Jack and Greg are committed to accessibility which is why they’ve provided this Resilience Squadron Transcript. Resilience Squadron is a monthly podcast on the Skywalking Network where Greg Norman and Jack Vasvary share and discuss great stories related to disability, chronic illness, and mental health within the Star Wars fandom.
In this episode Jack and Greg go through their top 10 noteworthy characters with disabilities across the Star Wars canon.
You can listen here. The transcript continues below.
Resilience Squadron Transcript
[In voiceover] The following feature presentation is part of the Skywalking Network.
[In voiceover] Welcome to Resilience Squadron, where we share and discuss the adventures, challenges and representation of disabled and chronically ill fans across the Star Wars universe.
Welcome to Resilience Squadron. I’m Greg.
Jack: And I’m Jack.
Greg: So Jack, why don’t you start off by telling our audience about Jack the dog.
Jack: So a couple of weeks ago, I read this article from one of our local affiliates here in Pittsburgh, they were talking about a bulldog that has spina bifida. And coincidentally, his name was Jack.
Jack: Anyway, this bulldog was in a shelter. And somebody had agreed to adopt him, but then they never showed up.
Jack: And so, you know, they wrote this article saying this dog with spina bifida needs a home and his potential parent just fell through. So is there anybody out there that can please help this dog?
Jack: And it was at the end of the very first paragraph, where they said he quote, suffers from spina bifida, unquote. And, yeah, there are definitely some disabilities that are painful. But you know, obviously, with me having spina bifida, and having dealt with it for the past 44 years, and knowing dozens upon dozens of people with spina bifida, it’s really hard to justify saying that somebody suffers with spina bifida.
Jack: And, yeah, I mean, just like, just like anybody else, just like even like you, Greg, or anybody listening. We all have our bad days, we all have hardships, but I cannot in goodwill, say that I suffer from spina bifida.
Jack: So it was kind of a trigger for me. So I gotta admit, I did kind of blast them in the comments section…
Jack: But then I was like, you know what, I might approach this differently. And I went back and I saw the article, at the very end in the byline, the author of the article had left her Twitter information. So I clicked on it. And then I sent her a tweet, and then basically said, “Hey, you know what, I loved your article about the dog with spina bifida. But could you please refrain from using words such as suffer?“
Jack: I personally have spina bifida and know a lot of people with spina bifida. And suffer is not a proper word that I would use. It’s kind of a blanket term that’s used to describe pretty much anybody with a disability.
Jack: Whether they suffer or not. It’s always, oh, this person suffers from spina bifida. They suffer from EDS, they suffer from MS. Whatever, it’s just a very common term, like, enforces the stereotype.
Greg: Yeah, right.
Jack: That, again, the same thing that “oh, God it’s gonna really suck to be disabled.”
Jack: Again, not, not in an intentional way. But it still enforces the whole stereotype.
Greg: And especially when you read about Jack with spina bifida, the puppy? He’s super sweet. Seems pretty happy. You know, if he has… I guess we consider an impairment or a number of impairments… you know, he, he works through it.
Jack: Right? He’s got the paralysis. He’s got the incontinence.
Greg: You know, to him. That’s just the way he is, you know, and they said he’s mastered the system of using diapers and stuff like that, and other issues. You know, he lives his life and is looking for a home that could take him.
Jack: So anyway, getting back to my story. Like I said, I did tweet the author of this story. And within the hour, she replied, and not only did she apologize, she said it’s already been changed.
Jack: So then I clicked on the article again, and it says the dog, quote, has spina bifida, unquote.
Jack: So I thought, “Awesome.” I mean, it was just really nice to get such an immediate response and a positive one where, again, not only do they apologize, but they changed it. Even before contacting me. They changed it.
Jack: And hopefully too, something like this will make more people think like yourself in the future. Oh, you know, before I just use a word, let me go make sure that this is the proper word to use.
Jack: Regarding whatever subject.
Greg: Yeah, I think that’s really cool. And it’s cool that… actually, I pulled the story up just now while we were talking about this and I saw just today that they found a foster home for him, which is great, great news.
Jack: Absolutely. I know like if, I mean, I already have a dog. And we’re only allowed to have one dog in our apartment, but I know if I didn’t have my dog. Or if we were allowed multiple dogs, I would have adopted him right away. It’s a start. I mean, obviously, he’s not adopted, but I mean, at least he’s in a foster home, with hopefully somebody that would take care of him and understands his needs.
Greg: Exactly. Yeah, I think it just goes to show how important terminology is. And that when you’re talking about a condition or something like that, or a particular community, you kind of learn as much as you can about it, to make sure you’re using the right terminology, that you’re respecting those groups and respecting their needs. In a case like this with a dog, obviously, that there are people who share that condition, then, you know, it’s good to talk to them about how they feel about it.
