Leia is The Great White Savior in Star Wars 48

by Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Science fiction has always been known for its social commentary. Different races of aliens have been stand-ins for all kinds of different cultures and subcultures in the real world. But as much as a show like Star Trek depicted the importance of diversity and inclusion, Captain Kirk was still cast in the role of “The Great White Savior.” Thought it’s not as overt, the ending of Star Wars 48 leaves me with that same uneasy feeling.

Leia leads our rebels on a mission to rescue Mon Cala King Lee-Char only to find him on life support, knocking death’s door. Since they can’t bring the King to his people, they record his message of rebellion instead.

Leia intends to share Lee-Char’s message with the people of Mon Cala in the hope that they will join the fight against the Empire, but they are stopped by Grand Admiral Urtya, who doesn’t believe that the Rebellion should interfere in their people’s affairs.

Inevitably Urtya broadcasts the message himself, inspiring Mon Cala to rebel. However, Leia notes that this was done too early, as a fleet of Star Destroyers jump in to quash aquatic rebellion. Urtya is right in saying that Mon Cala should be the ones to make such an important decision for their people, but that decision loses its weight when Leia has an “I told you so” moment at the end of the issue.

I might be reading too much into it, but Leia’s micromanaging of how Mon Cala fights for their freedom seems very “white savior complex.” I know, Leia is an awesome and inspiring figure, but from what we’ve been shown in the pages of both Star Wars and Darth Vader, so are the Mon Calamari — they’ve got crustacean armor for god’s sake! Leia doesn’t always have to be the first and final word on rebellion, especially when it has to do with a completely separate race of people. Stay woke, Leia.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

One comment on “Leia is The Great White Savior in Star Wars 48

  1. So, I saw Solo. Before I go into the spoilers (and I will be discussing a lot of real spoilers), I would say that this is the least of the new Star Wars movies, but good. It works as a fun adventure story, that takes a bunch of Western and Crime movie tropes together into a fun, inessential adventure story with beautiful cinematography, a bunch of great supporting characters and a climax that could be a bit more impactful but works great as a series of escalating reveals and double crosses in a way all good hiest movies end. ANd as a Star Wars movie, it is most interesting in a worldbuilding perspective. Not just in the new sides of the Star Wars galaxy it shows us, but in the way it acts as a seed for what could an entire series of interesting stories that take place in this time period.

    But it is a very bad Han SOlo movie, and the best way to improve this movie would be to change the main character’s name so he isn’t Han SOlo. The arc would work better, as it wouldn’t fail as a prequel to Han Solo, and the necessary changes made would improve other parts with respect to the humour (though as a Chewbecca prequel, it works really well, surprisingly)

    Spoilers below the line

    ________________________________________________________________

    Star Wars is, of course, a Fantasy Western Samurai Space Opera War movie. It is lots of genres at once. And so, it looks like the goal of the STar Wars stories is to choose one genre and commit to it. Rogue One was a war movie, and Solo is our Western. It is not just that it has all the usual Western elements, like Native American Raiders, indentured Chinese (not counting the more superficial elements like train heists, quick draw showdowns and saloon gambling) and grapples with those themes.

    And as a Western, it works. A bunch of crooks try and build a life as outlaws, but struggle with the reality and danger. As they try and complete their heist, they understand the way others are trapped in the same way they are, forcing Han into a change of heart by getting him to understand the evils that underlie the American West/Imperial-era Galaxy. It is great fun, and entertaining throughout.

    Before I go too deep into characters, I want to praise some of the worldbuilding details that don’t easily fit any particular character. Like the way that Imperial-controlled COrellia is shown. This is the first time we have really seen an Imperial Occupation, and Howard does a great job depicting this. The Empire feel present and oppressing. Especially in the wonderfully tense immigration scene. And we get to see war from an angle we never saw in Star Wars before, even in Rogue One. War as utter chaos, a complete hellhole where people exist only to die. I love the choice to, instead of have everyone as Stormtroopers, to suggest that the Stormtroopers are an elite military force and that the EMpire have more ordinary soldiers without all their special equipment (it makes sense. We have never seen Stormtroopers before in any situation that wasn’t high value). When Han was a soldier, he truly was the bottom of the bottom and I’d love to know more about what it is like for Han’s comrades, in a military like that. Meanwhile, Kessel is wonderfully done, easily selling it as more than just a generic location but as an actual hellhole.

