

Josh:  It has a face

Alexandra:  It has a face

Corey:  Yes, it does and it has an incredible face. [laughter] The Mandalorian too, so inexpressive, right? Right until that moment at the very end. It’s important to have something on screen that’s expressive. But I think, I think you’re right about–about Werner Herzog who also would just talk to the puppet off camera as if the puppet was a living thing. But I’m–throughout this show, the show is full of incredible, not even cameos just, like, great character actor beats like Amy Sedaris shows up and just like yeah, does Amy Sedaris in Star Wars–who else? help me out. Nick Nolte, right? As the ugnaught and—help me out here–

Susana:   They didn’t have to do him like that.

Corey:  For a brief second. I thought, you meant Nick Nolte and I missed something in the news

Susana:   No, no not Nick Nolte.

Corey:  Yeah, Yes–poor Quill. Well yeah, and I in this this new trilogy, the movies when the movie would come out there was this like game where you had to know, like, where was Daniel Craig in the movie? Right? But you know where Adam Pally is because Adam Pally is that hilarious Stormtrooper who then punches Yoda. Yeah, right and I think this new the show does a really good job of bringing in these big–name actors that they can get because the people want to be in Star Wars but then using that in an interesting way as opposed to yeah–

Josh:  –For a narrative purpose.

Susana:   I thought that particular with Carl Weathers — like I speaking of someone I thought was dead [laughter]. No: Apollo Creed is dead. Carl Weathers–Action Jackson is very much alive. And I just appreciated him as a like no pun intended, weathered like bounty hunter, HR person [laughter] coordinating bounty hunters and just like kinda just like the old, rugged masculine guy was just like great to see. And then Giancarlo Esposito, who’s a great actor as well. But you know, we’ve seen him and many things recently, but just to see him as this archetypal villain and great face, like he just steps out of the ship, like, come to kill everybody that you love, you know, they’re all these great moments. And I think it’s particularly for me particularly important that they’re black actors, the two that I just mentioned, just to sort of, you know, erase the memory of Jar Jar Binks. And you know, some of the foolishness that has happened in the Star Wars universe, you know, have these like, fully realized character something I posted on my social media though was after I watched the Mandalorian like loved it like baby Yoda, the child has just replenished my whole life like love the most of the armor bearer woman like I was here for that here for you know so much of it, but where are the black women in space? Where are they? I know they show up in other places, you know, but where are they in this segment of the Star Wars universe

Corey:  Yeah–

Josh:  Right

Susana:   Now how are we getting black men and we don’t get any black women right now and not in a token way you know I there was like one woman with braids in the village somewhere but really as substantive characters and I need this to happen throughout not just like oh happens over here It happens over there. But in a series where we really get things fleshed out I just was disappointed that there were no black women characters but I was happy to see Carl Weathers having a speaking role. You know, folks in all different time and his character was complicated. He was like somewhat of a villain but also like a heroes here for that, you know, he gets to play these different kinds of relationships to our hero, the Mandalorian and shift from episode to episode, it’s not just sort of like you are in this box over here, and you’ll always be this kind of–not flat at all. The characters were surprisingly I mean, again, Mando, you know, we can’t see his face for most of it. He sort of has a flat affect.

Alexandra:  Yeah,

Susana:   But yeah, there’s some depth there. You know, there’s–there’s lots of Feeling there’s like, oh, there’s a backstory. We’re getting flashbacks. Oh, here’s your life enough. So that was that was a really good

Alexandra:  Carl Weathers is actually going to direct some episodes next season,

Susana:   That’s exciting!

Alexandra:  Which is really cool. He sort of said like to Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau. I guess like, hey, I want to, you know, kind of want to get into the directing side of things. And they said like, absolutely we can. We can make that work for you. I was looking last night at who directed these episodes?

Josh:  Yeah, they did the kind of anthology style right, Favreau wrote the season, but they did a bunch of directors

Alexandra:  Favreau wrote most of the season. There’s one episode that other writers are going on. I think that Yeah, they had let me see is it five directors for the eight episodes. So, we have Dave Filoni, who is of course like from the animation side of things

Josh:  Clone Wars, George Lucas protege kind of carrying on the vision of his of his master. Great, terrific, really

Alexandra:  Really likes a bold hat.

Josh:  Yes, yes.

Alexandra:  It’s a choice.

Susana:   Okay.

Alexandra:  But then I was fascinated by who are other directors were and I think this speaks to for one thing, the ability to let Star Wars breathe right and to let it be a place where we can explore kind of multiple threads of a storyline without the time crunch of a major budget. tentpole franchise motion picture. But here’s our list of directors, we have Rick Famuyiwa, who is a Nigerian American. We have Deborah Chow, who is Chinese Canadian, Bryce Dallas Howard, a very interesting Ron Howard’s daughter,

Susana:   And I didn’t know how she’d been to it. When I saw her name. I was like, oh, okay,

Alexandra:  She has done a couple of smaller projects, I think, I don’t know she’s directed a feature yet, but she’s definitely a person who’s sort of got transition from acting into like Hey, I would like to also be behind the camera.