So that sort of relates to another story that we’ve had in the Star Wars community in the past couple of weeks, which is Gina Corano getting fired from the Mandalorian. And we want to touch on this really quick, because, you know, we have some thoughts about it. And we also feel it’s important to stand with trans and other marginalized groups that have been affected by what she did and said, and to make it clear that it’s all unacceptable to us. Also, to touch a little bit on what happened and our perspective on it. I think that a lot of people are out there saying that, you know, this is all politics and stuff like that. But I think, what really got her in hot water, with Disney, at least, and with most of the fans, was the real offensive comments and acts that she did to, you know, marginalized groups, and, you know, people who deserve to be treated better,
Jack: Especially her final tweet, which you never, under any circumstances, make that kind of comparison.
Jack: Even if you think you have a really valid point. That’s just one of those things you never ever want to compare.
Greg: Yeah, exactly. I think… and the specific thing about that was that a lot of her defense and other people’s defense of her, tries to make a point that she was not being quote unquote, antisemitic, with this image that she shared, which essentially made an analogy between how Holocaust victims were treated, and Jews specifically were treated by their neighbors leading up to the Holocaust. And that’s sort of like how people like her and conservatives get challenged and called out by the public today, which, even if they are trying to make this, like, certain analogy and point, using that context is so offensive.
Greg: The analogy itself doesn’t even work. Because it’s nothing the same, you know, you’re talking about essentially efforts leading up to ethnic genocide, comparing that to you what are essentially really problematic political opinions and attacking marginalized groups, and then claiming that you’re being attacked for that, and saying they’re the same thing, you know, and that’s just ridiculous. And then not acknowledging the fact that that is… it’s downplaying what happened to the Jews, which is what makes it antisemitic.
Jack: Right? Even just… just disrespectful,
Jack: At the very least.
Greg: And that’s kind of what ties it back to the disability community. Because similarly, you know, we’re talking about a group that is marginalized and needs to be respected and needs to…
Jack: … be understood,
Greg: yeah, to be understood and to be listened to, and what Gina Carano was doing, and what a lot of people do to a lot of these groups is to sort of punch down at them, whether it’s mocking, or whatever else you’re interacting with, in an antagonistic way with a group that is already marginalized. That I think is ultimately what bothers me about everything that she was doing, and that other people do to all of our communities.
Jack: And it really, it just, it just comes down to respect.
Jack: nobody’s ever going to agree with each other 100% if someone is going to be addressed by a certain pronoun, you should address them as that pronoun, just out of respect as another human being.
Greg: Yeah, right. Yeah.
Jack: You don’t have to agree with it. Be polite and you know, acknowledge it.
Jack: And going back to your point about her being warned. Disney definitely learned and showed a lot more patience in this case, because we all know what happened with James Gunn.
Greg: Yeah, really.
Jack: And just a quick refresher. A couple years ago, James Gunn was fired from Marvel/Disney Because of some very lewd and inappropriate jokes he posted on Twitter about a decade ago, and he was almost immediately fired. But after looking more at the whole entire story of what happened with that, this was something that happened over a decade ago. He’s apologized multiple times. And he hasn’t done ever again. And it was also clearly a smear campaign against him.
Jack: Like the person that brought these, quote, unquote, to light, wasn’t offended by them. He did it out of malice.
Jack: Not because he was offended…
Greg: Right, they found the reason to justify what they already wanted to accomplish.
Jack: And so Disney fired him right away. So I think now they’ve learned, oh, you know… okay, if one of our employees does something, maybe we should just take a step back, look at all the evidence…
Jack: And then give them a second chance.
Greg: Yeah, they gave her a warning. They asked her to issue an apology that they wrote that she wouldn’t do. And when that happened, they – from what I was reading – they pulled her from the promotions of season two…
Jack: Right. Correct,
Greg: …which is why she wasn’t involved in those. So there was already some degree of punishment and pulling back on her leading up to all this. And I think that kind of like, series of escalations makes a lot of sense. Even when it’s clear to a lot of fans that, you know, they might want somebody outright fired, I think it makes sense to see if they’ll improve, see if they’ll take, you know, responsibility, apologize if they need to. And like you said, it was clear with James Gunn that he had done what he could not only to apologize as much as he could for what he had done and said, but also had actually shown growth personally, if anybody who follows him understands that that was part of his his story that he’s grown over the years…
Greg: …to the degree that a lot of that stuff has informed his filmmaking with Guardians and other stuff, the stories he was telling was about growth of that kind, where you don’t see anything like that from Gina. She doubles down on it, it takes it takes us a badge of honor to be …
Greg: challenged on these things.
