Tag Archives: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Graphic Mythology: Creative Responsibility

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What I have to say this week applies not only to comics but to writing in general. A couple of weeks ago, I lamented negative portrayals of women and children in graphic novels and used early issues of Wonder Woman to exemplify my arguments. While it might seem irrelevant to get upset about something that is obviously dated and silly in retrospect, I deliberately used images that would seem tame or even harmless. To be honest, some of the more current  images are so graphic that I felt it would have been in bad taste to include them in my post. I contend that the points I made are valid, and using seemingly inoffensive examples might actually encourage readers to take a more careful look at how they and the rest of society think. Fantasy isn’t real, but it has real consequences, good and bad. Keep in mind that Wonder Woman is often uncritically regarded as a feminist icon because she is a superhero and because she is a woman. It is good to read thoughtfully and to choose one’s heroes carefully.

Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.
Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.

Our modern mythology in western society is embodied primarily in movies, comics, and popular fiction. The key here is writing. For something to be seen, it first must be written. Our culture in general and fantasy entertainment in particular are saturated with damaging portrayals of women. Those of us who write have the opportunity and the responsibility to help reverse this trend. Compelling characters and stories can have tremendous influence on the attitudes of many people. I am not suggesting we write propaganda at the expense of story quality. This takes too low a view of our respective readerships. These are people who can and will think for themselves, but they will choose from available options. Let’s offer them something better.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015), directed by J. J. Abrams.
Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), directed by J. J. Abrams.

It isn’t enough just to have lead characters who are female. This can lead us into an insipid numbers game which actually defeats our purpose and continues to feed the beast. We need to take a more qualitative look at what we are doing and why. The following comments are based on my own limited experience, so I would appreciate any additional insights you might care to contribute.

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I have noticed some trends which have been lauded as steps in the right direction in fantasy writing. Most with which I am familiar simply involve the raising of awareness by describing unsettling societal issues and incorporating them into plot and character development. It is fairly easy to describe the mistreatment of women, somewhat harder to shed light on the internal suffering this causes them, and much more difficult to create solutions which can show us a way forward. For example, a plethora of female superheroes have been written with backstories of abuse and discrimination. If I can say anything about them as a group, it is that they are portrayed as damaged and often angry. Internal conflict is the base from which they combat evil, and they have a tendency to remain hurt, angry, and conflicted as they unsuccessfully try to exorcise their personal demons. In other words, they don’t often get better.

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The challenge for fantasy writers, as I see it, is to begin with characters who are damaged and then make them believably whole. In doing this, care must be exercised to prevent the story from devolving into a predictable morality play. Some would argue that healthy characters aren’t as interesting, but I respectfully disagree. Would you rather have a conversation with a disturbed stranger or with one who is more balanced? Healthy characters can have as many, if not more, interesting facets to their personalities as those who are damaged. The trick, and it is not trivial, is to make them interesting in their damaged condition and then to make them even more interesting when they are whole. Then, of course, there is the type of female character who starts out from a good place and ends up in an even better one. These are relatively under-utilized roles in current fiction, and they represent considerable literary potential.

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Folks (and especially guys), we don’t have to keep our female characters in chains. They can also be more fully clothed. Superheroines are good for more than ogling, DTR talks, catfights (and other girl-on-girl drama), sexual abuse, and even social statements. They and other female leads are deep wells with many unexplored possibilities. As in relationships with real women, we have only scratched the surface.

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Mythology In Space: Part 3

All pictures from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed by J. J. Abrams
All pictures from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed by J. J. Abrams

I feel no particular need to repeat everything that so many have already said about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I enjoyed this movie. No, I REALLY enjoyed this movie. The special effects are right, and adequate fan service is paid. Oh, yeah – the spaceships are still cool and more “realistic” than ever. Chewbacca (still played by Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (still played by Anthony Daniels), and R2D2 (for whom Kenny Baker is still involved, this time serving as a consultant) are their lovable, familiar selves. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)  are poignantly compelling in their maturity.

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But as I mentioned in last week’s post, I want to concentrate on two themes:

  1. the origin of evil
  2. spiritual development

Much could be said in regard to these themes, but I’ll concentrate on two new characters:

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Kylo Ren – Oh, he’s evil, but he’s also a temperamental adolescent or post-adolescent who’s not yet fully on his game. The main question I have relates to the first theme. We know that he became evil, but we don’t know why  given that his parents were essentially good.

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More specifically how did he (as played by Adam Driver) get to the depraved state in which he could do what he did near the end of the movie? Even Darth Vader had turned out alright in the end, for crying out loud (which a middle-aged fellow sitting near me in the theater nearly did).

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Rey – This character (played by Daisy Ridley) interested me for three reasons. First, she is a charming, admirable, gutty, and very feminine (but in an unconventional way) action hero.

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Second, she and Han Solo have a good teacher-pupil relationship until… well, you know.

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Third, concerning the second theme, I was delighted to watch her intuitive discovery of her spiritual prowess, especially during her mental face-off with Kylo Ren. The light saber fight wasn’t bad, either.

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It is probably obvious by now that I found her the most compelling character. I’m a father with daughters, and I teach at a women’s college. I’ll make a bold prediction: this kid is going places.

Am I forgetting something? Right. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is still cool, too.

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