Image used courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation
Human beings like to categorize. We classify animals and plants according to similar physical characteristics. Literature, art, and film are grouped into genres and movements according to common elements of plot or curvature. It’s no surprise that we do the same thing to people. As a society and as individuals, we categorize and subcategorize people until they have fit into the small, action figure box that we have set for them to live in: white, American, Christian, English teacher, husband, father. Now with extra child carrying girth! It’s easy to label someone, to reduce their sum down to whatever one word fits our need at the moment. It’s not right, but it is easy. Today, each of us are given a challenge. We can live our lives each day burdened under the label of the minute, or we can take the harder road. We can live our lives in a way that calls others to recognize that we are more wonderful and complex than any collection of terms foisted upon us, and we can apply that same recognition to others. We can tell society that it can keep its data and statistics because those don’t tell the story of us. Our characters are too unique and diverse to be simplified down to anything less than the most dynamic character find of our lifetime.
It’s the same way in the Star Wars galaxy. All too often we distill our favorite characters down to their affiliations, as if that is all they are. Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi; Princess Leia Organa; Padawan Ahsoka Tano; or Rey, the scavenger. One word, one label for each character, but the reason we cherish these characters, the reason they feel real to us and last generations, is because they refuse to be categorized by such simple methods. Leia is not just a princess. She is a diplomat, rebel, woman, sister, wife, potential Jedi, general, and friend, and even if we were able to somehow say that we could summarize her down into that collection of terms and phrases, she would find a way to surprise us and show that she is much, much more. These characters, like us, refuse to be labeled by society.
During the time of the Clone Wars, society was generally willing to divide you into one of two groups based on your side in the war. Are you a supporter of the Republic or the Separatists? They can then sort you down further. Jedi or Clone? Senator or citizen? Based on the answer you will have a differing set of rules and expectations to adhere to. Many of the characters that fill the backgrounds of this part of the saga do, and their importance can generally be boiled down to a paragraph best printed on the back of an action figure card back. The most interesting characters do not. Two of the characters from this time period that buck against their society’s saddle the most are Anakin Skywalker and his padawan, Ahsoka Tano.
As a Jedi, Anakin is expected to follow their code. He was challenged to control his emotions, almost to the point of denying them. Close attachments to others, whether romantic, familial, or friendly, were discouraged if not outright forbidden. To be a Jedi was to follow these rules, but Anakin would not. His heart told him that he was more than a collection of laws. He could experience the dizzying array of human emotions yet not let them control him. His attachments to Padme, Obi-Wan, Rex and Ahsoka could be a source of compassion and loyalty as long as he could also let them go when the time came. Anakin did not fall only because of his own inability to learn to let go. He also fell because he refused to accept that the corrupted ways of the Jedi were not sufficient to define him. He was more than a Jedi and despite any speech given at a Mon Calamari opera, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Who’s to say that the Jedi wouldn’t have accepted Anakin and Padme’s love if he would have admitted it? Ahsoka certainly did. Anakin’s fault was not in betraying the Jedi’s labels but in refusing to take the risk of admitting to them how much they caused him to struggle. May we be willing to take the risk of sharing our full selves with those closest to us.
While Anakin bent the rules of the Jedi before breaking them only to accept a more devastating set of Sithly ones, Ahsoka Tano rarely allowed herself to be so easily defined. From her first moments on screen, she defied the expectations of both her fellow characters and the fans. At first, both groups were quick to write her off as Anakin’s young, female, inexperienced padawan. Even then she was more than that, we just hadn’t seen it yet. As time went on, she showed us more and more of her complexity as she learned more and more about the world around her and her place in it. As the fifth season of The Clone Wars came to a close, Ahsoka was forced into a situation similar to Anakin’s. After all her ordeals stemming from Barriss’s betrayal, she could accept the Jedi’s reassurances that it was just the will of the Force. She could be a Jedi again. She could just write it all off as her Jedi trial, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. She had seen that maybe she wasn’t just a Jedi, at least not by the definition that they had allowed to define them. She had to step away and find her own path. Where her master would fail, she succeeded. When she reappeared in Star Wars: Rebels, she refused to submit to any single label or set of rules. She worked with the rebels, but she never defined herself as one. She follows many of the Jedi teachings, but she is quick to remind Darth Vader that she is not a Jedi. She had traveled too many paths and experienced too much to allow herself to be boiled down to a single, simple statement. May we seek the path of our heart and not the quick and easy path society lays before us.
