Recently I read this article about the portrayals of disability in Star Wars. This got me thinking about whether disability could be portrayed positively, and if we could see a disabled protagonist who succeeds because of their disability not in spite of it. I thought about if Revan could be shown as being on the autistic spectrum somewhere which could explain their unparalleled grasp of military strategy but then I thought it would be perhaps more interesting to see a film in which Bastila is not only the main character but autistic as well.
In the Star Wars RPG Knights of the Old Republic (or KOTOR for short) Bastila is the love interest for male PCs, whose rescue comprises the main quest for the first planet. I think today’s audience would find the idea of a female character needing to be rescued rather patronising which is why I think a KOTOR film told from Bastila’s point of view would be interesting. Let’s see Ms. Shan escape from the Black Vulkars on her own and actively seek out Carth and Revan. Perhaps this film would work if Bastila and the audience are aware of who Revan really is but Revan and Carth are not.
This creates storytelling potential of a kind and upstanding male Revan who goes against all that Bastila and the audience know about them, or maybe even a Revan who only pretends to be decent to ensnare Bastila in their web. If done correctly and with care, this could be a brilliant portrayal of how real-world abusers groom and gaslight their victims. It’s possible that there could be a love triangle between Bastila, Carth and a dark sided male Revan with Carth appearing on the Star Forge to try and save Bastila from Revan’s clutches. Alternatively, Revan could be shown as a good and decent man who genuinely cares for Bastila and wants to help her and those around him. This would subvert the current trend in sci-fi of males being depicted as villains. Now we come to the portrayal of autism in this film.
The key to writing a good disabled character is that the character must have goals and desires of their own and the film must show them overcoming obstacles and learning about themselves in order to achieve these goals. The game portrays Bastila as very much bound by the letter of the Jedi Code, which changes as she and Revan grow closer. If the film shows Bastila questioning everything she has been taught to believe while still attempting to help and guide Revan I think this could be a great source of drama and conflict. We could also see Bastila be forced to abandon some of her preconceived notions about the galaxy and the people in it and learn how to get on with them, as autistic people do as we grow older.
The film could even pull a double subversion and make Revan non-verbal, meaning that a lot of the negotiation with others would have to be done by the other characters. This could be a way of introducing signing to the Star Wars universe as well as setting up a love triangle between Revan, Bastila and Carth. Maybe Carth is the only person in the crew who knows sign language, and he and Revan fall in love because he can communicate with her, as Sophie Stone and Zaqi Ismail’s characters did in the Doctor Who episodes Under the Lake/Before the Flood. Maybe Revan becomes overloaded and goes into shutdown after the revelation of their identity, and we see them take the time and space they need to recover before continuing on their journey to find the Star Maps and save the galaxy. I realize that most of this is just my headcanon but I think that a positive portrayal of neurodiversity in a franchise as big as Star Wars would be a really cool thing.
My one caveat is that if Revan and Bastila were portrayed as neurodiverse they would have to NOT be a checklist of symptoms and they would also NOT have to be shown as innately brilliant at everything they did unless this was explained or set up properly by the narrative. It’s OK for characters to be strong and skilled, but they have to have flaws as well and there has to be some struggle and personal growth involved when the characters venture into a galaxy far far away or else the story is boring.
What do you think? Should Bastila, Revan and/or other characters be neurodiverse in film adaptations? Would you like to see more disabled characters in sci-fi generally? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to be awesome.
Many thanks also to Ada Hoffman for allowing me to link to her article.