Susana:   That’s cool

Alexandra:  And she was doing that even before Jurassic World. Which is really cool and then Taika Waititi yeah yes who is–

Josh:  –the best–

Alexandra: –just incredible the best, the best

Josh:  What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok and all that stuff yeah

Corey:  Jojo Rabbit

Alexandra:  Hunt for the Wilderpeople is my favorite of his if you haven’t seen it should definitely see it. But yeah, so I was interested in in looking at beyond sort of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, we have the first women and we have the first people of color who are now getting

Josh:  And isn’t Deborah Chow going to do the Obi Wan series.

Alexandra:  Yes, yeah,

Josh:  So, she’s gonna be doing the Kenobi series.

Alexandra:  So I was happy to see and I think I’m wondering if we can ascribe some of the success of the Mandalorian to the fact that Disney is now interested not only in having a kind of not equal but a more equal representation on screen you know, we have more people of color who are appearing in the in the main films in Some various kinds of roles, but creatively that we’re now getting more women and more people of color. And if that is part of why it succeeds to a much higher degree, I think,

Josh:  Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. I think there’s also there was better synergy among the creative team, like Favreau, Filoni, and then all of these directors, they had some connection to like they already had worked with Deborah Chow. They already knew Taika Waititi, there’s MCU connections, there’s broader Disney connections. And I think there was just greater coordination. Like they’re all telling one story with the different tones and beats that each director bring to it. Whereas like with the films, and again, we kind of talked about this a bit, but the most recent trilogy, you have this plan that they’re going to do it in a compressed time table. There’s no overarching writer,

Susana:   Right.

Josh:  And the plan from the beginning for whatever reason was three different directors ends up being two different directors JJ coming back to do Rise of Skywalker. They told Rian Johnson in the middle he could do whatever he wanted there was no overarching there was no Kevin Feige producer Kathleen Kennedy took more hands off approach and it just sort of there you know, the reason that something like Endgame works is that all those guys were working together for four straight movies over however many years and there’s like a larger picture and Mandalorian obviously it’s not that long necessarily but there was more I think coordination between Okay, here’s a broad brushstrokes here’s the story across the season. How can each director have their creative vision within that–

Susana:   –and still have their stamp because when I saw the end of the Waititi’s episode, I was like, Yeah, totally. [crosstalk] Okay, got it. But I do think you know, and folks have been saying this as particularly small screen stuff through Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu, we see more black show runners and show runners of color and women show runners and writers, when our writers rooms are more diverse, and we just have different experiences queer folk, that we just get better stories because that more accurately reflects our lives and all kinds of for our dreams, our fantasies, and you know, all kinds of folks are nerds.

Josh:  Yeah.

Susana:   –folks are nerds

Alexandra:  Yeah–

Susana:   I just remember when this is not Star Wars, but when it’s MCU related, I want to see I think it was Civil War. This is when the Black Panthers introduced right?

Josh:  Yeah–

Susana:   I live in southwest Atlanta, it’s a predominant black area. And I went to my local movie theater, which is also like mostly black. And so, I’m there by myself. None of my friends wanted to nerd out with me [laughter] Whatever, not bitter about it all these years later, and I just remember like, during these particular moments, like I guess it’s the moment where T’Challa bodyguards one of the Dora, you know, I think it’s when she’s talking to Black Widow and she’s like, move or be moved. And so, there’s this man behind me. He’s like, okay, so she’s part of the Dora Milaje [laughter] and I’m looking back and it’s just like a middle-aged black couple, you know? And he’s like, yeah, so they’re an elite fighting force [laughter] the comics and his wife is like, Oh, okay. [laughter] You know, I mean, everyone was just nerding out and it was like every possible person from any every workplace away, your mail carrier, high school teacher, your whatever. Not necessarily when we think of nerd, which we often think of like, white man, right?

Alexandra:  Right.

Susana:   They were all nerding out. And so, when our writers’ rooms and our directors and our producers and our show runners and all those people reflect the diversity of Nerdom, then we’ll just get good stuff.

Alexandra:  And we get more interesting stuff because it’s not the same stuff that may have sort of gone through for 40 plus years, right? We get new perspectives on things. One of my favorite memes that I saw in the wake of the show is and I don’t know if you’ve seen this on Twitter. The–the meme that baby Yoda is indigenous? So, there’s all these I follow a lot of native scholars and there’s all these people who are number one are nerds, right? But number two connected particularly to the story of the child and what the child’s life experience would be and his look and his clothing, little sack that he wears which is so cute, um, and then started they all started sort of creating these little photoshopped images where he was in, you know, the traditional Papoose or bag that they would carry a child and in this particular person’s tribe, or something like that, and it was all various different sorts of people from different indigenous backgrounds and–and tribal sort of trying to think of affiliations. But they all connected to that in some way. I thought of that and I thought that was such a fascinating thing to hone in on right and then we start to see the Like if you can get more diverse people, people with different life experiences and backgrounds and interests into the room, then you can start to speak to more diverse audiences who have different life experiences.

