White Male Privilege: A Star Wars Story
Updated: Jan 14, 2019
Originally Published on June 6, 2018
Fans of a franchise about fighting oppression and intolerance harass an Asian actress off instagram and blame a woman for a movie that flopped because of two entitled man-babies.
Okay. So that happened. Kelly Marie Tran had shut down her instagram profile in light of intense harassment from disgruntled Star Wars fans who, for some reason, were upset to learn that there are Asian women in space. When it rains it pours, I suppose, because this was after two weekends of poor box-office performance from Solo: A Star Wars Story.
And here I am left wondering what the crap happened to my Star Wars?
It turns out that movie-goers aren’t interested in going to see a movie just because it’s attached to a beloved franchise. And while I haven’t seen Solo: A Star Wars Story (hereafter referred to as Solo), the reviews are pretty unilateral so I’ll rest under that assumption.
I wasn’t planning to write about this because I figured everyone would. I wouldn’t have been able to push out a thought-provoking piece about a movie I hadn’t seen and don’t really plan on seeing.
First, I’d like to tell you why I, a Star Wars Fan™, have not seen Solo.
And yes, I qualify myself as a Fan because, in spite of never not being broke, I somehow own about $5000 worth of Star Wars merchandise. And that’s probably low-balling it. Star Wars is so important to me that I have ended up making a lot of irresponsible decisions (Rent, or a $200 Millennium Falcon lego set… Choices). I love Star Wars so much I will even defend against (some of) the criticism for the prequels.
Even as friends and family thought that Rogue One sounded like a lame, tensionless idea, I was thrilled. I mean, I vastly preferred ‘Star Wars: Anthology’ to ‘Star Wars Story’, but Rogue One exceeded my expectations to the point where I thought that the ‘Stories’ could eclipse the quality of the trilogy films.
But from the get-go, I had no interest in Solo. Just… nothing. I mean, when they announced a movie exclusively about Han Solo, I wasn’t that interested. His entire character arc took place in the Original Trilogy. If you’re making a movie about him, you’re either going to have a static character, or you’re going to make Harrison Ford’s character arc irrelevant.
From what I’ve read about the movie, they somehow managed to do both?
Han Solo, himself, isn’t that much of an interesting character. As far as the original Star Wars set out to subvert fantasy and adventure narratives as they had manifested through film history, Han Solo was the common element. He was a one-note character who was predictable and cliched. He was Errol Flynn 2.0.
Ford brought some swagger and charm to the character that fans latched on to, but his contribution to the plot was to throw sass and set up plot-moments for both Leia and Luke.
Even after Rogue One, I had this hope that they would go and do this kind of crime-drama (in space). They could have made a gangster movie (in space) about the Star Wars criminal underworld. Han Solo wouldn’t need to have much of a character arc because he would be the audience viewpoint. I started to get these hopes about a Star Wars movie taking nods form Scorsese, and making a science fiction Goodfellas. You could even back up a dump truck full of money onto Harrison Ford’s lawn to get him to give a retrospective ‘this is what’ happened narration.
Rogue One was an indication that ‘Star Wars Stories’ didn’t/don’t have to follow the rigid swashbuckling-to-save-the-galaxy format that has built Star Wars movies. You could have a grown-up Star Wars movie. Rogue One was a war movie (in space) — Solo, by all accounts, was… just another Star Wars movie… but without the gravitas. Or cohesion. Or interesting characters.
But even aside from that, Solo had two major problems against it. The first was the name. 'Solo’. Couldn’t have… you know. Put in a LITTLE bit more effort? I get that you’re trying to make a dual-meaning, where it’s harkening to the titular character at the same time as establishing that he’s a loner. But Han Solo isn’t a loner… he’s always been with Chewbacca. So already, you’ve screwed yourself.
As far as I can recall, a title wasn’t announced until Ron Howard came on board… which is the second reason I wasn’t interested. Howard is a… a fine director. And I mean fine as in the fancy way you’d say it. A fine young lady, etc. But he’s not really… a visionary. He doesn’t exactly have a visual style. Regardless of what you think about their entertainment quality, after both ‘Rogue One’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ were stunning to look at, ‘Solo’ had a lot to live up to.
And given that the extent of Abram’s visual aesthetic is lens flare, I feel as if the auteur age of Star Wars may have been all too brief. (We’ll come around to that again, I promise.) That said… I’m sure Ron Howard could have pulled a decent Han Solo movie together if he hadn’t taken over a flaming train wreck.
