December 10, 2023

Today’s Most Relevant Authors Share Their Views

TheStar Wars at DragonCon” group (or @SWatDC) hosted numerous panels covering nearly every aspect of the Star Wars saga at the annual event in Atlanta, GA, between September 1–4, 2017. One such panel, hosted by Matt Rushing, brought together many of today’s most relevant science fiction and fantasy authors: Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, Claudia Gray, E. K. Johnston, Michael Stackpole and Myke Cole. The topic of the day was “Masculinity in Star Wars,” and it proved to be tricky and somewhat precarious.

Masculinity is a difficult trait — or is it a virtue? — to comprehend because, based on who is discussing it, it could have both positive and negative connotations. If you search the term “masculinity” on Google, here is what you will find:

Whereas I as a man might revere these qualities, I am not so certain every woman out there appreciates all the “qualities traditionally associated with men.”

The Authors Point of View:

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, the authors were asked who their favorite male characters were in the saga, as well as their favorite character that they actually created. It is interesting to note that Michael Stackpole, Kevin Anderson and Timothy Zahn all held Han Solo in high regard. Claudia Gray was quite vocal about her love for Qui-Gon Jinn. Myke Cole respects and admires Baron Soontir Fel, for whom Michael Stackpole quickly took credit. Mr. Stackpole though said his favorite personal character was Corran Horn, Tim Zahn of course said Grand Admiral Thrawn, and Claudia Gray’s favorite character was from her novel Bloodlines, Ransolm Casterfo.

What then can Star Wars teach us about masculinity, or moreover, what it means to be a man? As expected, each author defined masculinity in their own way. The first thing that came to Timothy Zahn’s mind was Kanan’s nurturing of Ezra in Star Wars Rebels.

Throughout the series, Kanan has repeatedly questioned his own abilities and pondered repeatedly if he was the right man to train the young would-be Jedi. After all, young Caleb Dume never finished his training and ran away when his master Depa Billaba sacrificed herself in order to save him. Nevertheless, to Mr. Zahn, masculinity means, “doing what you have to whether you feel like you can or not.”

Claudia Gray wasted no time in yet again mentioning Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. For her, he was the epitome of what true masculinity should look like. Self-control is one of the most integral aspects of being a decent man, and Qui-Gon continually exhibited that. The “Duel of the Fates” at the end of The Phantom Menace was a prime example of this.

While Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi were visibly angry, Qui-Gon took the opportunity to just get to his knees, close his eyes, and breathe. While others feel they have to yell and scream to command attention, Qui-Gon could command even more attention with a simple word or a look, all while remaining quiet and poised. Unlike Sith such as Darth Sidious, Qui-Gon was able to lead and guide but never felt the need to dominate.

E. K. Johnston took yet another approach to the idea of what masculinity means. In The Force Awakens, we see Finn, formerly a First Order stormtrooper known simply as FN-2187, struggling with his decisions and anxious about what the future holds for him. And then we have Poe Dameron — hotshot pilot, arguably an ace, and textbook alpha male.

When the two men reunite at the Resistance base on D’Qar after being separated on Jakku (with Poe presumably dead), they have no problem showing their emotions. Poe simply says, “You’re a good man, Finn,” and even let him keep the jacket! No one would argue that Poe is a man’s man like John Wayne — or more fittingly in this case, Top Gun’s Maverick — but he is secure enough with his manhood to let his emotions be seen and felt. That is the definition of masculinity to E.K. Johnston.

One would not think Jek Porkins would come up in such a conversation as this, but Myke Cole did so flawlessly. I was admittedly intrigued when he brought up the name and by the time he got done speaking, it all made sense. When you think of awesome x-wing pilots, the first names you think of are Wedge, Luke, Biggs, Poe, Hobbie, but you never think of Porkins. Why? Because unlike Wedge, he doesn’t look the part.

Jek Porkins is not as cool as Wedge Antilles or Biggs Darklighter. No one would have posters of Porkins adorning their walls. Yet Porkins flew his x-wing just as well as the rest of Red Squadron. Better even than some. And when the time came, he was brave and courageous enough to sacrifice himself for the cause. If that is not what it means to be a man, Myke Cole didn’t know what was.

Evidently then there are many definitions of masculinity. Han Solo is walking machismo. Grand Moff Tarkin is aggressive and domineering. Then again, we also have Luke Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi.

The Emperor was killing his friends by the thousands before his very eyes. Darth Vader — the father he never had or would ever have — was physically assaulting him and threatened to turn his sister to the dark side. Despite all of this however, it was not ruggedness, physical strength or aggressiveness that saved Anakin Skywalker and destroyed the Sith. It was compassion.

So perhaps Michael Stackpole summed masculinity best: it is all about balance. Aggression is sometimes needed, but there is always a place for compassion. Action might be warranted, but not at the expense of self-control. A man can lead others while not exerting his will over them.

What does “masculinity” mean to you? Leave me a comment and let me know, and as always, may the Force be with you.

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