Corey:  And such a more interesting way of thinking about indigenous cultures in Star Wars than, like, the Ewoks, right?

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Corey:  Or even that village in the Mandalorian episode where–

Alexandra:  The blue shrimp village?

Corey:  The blue shrimp village right, yes. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I haven’t seen that.

Alexandra:  You should look there. Some of them are really cool. There’s some really cool artwork that came out of it. Yeah.

Susana:   Now, I’ve seen lots of different folks sort of like inserting, you know, the childlike, okay, they would fit into this, they would fit into this. I mean, what I was seeing, like on black Twitter was a lot of like, you know, baby Yoda as it’s like a curious black child. [laughter] Regular kinds of thing. So, I feel like everyone’s sort of like, “Oh yeah, he fits into my culture this way they fit into my culture that way.” But one of my favorites was like the sort of changing them adding music to the scene where baby is like, and I saw different music clips or whatever but one of my favorites was they did like the Yin Yang Twins like From the Window to the Wall. Every time Baby Yoda touched something was like–

Alexandra:  That’s such an iconic needle drop just to throw into something!

Susana:   And that face like–

Alexandra:  –Gigantic eyes–

Susana:  — Oh my gosh!

Alexandra:  I was my experience of watching the show as I am. I have this sort of like, sort of double strains of thought going on where on the one hand, I was like, I know why this works. I know why he’s cute. I know why I respond to it. I know exactly what his character design is meant to look like that I am to respond to. And at the same time, I cannot help myself from being like he’s so cute

Susana:   Right–right.

Alexandra:  Yeah,

Susana:   Yeah.

Alexandra:  So to get back on to the question of who we have in the room who’s allowed to tell these stories, I did want to kind of ask like, do you think that having a more diverse creative team behind the scenes, deepens or modifies Star Wars, traditional engagement with both the Western and the samurai story? Because I think the Mandalorian is so clearly based on those traditions and Star Wars itself, the original trilogy has these strong links to those storytelling traditions. What do you guys think about the engagement with the Western and or the samurai story?

Susana:   Well, I think that I think it’s telling. So, the western story that we tell sort of the United States is usually very narrow, right? Like it’s like a particular kind of cowboy, a particular kind of, you know, sort of situation who’s the hero who wears the white hat? who wears the Black Hat with a villain whose territory can just be run through? And it was sort of just background fodder, right. And I think there have been moments in the franchise history where it’s been done very poorly, right where it’s clear, like, Oh, those are supposed to be Asian. Those are, you know, and it’s cringe worthy. And I didn’t find myself having those cringe moments watching The Mandalorian and it seemed a little bit more just with the inclusion of, you know, like Carl Weathers and someone or other folks just even the folks in the background, it just seemed a little bit more like, okay, yeah, we have aliens. We have folks with fish heads, [laughter] all kinds. We have all kinds of humans too, right? Because I felt like watching Star Wars over time, like there would be lots of diverse aliens with the human beings would all be white. That’s weird. And so how is that working? And that didn’t seem to be the case this time. Oh, there’s lots of different kinds of humans and lots of different kinds of nonhumans and We don’t know who to trust,

Alexandra:  Right?

Susana:   And it’s not necessarily based on like, Oh, this species is necessarily a caricature of this racial or ethnic group. It’s just like, I don’t know, individually, if I can, even the story around the child, right? When the Mandalorian learns like, Oh, actually the species of the child is from our enemies of the Mandalorian. But this baby isn’t

Alexandra: Right.

Susana:   And so, reckon with that–figure that out, because you’re his daddy for the next however many years because he’s 50 [laughter] or however old. He’s gonna be a baby for a while

Josh:  –Centuries.

Alexandra:  And fascinatingly, not only is the baby sort of innocent within this larger, geopolitical conflict, right, but also that the Mandalorian comes from a code on the one hand that is Uber violent, but on the other hand, says you must protect the children at all costs. And if you have a foundling It is your responsibility to care for that foundling. Right. That’s such an interesting juxtaposition. of their and way of twisting I think the maybe particularly the cowboy

Susana:  The lone–

Alexandra:  Yeah,

Susana:   Because it gets disrupted right with the Mandalorians. Like I have to I can only be myself or a version of myself by myself, I can only eat by myself. Eating becomes an intimate act, right? That’s usually in most cultures, a communal thing, right? We have certain things using the bathroom, taking care of our bodies, that’s not a communal thing, but maybe in other cultures it is right. Eating is a communal thing to eat alone to take care of himself alone right and now his life is forced to you know, you have to have this person or this thing that is going to be small and defenseless for a long time. So, but it’s not a sidekick. I mean, in some ways the baby the child is a traditional sidekick, right? But in other ways the child is not because they’re so powerful. They’re Long live, you know, they’re not quite immortal, but they are you know, preternaturally strong psychically, at least, you know, and all these other things. And so, it’s not like it’s usually I feel like in the trope of the Cowboys, like, some sort of small person of color is their sidekick, right? Or a small white person but like there

Josh:  Is sometimes an actual child

Susana:  Sometimes a natural child, right, but a white child usually.

