There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?
If you’re like me, you were crazy hype for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens from the time the first trailer came out. The amount of hype that I had for this movie surprised me because, while I enjoyed the previous Star Wars films (some of them ironically, others in earnest), it didn’t get me hot the way my other pet fandoms did.
TFA, on the other hand, had me boarding the hype train at light speed. It had the original actors on board, it had an awesome new diverse cast as well, the effects didn’t all look like a mush of CGI, George Lucas DIDN’T write the dialog, and best of all, it made fuckboys angry. And when I actually saw the movie, it was everything I was hoping for and expecting. The film has some flaws, yes, but that’s a discussion for better, more thorough fans than I.
I’ve seen the film three times now, and with each repeat viewing, certain parallels began to present themselves to me– parallels to Gamergate and by extension, the ongoing culture wars. Want to hear my ramblings on the matter? No? Well, you’re going to anyway!
There are TFA SPOILERS from here on in, by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet- what, are you living under a rock? GO!
I. The Factions
The first group we are introduced to in-depth is the “sinister FIRST ORDER,” a rather well-organized bunch of tryhard Empire-cosplaying wannabes who want to subjugate all other systems through fear, intimidation, and another planet-shaped weapon. Sooooo original. To this end, they utilize the Stormtroopers, a force of faceless, anonymous soldiers of whom 99.5 appear to be white* and male**. Am I ringing any bells yet? This also reminded me of how, on the internet, you are always assumed to be white and male unless proven (or asserted) otherwise. I could buy my 4th ticket to Episode Seven AND some popcorn if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve been misgendered on the internet, whether under my ultrafeminine username, or a gender-neutral handle.
On the other hand, we have “a brave RESISTANCE,” led by a woman, General Organa. Whereas we see only white and light-skinned faces within the First Order (which is intentional, given the Nazi parallels), the Resistance is diverse and inclusive, populated by humans of many different races, and numerous species.
[It’s also worth noting that the First Order has NO aliens in its ranks. The monochromatic informant with the stripper heels in Maz Kanata’s bar doesn’t count. Snoke could be an alien, but no one seems to be sure wtf he is. Although this is hinted at in the films, the Expanded Universe explores how the Empire explicitly believed that humans were the literal master race, and other alien species were inferior. It follows that the First Order would believe similarly.]
*Standard Deviation: Cpt. Phasma, shiny and chrome; TIE fighter pilots
**Again, Cpt. Phasma and that one Stormtrooper who talked to Kylo Ren about the search for Rey
II. The Ideology
What does the First Order stand for? Hux vows, in his pants-jizzing speech, that the First Order will end the Republic and the Resistance. Why? Because they constitute “a regime that acquiesces to disorder.”
So they’re neat-freaks? While that would explain the spotless interiors of Starkiller Base, their raison d’etre is never made explicit in TFA. In The Force Awakens novelization, Kylo Ren goes into detail, sort of:
“It is the task of the First Order to remove the disorder from our own existence, so that civilization may be returned to the stability that promotes progress.”
Seriously, what the hell does that mean? Progress towards what? Isn’t civilization always progressing in some shape or form? There’s no concrete plans or policies that can be put to action in that mission statement, just vague philosophical concepts about order and disorder, over and over again.
Similarly, when you confront Gamergators about their compatriots harassing the living shit out of women in the gaming industry, the only tangible effect of their campaign (besides annoyance), what is their battlecry?
It’s not about that! It’s about ethics in gaming journalism!
That phrase has been repeated ad nauseum, so often that it’s become a dogwhistle, an empty truism that has nothing to do with their ultimate antifeminist aims. Kinda like how “remov[ing…] disorder from our existence” doesn’t immediately make you think, “You know will totally create order in the galaxy? Blowing up the Hosnian system!”
To quote Ian Danskin, Gamergate’s ultimate semantic goal was “to wrap bigotry in a political euphemism.” And that’s just what GG (and the First Order) did.