So let’s jump right into our mission briefing, which is our monthly deep dive into a specific topic. This month, we’re talking about disability representation in the Star Wars universe. We’re gonna go through a list of our top 10 noteworthy disabled characters across Star Wars media, including in the film’s streaming series, animation, novels, those who represent disabilities in some significant or really insightful way. It’s not necessarily a list of like best to worst, but what we feel is noteworthy and worth discussing. This is definitely not intended to be a comprehensive list at all, and there are definitely many more characters out there in the Star Wars universe worth discussing. So we’d love this to be the start of a conversation around this topic in general, and to hear from you about any characters who you feel should be covered or explored for future conversations. So Jack, you want to start us off with the number 10 spot?
Jack: So the first character we want to talk about is DJ from The Last Jedi. He’s a character portrayed by Benicio del Toro, and he’s the one that helped Finn and Rose escape from prison, on Canto Bight. The reason we want to talk about DJ is because he has a speech disorder. Specifically he stutters. What I really liked about DJ and the way they portrayed his stutter, is that it was a non-issue. And basically, they normalized a disorder. And I think, you know, as a community, that’s one thing that we strive for, is our disabilities and illnesses just to be normalized. And you know, hopefully, you know, one day I won’t be Jack the guy in the chair. I’m just gonna be Jack the guy.
Greg: Right. And sometimes that might be relevant to your story or things going on with you, but doesn’t have to be. Yeah, there’s so much more to you than that.
I know that there was some discussion about DJ at the time where people were kind of questioning why he had a stutter. And why was that added to his character as a character trait. Was it added specifically as a lot of disabilities are to reflect on his character in some way to try and add to his portrayal of sort of being a morally questionable dubious character or kind of shifty in nature. And there may be some validity to that. We don’t really know why they did that. But I do think there’s a lot of positives there like you’ve talked about, that I think kind of outweighs a lot of that. And from what I can tell, you know, basically somebody who stutters can be, can be a villain, they could be a morally questionable character, they can be the president.
And while we’re looking into this topic, I actually found a pretty great article written by Katie Gore, who’s a speech language pathologist and founder of SpeechIRL.com, which is a speech therapy practice. And she wrote a good piece about, specifically about DJ and this topic. And she said here, “My conclusion is that DJ is one of the most true to life stutterers to grace the silver screen. He’s a skilled expert of dubious moral character. He happens to stutter. And none of these things are related.” She mentioned that she’s confused why it was added to the character. Why do they put it in? It was clearly deliberate. And she wonders if it is, you know, supposed to be a sign of a shifty character. “But the whole issue with stuttering is that it can apply to anybody. Stuttering doesn’t fit anybody. Stutterers are no different from non-stutterers in their character, ability, moral propensities.” AndI think that’s a really good take, you know, that’s a good way of putting it.
Okay, our next character at number nine is Greer Sonnel. Greer is introduced to the novel Bloodline by Claudia Gray in which he serves as Leia’s chief of staff and personal pilot during her time as a senator in the New Republic. But Greer was previously an ace pilot, and even an exceptional racer, and even flew on Han Solo’s racing team for a while until she developed a terminal condition called bloodburn syndrome, which is a condition that can affect pilots in Star Wars, causing them to experience fevers and overheating when under stress. And ultimately, due to that condition, she had to stop racing and doing anything too strenuous that would exacerbate those symptoms. And there’s actually a separate short story called Scorched by Delilah S. Dawson, which serves as a sort of prequel to Bloodline, and which describes Greer fighting the symptoms during a major race. And it’s during that same race that she also meets Han. And it’s through that relationship that she eventually ends up working for Leia, when she finds she can no longer compete as a racer. So this is a condition that, you know, deeply affected her, affected her whole career, her life. She was able to mitigate the symptoms of it, but it still had a profound effect on her life. During the course of the story, she would, you know, hide it from most people, it was like her own thing. And she would also downplay even her racing career, because she didn’t want it to be clear how much she had been impacted by the bloodburn and the loss that she felt from that lifestyle.
But you know it does come up in the story in the sense that, you know, she starts to develop more and more symptoms, it becomes clear, she has to open up to other characters in the story. And part of the reason why she has to stop racing because of it is that it actually is triggered by stressful situations. So it’s like, actually racing would exacerbate the problem. And so that was kind of a concern during the story as well, as you start developing symptoms, there’s a treatment for it called hubiera, serum, that she’s getting injections of and she actually overdoes it to a degree where she’s pushing herself too far. And then she starts to develop side effects and fainting due to the treatment more than the condition itself, which I think is pretty relatable to a lot of people like me and others who have conditions where often the treatments are as difficult as the conditions themselves. I do think it’s kind of cool that they created a condition that is very, you know, it’s very Star Wars-y, it’s very related to space travel and all that stuff. It has some corollaries with real world, you know, conditions that we have, that I even recognized, you know, some parallels that I could relate to as far as especially how, you know, things are exacerbated by stress is certainly a factor with my own condition. So, I appreciated that in reading the story. I was really related to the challenge that she had. We talked about, like our trip to Galaxy’s Edge. That like put a lot of stress and strain on me that then exacerbates my symptoms. And I could really see that happening with her just during these events in that story, which is kind of cool.
