Zooësis in Star Wars Rebels and The Last Jedi
Keywords:Star Wars Rebels, Critical Animal Studies, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Non-sentient animals have appeared in the Star Wars universe in roles both integral and decorative since A New Hope premiered in 1977. From beasts of burden like the dewbacks and banthas of Tatooine and the Gungans’ kaadu, to monsters like the wampa, rathtar, and dianoga; to the myriad of critters large and small that inhabit interstellar environments, animals are as much a part of the fabric of the Star Wars tapestry as the various non-human sentient species. In some cases, these creatures are mainly exotic window dressing, but in other instances, these animals are used instrumentally to advance larger narratives.
To frame my examination of the use of animals in Star Wars, I borrow performance studies scholar Una Chaudhuri’s useful neologism “zooësis.” Coined by Chaudhuri to articulate “the way culture makes art and meaning with the figure and body of the animal,” encompasses the feelings that animals inspire, and so the affect of animals is an important part of understanding the place of the animal in the Star Wars universe (1). Ezra Bridger’s interaction with animals to explore the Force and to aid the Rebellion in Star Wars Rebels offers one example of how animals are instrumentalized, and Ezra’s affective response to “the figure and body” of these creatures – affection, awe, revulsion, or horror – are fairly straightforward. But the lowly porg from The Last Jedi inspires different feelings: the complex affect of cuteness, combined with the desire to consume and devour the bodies of these animals. In what follows I invite my reader to consider the use of animals in Star Wars, and to question how agency is granted and denied to non-human animals in these narratives.
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