See, I was never going to get my Gangsters in Space movie. At least not from Solo — because the first two directors that Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy, hired were Chris Miller and Phil Lord, whose greatest resume piece was 'The Lego Movie'. On its own, it is probably one of the best animated films I’ve seen. I suppose Kennedy was hoping to do like Kevin Feigie, and hand off a huge project to a pair of unknown comedy directors who showed potential.
What she got were a pair of guys who did not follow instructions, and who didn’t seem to realize that they were handed an opportunity that a LOT of people would have dismembered themselves, their mother, and their baby to get. Kennedy is a busy woman, and by all accounts she doesn’t micromanage the way Feigie does. You direct a movie, and she goes to cross-promote theme parks, resorts, merchandise, novel tie-ins, videos games, and mobile apps.
Instead of hearing that Lord and Miller are expanding a beloved franchise, she gets reports that early filmed material is closer to Ace Ventura than Star Wars. Furthermore, when she asked for a multitude of camera angles on each scene (Star Wars films are made in the editing room), they started filming scenes from a single wide-angle.
You may be making a comedy, but I’m sorry — if you don’t take that comedy seriously, you’re wasting someone’s time and money. From reports, Kennedy gave them three chances to smarten up before they got replaced. Because apparently they thought they were invulnerable to consequences? Because they were just such lovable goofballs?
My theory is that if it was a man in charge of Star Wars, they would have been sacked the second they started goofing off on the dime of the largest entertainment conglomerate in history. Or that they wouldn't have even started goofing if Lucas or a man was cutting the cheques.
What bothers me most about Solo is what is coming out of the first live-action Star Wars flop, and what COULD come out of the first live-action Star Wars flop.
I’m none too proud of my fellow Star Wars fans right now. Since ‘The Force Awakens’, they’ve become toxic to the point where I don’t really like associating myself with the fandom. (Like Rick and Morty... I don't like talking in public about liking it.) I mean, The Extended Universe (now referred to as ‘Legends’) was always a mess. But if you said that you’d get your head bitten off by people (guys) who devoted a lot of time to picking and choosing what novels, video games, and fan fiction they thought made up the canon.
It was to the point where unpublished fan-fiction was considered canon by some.
But when trailers for The Force Awakens depicted John Boyega holding that lightsaber… there was an outcry. The prospect of the central Jedi being a black guy was preposterous. Thankfully, the racist elements of the fandom, who insisted they weren’t racist while mustering a boycott of the movie because of the black guy, were in the minority.
Just be thankful that the central Jedi of the story wasn’t a woman—
I’m sure if Fans going into The Force Awakens knew that Daisy Ridley was who the Force was with, that boycott may have been a bit more significant. Indeed, before any information about Rogue One, there were already torrents of fans complaining about our new Female Protagonist. The easiest defense was to call her a Mary Sue, a character who functions as a self-insertion, who has everything ostensively handed to her.
Because Luke Skywalker had it so rough. But for some reason, ‘Star Wars’/‘A New Hope’ gets this free pass for being a film masterpiece even though it has some pretty significant flaws. Luke being an errant ‘Gary Stu’ exceeds any criticism given to Rey.
But after the Boys didn’t get Rogue One’(because a cast of men doesn’t make up for a single female protagonist), and after The Last Jedi wasn’t that wish-fulfillment Luke Skywalker fantasy from the Extended Universe, the fanboys who felt that Star Wars had been taken away from them. Because there were no identifiable white-male protagonists left, were going to use whatever excuse necessary to tear ‘The Last Jedi’ to shreds.
I don’t want to get into the debate of whether it was a good film or not, because that’s a debate nobody’s going to win. I’ll share my bias and say that, Canto Bite scene or no, The Last Jedi functions as an art piece. And yes, Carrie Fisher floating through space was basically the highlight of my life.
Naturally the film was divisive, and a number of forum-lurkers vowed to never support a Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars movie again (even if it means giving it back to Lucas which, go back ten years and tell yourself you said those words). And so naturally, the failure of Solo validated them… that their white-man boycott was successful.
You may dismiss me as not being a ‘real’ Star Wars fan. In which case you don’t really have a right to dictate what someone else is or isn’t, but I’m not the only person who religiously goes to every Star Wars movie opening night who looked at Solo and said: meh.
