A recent column in the digital video game magazine Unwinnable Monthly has argued that the protagonist of EA’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Cal Kestis, should have been “anything but a white male” due to elements of the game’s story.
In Yussef Cole’s column Fallen Men, Cole suggests, couching his views between various pillars of social justice theory, that Kestis’ journey of restoration from a mere survivor of Order 66 to full-fledged Jedi Knight, “adds weight to the argument” that Kestis’ role would have been more appropriate for a member of any other demographic, as the story of Kestis is that of “his deserved role as a white man in a story told by white men.”
“There’s a basic desire to return to the status quo that outlines not only Fallen Order’s skill tree-centric mechanical path, but its emotional core as well. It is a story about an unfair loss and it is a game about dragging oneself back from loss, but it doesn’t really consider what the experience of losing power might teach the person who loses it. Though Cal does not, ultimately, choose to pursue these Force-sensitive children, by the end of the game he is more powerful than he was as a padawan, his personal mission of self-restoration is accomplished, even if the future of the Jedi remains murky. He has taken natural lead of his team made up largely of women and it’s clearly his decision about where they’re headed next.
The shape of his arc adds weight to the argument that Cal Kestis should have been anything but a white male protagonist. When the game’s director Stig Asmussen was asked about choice of protagonist in a Game Informer interview, he replied that “Rey was kind of the thing for Star Wars so it made more sense for us to have a male protagonist.” Beyond the weird logic that only one female hero can exist at a time, choosing a character’s identity necessarily impacts the shape of their story and the ways in which they might realistically interpret the events around them. Casually assigning Kestis’ maleness also means a casual treatment of how that maleness fits into the story being told.
Game designer Sisi Jiang described Campbell’s Hero’s Journey on Twitter as “a power fantasy because cis men are uniquely conditioned to conform to society at all costs” Kestis doesn’t seek change, he doesn’t seek to examine the unequal balance of power which allows the Jedi Order or the Empire to exist. He just wants to be a Jedi, he wants to wield a saber, to make decisions for others, as is his deserved role as a white man in a story told by white men.”
Cole continues, disappointed in a story he believes delivers a narrative of “cis white men coming to their senses,” criticizing a supposed reversal of “wrongs” from Imperial oppression to white patriarchal standards that results from Kestis’s quest and stating that Kestis is only considered heroic because of the game’s “circular logic.”
“Though Kestis eventually reconciles with Junda, their conflict begs the question of why we consistently settle for narratives that rely on cis white men coming to their senses? Why should we be happy with stories about heroes returning to comforting conformity and the status quo? When Ged loses his power in Earthsea, it doesn’t serve as a momentary disruption in the normal way of things, but as a revolution: “a wrong that cannot be repaired must be transcended,” as his partner Tenar observes. But Fallen Order wraps up with the wrong simply reversed. Kestis’ power and his right to rule are reified. It’s Kestis who talks Junda down from her sense of rage when she confronts those responsible for corrupting her Suduri – treading brazenly into the messy optics of a white man telling a black woman to be less angry – saving her as he does every marginalized woman in the game. And, as the game concludes, it’s Kestis who takes it upon himself to destroy the list of force-sensitive children without any discussion or input from the rest of his crew, many of whom sacrificed a great deal to acquire it.
In the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are considered unambiguously good because they play the role of protectors. They’re there to shield the innocent from the blood-red lightsabers of the Sith with their own angelic blue and green riposts. But protection is also a form of power. Deciding who deserves to be protected is employment of that power. Fallen Order doesn’t question this. Your missions show ample evidence of a destructive, enslaving and brutalizing Imperial footprint, but Kestis only intervenes to the extent that he can achieve his narrow goals. You’re too late to do anything about the sacking of the mining town in Zeffo. You help the wookie rebels of Kashyyyk only as far as necessary to gain access to a hard-to-find location on their planet. You invade Dathomir to steal a device from their sacred temple, murdering countless nightbrothers who are only defending their village. Fallen Order relies on the circular logic that Kestis is noble because he is a Jedi, because he is noble. Meanwhile, the course of his actions reveal a privilege and entitlement that doesn’t feel surprising in a hero who looks like he does.”
Concluding his piece, Cole oddly connects the story and production of Fallen Order to larger socio-political movements and struggles, particularly “the recognition and use of one’s privilege for the betterment of others,” whose thematic connections to the story are tenuous at best:
“Fallen Order isn’t interested in building a new world. When Kestis tells the evil Jedi Malicos that he seeks to rebuild the Jedi Order, Malicos balks at the idea. We’re meant to side with Kestis because Malicos’ aims are selfish and miserable. But there is wisdom in questioning whether an unbending desire to return to the status quo is the correct way of going about things. Especially when that desire leaves existing hierarchies and old injustices in place. It might be a path toward a kind of healing, but justice requires the healing of all, requires the recognition and use of one’s privilege for the betterment of others. And in spite of their lofty self-description, this has rarely seemed to be that important to Star Wars’ erstwhile Jedi order.”