WARNING: WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN: EPISODE 6: THE PRISONER
Hi, I?m Jay Justice and I am obsessed with Star Wars.
We are blessed to live in a time where there is tremendously well made and plentiful Star Wars content, with books, video games, RPGs, comics, movies & tv shows coming out on a regular basis.
The Mandalorian is one of the highest quality television shows in recent memory and I, like millions of other fans, boot up the PS4 as soon as the latest episode is available on Disney+ to get my fix. When new character Cara Dune debuted, I was immediately inspired by Gina Carano?s excellent performance under Bryce Dallas Howard?s direction to bust out a costume based on her armor in about 36 hours. Did I have the spare time, energy or money to do this? Nope. Made it when I should have been sleeping, while enduring severe chronic illness, out of remnants & scraps from other costumes. That?s how much I love Star Wars.
Episode 6 of The Mandalorian happened to air immediately after close friend & fellow cosplayer Allegriana and I expressed our shared desire to see a Twi?lek character with a name and speaking lines. That?s all we wanted. We both really love the race & Allegriana has done several fantastic Twi?lek cosplays.
Well, we got our wish! We got TWO of them! Male & female! The female character had agency, and wasn?t sexualized or exploited in any way! The male character wasn?t one dimensional, or incapable of rational thought! They were both complex characters that didn?t feel like caricatures, which is something those of us who fall in love with the supporting cast crave. Natalie Tena delivers a very memorable performance as Xi?an. Love her or hate her, you?ll never forget her.
Every move she made on camera was etched into our brains. She had us questioning all our Twi?lek aesthetic choices based on how she looked and acted. She was very different from all of the other Twi?lek women we?ve seen in movies, animated series, and video games. If you?re unfamiliar with their race, there is a very stark contrast in the different genders? physical appearances & behaviors, with some variances.
Typically, male Twi?leks have forehead protrusions, flat human-like ears, and sharpened teeth (by choice), and female Twi?leks have smoother foreheads, (some with eyebrows tattooed or painted on as their race mostly does not have hair of any kind), small cones in the place of ears (some are obscured by headgear, but they are there) and more human-like teeth. Their mannerisms & behaviors are also very different, which can be related to gender, but also culture, occupation & personality. Male Twi?leks hiss & growl through their fangs often while speaking, and female Twi?leks usually do not.
Xi?an has sharpened teeth, somewhat like a male Twi?lek, but only her incisors are fangs rather than her whole mouth. Her ears appear to be flat beneath her smooth headgear. No cones as seen in most other female Twi?leks, or any space for cones to sit comfortably, like with Hera?s headgear on Star Wars: Rebels. Her demeanor is very animalistic, as she hisses and snarls frequently throughout the episode. She?s definitely female and clearly identifies as such. As I was thinking about her character design it occurred to me that Xi?an might also be trans.
Before you think ?oh no, Jay has gone off the deep end?, hear me out.
The creators of The Mandalorian are just as in love with the universe of Star Wars as we are. Every single design & performance choice is deliberate. They have access to the Lucasfilm character bibles of every single Twi?lek character ever and created a unique character in Xi?an. Is it entirely possible that she exhibits a blend of both male & female Twi?lek characteristics purely by coincidence, and it?s not at ALL a commentary on the gender binary of the species or the first live-action trans Star Wars character ever?
Sure. But I am really enjoying the possibility of growth in character portrayals, that go beyond the binary and broaden the scope of what can exist in Star Wars. Even if the creators explicitly state that Xi?an is cis, that simply means that female Twi?leks can present differently than we previously thought and that the perceived gender binary for their race is more of a spectrum. Just like real life. It?s an exciting thought.
As a Star Wars fan, right now I feel like all we do is win, no matter what. The universe is expanding and becoming more & more diverse both on the screen and behind the scenes. The casting, writing, directing & design choices of late are bringing us different perspectives & visions that feel so rejuvenating to experience. Not everyone agrees, of course, that?s the nature of fandom. Regardless, the Star Wars universe is slowly starting to reflect the audience it entertains & I look forward to enjoying every single bit of it.