By John Robinson, IV
She was born on Ganthel, nearly 20 years before the Clone Wars. As a young adult she joined the Galactic Empire as a Naval officer. By the time she was 30 she captained the Star Destroyer, Ultimatum. By the Battle of Endor, she’d become a Vice Admiral. Then, even after the Empire was defeated she was able to obtain the rank of Grand Admiral, and eventually went on to start what is now known as the First Order. Being so well distinguished, capable, and influential on major key threads that link the original and sequel trilogies together, why then does they world know so little of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane?
The Intersectional Black Woman
The primary architects of Rae Sloane’s story and plotlines have been John Jackson Miller, who wrote her debut in the novel A New Dawn, and Chuck Wendig who continued her story in his Aftermath trilogy, which covers the events following the destruction of the second Death Star, eventually leading up to the Battle of Jakku. These writers fashioned a new image of an Imperial officer, and with their perspective, showed the rest of the world what Star Wars truly should be, which essentially, is diverse.
In the above description, I failed to mention the fact that Rae Sloane is black, queer, and (though I’m sure you guessed by the pronouns) a woman. These particular traits have nothing to do with her success or matriculation through the ranks of the Galactic Empire. Her personal relationships or skin color don’t make or break anything about her character and yet, at the same time, they are so important. They hit several intersections that Star Wars has never hit before and that most popularized media in general seems to avoid. Furthermore, she isn’t simply a tool to elevate other “default” characters. She is established as a main character herself, with complex background and ideology. What makes Rae so important is that it shatters the image of what an Imperial (or any) Star Wars character is supposed to look like, and establishes an entirely new spectrum of possibility.
I know some of you are wondering “If her being a queer, black woman, has nothing to do with her character in a far, far away galaxy, why are we discussing this?” This is a common question because some individuals simply don’t understand what it’s like to be a fan of something, but never see yourself in it. Changing these simple traits creates a new vector of representation. Where the average Imperial is a stiff old white guy with grey cresting his hair, we now have Rae that reminds fans that other people actually exist in this universe, and that those people can be the best of the best. To the people whose identities sit at those intersections, she is exactly what they want to see. To others, she should be a welcome change in the status quo, and an example of what future Star Wars characters could look like.
Why Isn’t Rae Sloane on Screen?
And yet, many Star Wars fans don’t know about her. It may be understood, that every character that exists in the books, does not have to exist on screen. We understand that every character, while sometimes referenced, does not have to appear across all forms of media. However, when it comes to black women specifically, until the announcement of Naomi Ackie’s Jannah in Star Wars Episode IX, we have not seen black women in any prominent role (and don’t dare try to mention Thandie Newton’s Val, in Solo, because that’s just disrespectful). This isn’t an accident. While Star Wars has been making strides in diversity, the filmmakers have been apprehensive about black women on screen.
Grand Admiral Rae Sloane was the most powerful Imperial following Endor. It was said that she started the First Order. And yet, there hasn’t even been the mention of her name in the sequel movies, where the First Order is the authoritarian antagonistic force. She hasn’t even been hinted at in possible casting choices for IX. She brought the Empire to where they are now (as the First Order) and it isn’t even acknowledged.
It may be that they are being careful with story conflict. It may be that they never intended to show characters who didn’t originate in the movies on the big screen, but I’m more inclined to believed that along with those factors, is the pure systemic aversion to anything that runs too far from Hollywood’s default- the straight white man. They inch with women. They inch with black men. They inched with Latinos and Asians (to the bear minimum). But black women? Apparently, that’s too “radical.” I think that they are afraid for someone as powerful as Rae Sloane to be on screen, with her demographics and intersections. Right? Sure.
Behind the Scenes
Before we close, it’s imperative that we to hit on another topic that is often swept under the rug. What of the voices behind these characters? We love John Jackson Miller, and we love Chuck Wendig. Their creation and contribution to the legacy of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is much appreciated, so their is no slight intended when I say that they are still the default that white males that were given the opportunity to create her. Now that they have used their privilege for good, it’s the proper time for a new voice should be introduced to this character. I’m talking about a black, queer woman’s voice, or any of the demographics thereof at the minimum.
The fact is that from every level from movies down to books and comics, the white male still dominates. Then the white woman. Why, with so many woman of color fans and talent out there, haven’t we had the opportunity to read a Star Wars book or comic, or watched a show/movie, written or directed by a black woman? In order to fix this issue, we must actively fight back against it by seeking out those talented individuals looking for the opportunity.
There are aspects of Rae’s character that as black, woman, queer, or a combination thereof, a white man just may not be able to see. There is nuance and details that they wouldn’t even know to think about. They’ve already written great stories with Rae, but what might that demographic lens and perspective put on the character? Put more diverse people behind the scenes and natural you’ll get more diverse character writing.
Give Grand Admiral Rae Sloane the respect she deserves, and remember to the crew at #SWRepMatters, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is our emperor.