Jaina Solo has Buffy Summers Syndrome

February 9, 2012 at 9:28 am | Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments
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I'm going to stake you now.

There seems to be one particular topic that some fans of the SWEU have taken vocal issue with.

Well. There’s a lot of topics that some minority of Expanded Universe fans have taken overly vocal issues with. But this is one of them. One that I feel deserves a bit more of a balanced perspective.

A while back, there was controversy that posited author Christie Golden had completely slaughtered several female characters and has portrayed them in an overly manipulative, sexist manner. This is based, primarily, on two scenes in the expanded universe novel Allies, the fifth entry in the Fate of the Jedi series:

  1. The scene aboard the Jade’s Fire where Gavar Khai instructs Vestara to, if needs be, seduce Ben to get him to come over to the Dark Side.
  2. The scene in Jag’s office where Jaina attempts to use her feminine charm to get what she wants from him.

These two scenes alone have caused parts of the fandom to harbor a hatred of Golden that goes far beyond any sort of reasonable discourse. Worse, these vitriolic arguments have damaged the characters themselves.


The first scene can be justified and explained by pointing out that Vestara Khai is, you know, SITH. The Sith in this fandom have rarely, if ever, been good, wholesome people. So you have a relatively new character that through five novels has been shown to be a bit more on the Chaotic Neutral side of the spectrum than anything else. Is it really that much of a stretch to think Gavar would order Ves to Go Seduce My Archnemesis’ Son?*

No, it really isn’t, and anyone who uses this scene as proof that Golden is sexist in her portrayal of female characters is grasping at straws. Vestara Khai is not nor has she ever been a wholesome, female character.

*You know, now that I think about it, the fact that it’s Gavar Khai ordering Ves to do this is a pretty anvilicious example of Golden showing readers that sexism = bad. Think about it, you’ve got a Sith telling his daughter to go seduce someone. Bad guy tells daughter to do something bad. There are bright neon lights saying that “Sexist attitudes are of the Dark Side, my padawan.” 

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter: Jaina Solo.

I’ve said for a while now that Jaina suffers from what I call Buffy Summers syndrome. For those of you who have little or no exposure to the Whedon fandom, Buffy Summers is the titular character from that brilliant series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy, to this day, is held up as a shining example of what a strong female lead is capable of. She was witty and tough, putting a big emphasis on the “strong” part of SFL. She was also flawed. She had her insecurities, a deeply troubled love life, and could be a touch on the materialistic side.

As the years went on after Buffy finally went off the air, a segment of fans seemed to forget about those flaws. She was still the Strong Female Lead in those fans minds, but she had transformed into what I dub the Mary Sue SFL. To these fans, Buffy was flawless (because they had learned to overlook the flaws that made her such a compelling character). Don’t ever remind this vocal minority that Buffy on more than one occasion flaunted her good looks to get what she wanted. That’s sexist, and Buffy was never that kind of girl.*

*Except she totally was at times 

Here’s my point. Jaina Solo is Buffy Summers. The vocal minority that roasts Golden for something like two pages that appeared in Allies is the minority that has completely forgotten Jaina’s background, and its that background that makes those two pages work. Let’s take a look at Jaina. In bullet point form!

  • Jaina Solo is the daughter of Han Solo and Leia Organa-Solo. The former is a charismatic smuggler who could fast-talk his way out of just about anything, the latter was a career politician. Both are versed in the art of manipulation. You can go either nurture OR nature to make a very strong case that Jaina is manipulative.
  • Jaina has had some very traumatic events occur in her life, events that caused her to flirt with much darker sides of her personality (See pretty much the entirety of Dark Journey).
  • Jaina was taught to use manipulation as an effective tool, see the Enemy Lines novels and countless other books.

Jaina is manipulative. She always has been, and that’s not necessarily bad. Sometimes she uses that trait strategically and for the best. Sometimes, like in Allies, she goes a bit too far and in that scene she almost immediately realizes that she screwed up something fierce. But she’s always had that problem, she’s always been in danger of pushing the envelope too much. She’s very much her father’s daughter in that regard.

