Meet Jess Shitara – co-host of the podcast Lousy Beautiful Town and contributor to #SWRepsMatters.
What was your introduction to Star Wars?
My dad let me watch part of Return of the Jedi when I was three (on Laserdisc lol) and I was terrified. Palpatine is scary AF when you’re a kid! I was 10 when the Original Trilogy rereleases came out in theaters and I’ve almost always been immersed in something Star Wars since.
Who are some of your favorite SW characters and have those favorites changed over time?
Leia is obviously the first easy answer, because, Only Woman in a Sea of Space Men (obviously she means a lot more to most femmes in fandom for different reasons), but I’ve always really loved Han Solo. And not just because young Harrison Ford could get it. He has that obnoxious swaggery nonsense going on but under the surface he loves and cares very deeply and feels uncomfortable showing that vulnerable side of himself. I FEEL that. Trauma does that to us. It’s hard to be that person, but every time he is vulnerable he makes an impact. That speaks to something I’ve been trying to for years.
Ahsoka has been a big favorite of mine, as The Clone Wars got me fully back into Star Wars post prequel releases. The way she finds her morality despite the corruption of the Jedi Order and the Republic and maintaining her compassion through fighting a war way too young— it’s important and inspiring and tragic. Her being the first fully fleshed-out female Jedi character who was allowed to be young and make mistakes is really meaningful to me too.
Another character that truly speaks to me is Cassian Andor. He is… real. With real struggles of fighting never-ending wars for different factions. The compromises he’s had to make in order to save the Galaxy and how deeply that’s affected him. Being able to confront someone on their privilege and still find a true camaraderie and spend his last moments with this same person. Wanting not just your triumphs, but your failures to mean something. I’m so grateful we are getting more of his story. I’m especially intrigued by his Separatist childhood. That’s something we haven’t seen a lot of yet.
And of course, Rose Tico. Our brilliant Everyman. Our regular human in a galaxy full of magic beings that shape history. Yet she holds her own and understands why this fight matters and why it should always matter, maybe even more so than these spiritual Force users. She understands what happens when the war industrial complex comes knocking on your door and exploits your people for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. There are definitely issues with how her character was written, especially optically with Finn, but I’m still devastated by how little screen time she got in The Rise of Skywalker. There’s so much more we could’ve seen from a character like her
Some fans only watch the films or favor the books or animation. How would you describe the Star Wars content you consume?
This is difficult to answer! My dad and grandmother were amazing artists, my grandmother even worked for Disney for a time, so animation is something I’ve always loved, though I am less artistically inclined. I feel like it’s difficult to compare the animated series to the films though. The films have to be succinct and economical. We only get a certain amount of minutes per film and the focus has to be precise. TV format allows for these broader and deeper looks into this huge world Lucas imagined, and I LOVE that. And the books only flesh that out further. The films are always that first base of knowledge though. They have a special place. I feel like publishing has been pushing the envelope in terms of representation and the stories that have come out of these talented, diverse authors are wonderful. Authors I’ve read outside of Star Wars are getting to play in this universe and it’s so fun to see what they bring to the table. The Mandalorian has started bringing that aspect to TV. I’m hoping we start seeing more diversity on the film side soon as well.
You’re a co-host of the podcast Lousy Beautiful Town. Why did you and Abby start this podcast and how has it been going so far. What episode would you recommend for new listeners?
When Rebel Grrrl ended I felt like I still had a lot of things to say. Twitter isn’t a good place for conversation a lot of the time, and while I CAN write, it’s not my strongest skill. Verbal media comes more naturally to me and allows for more nuance. Abby and I hadn’t been friends for very long at the time but she was also leaving a podcast and I knew we would make a great team. We have a lot of the same values and world views and aren’t afraid to be bold in speaking on issues of social justice. We both understand that there’s no such thing as separating these issues from the media we consume.
