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Non-Writing post: Mara Jade Skywalker Day, first anniversary [May. 29th, 2008|11:38 am]
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The months have passed and already we’ve reached the first anniversary of Sacrifice’s publishing. One year since the worst (but not the first) book to carry the entire Star Wars franchise down with it into the putrid depths of the Bottomless Abyss that Lies Beneath Hell came out.

There are many, many reasons why Sacrifice is a bad book, and an obscene excuse for a Star Wars book. The biggest, of course, is the death of popular Expanded Universe character Mara Jade Skywalker.

Some months ago, I read something which cast an entirely new light on Mara’s death. It was in a book that had nothing to do with the Expanded Universe, and barely anything to do with Star Wars. However, a passage from the book struck me as almost spookily applicable to Mara’s situation.

The book in question is “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression,” by Terrence Real. Dr. Real is a couples’ psychiatrist who writes extensively about the damage done to women, men, and children by patriarchy’s twisted views of love, marriage, and relationships in general. (Also about ways to heal that damage.)

Chapter Six of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” is entitled “The Loss of the Relational.” In that chapter, Dr. Real points out: “The idea that boys must rupture an effeminizing connection to mother is one of the oldest, least questioned, and most deeply rooted myths of patriarchy.” If boys’ mothers have too much influence on them, the argument runs, they will either flee females altogether into homosexuality, or turn hypermasculinized and violent (an only slightly better alternative).

But even ordinary motherhood is viewed as toxic eventually. At some point, a boy must cut his ties to his mother in order for him to grow into a Man. (Girls, Dr. Real points out, naturally grow into women, boys have to be made into men.)

Dr. Real goes on: “There are virtually no images in this culture representing close, mature ties between males and their mothers … in order to clear the decks for a boy’s growth and adventure a good mother is supposed to get out of the way.”

The really telling part, though, was when he brought up the story of Perceval from Arthurian legend. Perceval’s father was “killed in knightly combat,” and he was raised in seclusion by his protective (read: overprotective) mother. Until, that is, he sees a company of knights ride by, and his heart stirs in excitement. “Instantly seduced, he runs off with them and poor Mom, seeing his dust, drops dead on the spot, never to be referred to again.”

See where this is going, yet? (If that alone didn’t make me think of this, the next few sentences in that paragraph were about the original Star Wars trilogy.)

The Dark Nest trilogy taught us what motherhood is all about by transforming Mara from an intelligent, inquisitive, cynical, no-nonsense-under-any-circumstances, kick-ass action hero to a blind, ineffectual, gullible idiot who looked right through Jacen’s secrecy and immoral actions because he was “good for her son.” As Jacen devolved from evil idiot to murdering monster in early Legacy of the Force, Mara devolved along with him until, by Bloodlines she was making up her own excuses for his behavior. Again, the only pretext given for her wildly out-of-character behavior was that she was too caught up in what was “good for” her son to spot the blitheringly obvious.

With Mara’s marriage to Luke following the Hand of Thrawn duology, she transformed from a character in her own right (for every writer but Timothy Zahn) into “Luke’s wife.” In Dark Nest and Legacy of the Force she got transformed again from “Luke’s wife” to “Ben’s mother.” (In much the same way that Leia has gone from politician and burgeoning Jedi to “Han’s Jedi wife”; and Jaina has gone from pilot, burgeoning Jedi, and powerful hero with immense potential to “Jacen’s useless sister.”)

And so, in Sacrifice, Mara fulfilled her maternal obligation to Ben by getting herself killed off, thus removing the biggest obstacle in his transition from boy to Man.

Don’t believe me? When I posted the Anti-New Jedi Order/Legacy poll to the Star Wars community, one of the commenters (an LoBS fan) said: “Mara’s death was important to Ben. If she didn’t die, he’d be just another character everyone complains about—two-dimensional and just another ‘stock’ character.”

The idea that any character should come into their own only with the death of another character is repulsive enough. But, as I have just pointed out, Mara’s death ties neatly into the sexist myth that boys need to cut themselves off from their mothers in order to grow into proper men. (Hmm, no wonder Anakin got himself killed off and Jacen turned into a murdering idiot. Leia should’ve done the decent thing and committed hari-kiri the minute they left for the Jedi Academy.)

Come to think of it, I seem to remember Darth Out-of-Character himself musing in the last section of Sacrifice that Mara’s death was Ben’s murder “sacrifice” to make him “stronger.” Some bullshit like that.

This idea that boys have to be violently separated from their mothers to become proper Men is part of what Dr. Real calls the “Loss of the Relational,” the process by which males are socialized to disengage themselves from their emotions and their ability to create constructive relationships. For men, this often leads to depression (even if mainstream psychiatry hasn’t figured this out yet). For women, it leads to abuse, if not from physical or verbal violence, then from neglect. In short, cutting himself off from a loving mother is one of the worst mistakes a boy can make, for himself, and for the other people in his life.

