Sunday, January 7, 2018

Women with agency and the fanboys whom they make uncomfortable.

First, a show of hands: Has everybody who intends to see The Last Jedi seen it already? It's been out now for several weeks, and...

Oh, fine.

***Warning: Spoilers! Turn back now if they would upset you.***

Are we good now? Okay.

There's been a fair bit of, um, consternation in the fandom over this movie, as there was over The Force Awakens. Certain male fans were dismissive of the plot of Episode VII -- it was derivative, they said. Too much like Episode IV (a.k.a. Star Wars for those of us who are old enough to have seen it when it was first released), in which a nobody, overly endowed with sensitivity to the Force, is dubbed the One Who Can Save Us All and is dragged into a galactic war. Except this time our savior is female.

So when The Last Jedi kept Rey as its protagonist and brought along a cast of multicolor and preponderantly female Good Guys, the True Fanboys (tm) complained even louder. The problem, though, as this post at Bitter Gertrude points out, is that the complaints about this movie are all over the block. "Derivative" makes a comeback, but a myriad of other criticisms tag along, many of which cancel each other out. The film wasn't funny, or it was too funny, or it was funny in the wrong ways. The plot is terrible, or the acting is terrible (really? Have these people not seen Episodes I-III?), or the pacing is terrible, or... something.

And Leia! How could she have saved herself from certain death in deep space? It's not like she could wield the Force herself or...anything... Oh, right. "There is another," Yoda says in Return of the Jedi -- another strong wielder of the Force than Luke, he means, and he ain't referring to Chewie.

But never mind that. Something is wrong with this movie. The True Fanboys (tm) are sure of it. They just can't quite put their finger on what it is.

It occurred to me while reading that Bitter Gertrude post that I've heard this song before. In fact, I've been hearing it since 2004 -- the year The Runes of the Earth, the first book in the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, was released.

As this third series opens, Covenant himself -- who has headlined the past six books -- is dead. He can't be the main character. Well, okay, he could be, but not plausibly. Not yet, anyway. Some other stuff has to happen first. So the author chooses Linden Avery, MD -- Covenant's lover in the Second Chronicles -- as the protagonist for the Last Chronicles.

Copyright by zorm | DeviantArt.com

That's Linden, in the crook of Frostheart Grueburn's elbow, helping the Giant fight off a skurj attack by wielding the Staff of Law.

Predictably, the fanboys didn't like it. Linden is whiny and indecisive. (Never mind that Covenant spent six books being cranky and indecisive. I guess cranky beats whiny?) She's too focused on her adoptive son (who's -- hello! -- missing). The book moves too slowly. It's too late in the series to bring in a whole new magical race that we've never met before. And so on. Some fans of the author even went so far as to start a conversation about how they would have written the book differently. (My response: You want to write a novel? Knock yourselves out. Let me know how it works out for you.)

But everything always came back to Linden. They just didn't like her. They wanted Covenant back.

Sure, part of it was that they'd grown to love Covenant. But just like with Rey and Leia and Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, part of it was that Linden wasn't male. And just like with today's True Star Wars Fanboys (tm), male fans of the Chronicles got really testy when I suggested to them that their reaction to Linden was gender-based.

My point, I guess, is that this discomfort with women in lead roles has been going on for a long time, and I think the only way it's going to change is if it keeps happening. At some point, women protagonists in traditionally-male roles in fantasy and sci-fi will become so commonplace that nobody will question it anymore. So kudos to Disney and the team behind this series of Star Wars movies. Keep doing what you're doing -- and may the Force be with you.

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These moments of bloggy Resistance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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