Josh:  Yeah,

Susana:   So, to have a child of a different species, it’s sort of upends so it plays into some of them, but I think it upends some of the interesting way

Alexandra:  Yeah,

Susana:   You know, like makes Mando better.

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Susana:   As a person–

Josh:  It also it gets again, it gets back to something that works really brilliantly in the original 1977 Star Wars aka Episode Four aka A New Hope [laughter] Which as many of our listeners who are deep–deep into this content may know already is a loose remake of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, along with many other influences, Old World War Two serials, Dune, there’s all this stuff swirling around in in Modesto resident George Lucas’s brain when he’s supposed to be running his dad’s hardware store, and he doesn’t want to do that. So, in The Hidden Fortress that the crazy thing that Kurosawa does is the whole thing is told from the perspective of the two rogues. And the Princess and the samurai and the general. They are, of course, they’re the ones driving the action, but the actual focalize characters are the two lower class people who are pulled along for the ride, and they’re cut, they still do comic relief. There’s a lot of physical comedy. They’re also you know, they’re very human, right? Like, they’re kind of selfish. They’re not noble, like the general and the samurai. They’re not pure like the princess. So, on this dangerous mission, we’re always following these normal people, and how does Star Wars open? Obviously, there’s Princess Leia’s ship, and what happens there’s an escape pod, and we have C-3PO and R2D2. To our heroes. They’re just normal. And although they’re droids they’re extremely human right there. expressive, they’re in a dangerous situation there. I get lower class or indentured servants, whatever you want to, liken droids to. Right? And so having that groundedness even though you know, some people might say it was kind of boring, that opening part, like let’s get to the good stuff where they blow up the Death Star, that’s actually integral you could argue to Star Wars, right? It’s the reason that in all the original movies, there’s always scenes like the Mos Eisley scene in the cantina. You know, there’s always seems like ordinary life in a place that is, again, it’s in another galaxy, but it’s familiar in some way. So I think something that the show, again, captured about the spirit of the original was like, let’s look at this more from the ground up, instead of from, you know, the Star Destroyer down essentially like working class characters, diverse characters, human characters, again, even when they’re aliens. They’re human in the sense that they’re fully realized they have lives, even if they’re just laborers or whatever the case may be.

Alexandra:  And in this case as opposed to The Hidden Fortress. I think the clearest and most obvious sort of Samurai film that the Mandalorian is drawing on is of course Lone Wolf and Cub, right, which is about a samurai who must take his three-year-old son with him right? And that tension is from what do you do if you’re in a sword fight and you have a three-year-old strapped to you? Well, put a mirror on the three-year-old’s forehead and then lean down and blind your enemy with the sun, right? [laughter] It plays with our expectations of violence, who gets to do violence who’s complicit in violence? What violence is good, what violence is bad? in really interesting in complex ways that are not sort of clear cut. This is good and this is evil. Yeah. Final thoughts on the Mandalorian that can’t wait for season two.

Susana:   Oh my gosh. When is it coming out?

Josh:  It’s gonna be a minute. I think

Susana:   I guess we’ll just have to watch the other Disney plus series.

Alexandra:  I am excited for Obi-wan and Deborah Chow

Josh:  I am, too, for sure–Ewan McGregor coming back.

Corey:  When–is he just gonna be moisture farming? Like, what does Obi-wan do in the Obi-wan series?

Josh:  So, I don’t know how much they’re going to draw on the new run of Marvel Comics, but there is quite a bit of stuff. And this is new Disney canon.

Corey:  Okay.

Josh:  This isn’t old stuff that they’ve forsaken. This is all there’s tons of new Vader comics, Obi Wan, all this kind of stuff in between the movies, and there’s a bunch of stuff and there’s parts of it were like, he’s not really using the Force. He’s washed up. He’s confused. He keeps a journal that like Luke will later read again in the comics and you know, didn’t happen in the movies. bounty hunters will be after him. So of course, he gets to break out the lightsaber, but he’s all rusty. You know. So, there’s, there’s a lot there. A lot of people speculated Vader is going to show up in some kind of climactic return. We’ll see if that happens. You know, yeah, we’ll see. But I think it’ll be an interesting combination of him being like, kind of desultory kind of like not knowing what to do, but then they’ll be some nice action. They’ll be some stuff where he does have to protect young Luke or he does have to, you know, go on something like a mission. Even if it’s kinda like the Mandalorian where it’s like mission of the week or like more small tasks, right? He’s not like, roaming the galaxy or whatever. He’s confined to, you know, the Judland Wastes or wherever he was.

Corey:  Crazy old Ben.

Josh:  Yes.

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Corey:  Okay.

 

Alexandra:  All right. Well, we’re going to take a break. And when we come back, we want to shift the conversation a little bit to think about Afrofuturism and the Star Wars universe and how it engages with Afrofuturism whether that engagement is responsible or irresponsible.