Jack: We’ll see when we go back. You can just say, Oh, hey, I have bloodburn.
Greg: That’s a great idea. I’m going to do that.
Greg: That’s… that’s actually awesome.
Jack: Just another way to keep in universe
Greg: Yeah right. Yeah, I’m doing that next time. I mean even say moderate a lot with like diet and keeping, you know, hydrated and stuff. So hey, that’s me.
Jack: So number eight on our list is D-O the little droid from the rise of Skywalker and D-O exhibits a lot of characteristics of some sort of trauma, that we’re not exactly made aware of. And, you know, his… one of his big lines that he always repeats is no, thank you, no thank you. And he kind of backs away and he’s very timid around anybody. And I know even Rey points out that he must have been through some kind of traumatic experience.
Greg: And yeah, here’s a clip from the movie itself, where we really hear that interaction and that feeling that he has and what he has to say about it.
So someone treated him badly. So right here with us Now,
Jack: the other thing I wanted to bring up about D-O is the whole idea of giving droid human traits like disability, and I know there is a little bit of a debate or controversy with the whole idea of relegating disabilities and illnesses, just to droids you want to talk a little bit about that, Greg?
Greg: Yeah, just from what I’ve seen, there’s, there’s an understandable concern that people have, where certain traits of, you know, neuro divergence, disabilities, things like that are given to non human characters, whether this droids are aliens or something in which you say, we want to make this analogy or make this introduce this trait, or we’re going to put it into a non human character. I think it’s understandable, that’s a concern. It’s definitely a problem, when it would be great if it was offset by actually having more actual human or humanoid characters with those traits. And not just be relegated to droids and stuff. But there’s a lot of these examples we’ve talked about, that we’re covering here, that are not droids. I think it’s cool that when they can include those kinds of things and droids, not this, not to say like this character is this, but to say that they might be coded in a certain way, or evoke those feelings in people. And I think there’s a lot of value in that. Like we’re saying it’s perfectly valid. And I think, I think it’s a good case example with D-O where, D-O has, has personality, he is a character. And he has these traits. And you know, I mean clearly he has been like, like you said, regardless of his programming, he’s had experience, and he’s gone through trauma. He’s been mistreated. And that’s come across and been added to his personality. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s interesting. And we’re in a reasonable way to explore it within the context of the Star Wars universe. And as we’ve talked about before, he’s not the only character with trauma. In Star Wars, he just seems to be a particularly pronounced one, in this case in this movie.
Jack: And the last thing I wanted to bring up with D-O is, there was an article where a woman talked about her child, who happens to have autism, and that child completely related to D-O. And I think that’s wonderful. That’s one of the ideas of representation. Somebody can look at a character and go, Oh, wow, that’s me. Or, wow, I can relate to that character. So whether it was intended or not, they touched somebody. And I think that’s wonderful.
Greg: Okay, our next character number seven is Breha Organa. This is Leia’s adopted mother, who, you know, has always been there as far as part of the overall canon, but has never been explored in much detail until recent years through various novels. And something we never really knew about her that was explored in the Princess of Alderaan book, also by Claudia Gray, was the fact that she had experienced extreme injuries in her teen years that resulted in having her heart and lungs replaced by what are called pulmonodes, which are like mechanized organ replacements. So it’s touched on a number of times in the novel, the fact that she has these pulmonodes, these organ replacements. It’s never a major thing in terms of the story, but it is, it does reflect on her character in terms of how she feels about them. Because what was really interesting, with Breha that I appreciate is the fact that the way these pulmonodes would typically work, it explains is that she had this injury, she had this major fall during the ceremonial challenge that Leia also has to complete as part of her assuming royalty, that she she had this big fall, she has severely injured she ended up getting these replacements for her heart and lungs, which sounds really severe, but that typically they will regrow the skin over them using bacta sessions over time to basically grow new flesh new skin, and eventually they would not be visible. But Breha, on the other hand, embraced the pulmonodes and their visibility as a reminder of the fact that she was alive. And I thought that was really cool. You know, it’s a very cool perspective on, you know, artificial organs and illness and injury, that she sort of lived like that. And that she saw it as a message that she embraced that she can’t be stopped.
