While the films of the saga might still have some catching up to do, the world of Star Wars has changed recently -- and some of it, arguably, for the better. The diverse new players and worlds have made the galaxy a richer, more interesting place. Deep dives into the everyday lives of those living in some of the most iconic eras have added context to life in the rest of the galaxy as the heroes we know fought for its freedom. Claudia Grey’s hit novel, Lost Stars, showed us that many new recruits to the Empire sincerely believed they were doing the right thing; and some were simply jerks. It is this focus on the interpersonal relationships and motives of the Empire’s soldiers that has brought about one character who, in her short time, has mounted a legacy and ridden it throughout the course of the saga. Her name is Rae Sloane, and her impactful service to the Empire stretched for nearly four decades (or whatever the Star Wars equivalent of that time might be).
If ever there were a character who truly defined what it meant to be Lawful Neutral, Sloane is it. Her life pre-Empire is still shrouded in mystery, but perhaps that’s because Sloane’s actions during that time were so impactful. As a woman of color, Sloane’s prominence in the Empire is something fresh and new -- it’s hard not to want to see her achieve all the Imperial dreams she has, especially when the only people putting her down are her male superiors. As a cadet, she approached Darth Vader himself when something seemed off about her Captain’s calculations -- revealing that the Captain, in changing coordinates that Sloane had set, was planning to assassinate the Emperor. After having Sloane reset everything back to her original work, Vader disposed of the Captain personally. It’s perhaps this moment that set Sloane on her path toward the role of Grand Admiral and put her at the helm of more than one Imperial Star Destroyer in her time.
It may seem difficult for some to root for a bad guy (I’m far from what you might call an Imperial sympathizer), but Sloane’s numerous accomplishments have shown time and again that she’s a formidable, important component of the Empire’s story. Fans who have followed the new canon for nearly three years have had the opportunity to watch Sloane’s career from start to finish; sharing these moments of anxiety and victory with her along the way. Rae Sloane’s drive for her dedication to the Empire may still rest on the vague shoulders of her solid sense of justice, and because of that, her story is far from over. Despite seeing her rise through the ranks of the Empire, we know virtually nothing about her home planet, her upbringing, and her reason for joining.
What we know is that Sloane is, in a sense, leading a charge. Roles for women in Star Wars have expanded far and beyond the standard of yesteryear on the big screen, and the women of color who have become part of this galaxy have already impacted its course in spades. This might be the reason Rae Sloane has found immediate acceptance in her new role as “the backbone of the Empire” among fans; over the course of her career, she deflected an assassination attempt on the Emperor, foiled a plot to destroy the Imperial mining resources on the planet Gorse’s moon Cynda, and made herself a huge name within the Empire by working hard and sticking to her beliefs.
While internet bigots (who apparently did not know much about Imperial history) flipped out over the prospect of a Black stormtrooper, Rae Sloane, a Black woman, rose through the ranks to command some of the biggest and most intimidating warships of the Empire’s short history. She has become one of the most important recurring characters throughout the pages of Star Wars prose, and recently bridged to comics in Kanan. Her work within the Empire scaled further than many of her peers, and I openly cheered when she was described as the highest ranked officer of Vader’s Death Squadron in Aftermath. So, the only question now is: when will she make it to the big screen?
Sure, we will see Rae Sloane again in Aftermath: Life Debt (out on July 12th), as she navigates the galaxy alongside a mysterious Admiral while escaping the now-victorious Rebel Alliance and its growing New Republic. But with countless possible films ahead and the impact a woman like her could have -- as a figure given notoriety and recognition akin to Grand Moff Tarkin within the Empire, but also as a visible, leading Black woman in a Star Wars film -- something that has never, ever been done before. Rogue One opens up massive opportunities for a broader audience to meet the character; introducing her during her time as an elite Vice Admiral and letting her magic work from there could be all that is needed to make her as much of a face for the Empire as Captain Phasma is for the First Order. This is all theoretical, but at the very least, it would be lovely to see her spring off the page for a film or an appearance during the third season of Star Wars Rebels.
Beyond the in-world recognition, the cultural impact of characters like Rae Sloane would help further Lucasfilm’s efforts toward diversity. While she is an antagonist (and there is another argument for another time to be made regarding the other women of color who have recently joined the sides of good and evil within the galaxy) she’s also someone who is exceptionally good at her job when she is focused. Her moments of unabashed pride are always met with a downfall (look no further than her cockiness landing her straight into a trap during two different battles against the Jedi Kanan Jarrus). But when she's at her best, true to her spirit, and unafraid to stand up in the face of any doubters, Rae Sloane excels beyond expectation. Her complexity and drive make for an inspiring character that deserves a chance to shine to the wider world audience, and finally put a Black woman in a big-screen Star Wars role larger than the doomed Twi’lek, Oola, or Leia’s wordless Resistance envoy Commander Korr Sella, who died alongside most of the New Republic in The Force Awakens.
All of these qualities pour into the soul of a character who makes the reader want to root for her victories while jeering against her alliances. Rae Sloane serves as an entertaining intersection of personality traits within a saga where the struggles between “light” and “dark” carry such a strong thematic presence. She fits in, but not enough to fade into the background, and plays impactful parts in stories where one might least expect her to arrive.
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