Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S Dawson
I turned the corner, and my soul left my body.
My wife says I walked around slack-jawed, not speaking, not noticing anyone or anything else.
It was our first trip to Galaxy's Edge, at Disneyland.
We'd been walking around the other areas of the park all day, in the lingering heat of early October, 2019. I'd wanted to go to Galaxy's Edge straight away, but our friend had insisted we wait till the sun went down. When the crowds would thin, and the lights and special effects on the buildings would come out.
She was right.
Because when we finally made it there, the park was perfect. Not empty, but not crowded. Cool enough to walk around, but not yet cold.
And everything was lit up.
I've been ambiguous about a lot of things Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise. But that day, in that park, I forgave them everything.
Because they nailed it.
The streets, the buildings, the design of the doors, the mother-fucking Milennium Falcon sitting right there, looking every inch a hunk of junk that's ready to race around the galaxy. They even got the sound of the floors in the Falcon right, our shoes click-clacking on the floor panels exactly as if we were being followed around by a foley artist from Lucasfilm.
And I wanted to go back the very next day.
As you can imagine, though, we haven't been. We told ourselves we could return in the spring of 2020, just in time for my birthday.
What naïve summer children we were.
Thanks to the pandemic, there's no return trip in my near future. No immersion in the world of Black Spire Outpost.
Except through fiction.
So I picked up Dawson's book set on the world the park is meant to represent. I wanted to go back there, even for a moment, to let her words guide my imagination in invoking the spirit of the place.
Too much to ask, perhaps. But I had high hopes after reading Dawson's Phasma, where she introduced two new characters -- Vi Moradi and Cardinal -- while building out Phasma's backstory. That turned out to be a Mad-Max-via Star Wars tale wrapped inside a spy story; an incredible balancing act.
And once again, Dawson pulls it off, weaving a high-stakes story with a small-scale focus. She brings back both Vi and Cardinal, filling out more of their arcs and letting both of them shine.
Something bothered me all throughout the book. I didn't know what it was at first, just a vague unease in my mind as I read along.
It wasn't until halfway through the novel that I realized what it was: the colonial attitude of Vi and the Resistance towards Batuu (the planet on which Black Spire Outpost is located).
Let me explain. No spoilers, I promise.
When the story begins, Batuu is not involved in the conflict between the Resistance the First Order. It's too small, too unimportant. The war has passed it by.
Which is one reason Vi is selected to go there, as some place the First Order won't be paying attention to.
Logical on the face of it. But it's the start of my problems with the story.
Because no one on Batuu invites the Resistance there. No one on Batuu wants to be involved in the conflict, at all.
The Resistance just assumes they have the right to build an outpost there, regardless of what the local population wants.
Which means they assume they have the right to bring the war there. To bring violence and death with them. Because they know the First Order is going to eventually discover said base, and when they do, they will respond with oppressive force.
And throughout her stay there, Vi repeatedly acts like a colonial officer sent to a "backwards" place:
- She quickly makes a deal to steal an ancient artifact and use it to bargain for supplies (instead of leaving it alone, as she has no rights to it)
- She assumes the right to squat in ancestral ruins that the people on Batuu consider sacred
- She receives medical care from a local elderly woman, which saves her life, and her thanks is to rip the woman's only help -- her grandson -- away from her. She thinks she's right to do so, as it's "for the greater good"
- She's constantly saying things like "Don't they realize I'm doing this for their own good?" every time she can't bend someone to her will
- When she finds herself using local expressions and greetings, she doesn't think of it as being respectful, but as "going native"
I could go on.
It's a frustrating flaw in an otherwise fantastic book. I like Vi, I like the other characters, I like the story, I even like the ending.
But the constant attitude of Vi and the Resistance that "we know better than you, so we're going to make these choices for you" is so...belittling, so arrogant. It feels out of character for a movement that says it's all about free will. And yet totally in line with the way we Westerners usually interact with other countries.
I still recommend the book. It's the next best thing to being there, in the park. Which is an incredible achievement, despite the problematic nature of some of its plot points.