Basically, there’s a line in the book where Leia was with her mother, and was talking about the fact that the pulmonodes let off the soft glow. So her mother always has a soft glow in her chest. That Leia grew up feeling like her mother had these like glowing flowers in her chest, and that she always had this affection for flowers because of that. And that she always felt you know, that her mom had a sort of magic about her, that I thought was kind of cool, that actually in reality, correlated to her strength and what she had been through and what she’d overcome. And essentially, that a disability like that isn’t something that has to be hidden, you know, it doesn’t have to be covered up, literally, in this case, by skin. It can be out there. And you know, this is the queen of a planet. And she obviously has that kind of like privilege of saying, hey, this is me and deal with it. But I think it’s a good lesson to say this is normal, it normalizes it, you know, I have some artificial parts of my body. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of, or to be embarrassed about or to cover up or anything like that. I think she’s it shows her strength, it shows her, like she said, it shows that she embraces life, and that she is alive. And I thought that was really cool.
So our number six entry is a little bit different because this is the Tuskens. So these are characters that aren’t necessarily disabled, but the way they’re presented in the Mandalorian they use communication techniques that are tied to an actual disabled community, the deaf and hard of hearing community in our world, and was fascinating about them and why it served us such great disability representation was the involvement of Troy Kotsur, who’s a deaf actor, who they brought in to perform a role of one of the raiders but also acted as a consultant on the show and actually develop the unique signing language that they used to communicate. And I found that particularly fascinating the use of it, because by introducing this method of communication with them, they were able to communicate across you know species and language and really dive deeper into the Tuskens as a society and culture more than the sort of like faceless savages that we’ve seen them presented as and treated as before in Star Wars.
Jack: And what I really like too, going back to Troy and his being consultant, is that that gives the material more authenticity, which it needs, because I know I’ve seen it throughout the years on TV and movies where a disabled person is presented in a completely unrealistic way.
Jack: And it’s very clear that they didn’t have a disabled consultant on the crew with them. And they were just kind of going by what they thought was correct. So by actually bringing in a consultant, which we’re actually going to discuss more in a future topic, again it just… it makes it a lot more real and authentic. And it prevents a lot of stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals.
Greg: Yeah, right. By bringing in someone like him, he was actually able to help develop that in terms of the story itself, like the story itself became better by his involvement.
Jack: Number five on our list is Clone Force 99, in the Clone Wars, they’re better known as the Bad Batch. So the Bad Batch were a mutated variant of the clone line. And these mutations actually gave them a tactical advantage in combat situations. And even the episode in which the Bad Batch debuted, opened with the quote, “Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole.”
Greg: Yeah, I think that kind of summarizes what’s positive about that representation of these characters being variations or unexpected mutations of the standard clone, that are, you know, normally discarded, but have these benefits and the fact that they’re just different is an advantage and it kind of reflects to me that What might be considered a disability or quote unquote flaw could actually be beneficial.
Jack: There is a trope out there where a character or a group of characters can be seen as helpless or inferior, or, you know, less than because of a disability, or a mutation, or what have you. And the Bad Batch completely turns that trope on its head, because not only are they completely competent at what they do, they’re actually a whole lot better at what they do than a lot of the other battalions. Without the mutations.
Greg: I thought it was really cool that they were named after 99, who again was another clone earlier earlier in the series, who was born with genetic deformations, variations, who wasn’t able to be a trooper, but he worked as maintenance on Kamino. And even given his limitations and difficulties, he was able to do a job and contribute, but also participated in the defense, in battle, and even gave his life to help his brothers. And I thought it was a very, very cool homage to him. And also an interesting you know comparison between his experience and their experience. Everyone has value regardless of what impairments or differences they have. And without giving away too much of the story arc from season seven of Clone Wars, if you haven’t seen it, their story arc concludes with bringing on board, the character of Echo, the clone who had been throughout the series, but in that last season, after being mistaken for dead was found to actually be alive, but with significant impairments and physical alterations done by the enemy, which also gave him a lot of advantages also. And it was kind of interesting that they brought him into the team, as someone who, like them was now different, you know, he was a standard clone. But he had acquired these differences and what might be considered disabilities. And everything that came with that, and was welcomed into that team. So I thought that was a really cool, way to end that story, and to move forward.
Jack: And finally, we want to mention too, that the Bad Batch has their own animated series coming later this year,
Greg: Yeah, on Disney+. So that’s gonna be really cool. Hopefully an opportunity to explore some of these themes more. It’d be great to learn more about variations and explore what makes them different, maybe see if there are more out there like them.