[Break]

Alright, so Susana one of the reasons we were so excited to have you come in to chat with us is of course, you are an expert on Afrofuturism, you have done a lot of really important work. Thinking about black media and Afrofuturism, particularly in nerd cultures. I loved your appearance on Bottom of the Map, the podcast, where you spoke about Afrofuturism, and Black Panther and all these sorts of really interesting cultural moments that are coming up. So, I’m going to throw out sort of a general question is Star Wars Afrofuturist?

Susana:   No,

Alexandra:   no. [laughter]

Susana:   So, there is some contention around the definition of Afrofuturism and who gets to be an Afrofuturist and I was actually talking about this with my grad students today. So, what I’m about to say is–is contentious and there would be folks in the Afrofuturist community who would disagree with me, so I’ll say that right. So, for me, I think anyone can be an Afrofuturist critic and be part of cultural movement because it’s a cultural movement it’s not a genre, right? So, there are Afrofuturists, architects and designers and fashion, you know, makers and fine artists and professors and any number of things, right. But in order to create Afrofuturism, I believe that the creators and the makers need to be of African descent. Right? And so therefore, [laughter] in general you know what I mean. So, it’s stuff that black folk create, right? Whether it’s fashion or art or whatever it is, right, and so we can all appreciate it. So that’s part of the thing on that. I know many people would disagree with me within the community and say, Well, actually, though, like, if it has significant black characters, you know, it could be a part of and I would say, No, I disagree. [laughter] It becomes complicated. As you mentioned, Black Panther well, Black Panther was not created by black folks you know, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, like they were just like–

Josh:  –the original comic,–

Susana:   The original Black–original Black Panther. Right. Um, and briefly, what Black leopard or, you know, whatever, but like, sure, but in terms of the film,

Alexandra:  Right, right,

Susana:   Right, Ryan Coogler. Yeah, all of that, you know, down to Ruth Carter and the costuming

Josh:  The costume design

Susana:   And all the cast

Alexandra:  production design as well.

Susana:   All of that was very much black creatives in consultation with other folk. Right. So, Ruth Carter was very clear with I work with this person in Europe, who printed this 3d design of this. So, I’m not so hard line.

Josh:  It’s not a purity test,

Susana:   It’s not a purity test, but it’s more about focusing, like really focusing on creators, right, and makers and so on rather than representation.

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Susana:   So, Afrofuturism, to me is about creation and not simply about representation. So, I think we can have a conversation about representation like black representation, and Star Wars and the series in the franchise more generally in the world. But in terms of Afrofuturism, I would say no,

Alexandra:  I think that’s a I’d like that read actually, because it puts that that emphasis back on what actual black creatives are creating, right? I think that’s really cool. And–and I can see maybe saying like, well, film is a collaborative medium and you have John Boyega, sort of creating this character, right? You have Naomi Ackie. But then when you start to break it down that way, you think like, well, they’re not really in charge of what they get to say no. Right. And they’re in charge of their performance. But that’s not

Josh:  you sort of need the director and the writer at the very least.

Susana:   Right.

Josh:  Would you agree with that?

Susana:   I would agree with that.

Josh:  The initial core of the story has to come. Yeah,

Alexandra:  absolutely.

Susana:   Absolutely. That’s what I would say to that is that there needs to be more creative control, the director that producer, those kinds of things. And again, like you said, film is a collaborative media. So, you know, I’m sure going back to our Black Panther example, there are probably people in the makeup room who were not black. There are probably people sewing together the costumes. It’s not a purity test. Right? It really is about, like, thinking about larger questions right around creators. But you know, to that point, I would say like Watchmen, not the original comic, not the feature film, but this this current iteration. There were some black folk in the writers’ room.

Josh:  In the writers’ room–Yeah.

Susana:   Right.

Josh:  So Lindelof, of course, is white, but there was. So how would– Yes. How would you read Watchmen?

Susana:   I feel like that has I could go. I could say, well that has Afrofuturist elements

Josh:  It’s a good limit case Yeah.

Susana:   So that it’s not like, oh, everyone involved was what it’s so clear that they had black writers in the room that they had, you know, researchers that were very earlier on African American History and situating in the Tulsa race riots and then having Regina King be the center.

Josh:  Yeah,

Susana:   having, you know, Dr. Manhattan, spoiler alert. [laughter] You know, all that kind of stuff, at least in that iteration of his life, not the, you know, obviously he was able to change and shift and all that kind of stuff and that it wasn’t incidental that race actually was the driving catalyst

Josh:  It was the story.

Susana:   It was the story right in particular kinds of ways, right? So, I think Afrofuturist-adjacent, I’m here for that.

Josh:  So, if something if something similar were to I mean, so Lindelof has talked about, you know, reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s extremely well-known article The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic, right. He reads that, and he reads a, just a cursory reference the Tulsa massacre. And he’s like, I don’t know what that is. And then he researches and he feels compelled to find out what that is. And then it becomes the core framing historical event for the entire season of HBO’s Watchmen. And he’s sort of then to read, he realizes his own limitations where he realizes I’m a white dude, I’m not going to tell black America’s story. So, as you mentioned, he recruits a very diverse writing room, and all this stuff. So, if something similar were to happen to I don’t know whomever in a Star Wars context for a standalone movie or a new show or something like that you would kind of view it the same way like, yeah. Afrofuturist-adjacent.

