Friday, November 18, 2016

Luminous Beings: Why Star Wars Matters Now More Than Ever

In college, one of my film professors shared something with us that I keep thinking about, even years later. He told us that after 9/11/01 all he wanted to do is watch Star Wars and escape. And, buddy, after 11/9/16 all I want to do is watch Star Wars and escape.

I’m disappointed to be starting my Star Wars column off like this, in this context. This column will explore the vast world of Star Wars and how we participate in that world.  So maybe this is the perfect place to start. We are currently living in a world where many women, people of color, people with  disabilities, and people who identify as queer are scared for their lives. In such a serious and grave moment in history, how can anyone concern themselves with something as trivial as pop culture? As ridiculous as space wizards and ray guns?

Before you let anyone get away with criticizing you for your fandom, let’s talk about the role Star Wars is currently playing in the lives of fangirls. There are two facets to this: one being that Star Wars provides an escape for marginalized people, the other being the themes found in Star Wars both reflect and influence our culture at large.

Fandom is a powerful thing, despite being written off by the mainstream majority as something strange. It is a source of community and with any community, values and social norms arise. For example, the BBC Sherlock fandom is made up mostly of queer women, and it has created a safe space for those queer women. That fandom played a major role in my own queer story. But what kind of spaces does the Star Wars fandom create, what kind of communities? The thing is, Star Wars is a massive fandom, with so many subsets. We have two trilogies under our belt and we’re working on a third, we have two animated series, a huge amount of novels and comic books (some canon, some purged from the canon, RIP), and we have video games. Star Wars is huge and it has a place for everybody. Sort of like a certain country we all know…

So when the real world turns its back on you, fandom provides a safe space, even if it’s fictional or virtual. This is a method of self care, it’s a coping mechanism. It’s also important that we eventually leave our escapism to fight the good fight, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with pulling your peace of mind from pop culture and the support systems around it.

Now let’s talk about the themes in Star Wars, like family, resistance, and hope at overcoming the darkness at incredible odds. I think that last bit is what’s connecting so much with me right now. This theme of hope despite has spanned three trilogies now. First with the destruction of the Empire, then the survival of the Jedi way against the Sith and Separatists, and now the resistance against a small group of zealots looking to take back control. All of our heroes stopped at nothing to do what was right, even when it seemed hopeless.

Our most recent addition to the Star Wars Universe has been Episode VII: The Force Awakens. In this movie, our lead is a girl from the middle of nowhere who just wants to be a part of something bigger than herself. And it's also the black man who breaks away from the destructive expectations assigned to him. And the Hispanic pilot who is treated as a competent leader. How many of us are finally having our stories told? That in and of itself is a source for hope. Our media is more diverse than it ever has been, and it keeps growing. This reflects the diversity in our actual lives, and it normalizes that to the mainstream culture.

Star Wars is one of, if not the, most influential franchise in the most influential art form in history. We make a difference when we support this media with our dollar and our hearts. We make a difference when we demand this fandom to be better still, to be open and progressive. And by demanding this, we make a change in our country at large. Pop culture is culture. Representation is important. And we are making a difference.

The real world looks very bleak right now, and it’s okay to be scared. I’m scared. The road ahead looks insurmountable, but we are still going to take it for the people we want to protect. We are, every one of us, Luke Skywalker. We are Leia, Han, Rey, Finn, Poe, Padme, Obi Wan, and some of us are Anakin. We face a giant struggle, and we are probably going to lose some battles along the way. But we have each other, and that means we have hope.


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