I’m totally unfamiliar with the Star Wars EU, except for the existence of Han and Leia’s son.
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.
What do yall think?
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t get up in many feminist arguments, partly because as a woman, its not a passion of mine - but this. This whole argument just perfectly sums up my frustration with the death of Mara and the Legacy of the Force series, etc. as a whole.
To make the argument that a her death as a major character (NOT TO MENTION THE WIFE OF LUKE SKYWALKER) as purely motivation for her son and husband and to bring them more characterization, just purely frustrates me.
In the Star Wars EU, the Skywalker-Solo family has had practically no peace since the happy celebration on Endor. They go from war to war, Luke turned to the dark side, made numerious bad decisions (albeit due to some interesting writing), and had to deal with almost losing his wife to an alien; Han lost Chewie and BOTH HIS SONS; Leia had to worry about leading the New Republic, keeping her children safe, losing BOTH OF HER SONS (not to mention being sidelined from being the awesome potential twin Jedi that she could be) and that’s just the Original Trio!! Don’t get me started on Jacen or Mara’s rough lives…
There are plenty of ways to make good, solid character development for a husband and son without killing off the wife and mother. Mara was always a foil for Luke - she brought out the best in him by calling him on his faults and truly being his other half. Many of my favorite Luke/Mara stories (Thrawn duology, Suvivor’s Quest) do not relegate her to simply being default to Luke’s Jedi Master. She was intended to be just as strong and powerful and adept in the Force as her husband. They had so much potential to grow as a couple, to raise their son together (hey, work together to teach Ben to learn from Jacen’s mistakes) - heck! I want to see what would have happened if Mara went with Luke and Ben on their exile in the subsequent series! The dynamic of a family together, tracing the path of their fallen family member, finding the Lost Tribe of the Sith (which would be awesome with Mara, since she grew up with Sith - Vader and Palpy) has so much potential growth and maturation for all the parties involved, that it bothers me when “her death had meaning because it gave Luke and Ben development.”
And finally with Ben - I am done with the trope of a boy growing up after the loss of his mother. Yes, it provides the character with direction, it provides him with motivation and pain - BUT IS THAT THE ONLY WAY TO GIVE HIM THAT PAIN??? NO! The loss of Jacen, his cousin and mentor, not to mention being betrayed by him would be plenty of motivation and direction. The idea that a boy cannot grow into a man without his mother just alakdj flaskdj;alkd. No!
Besides, Mara is not a character (when well written) who would stifle her son’s growth. Heck, I can see her getting tired of Ben and Luke and sending them off on an adventure/mission/father-son-bonding time together which would prompt growth between the characters. Not destroy it.
The Star Wars EU is a dangerous place for popular characters. And I still can’t get over the
unnecessarydeath of Mara Jade Skywalker. Not only did Luke and Ben lose a wife and mother, but the whole universe lost a powerful and wonderful character.
Thank goodness for fanfiction.
What do you all think?
Mara Jade’s death was a cliched, poorly executed, poorly written mess that entirely turned me off from the Expanded Universe. She was killed off like a disposable plot device by people who didn’t even seem to know who she was. It honestly felt like the people writing Sacrifice did not even bother to get to know her as a character. Like they skimmed a few cliff notes and went from there. It was just a horrible way to end an established character’s story, but it was even more of an insult that the death itself was so badly done. Even with all the severely out of character writing they had dumped on her in the series up until that point, her death scene was one of the worst.
Even when things seemed like they were taking a turn for the worse in the EU, I stuck it out. But that was the last straw, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep going. Apparently even Mara Jade wasn’t safe from being stuffed into a fridge. Ugh
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