Susana:   Right. And they would have to and I think it would be maybe difficult for Star Wars since it’s the university exists and racism function in the same way.

Alexandra:  Right,

Susana:   right. But that’s not to say that Africa there are lots of ways that people can sort of imagine race and gender and African diasporic histories and so on. So, I think they would have to do some work around because blackness doesn’t exist in the same way so I can’t remember Carl Weathers his character’s name

Alexandra:  Greef Karga

Susana:   Yeah.

Alexandra: Such an amazing Star Wars name

Josh:  Great name, great name

Susana:   his blackness was incidental. he happened to be a black person, but was he even black in the context of that world? Like I don’t know.

Alexandra:  Yeah,

Susana:   you know what I mean? Like he just was a person that retired bounty hunter HR person Yeah.

Josh:  There’s a very, very, very distant way that they deal with this in Rise of Skywalker, which is essentially they have a group of storm trooper defectors. To all be black. And it seems to be this this kind of suggestion that like, Oh, well we know that the Empire or the First Order whatever they were snatching up kids, they were conscripting they were conscripting kids to be stormtroopers. And so we as the audience are supposed to just think like, Oh, of course they were black they were stealing black kids because–because that’s a minority and no, that’s a vulnerable population, even though like you said, in the context of Star Wars, we don’t have a frame.

Susana:   right. Yeah, like are black people a minority? I don’t know is there are there planets are galaxies filled with just like people like just living their lives being heroes and villains possible, like in the context of the Star Wars world? There could be

Alexandra:   and that that sort of question right that unanswered thus far question is the underpinning of Donald Glover’s SNL sketch right

Josh:  So good [laughter]

Alexandra:  where? When is it “Lando’s Summit,” right? Yeah, he sort of calls all the black people in the Star Wars universe.

[Clip]

Donald Glover (as Lando):  Welcome my brothers and sisters to the first ever galactic summit for all black humans. They started with one question. Well, where the hell are all the black people in space? For a while, I thought it was me the only one but now I see before me all the black humans in the galaxy. I’ll say it. turnout was a little low. We’re expecting 1000 guests. I held that hope that there was a black human planet somewhere, but I guess it’s just us. Lots of lizard men wearing vests. Just for black people, though.

Josh:  You have Thandie Newton’s character from Solo?

Corey:  Who makes it 35 minutes into that movie.

Josh:  Yeah, she gets killed off. She’s like the best thing in that movie. You’ve got Lando, of course. You have a few Other kind of you have Finn from the new trilogy

Alexandra:  and you have the contentious and questionable Jar Jar Binks

Josh:  Jar Jar Binks of course, yeah.

Alexandra:  I want one of the things that I when I was thinking about this question of what is Star Wars engagement with Afrofuturist ideas, I was frustrated by how on the one hand they want to flirt with a lot of these things, which as we have said, are in the popular culture right at the moment, right. And yet also they are very unsure of what the role of black people is in the in the world of Star Wars. And so, we have these suggestions of like, are they have black children in the world of Star Wars faced the same sort of conscription,

Susana:   Right,

Alexandra:  Kidnapping and–and being forced into a particular kind of labor? Or is that just a lazy metaphor? Right that we’re making sicko like Well yeah, slavery is bad,

Susana:   Right

Josh:  Yeah,

Corey:  Right–that group of reformed stormtroopers also like they’re wearing fashion like made from old droids and things they’re riding some kind of like alien

Josh:  Equine-like creature

Corey:  yeah it

Alexandra:  Cow/horse thing

Josh:  they have a very indigenous vibe

Alexandra:  They do

Corey:  and they like the lead a cavalry charge onto a spaceship at one point

Josh:  They do, yes

Corey:  It read to me as someone somewhere said, “you know people really like Black Panther

Josh:  Well,

Corey:  Can we put Black Panther into this movie?

Josh:  So this is another place that they’re trying to do the Ewoks again right they’re…trying to say one of the big things that George wanted to convey in Return of the Jedi is that little weaker you know it’s the Maccabees right it’s the underdog it’s David and Goliath it’s the little Ewoks with their slings and stones can defeat the Empire and so it’s the same thing it’s like there’s actually a line in Rise of Skywalker where it’s like—like, “jam their speeders!” It’s like, “they’re not riding speeders!” You know? they have alien horses And they–and–and the one–the one character Naomi Ackies’ character Jana, who, as–as I said earlier is amazing and should have a lot more screen time she uses a bow and arrow and it’s this kind of primitive aesthetic because they’ve crashed and they’ve defected they crashed on this planet and they just sort of had to survive. And I think it’s channeling this idea of like, these are supposed to in some way is supposed to evoke people of African heritage is supposed to evoke indigenous peoples kind of at the same time just all in one cocktail of like, these are underdogs. They have primitive technology they’re they’re native peoples, but they’re going to defeat you know, the technologically superior forces much like the Ewoks.