    And yeah, let’s also make clear the great cinematography. I still stand by what I said last time, that the Last Jedi is the most technically competent Star Wars movie ever. And Solo obviously isn’t, the production difficulties create issues that couldn’t easily be fixed. But the cinematography is amazing, full of fantastic, stunning vistas. It is hard to compare to Last Jedi, especially after only one viewing. But Solo is up there with all time great cinematography (it also has a pretty decent soundtrack. I am a big fan of Enfys Nest’s theme). Meanwhile, the action sequences are all great. The train heist is a lot of fun, the duel with Dryden Voss works so well thanks to a fantastically realised space and a great wild card in Qi’ra and the Kessel Run is a masterclass of action filmmaking, giving every character something to do despite the fact that they are, essentially, just running around a set.

    But onto the characters. Let’s start with Han. Han’s origin is A New Hope. WHich is kind of the problem with this movie. Han’s origin is ‘in insurrection movements, officers and heroes can often be petty crooks’. But an origin of Han could work, if it was a loss of innocence. At the end of the day, the mvoie had to end with Han being so cynical, that he is the person he is at the start of A New Hope. But the movie can’t commit to that. And so he ends the movie too heroic. It tells a story, of a man learning how to be free. But as a story for Han, it doesn’t really fit. Especially at the end, where he kind of accidentally plays a key role in helping one of the cells that become the Rebellion. They try and suggest that Qi’ra’s betrayal at the end leaves him cynical, but it is missing some key elements. Not only is there not enough focus on what the betrayal means to him, so that it can have a fun, adventurous ending with a reference to Jabba instead of personal tragedy, but there is major missing parts of it. Just because Qi’ra betrayed him did not refute his heroism in the sequel. He achieved everything he wanted, and did good without being betrayed in any way except the heart. I could see it turning him cynical, but a cynical hero. Not the Han so cynical that he has lost every heroic bone in his body and tells everyone ‘that I’m not in this for your revolution. In fact, revolution is the one thing that, despite the rest of his cynicism, he is optimistic of. The lesson of the ending is that people will let you down, but grand ideals won’t. Which means this fails as an origin for Han. So it should be a completely new character.
    This would also force a rethink of the references and recycling jokes. The movie’s comedy isn’t Infinity War bad. Some of the recycled jokes do work, and many of the original jokes do as well. That’s not the case in Infinity War. As do some of the references. Say what you want about the reference to Chewie playing dejarik, it is used well to build Tobias as a character and set up important facts. On the other hand, the thermal detonator joke at the start is just cheap, and almost suggests that one of Leia’s great moments of awesome was not her own idea but came from hearing a story from Han.
    The only problem with suggesting Han would be fixed by renaming the character and making the movie less referencey is that he would still be the least interesting character. Alden Ehrenreich, as anyone who watched Hail Ceasar expected, has a great, charismatic performance as Han. But the character is still the least interesting element of his own movie. The fact is, others get to be interesting.