A subset of fans have completely lost sight of that background. As a result, this vocal minority expects Jaina to always be written in that Mary Sue SFL archetype that I mentioned above. They skewer authors like Golden for writing Jaina with flaws when, and this is the cold reality, the authors are significantly more right than wrong. The Jaina these fans expect exists entirely in fanon and not the actual canon. You may want to think that at age 30, Jaina has worked out all her problems and is now the perfect character, but she isn’t. There is nothing in the books to suggest she’s magically changed her personality. She may be a little more mature than she used to be, but that foundation of her character is still there.

As unpopular an opinion as this may be, I have to say it. Christie Golden got Jaina right and the overly loud portion of the fandom denouncing her got it wrong.

Finally, I’d like to close by quoting a paragraph from the article “Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad For Women” by mlawski

(but before I do that, trust me, this is a brilliant article recommended to me by a good friend of mine and, as she points out, it’s really not what the title leads you to believe it’s about)

Good characters, male or female, have goals, and they have flaws. Any character without flaws will be a cardboard cutout. 

So what’s my rambling point here? Jaina, like Buffy, is flawed. But that’s not a bad thing. Embrace those flaws, for they make deep characters. Christie Golden did, and while you may not like that Jaina is manipulative, I’ll gladly take it. Don’t flame authors for not writing your favorite character as a Mary Sue, and most importantly, don’t flame authors for staying true to that character’s actual characterization.

I’ll take the real Buffy and Jaina over the watered-down, Bella Swan-ized fanon versions of those characters every time.

Posted by Lane for Roqoo Depot

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3 Comments »

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  1. I followed a link to this post, and found it interesting. I pretty much agree with you.

    When it comes to Buffy, I think her biggest flaw in my eyes is self-absorption, almost selfishness – yes, as the Slayer she’ll selflessly give her life for another person, but in her personal life everything’s about her. Angel/Riley/Spike concentrate all their efforts on making her happy, she doesn’t give a lot back. Her friends – especially Willow & Giles – are hugely supportive of her in her private life, but there’s numerous times when she fails to notice when something’s affecting them (see especially the latter half of s4 and almost the entire of s6).

    Jaina – I have no issues with her having flaws, I want her to have them. My only issue with how she is written is the same as I have with the majority of female characters in Star Wars – that she’s rarely centre stage or majorly important to the plot. SW has a habit of creating fabulous strong female characters and then completely underusing them. (There are of course books where women are important leading characters, including Jaina, but there are so many more where all the most important roles are given to the men.)

    That was going off-topic a bit though… in what you were saying regarding Golden’s writing, I agree with you.

  2. Good post and good points Lane! I still need to read mlawski’s article but I strongly agree that female characters as well as other characters can and even should have flaws. Moreover, I seriously think ‘the sexist card’ is pulled far too often and far to quickly. Sex and human sexuality is complicated and manyfaceted – but still tabooed from an ever changing number of interest groups. To become (actively or not) “a sexual object” doesn’t stop a woman or female character from being a subject – and in neither Jaina’s nor Vestara’s case was anything of that kind implicated in the text. Hence I can only see Golden’s input as a healthy dosis realism that, judging from the reactions, is well needed even in 2012.

  3. My problem with Golden is that her parts of the series tend to have numerous things that do not make sense, e.g. a wounded Abeloth unleashes a force storm that takes out half a city, yet never did this when Luke et.al. were around to defend herself. Ascension had enough parts like this to leave me with a realm bad taste for the book.

    On the sexism issue, let me ask this: if there was a scene in a novel where, say, Lando uses his charm, good looks, etc. to get a woman who is attracted to him to do something he wants her to do, is that sexist? Not really.

    Let me ask this question, Why does using sexuality (whick is only lightly touched upon in Golden’s SW work) denote a character flaw, when, say, presenting a strong emotional appeal does not?

    If it is that it is manipulation, I could probably point out many a multitude of instances in the films and EU when the heros manipulate other characters in other ways (Just to begin, Jedi mind trick anyone?) Whater the reason the protest seems to spring from an uncomfortablness with sexuality and not from other avenues.


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