Alexandra:  And there is an interesting thread to mine there. Metaphorically, maybe of threads are mine. Those are terrible. Excuse me–

Corey:  –but I knew exactly what you meant–

Alexandra:  There’s a vein to mine there

Corey:  Yeah.

Alexandra:  –Of the–the ways in which black people and indigenous People in the United States interacted with each other when we think about westerns and things like that in the Western tradition, but I don’t know that the main set of films are doing that and I also in some ways feel like the–the engagement with race so late into the Skywalker saga is not the corrective that they hope that it will be. Right the original trilogy so some very concerning things about blackness

Susana:   Indeed,

Alexandra:  Yeah. So, it’s a little frustrating now to suddenly right in our woke present Yeah, say like, Oh, yes, well, in actually in fact, the fascist movement of this galaxy is very racially diverse.

Josh:  There is an interesting so in the in the original Expanded Universe, you know, before the Disney takeover Kind of saying all that stuff is legends or whatever

Alexandra:  Reboot

Josh:  in the original the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn, which is sort of like the biggest set of novels that launched a lot more kind of proved there was a big market for Star Wars novels, even stuff that wasn’t really the movies. There’s he writes this whole backstory to Grand Admiral Thrawn Who’s this alien humanoid alien, you know, blue skin, red eyes. Very cool, you know, brilliant tactician character, and he writes this whole backstory, where to explain why Thrawn wasn’t around, you know, at the Battle of Endor or whatever. It’s like, oh, he was in the Unknown Regions because the Emperor was prejudiced against aliens. And even though Thrawn’s brilliance could not be denied, and he rose to the ranks, and he became a Grand Admiral, that the Emperor kind of wanted him on the margins. And then the irony of course is that Thrawn comes back after the Emperor’s died to restore the Empire. That’s kind of the setup for the novel, but in the EU, not in the films in the EU there was always this idea that the Empire was sort of had this white supremacist vibe but it was metaphorical, right? The idea was alien races are standing in for people of color. And that the reason you know, the Imperial officers, they’re always white and they would speak with a British accent and it sort of made sense that they had these–these fascist tendencies. So, it was always sort of implied that the aliens are serving a metaphorical purpose, which happens a lot science fiction,

Susana:   Absolutely.

Josh:  But then the problem is when you then try to bring in human actors who are people of color, and then try to bring in, like you said, what even is the?–How does race even work on any of these planets? It’s not clear at all. So, it’s kind of too little too late, because it’s not strictly a metaphor anymore, which sometimes works and sometimes fails miserably.

Corey:  As in the prequels,

Josh:  As in the prequels. Yeah. With the Gungans. And yeah, exactly. But if you’re not going to do the work, like give Naomi Ackie a story, give Thandie Newton’s character in Solo give them a story. And actually, if you if that’s how you want to delve into race, I think We would all be forgiving of like, Okay, well you can’t fix the past movies. But if you want to actually create a story that shows us she’s discriminated against because she’s a black woman in this particular planet, there is prejudice against that, or whatever. Or if you want to show us the opposite of that, no, it’s different on this world. Prejudice works differently, whatever. But you have to show us that you can’t just have us fill in what we know about contemporary black people now and just say, Oh, of course, you know, they must have overcome a bunch of obstacles because they’re played by black actors,

Alexandra:  particularly when your original trilogy and your original villain is not a white, British accented right. Yeah, man. Right. Right. But his voice by James Earl Jones, right?

Josh:  In a black suit of armor–

Alexandra:  –in a in a gigantic black suit of armor and is a sort of inscrutable stand-in for the figure of a black man. Brain and that’s your villain.

Susana:   That’s your villain? Well, I think so much. I mean, as you just mentioned, like so much of science fiction, more generally is about these racial tensions in there, right? Just beneath the surface if beneath the surface at all right? So, the fact that we’re sort of imagining Yes, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, but really an alternate future or alternate history or what have you, that we’re only going to have white folk at least appear on screen. But that says something about our–our own tensions, you know, and that we can only have very limited notions of blackness or brownness that says, it’s about our own stuff, like genre fiction, speculative stuff is really about the present. Right? And that’s what Samuel Delany says, it’s really about us working out our own stuff right now. And so while there’s really dope stuff about Samurai isn’t cowboys and all that it’s also about the racial and gender tensions that we have in 1977 in 1997, in 2020, and–and what have you, and so I think we see the failures of 1977 and failures of 1997 I was in a movie theater. When the prequels came out every prequel I was there, like, Okay, I’m ready. I went, you know, when they like re-released, you know, original. I was like, okay, 4, 5, 6 re-watching, boom, I’m ready. I go with my bestie were there and I’m like, so Jar Jar Binks, I remember had this like pseudo Caribbean accent, and I am Jamaican American, and I saw it in South Florida, with a large population of Caribbean folk. And when he started to speak, there was a collective gasp of horror and we were all like, Oh, I know, they didn’t just wait a minute. What’s happening here because they have to be all that. It did not have to be all that. Like, why are you Why are we doing this slapstick Comic Relief with this particular character in this way, folks were heated but then I went and saw the other two [laughter] Yeah, nerd stuff and

Alexandra:  I don’t know enough about That actor who–

Josh:  Ahmed Best

Alexandra:  Ahmed Best Yeah, I don’t I don’t know enough about his background.