During the Galactic Civil War, Leia Organa constantly surprises people by being much more than she appears. While many Imperial officers believe her to be just another young senator from Alderaan, she is actually a rebel sympathizer working in their midst. Some people see her as just a princess. In the Star Wars: Rebels episode “A Princess on Lothal,” Ezra Bridger is surprised that, as a princess, Leia is willing to fight. He tells her, “You’re a princess. You don’t have to risk your life doing this,” and she responds, “I feel like because I can fight, I have to for those who cannot.” Some galactic citizens initially view her brusque, take no nonsense exterior as her being an uncaring ice princess, as Evaan Verlaine does in the excellent “Princess Leia” mini-series, but as they get to know Leia, they realize that her rapier wit and strength in the face of tremendous loss and hardship is one of the same qualities that allows her to lead so well. Despite the many hats the galaxy tries to force Leia to wear, she proves to be more complex than any one simple chapeau. May we all celebrate our many facets.
Luke Skywalker mirrors Leia’s steadfast individualism in a much more personal way. When the viewer first meets him on Tatooine, Uncle Owen and his society at large views him as just another farm hand, someone to help bring in the harvest. Luke isn’t content to let them define his future though. He yearns for more. He wishes to take to the stars and fulfill his dreams of training to be a pilot at the Imperial Academy. While that exact dream never materializes (to the benefit of the galaxy), Luke’s willingness to take a leap of faith, move past the grief of the loss of his aunt and uncle, and leave what Tatooine society expects of him behind sets him on a path greater than he could have ever imagined; however, escaping one expectation does not mean we won’t meet more. As his Jedi training on Dagobah nears its completion, these exiled masters saddle Luke with another expectation. A Jedi must destroy the Sith. Luke must kill his father or the Empire will have one. It is there way, but it is not Luke’s way. His way is a unique one. It is the way of a son who chooses a new path of compassion rather than a traditional path of antagonism. May we never allow society’s expectations of us to dictate our actions.
Decades later, individuals still dared to stand up against what society said they should be. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, FN-2187 has only ever known the life of a stormtrooper. He has been raised to be a number, just another weapon of the First Order, but he secretly wonders if that’s all there is to him until Poe Dameron names him and Rey helps him find value in that name. Despite an indoctrination by an all-encompassing society that would cripple most people’s sense of self, Finn refuses to be just another stormtrooper in the ranks. He will work to find his place in the galaxy. May we all be so bold to go out and make our own marks upon the world even when we may appear to be just another gear in a machine.
“The girl.” That’s a term thrown around a lot to describe the character of Rey. Kylo Ren calls her by that label. General Hux does, too. Even the wizened Maz Kanata, asks Han, “Who’s the girl?” as if her gender is even somewhat close to being the most important thing about Rey. While the Force is awakening, the galaxy is also awakening to the fact that Rey is much more than it thought. While Finn and Han assume that she cannot possibly be a pilot, Rey is putting the Falcon through its paces. While Kylo Ren and General Hux think that her only use is as a carrier of interstellar cartography, Rey is claiming her place as the newest wielder of a lightsaber that has passed from legend to legend. Rey is much more than society has said she is. She is not a scavenger, a map carrier, or “the girl.” She is Rey, and while she may be surprised at times at everything that may mean, she eventually comes to the acceptance that she has more within her than even she knew. May we always be willing to challenge society’s expectations, and in doing so, may we find ourselves surprising even ourselves.
The world will try to categorize us. It will say we are our gender, our job, or our possessions. It will try to section us off as so and so’s spouse or so and so’s parent. It will try to say we are many different things, and none of those are inherently bad as long as we realize that we are all those things, but we are also more. May we always remember that, no matter how long ago today may seem or how far away we may travel.
I love finding out what was going on "behind the scenes" as my favorite comics, movies, and games are made. If you share that passion, you may be interested to know that this post was inspired by an awesome address that Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels executive producer Dave Filoni gave at the National Center for Women and InformationTechnology. If you haven't seen this video yet, I hope you will take the time to watch it. It's a speech that caused me to look back on my life and the ways society's expectations have shaped me and to laugh as my six-year-old daughter continued to question the expectations being placed upon her.