Regardless, the Forum-Fans of Star Wars are taking this as a victory and are sending every Hail Mary they think they have to Disney in the gleeful hopes that Kennedy will be removed from control and that they’ll get their Star Wars back. Maybe they’ll remake Episode 8 while they’re at it and make Luke the real hero who ends up saving the day. With dual lightsabers.
My greatest fear… is that Disney will listen to them.
Money talks, and it’s the only language Mr. Hollywood understands. So… what’s the message Disney’s going to take out of this? A lot of Toxic Fanboys have spent the last four years obsessing over any way they can make Kathleen Kennedy out to be a conspiracy-driven social justice warrior who is doing everything she can to conceal how these movies haven’t actually made back what Disney bought these IPs for. And they’re pointing the finger at her. Is Disney going to listen to them?
Here’s the problem: ‘Geek Culture’ has reached a certain degree of cultural permeability, yes. But the ‘hardcore’ fandom — the kind who have read all the Star Wars novels, who have played all the games, who have read all the comics, and who spend vast amounts of time debating the mechanics of Star Wars itself — they are still a vast minority.
They’re an incredibly loud minority, in the same way that modern Feminists distance themselves from TERFS, who seem to take up the larger portion of the public awareness.
Is Disney going to take their volume for representation, or are they going to look at Solo as an outlier in a franchise that Kennedy has already delivered results that exceeded expectations by leaps and bounds?
Personally, I think Kennedy deserved a failure. Solo was a horrible venture: Han Solo is a horrible character to frame a movie around. You can forget about the torrent of problems with the production itself. Yes. It’s good for every executive to know their brand isn’t bullet-proof, and that they need to focus on delivering quality content every time.
The MCU is successful because Feige goes into Ant Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy under the assumption that people will never buy into these ridiculous premises, and that it’s up to him and the team he assembles to make it palatable. So yes, Kennedy needs to adapt from this mistake and make better choices. But freaking out and changing an entire business model that has been immensely successful until now is the more likely path to disaster.
But if Disney listens to fans who were already disgruntled, after it’s been shown for the previous three movies in Kennedy’s tenure that their absence is not missed, then what they’re doing is cow-towing to tantrum-throwing. At which point they’re going to be developing material that’s ostensively $200-million fan-fiction.
And the vast majority of ‘casual’ Star Wars Fans, who, I suppose I would qualify as, would not like that. Because Star Wars, for us, isn’t about Luke Skywalker mowing down Palpatine clones. It’s not about the out-of-wedlock child Anakin Skywalker had with an alien criminal queen. It’s not about Chewbacca being too impervious to blasters that the only way to kill him is by throwing a planet at him.
(Two truths and a lie.)
The Original Trilogy especially was all about challenging the audience’s expectations. Almost every major set-up had an unexpected payoff: from Princess Leia rescuing her rescuers, to the ‘great warrior’ Yoda. The main antagonist was the father of the main protagonist, and the Emperor of the galaxy was an old man in a rough-hewn robe.
Star Wars was never about promoting the kind of toxic masculinity that has since permeated the fandom. In fact, through the entire series, heroic characters habitually fail when their actions fit into ‘typical’ masculine behavior; they are victorious when their actions are subtle and passive. Star Wars is basically a love letter to Taoism, and Lucas hasn't been shy about it.
If Disney lets the creative decisions of Star Wars be taken over by a mob of self-proclaimed ‘true’ fans, they would be handing the keys to the city over to a group of individuals who represent the principle antagonists of the entire franchise. The Jedi were all about letting go of attachment, adapting to change, and appreciating the present state of the world/galaxy. It was the Sith who stuck, crossed their arms, stomped their feet, and threw tantrums when things weren’t going their way. Especially in the extended universe (which these ‘true’ fans love so much), the Sith were explicit racists who favored humans over aliens.
I can’t believe this is news to people, but ‘aliens’ are almost always, and arguably have been since Voltaire, science-fiction allegories for non-white people. So if you want a practical definition of irony, it doesn’t get clearer than Kelly Marie Tran getting harassed by Star Wars fans.
So please, if you’re a straight, white, cisgender man, and you’re complaining about not being able to identify with anyone in Star Wars… please understand that this is what the rest of us have had to do for our entire lives until now.
So please, suck it up and enjoy quality entertainment.