Whether or not it was the authors’ intention (even subconsciously) to follow this myth, Mara’s death fits the trope perfectly. Well done, Traviss, Denning, Allston, and the rest of you clowns.

Bring back the Man Who Killed Ithor!
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Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2008-11-16 05:11 pm (UTC)

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I love you so much for this. I presume you're a girl, but I still want to have your babies. Mara Jade is one of the most kick-ass Star Wars characters I know, and my most beloved. I know the Star Wars franchise, like my equally beloved fandom of superhero comics, isn't the most feminist/sexism-free around. Mara is like Power Girl: often, completely mishandled and dumbed-down. Still doesn't excuse them getting slapped around as filler in a totally WIR way - and certainly not to excuse a plotline that doesn't even sprocking make sense.

Again, I love you and I love this, *worships*

This has made my day, particularly as I (being masochistic) attempted reading Fury, Invincible and Joiner King all in the space of twenty-four hours. I had to retire and dose myself with a great deal of Neil Gaiman and Garth Nix before I could recover.


Lots of love. <3
[User Picture]From: arkan2
2008-11-18 03:45 pm (UTC)

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Oh ... gosh. *Cue big cartoon blush*

As a matter of fact, I'm not a girl, though I'm very grateful I could make that impression.

No, Star Wars definitely isn't the most feminist-friendly fandom. Nevertheless, I think they were doing much better with it back in the New Republic era. You could see the authors were not only trying, they were getting somewhere.

Then New Jedi Order and the prequels came along (I love the latter, but from a purely feminist perspective: gah!), and overturned all that. Then came Legacy of the Force and ...

Umm, thanks.

Wow, and I thought I was a masochist, and I gave up trying to read Legacy of the Force after Sacrifice (not just because of Mara's death, but because I couldn't stand the prospect of another page inside Darth Idiot's head, after what he'd done).

If you're interested in more of this kind of stuff, my friend polgarawolf also has some stuff you might be interested, including two drafts of an essay on sexism in Star Wars, and an in-progress rewrite of the second half of New Jedi Order (focusing on Anakin Solo, Tahiri Veila, and the Myrkr strike team so far, but I know she'll get around to Mara and Luke). She tends to be rather long-winded, and to go off on multiple tangents in the same sentence, and her material tends to be rather more mature (well, obviously, so let's say explicit) than Star Wars novels, but she still blows Allston, Denning, and Traviss clear out of the water.
From: darthyan
2010-04-24 02:12 pm (UTC)

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the kotor comics are good, and legacy to an extent as well (who saw the calixte cade's mommy, or azlyn and celeste? plus the ga's actually pretty good.) Jaina wasn't to objectionable from what njo i read, and most of the sexism is unintentional. the writers were simply looking for plot devices. tattooine ghost was good, and Fate of the Jedi is also really good (the jedi and the sith team up, jaina and jagged are getting married, and the main big bad is an eldritch force demon called abeloth. Plus they try (albeiet very weakly) to come up with an excuse for jacen's dickery in dark nest. plus anakin solo shows up as a ghost, and ben finally forgives jacen, leaving the plot free for the epic jedi sith team up). Abeloth's also genuinely menacing and scary, and the sith love interest vestara is just so fun to read (she's not a walking sexist archtype). It actually is worth a look from the library. and Jaina shows herself to be quite the magnificent stratigest in book III.
[User Picture]From: arkan2
2010-04-26 12:36 pm (UTC)

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The Legacy comics are pretty good, though to my mind, not quite as good as they're cracked up to be. My complaint with Legacy is that it's set in the future of the Star Wars universe, meaning the outcome of all the novels is now a foregone conclusion. And it's a pretty sucky conclusion, as we learn that everything the main characters accomplished from the movies to the books gets totally undone within a hundred years. Plus, in my own personal canon, the Sith died at Endor, in accordance with the prophecy.

(Don't care if the sexism and character derailment was intentional or not; it's still all over the place, and it's still godawful.)

Dammit, the problem with Fate of the Jedi is that it sounds so cool, but I know I just couldn't stand to read it. I nearly gave myself a stroke reading Millennium Falcon every time Luke came up, since it reminded me the effing bastards killed off Mara, his wife. Reading through nine books in which Anakin is dead, Mara's dead, Jacen's dead and formerly evil—and I don't care what half-assed ghosts or spirits of whatever they bring up, anything short of a complete resurrection just points up the fact that these assholes of f*cked up the Star Wars saga royally, that they could fix, and that they're not going to. Twisting the knife in the wound, in other words.

(Also, Jagged Fel is slightly more two-dimensional than Zekk, and I can't really work myself up to be thrilled that he and Jaina get together. She deserves a love interest with an interesting personality.)