And number four on our list is Luke Skywalker, who belongs on the list because he unfortunately, fell victim to the Star Wars tradition of losing a limb in a dramatic moment. And although in the Star Wars universe, they’ve got such advanced technology that he gains a prosthetic that makes his missing hand, basically indiscernible from a regular hand until it gets you know injured again, it is used later as a metaphor for a problem that we’ll actually get into later with some other characters, where there’s a trope in a lot of stories, but especially in Star Wars, that its really prone to, which is where these physical differences or prosthetics or things like that are tied to evil or the dark side, or a loss of humanity, which is kind of an unfortunate representation of what those things really mean, when prosthetics and cybernetics and things are essentially more tools and accessibility devices that, you know, should really be seen in more of a positive light. For the most part, that’s how it is with Luke, he gains a prosthetic hand and that’s just what it is. And that’s, in a sense, pretty good representation for a while until really the end in which he starts to see that he noticed that his missing robotic hand is a metaphor for becoming his father who has quote, unquote, lost his own humanity and become evil. I think that’s kind of unfortunate.
Some of those themes are explored in an area that I don’t want to completely rehash but we talked about in an earlier episode, in the recent book, From a Certain Point of View for Empire Strikes Back. We’ve had a great short story called right hand man by Lydia Kang, about the process of Luke gaining his prosthetic hand from 2-1B on board the medical frigate at the end of Empire Strikes Back. And there’s a great little mini story arc in there about Luke learning to deal with the fact that he’s lost his hand, is gaining a prosthetic, and is learning to recognize the fact that, at least at that point, the prosthetic doesn’t mean that it’s evil, the prosthetic isn’t tied to his failure at the time. And that he doesn’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed for it, despite everything he’s been through.
Our number three character is Chirrut Îmwe from Rogue One, the blind monk, and Guardian of the Whills played by Donnie Yen, who is a pretty fantastic character, who is kind of, a, you know, fan-favorite. Everyone loves him. And there’s kind of a couple different ways to look at Chirrut. One is that he does represent some tropes that are common with blind characters and these kinds of stories where he’s, he’s kind of like this stereotypical, blind wise weapon master, who can do anything, even though he’s blind, and also dispels wisdom to the main character and things like that. That’s a common thing that you get a lot of. But on the other hand, he’s also really attuned to the Force and is able to perceive things around him. He’s reached a state of discipline and faith in the Force – emphasized by his mantra of “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me” that he’s become more aware of the flow of the Force around him. And I think it’s something that works in Star Wars, in terms of the Force and what we know about the Force and how it works. That might not work and other types of stories that don’t have that, you know, he doesn’t have advanced sonar, or superpowers or super advanced hearing, like he’s not Daredevil, But he is able to tap into something we already know really well, in this universe. You know, I can almost kind of compare it to both when, you know, Obi-Wan wants Luke to put his blast shield down on his helmet to kind of feel the Force better. It, you know, filters out other senses, it lets you be more attuned to the Force around you in the world around you. It also kind of ties into like Luke, turning off his targeting computer, just feeling the Force. And all those things are kind of like, to me, somewhat represented by Chirrut, what he’s able to do, not even being a strong Jedi, not even really using the Force, but just being tuned into it. And certainly, I think there’s a lot of value there in the fact that he’s not portrayed as helpless in any way. He’s got his companion buddy Baze, but you know, he’s not reliant on him, which I think is great.
Jack: Matter of fact. I think a lot of times, he’s more aware of everything than Baze is.
Greg: Right. Yeah, exactly. And you can also contrast him with Kanan who we didn’t mention, just because there’s a lot of, there is a lot of overlap there and similarity. Kanan from Rebels was the Jedi character who actually lost his vision. We don’t know whether or not Chirrut was born blind or lost his sight at some point, but we know that Kanan through an injury fighting Darth Maul, lost his eyesight, had to go through the process of adapting to that and learning to similarly use the Force around him and feel the Force to regain his abilities that he had before. I think it’s kind of a different story, and different portrayal of the same concept. Partly because Kanan was like a full blown Jedi. And not only is he able to sense and feel his surroundings, and people and things around him, I felt like the Chirrut aspect was, like, a lot more grounded. Kanan, by the time he had figured out how to use the Force in that way, he… it was almost like he might as well not have been blind. And I think it kind of like took the same concept like really far, it really still works, storywise and everything, but as far as like, exploring these themes of being in tune to the Force, and how a general person in this universe with some force sensitivity or ability, who has grown up or spent a long time with an impairment or disability of this nature, can use an awareness of the Force to adapt, or to some degree excel. I see a real contrast there. Both are good stories, but I think I found Chirrut a lot more fascinating, and interesting in terms of depiction of that scenario.
