At Celebration Orlando 2017, there were a new breed of panels on what was dubbed the University stage and each one had an eye on educating fans about a great many deal of different topics, whether it be how to write novels/comics or how inclusion and representation matters/still needs to be improved. I didn’t go to as many as I would’ve liked, but the two that I did were particularly interesting and sometimes eye-opening. I first saw Chuck Wendig’s class on writing characters in novels and shortly after saw the LGBTQ+ panel, where they connected in certain ways due to Wendig’s inclusive-minded writing and how most of the representation added to canon since Disney took over is something to be happy about, but could certainly be more and it all starts with characters.
The LGBTQ+ panelists were Brian Larsen, Shoshana Bailar, Saf Davidson, Travis, and Meg Humphrey, who might all be recognizable names to many into Star Wars fandom, especially since most of them hail from Tosche-Station and associated podcasts. Each panelist identifies along the spectrum i.e. not solely cisgendered, and in fact identified as things I’ve not heard of before (but someone was nice enough to beat me to asking them to explain the new terms), so they were perfectly picked to provide the LGBTQ+ perspective on how the new canon has been handling their representation. Things started off with them basically going down the line and talking about the characters who do identify as LGBTQ+, like Doctor Aphra from the Darth Vader comic series and her own series, but unfortunately none of the panelists have really read the comics and didn’t know that much about her, though as being one of her biggest fans, I’d say she has been solid representation and I hope they all catch up with her adventures; Sinjir Rath Velus from the Aftermath Trilogy, who seems to be the top of the line for representation, as not only did Brian say having Sinjir in Star Wars books as a teenager would’ve helped him personally, but a member of the crowd said the same thing; Moff Mors from Lords of the Sith, who was a problematic version of representation for all of them and I don’t blame them, especially since it included fat-shaming and Twi’lek sex slaves; Brand from Twilight Company, who is fantastic character but she’s only been Dumbledored aka named as a lesbian by the author but never specifically stated in the book; Elodie from Aftermath Trilogy, the first non-binary character and Wendig wrote it to appear as if this isn’t something new in the galaxy.
What I found most informative from the panel, especially considering I’m cisgendered, was that as much as I believe the boon of representation canon has received as of late is a great thing, it still almost feels like an after-thought in the larger realm of Star Wars. They mentioned it’s great there’s enough going on in SW and in culture at large that we can even have a LGBTQ+ panel, but a frequent thing brought up by both panelists and members of the audience alike were that as great as the books/comics having representation are, the real commitment from the powers that be would come from having an onscreen character be LGBTQ+ (they did discuss Baze and Chirrut from Rogue One A LOT though!). I wholly agree this is an important thing, and ever since the panel I’m hoping for it even more. Overall, the panel was enjoyable and eye-opening, even if things got a little chaotic with how the Q&A was handled, but you could tell the passion for the subject and it’s increase in Star Wars the entire time.
Considering Wendig wrote most of the characters named in the LGBTQ+ panel, his talk about creating the right ones to tell a story was a perfect companion piece to the other panel. His Q&A got a little messy as well, considering fans are still stuck up on issues regarding canon, but his advice and feelings about how to let the characters you create be the ones who tell the story was simply not to be missed. He’s also a hilarious person, which kept the entire hour engaging and entertaining, keeping me awake despite the lack of sleep from getting in line at 4am that morning.
He spoke a lot about External and Internal conflicts, where essentially the plot should be an arrow through the apple more or less (his words), as story should be driven by the character as they try to go from one state to another state. He tied this into Star Wars characters very neatly, using Han and Luke as examples. Han is in debt so he’s trying to find a way to get out of it/his feelings for Leia, those being the external conflict, while Han’s ego and inability to trust no-one but himself get in the way of him reaching said goals, those things being internal conflicts. If you know what drives a character and what problems they internally have, Wendig essentially said things should start writing themselves. He starts more with the characters than devising an epic plot to throw characters into, and so far from reading his Miriam Black books and the Aftermath Trilogy, I have to say it’s a solid approach that has worked well for him.
I’m hoping next Celebration I can catch more of these University panels, as it’s nice to learn things about the GFFA that isn’t just news every once in a while.
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