Star Wars, Ayn Rand, and the Work of Mallory Ortberg

Mallory Ortberg brings Ayn Rand jokes to her first Star Wars story.

To say that Mallory Ortberg is funny is an understatement. The website she co-founded, The Toast, publishes offbeat, unique humor about academically varied topics like the habits of medieval monks and the politics of feminism. The Toast also occasionally hosts furiously funny takedowns of Kyp Durron, a dark Jedi from the Expanded Universe. 

So, of course, Ortberg would bring her unique sensibility to an official Star Wars story.

“An Incident Report,” her entry in the 40th Anniversary short story collection From a Certain Point of View, tells the story of Admiral Motti’s report after Vader Force-chokes Motti in the famous Death Star meeting room scene. At the panel showcasing the book at New York Comic-Con, Ortberg gushed about the “evil and banal” Imperial officer. 

Ortberg’s story is droll and crisply Imperial, all the more humorous because of the extreme nature of the situation. Vader’s Force powers are just a religious difference between himself and the other men around the table, after all. The articles Ortberg wrote before she did official Star Wars work also leaned in to the extremity of the characters’ situations. Long before the Starkiller Base drew comparisons to the Death Star and the jokes started about the saga’s increasingly dramatic superweapons, Kyp Durron was in on the trend. 

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An Expanded Universe Jedi, Kyp stole the aptly named Sun Crusher and destroyed an Imperial star system in revenge for the death of his brother, and then threatened to turn the weapon on any Imperial strongholds that remained. Han Solo eventually talked him down from the dark side. Han and Kyp’s father-son dynamic isn’t entirely dissimilar to the one we see with Kylo Ren in the Sequel Trilogy. As a fan of the EU, Ortberg had her own ideas about this story.

Durron, Ortberg said, was a war criminal who should not have been put back in Luke Skywalker’s custody.

Her essays are great because they combine the honest feelings of a fan whose feathers have been ruffled, but also use Ortberg’s trademark humor to create a new and astonishingly consistent Star Wars story. She makes insightful comments on the sociopolitical state of the galaxy far, far away, and clearly cares a lot about her subject. Another one of her essays shouts out the similarities between Kyp Durron and Kylo Ren.

Like the best pop culture work, Ortberg’s story in From a Certain Point of View is also a dialogue between a fan and the source material that drove her to write in the first place. As it turns out, one of my favorite lines in the collection is based on political writings from the real world.

Ortberg writes: “The point is, whatever conclusions you ultimately draw about the incident taking place between myself and Lord Vader during yesterday’s morning briefing, he was wrong, and trying to crush someone else’s windpipe doesn’t make you less wrong.” 

At the panel she mentioned that this idea was drawn from writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, who in 1966’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal wrote, “A gun is not an argument.” 

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This is, obviously, one of those places where reference does not constitute endorsement. Ortberg plays around with Randian ideas in articles like these. Far more interesting to me is the fact that Ortberg drew on Rand as just one of the tools in her grab bag of information, adding some real-world philosophy to a rather lighthearted tie-in story. 

Ortberg also said at the panel that if she could write a Star Wars story from the point of view of one of the heroes, she would choose Mon Mothma. Mothma’s voice, “rich with sorrow and gravitas,” might be hard to translate to prose, Ortberg suggested. But judging by her From a Certain Point of View story, she would bring her funny, clever ideas to a Mon Mothma tale, too. From a Certain Point of View is a good way to kick off conversations about favorite characters in Star Wars and what different authors bring to the table. I pointed out some more of my favorites, including Ortberg’s, in Den of Geek’s review.

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