It was really important to both of us that we feel supported by each other in this because being a vocal leftist woman on the internet in a nerd space earns you a lot of hate sometimes. She’s become one of my best friends and I’m very proud of what we do on Lousy Beautiful Town, even as ridiculous and inappropriate as we can get! If new listeners want to get a feel for what to expect, Episode 2 “Star Wars is stressful Why do we like it?”
is where we immediately set the tone for what our show is about. Honestly, we get more and more outrageous with every episode so be prepared for a wild ride.
You’re also involved with #SWRepsMatters. Can you explain what this movement is for those not familiar and talk about why you wanted to be a part of it and what you feel the group has accomplished so far?
swrepmatters was actually born from another hashtag campaign #swisagirlthingtoo. A few of us decided we wanted a more intersectional focus because there is a big difference in being a white woman and a woman of color in fandom. We wanted to create a way for marginalized fans to collectively speak on issues that were important to them. It started out as themed campaigns every month— black women, LGBTQIA, people with disabilities, mental health, AAPI, MENA, Latinx, the list goes on. It was a way to celebrate what we love about Star Wars but also critique it because we love it. We want it to do better. We want more inclusion behind the camera, in front of the camera, in the executive offices. It’s so often phrased as “uplifting” voices, but our voices were already there, loud and clear amongst our own communities. They just weren’t be listened to in broader online fandom.
The hashtag was meant to create a place to find us and have collective conversations about these issues. I think we were heard on some level because we got a panel at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. And there wasn’t a single white person on stage, which is rare at conventions (Lousy Beautiful Town has the recorded audio of the panel up on our feed). We’ve since started a website (www.swrepmatters.com) though it’s not fully active. COVID-19 and various other issues have the site on pause for the moment, as are some other plans that were in the works.
If you could choose an existing Star Wars character to center a Disney+ show around – who would it be?
That’s such a hard question. Baze and Chirrut. Bodhi Rook. Rose and Paige Tico. Jannah. Qi’ra. Ventress and the Night Sisters. How many am I allowed to list? I think something all of these characters have in common is compelling story potential outside of a male cishet white narrative. People that use the Force and are spiritual, but not like the Jedi or the Sith, the “ruling class” of Force users. Unlikely underworld mob bosses, deserters, refugees. I love those messy Skywalkers but I want stories about the people whose lives were on the periphery. Because I think that’s where most of us exist in our world, and those stories are real and meaningful and beautiful, maybe even more so than who makes headline and history books.
Who would you like to see star in, direct, or write upcoming Star Wars projects?
I’m honestly not a huge film buff so I’m not familiar with a lot of creatives. Usually if it doesn’t have aliens, robots, or wizards in it it takes a lot of persuading to get me to watch it. I’m a huge Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan (in fact I have another podcast dedicated to it, Project T.A.H.I.T.I.) and the team of Maurissa and Kevin Tancheroen and Jed Whedon have created something very special with that show. They are so good at telling character driven, emotional, meaningful stories. I’d love to see what they could do with a Star War.
What are some Star Wars sites/podcasts/journalists you would recommend to others?
While it’s not a completely Star Wars dedicated medium, the Nerds of Color podcasts Hard NOC Life and Desi Geek Girls are some of my go-tos anytime news drops. Rogue Podron is just smart, charming silliness. Book Wars Pod does some really fun and great analysis on the books. Y Tu Bantha Tambien only has a few episodes out but I also highly recommend it. Sapphic Skywalkers is run by two LGBTQ identifying hosts with great conversation and insight. A new Black femme led podcast Sistas with Sabers just started up that is fantastic as well.
What are you looking forward to as far as announced Star Wars projects in the next few years?
The Cassian show, for reasons stated above.
Season 2 of the Mandalorian because oh my god Moff Gideon and the __ (spoilers!)
FACPOV: The Empire Strikes Back because that author list is FIRE.
TAIKA WAITITI’S FILM and I really hope they let him make it weird.