    So let’s talk about the others. Starting with Qi’ra. I was nervous about Qi’ra, as film has never known what to do with Emilia Clarke. So frequently, she has given such unconvincing performances you almost wonder whether her fantastic work in Game of Thrones come down to the fact that Daenerys’ unconvincing speeches isn’t a clever acting choice representing her struggles with learning the intricacies of rule but actual struggles with being unconvincing. But Solo proves that Emilia Clarke is the real deal, who knows what she is doing. Because Qi’ra, while being a little underwritten, is a layered character that gives so much for Emilia Clarke to work with. The opening prologue makes her instantly likable as Han’s partner in crime. They make such a great duo that their separation matters, and to then see Qi’ra turn up later as a femme fatale is a fantastic. She’s given the chance to play two very different archetypes, Bonnie and Clyde style outlaw and Femme Fatale, and the way she links those together is fantastic. As is the layers she gives her femme fatale. She really places an emphasis on the pain inside her, contrasting at every moment the sophisticated illusion with the pain and self-hatred inside her (hey, the joke goes that the reason every lead woman in a new Star Wars movie is a brunette white woman is that they all represent Kathleen Kennedy. What does it say that all three of them also demonstrate self-hatred as major character traits?). She’s always engaging to watch because we see her constantly grappling with the weight of what’s happened to her. I’d love to see this movie from her perspective, where Han is a love interest that reignites an innocence she thought she lost, because she is so compelling as she tries to handle Han returning to her life with the weight of a past hat forced them in different directions. Forced her into horrible directions (I love the choice for their big romance scene taking place in Lando’s cape closet. Qi’ra is most open to Han’s advances when she’s in the middle of playing dressing up, escaping her own reality to pretend to be a different version of herself).
    And Qi’ra is enhanced by fantastic costume design work. The black dress and necklace that is her main outfit looks fantastic and informs everything we need to know about her. And it is always well accented with just the right item to really sell that careful balance she always strikes. Her obvious wealth contrasts perfectly to her past and to Han, showing the different worlds they belong to (and her dark side, as Dryden Voss quickly builds a link between wealth and evil).
    I said before, that Solo is a movie that feels like it could be an interesting seed for future Star Wars stories in this time, and Qi’ra is a great example of one of these seeds. Solo provides us with a great origin for an interesting villain, and I’d love to see her around. Whenever a story requires a good gangster bad guy, Qi’ra could slot in really well, so that we aren’t reusing Jabba all the time. I’d love Qi’ra to be a character that just pops up every so often as a recurring villain. She’s one of the bad guys of the period. She’s the exact sort of textured bad guy that helps makes the world of Star Wars richer. When you make the next movie in this era, why not let her have a minor role if appropriate. Kind of like Doctor Strange in Thor Ragnarok. She’s a great villain and a great way to define the Star Wars Underworld.

    Woody Harrelson as Becket is a fantastic example of why Woody Harrelson is great. The character is a little underwritten, as they don’t fully show the effect of him losing Val (Thandie Newton is criminally underwritten in this story). But he is an entertaining presence, giving a compelling performance throughout. One thing I love about him is how dangerous he feels. As one of the many, many references this movie has, they mention that he killed fan favourite bounty hunter Aurra Sing, and this never feels like exaggeration, like they are telling something that ought to be shown instead. Becket is the most dangerous character on screen at all times, and Enfys Nest’s threat is established primarily by the fact that Becket struggles. When the climax comes and Han, of course, wins by shooting first, there is a sense it isn’t just because of the reference, but because if Han didn’t cheat, he would have no chance against Becket. This works really well. As a mentor, the almost fatherly side to him, rooted with his struggles with the loss of his romantic partner, provides a compelling voice to teach Han what he needs to know. But when things get bad and he betrays Han, he feels like a legitimate threat.

    Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who created and writes my new favourite TV show, plays L3, because apparently being the mastermind behind TV’s best drama is not enough talent for her and she has to steal the movie as possibly the best droid character Star Wars has ever had, is brilliant. Waller-Bridge’s performance, of course, is so key to the L3’s success. Giving attitude and personality to every scene. She’s so incredibly watchable, especially as she gets little quirks and physical beats that no other droid has got. Little things like her cute salute are fantastic.
    But she’s also great because she’s the first truly active droid. While every droid Star Wars has has been brilliant, they have all been strictly supporting their masters. L3 is the first to have goals and ideas outside her master’s desires. Hell, she doesn’t even have a master. She’s an equal partner to Lando. But the fact that she has such a strong droid rights platform creates a fantastic character unlike any droid. Not only is it rooted for many jokes and hilarious lines, but it gives her an arc. Solo is a movie about who has power over who and about revolution, and so L3 gets a great arc about applying her values and learning to be a revolutionary. She changes and shifts from a character angry at the world to one who finds her purpose applying that anger constructively.

    Paul Bettany does a great job with Dryden Vos, both in how well he shows the hidden savagery he has in every scene despite the fact that he pretends to be civilised. And his ship is fantastically handled, so wonderfully feeling threatening despite the superficial beauty. He works so well as a villain, a nasty crook for the movie to force others to deal with.