Jack: Okay, number two on our list is Cliegg Lars, played by Chuck Thompson, and Cliegg is the stepfather of Anakin Skywalker. Recall in Attack of the Clones when we meet Cliegg, we find out that Shmi Skywalker was taken by a group of Tusken Raiders. So Cliegg and a group of 30 other farmers went on a search party to find her and recover her. That search resulted in Cliegg losing his leg. So obviously, with the loss of his foot, that took not only a physical toll on him, but also a mental one, you know, obviously had to deal now with not having a leg and being in a wheelchair. But he also had to deal with you know, the emotional aspect of losing his leg. And then you compound that with the fact that he still hasn’t found Shmi and compound that even further, that because of his injury, and because of the limitations of his wheelchair, he’s now unable to help the other farmers in the search. One thing I did want to mention, though, is like, obviously, I was born disabled. And so like, this is all I know. Yeah, I don’t know what it’s like to walk without assistance, or run or jump or anything like that. I can’t imagine, again, just the emotional trauma you would deal with in having an ability, and suddenly out of nowhere, having it taken from you.
Greg: That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, myself, because one of the big impacts of COVID is for people who do recover from it, which is a large number of people, a significant percentage of those people end up with some long term chronic illness, including autonomic problems and other things that I that I experience, that I’ve had for years and years. I was born with a genetic condition, but I acquired… my symptoms emerged over the years, as I developed more side effects or complications. But now seeing all these people suddenly come down with the condition that I have, and I’ve dealt with for years, I still struggle with it, but I’ve also moved through except, you know, the challenge and denial and acceptance and all that kind of stuff. I can see all these people now going through that in this, you know, large population of people going all through that at the same time through that trauma, in like a rushed fashion in which it’s all coming on at once. Definitely really sympathize with that. I think it’s kind of similar with what people go through when they actually gain a disability.
Before we get to our most noteworthy character in terms of disability representation, we have some quick honorable mentions. These are characters who we want to comment on that didn’t quite fit into our list. And again, this whole list is like not exhaustive. There are many more disabled characters across Star Wars worth discussing. You want to mention the first one Jack?
Jack: the first character we want to give an honorable mention to is Weazel, and he was played by the legendary Warwick Davis. Warwick actually played a character Weazel twice within the saga. He was first in the Phantom Menace. And then he also later reprised the role in Solo. And we just want to give a quick belated Happy Birthday to Warwick. As of this recording, he had just celebrated his 51st birthday. Happy birthday Warwick!
Greg: Yeah happy birthday Warwick.
Jack: And we also wanted to note that while Warwick actually played several characters throughout the entire saga, Weazel was actually the first character to be born with dwarfism.
Greg: Yeah, he’s actually like the first human character. He wasn’t playing an alien or droid or something. He was actually a presumably human character with dwarfism. And that made it a great, great bit of representation. Our next honorable mention is Saw Gerrera, the character played by Forest Whitaker. The character appeared in multiple stories between Clone Wars, Rebels, Fallen Order, and eventually Rogue One, and that’s the particular incarnation that I want to focus on. Because at that stage in his life, he had had so much physical damage to his body, and so many injuries that he was using prosthetic legs, and had so much damage to his lungs that he couldn’t breathe without assistance. And although you know, he’s a tough guy, and he’s a cool, interesting character, he sort of falls into the common trope of disability being used to create sort of a menacing, mysterious character, you know, he’s on the edge of the Rebellion. He’s an extremist. And he seems to sort of serve as almost like a foil for Vader in kind of the same way that Grievous did, where, you know, large parts of his body have been replaced, and he’s almost you know, as much machine is man type of thing.
And he actually ties into the other final, honorable mention character we have, who also is in Rogue One. And is another kind of example of not a great portrayal of disability, even though he’s a very minor character, the character Tivik. He’s the informant that Cassian meets with early in the movie, who passes along information about the Death Star. But also in the process of them trying to escape, he makes clear that he has this arm injury, basically, because he has it, he’s not able to escape with Cassian. And so Cassian sort of brutally kills him, basically, to protect the secrets and in order to escape, and basically, if there’s… if there’s one thing I want from the Cassian Andor series that’s coming up is that we don’t have Cassian kill any disabled people, and I’d be happy.
And Tivik and Saw both have this problem, with the way that Tivik is killed by Cassian, and the way that Saw sort of gives up trying to escape when he sees that his world is being destroyed, in which disabled characters are sometimes treated as sort of disposable by the story, that they can be left behind, they can sacrifice themselves, or they can be discarded for the service of the story, or the emotions of the main characters, who tend to be abled. And I hope that’s a trend that doesn’t continue in Star Wars.
Jack: And finally our number one choice for the most noteworthy character in terms of representation is Anakin Skywalker slash Darth Vader. So as we all know, we’re first introduced to the Darth Vader side of Anakin Skywalker in A New Hope. And with A New Hope, the character Darth Vader kind of starts off as one of the aforementioned tropes, where he is the disabled, disfigured villain, and had it only been the original trilogy, he would have absolutely 100% fit the trope. And speaking of the scarred, disabled villain, obviously, as we all know, he has lost many of his limbs, he’s on constant life support through his suit, and he suffered very severe burns.
