Star Wars and toxic masculinity though, I’m sorry, but what? Are we watching the same movies? They have a pretty clear message: Anger is the path to the Dark Side. If you want to be a hero, don’t go around getting angry and being violent, you have to be nice. Kind. Understanding. That’s kind of a central message. And it runs very much counter to the whole angry, prone to violence, emotionless macho thing.
That’s shown in the characters as well, because we’ve got some really big tough no-emotion macho hero types there, let’s review:
- Luke Skywalker, bleeding heart idealist, has a lot of feelings and shows all of them. Whines about wanting to see his friends. Cries when upset or in pain. Appeals to people’s conscience, does the right thing, big on calming your mind and listening to your heart. Makes friends with everyone immediately, can’t hate anyone for longer than two minutes. Does not hesitate to rush headlong into danger, but can’t necessarily save the day with fighting prowess. Cares deeply about everyone. If you could be friends with any character, I’d recommend this one.
- Han Solo, resident idiot, has many feelings and tries to hide them, everyone knows anyway. Will glance broodily around so that you can tell he’s upset or conflicted. Really wants to talk to the girl he likes about her feelings, but has no idea how. Says he doesn’t care, continually runs straight into danger to save the people he cares about. Doesn’t even try to look tough in the face of torture, immediately starts screaming, would never say “it’s just a scratch”. Constantly needs help, always barely one step ahead of total disaster, definitely not your knight in shining armour.
- Lando Calrissian, actual ladies’ man, charming and suave, arguably the closest we get to a fuckboy except not because he totally respects Leia. Shows polite interest, does not push or manipulate when he realises that she’s not interested, despite the fact that this happens very subtly. Does not hesitate to do the right thing, loyal to his friends, even at great personal cost. Also does not hesitate to follow Leia’s orders, and not because he thinks it’ll get him laid.
- Anakin Skywalker, drama queen extraordinaire, has far too many feelings and most of them make him cry. May seem a little whiny. Always wants to talk about his feelings, readily shares them with anyone who’ll stand still for long enough. Loves very deeply and is not afraid to show it. Gets very angry, but this is shown to be a Bad Thing. Gets too attached to the point of obsession, which is also shown to be a Bad Thing.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi, drama queen support group, is a lot better at keeping his feelings under control but still has them. Will absolutely cry at emotional moments (possibly because he is tired). Understands everyone, even if he kind of wishes he didn’t. His need to be rescued by Anakin is a running joke, but not in a way that demeans him as a man, or a person. Makes snarky quips to reassure himself. Knew all along that This Is A Terrible Idea. Definitely the Mom Friend.
- Palpatine, the big bad, an evil nightmare of a man. Literally uses his anger and hatred as a power source. Enjoys torture and violence, wants to corrupt the hero with hatred and anger. Likes to pretend he knows everything, needs no help, thinks love and friendship are weakness. Has no friends. Employs no women (in the movies). Shows no emotion except smug superiority, anger, and, briefly, panic. Ultimately defeated by the power of love and forgiveness, which serves him right.
Star Wars very explicitly portrays excessive anger and violence as BAD, and caring and understanding as GOOD. The guys are allowed to cry, they all need rescuing at various points and they aren’t “less” for it. They work together with women, as partners and equals. When Anakin finds out that Padmé is pregnant, he doesn’t roll his eyes or get cold feet, he’s delighted. He’s excited to be a father and start a family. The only disparaging comment I can think of that any guy makes about women in the movies is Han’s “If we can avoid any more female advice” which is followed by Leia telling him to shut up and do what he’s told, and Han grumbling and doing what he’s told. So that plays more like Han trying desperately to find some way of getting back at Leia because he does not like being told what to do, and immediately losing another round.
We see Han trying to get Leia to admit how she feels about him, while Leia is more concerned about getting him to join the cause. We see Padmé trying to be practical and focus on the mission while Anakin can’t shut up about his feelings. We see Luke saving the day not by being the ultimate badass macho fighter man, but by appealing to his father’s conscience, his love, the good in Anakin Skywalker. We see plenty of instances of men asking for help and accepting help, showing emotion without being judged or fear of being judged, wanting love and family, etc. We also see romantic rivalry between Han and Luke, and Han and Lando, that does not turn into any kind of “fight” for Leia’s affections, because it’s Leia’s choice and they all know and respect that. In fact, the three guys are friends and stay that way.
All of that is the opposite of toxic masculinity, as far as I can tell.
If anything, the prequel trilogy is a cautionary tale about the importance of keeping your emotions, especially your anger, in check, and the original trilogy is basically how to do it right. Darth Vader is not portrayed as some kind of masculine ideal to strive for, he’s the bad guy. Luke, with his emotional openness and explicit refusal to give in to anger and hatred and violence, is the good guy. Luke is a character you can show to a little kid and say “this is a hero”.
I guess if you twist it enough you can see sexism and toxic masculinity in everything, and I’m not saying these movies are perfect. They have plenty of problems. But when it comes to portrayals of male heroism (and villainy), I think they’re actually pretty damn good.