III. The Players
I should note, first of all, that these characters have already sparked controversy in meatspace, in the many accusations that Rey is a Mary Sue (you can find the answer to that here), and the dearth of merchandise related to the film’s protagonist, which the director himself called “preposterous and wrong.” Rey’s absence seems especially telling, given how adept the franchise has always been at marketing and merchandising. And, of course, comparisons between gamers and Kylo Ren have already been drawn.
Kylo Ren is clearly a space fuckboy; a Ren’s Rights Activist, even. Despite his vast talents, he has very poor control of his emotions, throwing lightsaber tantrums and wreaking havoc on the First Order’s console requisitions department. Though a compelling and well-written character
and my favorite, he’s clearly inferior to previous villains of the franchise, like Boba Fett and Darth Vader– and that’s ok, since that’s kind of the point of him. Despite this, Kylo Ren makes up the majority of Star Wars merchandise and toys, comprising more merchandise than Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron AND BB-8 put together! How does he have more stuff than BB-fucking-8?
It is fair to point out that, of those characters, Kylo’s actor is the only white male among them. Maybe the merchandisers thought that this would make him ‘everyman’ enough to carry the bulk of products? I couldn’t say for sure, but it certainly appears that way.
Despite being a wimpy Vader-wannabe, Ren is still a villain. Before he even meets Rey, Ren clearly thinks of himself as her superior. Earlier in the film, he flips out and force-chokes the goon that tells him Finn was helped by a girl. And when they finally meet, after Rey’s capture, he taunts her: “[BB-8] showed the map to you- you, a scavenger,” he scoffs, as tears well in Rey’s eyes. With the tone Ren takes, it’s very easy to imagine that ‘scavenger’ is standing in for a few other less kind words. Leering over her, he says matter-of-factly: “You know I can take whatever I want.” Following this exchange, he forcibly probes her mind in search of the answers he seeks. At best, this could be seen as a sort of futuristic doxxing; at worst, it’s psychic assault.
When Rey fights back and resists Ren, he is astonished enough to run right to his master with the news, to Snoke’s fury. To me, they seem waaaaay too amazed at her force sensitivity– you can almost imagine one of them saying, “Is she a REAL Jedi, or just faking it for attention?” No one questioned Luke’s ability to hit that thermal exhaust port without computer assistance, and no one bats an eye when Finn wields the weapon carried only by Jedi (though to be fair, he could be force-sensitive himself; we simply don’t have enough information to conclusively say).
But Ren is in for another surprise when the lightsaber that he considers his– a literal torch– passes not to him, but to Rey, the mere scavenger he considered beneath him. For Rey, this marks her willingness to enter into a world that is challenging and frightening, but rewarding all the same. This reflects, to me, the choice that every woman makes when they decide to engage with some part of the internet, or hell, even with the world at large: you know all the bad things that could happen if you stick your neck out, but you do it anyway. In Rey’s case, she must do it for the good of the galaxy.
When Rey and Ren duel on Starkiller Base, while X-Wings and TIE fighters fight above and the planet crumbles beneath them, their ideologies clash. Ren represents ‘order’: a return to an oppressive status quo. For Gators, this manifested as a yearning for a time when they felt they had a monopoly on game consumption, when they could play games without being made to think critically about them or confront their own prejudices. Rey represents a departure from that status quo, and the arrival of a new, more equitable future, one that has room for everyone at the table.
Which future will win? Well, Rey ultimately defeats Ren in battle and the rebels successfully blow up the Death Star 3.0, but the war is far from over, at least for another 2 movies. That’s the way it is with culture wars: even though victories are declared and gains are made, it’s never absolute. You can’t change everyone’s mind and instantly erase their biases and prejudices with one pithy remark and cultural vindication. It happens slowly, one person and one conclusion at a time. It’s daunting, frustrating at times, and occasionally disappointing… But me? Well, I guess you could say I have a new hope.