Painting Over Expectations

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Image used courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation, Ltd.

If Star Wars: Rebels were a sitcom, Sabine would likely be the topic of a heated conversation between Ezra and a parental figure in which the parent would shut the conversation down by saying, “As long as you live under my house, you are not allowed to date that girl!” Her hair is dyed radical colors, her armor resembles an elaborate series of tattoos, and her art and explosions deface the property of the established government. All of these qualities would make most parents at least a little nervous, but these and more are what make Sabine an important character for our young fangirls and fanboys. Sabine refuses to let the Empire define her, and that is a valuable lesson for our children to learn. The stereotypical “good girl” likes princesses, fairies, and ponies and is always so fashionable and pretty in pink. Sabine clearly doesn’t fit this stereotype (though her Season One armor is predominantly pink and purple), but she doesn’t exactly fit into the stereotypical “bad girl” either. She defies society’s stereotypes and is just her, which is exactly what I want my daughter to be.

As I drive to work each day, I frequently get stopped by a train that passes near to the school. As I wait impatiently for the train to pass, so I can get to work, I often find myself admiring the graffiti on the trains. Some of it is down-right beautiful. It’s creative in its use of colors and lines, and it’s disregarded by most. It doesn’t fit with what many view as art. It’s damaging private property, and while I hate that, it’s also really cool looking. It’s important that we acknowledge the art, music, and creativity that our children are at the forefront of despite the fact that it may be different from our own. We need to actively seek to understand the interests of our younger generation because it is through those mediums that many of our children will make their mark on the world. Like Sabine, they may create great works of art that are just labeled as different and disregarded. Even Kanan and Hera, the closest thing Sabine has to parents aboard the Ghost, are never seen admiring her art unless it’s because there are stormtroopers being blasted to bits by it. All of the art Sabine creates from her constantly re-invented armor to her murals on the walls of the Ghost express her loves, fears, beliefs, and personality. It’s done in a style that many may not appreciate but that expresses her.

At many schools across our country, students struggle against the labels that try to condense them down into one small easy-to-define package. Our athletes struggle with the label of “jock,” which does little to address their love of singing or art, and our “drama kids” or “artists” are assumed to have little athletic prowess because, after all, how athletic can you be from just moving a paint brush around? At the Imperial Academy, you assume that Sabine was probably picked on for her art. It’s not exactly something the Empire looks for in its recruits. They want people who are willing to suppress their individuality and follow orders to achieve the “greater good.” Expressing your individuality artistically clearly doesn’t fall in line with that. You can imagine the slack-jawed faces of her fellow cadets who assumed that because she was artistic, she couldn’t be athletic as she used her years of Mandalorian training to climb and flip up obstacle courses very similar to the ones we see Ezra experience in the episode, “Broken Ranks.” The Empire only wants people to fit in the role of they have been assigned in the Imperial machine, and Sabine refuses to be that. She is so much more than another nameless gear, and our children are too. When they see Sabine flipping around and deftly avoiding stormtroopers after she has finished putting the finishing touches on her newest masterpiece of Rebel propaganda, our children see someone they want to be. They see a smart, sassy, athletic, artistic warrior. They see someone who is multi-faceted like them.

Traditionally, it is assumed that if you are artistic, you are not likely to excel in scientific and logical pursuits. Sabine defies this by not only being good at activities involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but even using them as a method of delivering her art. Throughout the series, but featured prominently in the introductory episode of Star Wars: Rebels “Spark of Rebellion” and the short “Art Attack”, Sabine uses her mechanical know-how to construct small explosives that also act as a paint-delivery system. Some of these explosives do exactly what you would expect: they blow stuff up, but their devastating blasts also surprise her foes by spraying paint everywhere. Sabine has also come up with a method of weaponizing the paint itself as Agent Kallus notices during the episode, “Spark of Rebellion.” Beyond her bombastic paint bombs, Sabine also is frequently shown creating all manner of traps that save her life and the lives of the Rebels from a wide variety of threats. In the episode, “Out of Darkness“ she recognizes that the asteroid she and Hera have been stranded on has large quantities of Rydonium and is able to use it to buy the duo the time they need to escape the savage fyrnocks. She is also able to rig-up electro-magnetic pulses that disable the electrical systems of a Star Destroyer in “Fire Across the Galaxy,” and she uses the same type of device attached to a mouse droid to stun two rebellious Twi’leks in  “Homecoming.” Sabine is artistic and scientific, using both skills individually as well as to improve the other. She is a great example of a fictional young woman doing what many of our young women and men are doing today. They adding art into their science to create the delicious peanut butter cup of learning known as STEAM.

For a long time in our society, it was assumed that women were not strong. They were ethereal flowers to be viewed and tended, but they were not there to do “men’s work.” (It’s not like they went through some of the harshest physical labor you can imagine when many of them gave birth or anything.) Thankfully, this view of women has gradually begun to change both in our society and in our media. We have had great heroines like Katniss, Hermoine, Belle, and Rey who are able to stun with their looks, but more importantly they are able to stun the men in their universes with their strength. Sabine is a part of this sisterhood of fictional suffragettes, too. When Ezra first sees Sabine in “Spark of Rebellion,” he is immediately attracted to her, but she brushes his gawking looks aside, jumps in the turret, and takes out some T.I.E. Fighters. Within her world, she is beautiful, but she is not rendered in a way that flaunts it. Most of the time, her physical appearance is actually hidden by her armor, which is a very artistic way to point out that Sabine’s beauty is not the most important part of who she is; her abilities and how she uses them to take a stand for what she believes in is. In our world, this is important because Sabine’s not cool just because of her looks, though her sweet Mandalorian armor surely helps.  She’s cool because she is talented, opinionated, and loyal to her friends. For our girls, this is important because they are constantly told by society that they should be pretty, that part of their value is tied to how beautiful they are. Sabine reminds them that beauty is only skin deep and can be covered up with a bucket at any time. She reminds girls that true beauty comes from the acts of rebellion they commit when they stand up against bullying or when they write Tweets and Facebook posts that call for people to just spend more time loving each other. Sabine is equally important for our boys because they have been sold the lie that equates beauty with importance, too. If Sabine can teach little girls that their abilities and actions are what makes them awesome, she can do the same thing for little boys. Boys like Sabine too, and it’s not because she’s a pretty girl. It’s because she’s a strong, artistic woman, and they think that’s cool. Maybe society in general will catch up someday.

Sabine’s armor is a study of contrasts. It is both a symbol of her Mandalorian heritage and an artistic protest against its regulations about armor. It allows her to hide her physical appearance and thoughts and emotions, yet the brightly colored, constantly changing images tell the story of her life. The convor on her paldron inspired by the owl-like creatures that ride the jet streams surrounding Chopper Base or perhaps worn in memory of the presumed-dead Ahsoka Tano. The starbird that remains vigilant as the armor is painted over stands for her dedication to freedom and self-expression. If you scratch her armor down to its Season One paint, you’d see a picture of an anooba similar to the one that stalks alongside the bounty hunter Embo, proving that even a fangirl-favorite like Sabine can also flail herself over some things. All these contrasting ideas and images just reflect Sabine’s true nature. She is not just a cool-looking girl in Mandalorian armor. She’s a scientific artist, an athlete with a flair for the dramatic, and a girl who can take pride in her appearance by dying her hair and painting her armor but not let her appearance define her value. She contradicts what society tells many of our girls that they should be, and they love her for it because not all girls want to be princesses and not all boys want to be the prince pining for the princess. Sometimes both groups just want a bad-ass Mandalorian woman.

What’s your favorite Sabine moment? Share with me on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 using the hashtag #sensationalsabine .