Greg: And I think that concept is really epitomized by Obi-Wan’s sort of classic line – “He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil.” And I think that kind of brings together that whole trope right there of the fact that he has, essentially, prosthetics and cybernetics keeping him alive, ideally, should be independent of the fact that he’s also evil.
Jack: And while we do agree that Darth Vader absolutely fits the trope within the original trilogy, we were later introduced to him as Anakin in the prequels where he actually breaks the trope. He actually became Darth Vader before his battle with Obi-Wan, where he lost his limbs and was burned.
Greg: I would say, it seems like it’s tied into his trauma and pain and all the stuff that contributes and feeds his dark side. But like you said that wasn’t the root of it, you know, it’s not inextricably tied to him being evil.
Jack: One thing I did want to mention, going back to Anakin was when we meet him in the Phantom Menace, when he and his mom are befriended by Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, he’s so eager to get out. And he wants nothing more than to be a Jedi, and, you know, go on adventures and fly star fighters, and it seems all really fun and games to him. And I don’t think you know, as a kid, he doesn’t quite realize – I don’t know, I don’t know if he’s really he’s not I don’t know, if he’s really thinking how much work It’s actually going to be not just physically but also obviously, mentally.
Greg: Yeah. What a commitment it is.
Jack: And I think maybe that could even be part of what his downfall was.
Jack: Is that you know, he didn’t really take into consideration or even again, being away from Shmi, and then not realizing, oh, well, that could have been the last time you saw her. I think there’s a lot of things he just didn’t think of, as a little kid.
Greg: I’ve heard it described that Anakin being taken away from his mother was sort of like the original sin of Star Wars. It was like the first initial point of trauma in the entire saga that triggered like everything else that came after.
Greg: You know, it triggered generations of trauma and conflict, and that sense of loss and the damage from that that he never was able to reconcile. I think a really interesting thing about Vader is that he has this combination of, you know, his mental state, his emotional state, his physical condition, and then his ties to the dark side. And all these things all compound each other, and creates a really complex character that we eventually get a picture of across many movies, and many books and comics, especially, really dive into his character during the period of time that he’s Vader. And he becomes a really kind of fascinating study in all these things, especially in terms of trauma, being sort of like, to me the epitome even more so than his physical state, the trauma and loss that he’s experienced and how he hasn’t dealt with that well at all.
And there were some interesting insights that I personally gathered from that short story that I mentioned earlier, Right Hand Man by Lydia Kang, in the From a Certain Point of View book, although that story deals directly with Luke, there are a lot of story points that really relate to Vader at that time, as well. And there’s some mention in there about phantom pain that he may experience. And that experiencing that pain can kind of evoke that trauma of what happened. And, you know, it was specifically talking about Luke and having lost his arm to Vader, in that traumatic moment with that big reveal, and Luke coping and dealing with that, but it really made me think a lot about Vader also, and Anakin, and how, considering the loss of his limbs the way he lost his, I can only imagine what that kind of phantom pain if he experiences that would be like, to kind of constantly be reliving that trauma of Obi-Wan doing what he did to him. And that just feeding his anger and… and damage from that event. There was also a kind of possible connection between his trauma and his emotions and his physical impairments. 2-1B talks about how bacta only really works if the patient is willing and cooperative. It’s a living thing that requires the patient’s cooperation. And I just thought about, you know, seeing Anakin in that bacta tank that I imagined he spends a lot of time in, in Rogue One, that it made me really wonder how well he’s ever actually healing. If he’s ever able to cope with his trauma and stuff to the degree that he actually accepts healing. It would be interesting to see that explored one day.
So thanks a lot for joining us as we went through this list of what we feel are the most noteworthy disabled characters in Star Wars. And as we said, this is not an exhaustive list, and we’ll definitely be exploring these and other characters you know, in the future, and we definitely want to hear from other fans of characters they’ve recognized as having disabilities that they feel are worth talking about or have strong feelings about. We’re especially interested when you yourself might feel represented by characters on screen. I think that always means a lot. So feel free to reach out to us on social media. We’re Resilience Squadron on Facebook and Instagram, and we’re @ResilienceSquad on Twitter. Also, please consider leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Getting good reviews and ratings on there actually really helps us out a lot. We’re part of the Skywalking Network where you can find other great shows like Talking Apes, Classic Marvel Star Wars Comics, the Max EFX Podcast, Neverland Clubhouse, and the flagship show Skywalking Through Neverland.
Jack: So just in case you’re wondering why we keep mentioning Mark Hamill at the end of our shows… it’s just a joke. We’re just trying to come up with some clever way to end each and every show.
Greg: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
But seriously, Mark – return our calls. Come on the show.