Susana:   He had a rough way to go.

Alexandra:  Yeah, I do know that he was like a Lucas protege of his own and he was very invested in the Star Wars universe. And Lucas really championed him, but then also didn’t give him an easy road to hoe.

Corey:  Was–Was that a motion capture role? Or was that?

Alexandra:  Yes,

Josh:  Yeah. one of the first

Corey:  Okay so this is like pre-Smeagol

Josh:  it is

Alexandra:  yes.

Josh:  Yeah. It’s like ’99 Phantom Menace is like ’99. Yeah, it’s right before.

Corey:  Okay, so that wasn’t a CGI, fully CGI creation. He was performing.

Josh:  He was doing it

Alexandra:  right. He was on set.

Corey:  That’s interesting, but Andy Serkis is the one who gets the–

Josh:  Yeah, yeah, Ahmed Best has been a little bit erased in the pioneering.

Susana:   And you can see why.

Josh:  Yeah.

Susana:   Which is like–

Josh:  We all wanted to forget.

Susana:   Yeah. And I know that he’s been through things in terms of fandom and stuff like that. So, no shade to the actor

Josh:  It’s really more the writing than the performance

Susana:   Yes, it’s the writing because like you said, “What did he have to work with?” Right? The writing is atrocious.

Alexandra:  Yeah. Yeah. So–So then I guess to maybe wrap up our conversation then do we want Star Wars to engage with Afrofuturism in the future? Or are we kind of more feeling like, just put that down? Let’s leave that alone.

Susana:   Well, I think based on like what we’ve seen, you know, in the Mandalorian, that there are ways that you know, black characters can be involved, you know, and even in the most recent trilogy, where you can see I mean, their failures, their or their mishaps or mistakes. But I think the more engagement with maybe not Afrofuturism, but just with a more diverse array of characters, and having a diverse array of directors and show runners or producers, writers and so on. Like, that would be dope. You know, it’s great look around folks at the home that, you know, I think the more diversity, the better in terms of not just actual representation, but fully fleshed out characters that are interesting. And they don’t have to have the same racial baggage or story that we have here on Earth.

Alexandra:  Yeah.

Susana:   They can have a completely different, you know, the character who played the Mandalorian is a brown man, right? And we didn’t necessarily, I mean, we got some baggage around his story, but it was not the story of being a brown person is a story of, you know, being out in the world and the Empire and you know, kids being orphaned and stuff like that. That’s a story that could, you know, and so I’m not saying it has to be post racial, or race line or anything like that. I’m just saying, with science fiction, there’s an opportunity to imagine different paths and different features and race is actually a social construct, right. It’s a Real in that we all experience it, but it’s not a biological fact, right? And so, blackness and whiteness, and all those things did not exist in the way that we know them today, 1000 years ago, even 500 or 50 years ago, five years ago, right? And so, if we’re imagining an alternate future past or history, then folks that we understand in our own reality to be black can exist any kind of way. They can be heroes, they can be villains, obviously, we have to create with, you know, just like the story of Jar Jar Binks, like the context matters, but we have a lot more freedom and I think folks are worried like, old fans won’t relate or, you know, or we’ll put them in a tokenistic ways you know, I mean, and that’s just not helpful. Make them interesting and badass. You know, make them villains make them heroes, make the love interests, make them the storm, like, do all these things rather than like, okay, sidekick, okay, 35 minutes, you die quickly. Like, no make them fully fleshed out and there are so many nerds We will come we will enjoy it. And the racist nerds will get a bee in their bonnet. And they’ll be okay. But we should not create towards the racist nerds, or the sexist nerds or the Intel nerds. Like we should be focusing on the nerds that are just like, I want a good story like the students that I teach. We’re like in my Afrofuturist course, for undergrads, really like anyone I have black folks do this or that, like the story would have been super dope. And like, yeah, it would have been [laughter] now you go in the world, and you write a story and you work with a diverse writer’s room and make this stuff happen because these stories are awesome. And we want to nerd out. Yeah, so the more the better.

Alexandra:  How do we–I need Kathleen Kennedy’s number right now.

Josh:  Oh, 100%

Alexandra:  I want to send her just that–

Corey:  This is the pitch. Yeah, this sounds great.

Alexandra:  Thank you so much for coming to chat with us. We really appreciate it,

Susana:   Thank you for having me. It was fun,

Alexandra:  so lovely to nerd out about this specific thing that’s been part of our lives and culture for so long.

Corey:  Yeah. Thank you. Thanks. Thank you. We’ll see you all next time.

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Corey Goergen

About Corey Goergen

Corey Goergen is a first-year Brittain Fellow at Georgia Tech. He has an MA from the University of Georgia and a PhD from Emory. His teaching and research focuses on the histories of disability and addiction and the literature of the long eighteenth century.
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