    And then there is Enfys Nest, who should get her own movie. I love the reveal of her removing her mask, revealing that this badass villain is actually a little kid. It really helps sell her story as one of the earliest cells of what would become the Rebellion. What look like dangerous marauders are actually young kids suffering (I am reminded of Jyn Erso’s past as a child soldier). The dichomotomy between these two sides is fantastic, making her both an incredible ‘villain’ in the action sequences and an instantly compelling character when the reveal happens and we learn she’s actually the hero (the idea of dichotomy and layered characters is throughout every supporting cast member. I think a reason this movie has such a rich supporting cast is that nearly everyone is built on the idea of appearance v reality. They all look like something else).
    Enfys Nest plays the Native American role, and she is a great example of updating the role of a Western trope. While her armour is designed to call tribute to tribal cultures like the Native Americans, I like how her place in a sci fi setting gets rid of the unfortunate Noble Savage implications. There is never a sense of her band as being backwards. A culture trapped in the past when everyone else uses the gun (especially as, in real life, Native Americans did use guns. Too useful not to). It is a fantastic update to a problematic trope, which addresses the issues.
    And yeah, she is a great character full of all sorts of potential and full of interesting dramatic conflicts. She steals the show and I’m not surprised that there are already calls for a spinoff. I want Qi’ra in other movies, but I want an Enfys Nest movie.

    And then there is Lando. Despite the exciting casting of Donald Glover, he is wasted by the fact that he feels like he exists solely because he needs to be there. While L3 has a role in the plot, as her navigational data makes her death a major complication for the Kessel Run, Lando has no role. Han’s arc, as flawed as it is, doesn’t need a best friend. It needs a mentor, a lost love etc. But no best friend and Lando is just there, on the side of the movie. He feels redundant. A real disappointment.

    Oh, and we have that cameo at the end… Major spoilers for this paragraph. So, the boss of Dryden Vos and Qi’ra’s crime syndicate is… Darth Maul. A lot of people have complained about this out of a prequel hate, but that’s not why I have a problem with it. Yeah, Maul is a bad character in the Phantom Menace, but he could be redeemed. Hell, between seeing the different choices Disney have made with Star Wars and the ways that current events uncomfortably mirror the prequels, I think we are as a culture reevaluating the prequels and appreciating the elements that had potential. Still acknowledge that they were bad, but in a more intellectual way. And I think par tof that should be trying to redeem characters with potential. And doing what Solo does with Maul is exactly the sort of thing that would work. Maul is a boring character who has no motivation except ‘revenge on Jedi’? Having him suddenly appear as the head of a crime syndicate is a great idea. Creates dramatic questions and makes him dynamic. What happened that changed him THAT much? That is a good idea.
    Except, those dramatic questions have already been answered. There is no story to tell. The problem is that Clone Wars and Rebels already told this story. We have an entire, complete arc with Maul, that ends with him being killed by Obi-Wan on Tatooine. Hell, making Maul the boss here just creates unnecessary repetition to his arc. He was supposed to have lost his giant crime syndicate at the end of the Clone Wars, when Palpatine captured him where he disappeared until he was found broken in a Sith Temple in Malachor. Now, somehow he escapes Palpatine, builds a new crime syndicate that goes nowhere until he’s found broken on Malachor? It just creates problems.
    And yeah, I think it is fair to say that if the movies reintroduce a character like Maul in the way they did, they should resolve that story. Except they can’t. Because every key part of that story was already told. This could have been a great idea, ruined by the fact that the TV Shows already did that. It just causes problems to Maul’s character.

    But then, that’s Solo. Every pre-existing character comes out poorly. But the supporting characters are rich an amazing. Solo really should have focused on new characters, because that is where it sings.
    Instead, what it is, is an inessential but good, fun movie. This will be remembered as a great time having an adventure, but as good quality Star Wars filler. The more interesting Star Wars conversations will always be on movies like Last Jedi and what a masterpiece that movie is, or on how movies like Rogue One reinterpret Star Wars by getting us to think about the dirty work necessary to ensure the heroes have the opportunities they had. And that’s not a bad thing. It is easy to think every Star Wars movie should be the biggest thing ever, but it doesn’t have to be like that. And Solo does a great job at not being that Star Wars movie.
    Though the fact that it is a Han movie and the problems that causes really do hurt the movie. It would be a better example of what it is were it not for the problems caused by not working as a Han origin, or the overuse of references.

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