I’m not the first one to say this, but I’m going to add my voice to the others and say it anyway: Star Wars, it’s time for a change.
I love your universe with a passion. I grew up with Luke, Leia and Han and the struggle against the Empire. I busted my lip open on a concrete driveway as a kid because I was trying to take a teeter-totter into light speed, and got too enthusiastic with the hyperdrive. When I played pretend, it was either Star Wars or Indiana Jones. (Between tons of light saber battles and try-till-you-get-it-right Pick The Chalice standoffs, my backyard was dangerous.)
In middle school a friend got me into the novels and comics. I was among the first to be simultaneously impressed and disappointed by midnight showings of the prequels. I’ve read fanfiction, I’ve debated the finer points of novelizations versus films, and I might stupidly at Star Wars gags in movies, no matter how tired.
But Star Wars, I’m confused. See, you’re an entire universe that takes place far, far away. You’re heavily populated with aliens of all shapes and sizes, endless languages, and an eternal battle between light and dark which can encompass any and all species.
So there is no good reason for your universe to operate along the lines of our gender politics. (Or, in other words, why are most of the heroes white males?)
I recently completed a reread of 130 Expanded Universe books. Out of those 130, only 15 of those books had a leading character who was not a straight white man, excluding books that you could potentially argue are led by Skywalker women. Five of those books are the Republic/Imperial Command novels and I’m even including books like The Cestus Deception and The Approaching Storm which were co-led by aliens and (you guessed it) a straight white male. 15 out of 130. That’s about 12%. In a galaxy where I couldn’t even name all of the alien species if I tried? I haven’t sat down and looked at every single main book in the Expanded Universe but I reckon that number wouldn’t rise much above 15%. That’s pretty bad and unfortunately, the films don’t do any better.
This is odd, because it’s Star Wars! Some of the most memorable (usually supporting) characters have been non-white characters, alien characters, and female characters. The series is literally peopled with so many species that you’d probably need an encyclopedia to reference them all. But 85% of the time, the day must be saved by a white man.
There are some amazing women in the Star Wars universe – it’s just that in a universe that vast, there aren’t enough of them. As Bria points out:
While we devoted fans could likely rattle off the names of over a dozen women in the Original Trilogy, casual fans would likely be hard pressed to name more than Princess Leia, Aunt Beru, and perhaps Mon Mothma and Oola. Four named female characters in 387 minutes of film. When you look at the Prequel Trilogy, that ratio doesn’t drastically improve. The idea that women are incapable of handling themselves or of being leaders and heroes is absurd in Star Wars just as much as it is in real life. After all, it was Leia Organa who was the best shot in the Original Trilogy and in The Phantom Menace, we saw Padmé and her handmaidens holding their own in the Battle for Naboo. Of course, this is hardly a problem that is unique to Star Wars but is instead pervasive in Hollywood itself. According to a study by the University of Southern California, only 29.9% of the 4,379 speaking roles in the top 100 grossing films in 2007 were given to females.
Same goes for non-white characters:
Many of the same diversity problems carry over to race and species. The books have been at least somewhat better with trying to pepper the supporting cast with aliens and the Prequel Trilogy was filled with plenty in the background. Again, the white actor preference for roles isn’t something that is unique to Star Wars in Hollywood. According to a study at UCLA that looked at casting breakdowns in 2006, 69% of roles were reserved for white actors with 8.5% being open to actors of any race.
The argument for diversity could be made for sexuality as well – apparently, everyone in Star Wars is either asexual (the Hutts) or heterosexuals in a binary population:
The only instance that I can personally recall of seeing any was in Karen Traviss’s Legacy of the Force books. Yes, dear readers, the world has seen gay Mandalorians and it didn’t end. More homosexual relationships should be shown in the Star Wars universe especially in the books and heck, more sort of relationships should be shown in general because I find it hard to believe that every single species has binary sexes.
We’ve seen some improvements, particularly in the Clone Wars animated series and the EU. Post-ROTJ, characters like Admiral Ackbar play larger, but still supporting, roles. Last year’s Mercy Kill was led by a Gamorrean, and Into the Void starred a female lead. More characters like Ahsoka Tano, Satine, Bo Katan and my personal favorite Asajj Ventress can only strengthen this universe, and a sequel centered on a Skywalker daughter would be incredible.
Of course, any decent discussion of expanding diversity in a beloved world like Star Wars is going to end in the usual litany of “But WHYYYYYY” arguments being trotted out. ForceCast.net recently posted a much more in-depth podcast entitled “Engendering Controversy” (including Bria and Tricia Barr of fangirlblog.com) that discusses both the many arguments for diversity and debunks the arguments against it. But for this article, I probably cannot improve on what Bria writes here, so I’m just going to quote her:
But the Skywalker/Solos are white and they’re the main characters so the leads have to be white!
Yes. Padmé, Anakin, Luke, Leia, and Han are all white. That doesn’t mean that every person around them needs to be. I invite you to give me one valid reason why Luke Skywalker’s wife in the Sequel Trilogy (whether it’s Mara Jade or not) must be white. If you reason is “Mara is a red head”, then I welcome you to the wonderful world of wigs and hair dye. This goes beyond the Sequel Trilogy and the Skywalker/Solo clan though. Clearly, the stories being told in this universe have long since moved past only focusing on Han/Luke/Leia. Stories set 1000 years before the Battle of Yavin or 200 years afterwards don’t have to be headlined by just white humans. Create a compelling enough character and the readers or audience will connect with her or him regardless of what race or species or gender she or he happens to be. That’s the mark of a good character and a good writer.
Sci-Fi is for men so the main characters should be men.
No. Get out. There are plenty of women who like and love Star Wars and other science fiction and fantasy properties. And yes, they even read comic books. In fact, two-thirds of the Tosche Station staff is female. The recently published Into the Void featured a female protagonist and made the New York Times Best Seller list. This is an antiquated myth and I won’t give it any more time.
Alien make up is elaborate and will take up too much time and money from the budget.
When you look at all the elaborate make up jobs done on extras and background characters throughout the Prequel Trilogy, this argument loses any of its punch. If that’s not enough for you, take a look at the X-men films. If they can go through all of that effort for Mystique then there’s no reason why Disney can’t do it for Star Wars. Also? This is Disney we’re talking about. I think they can find money in the budget.
Audiences can’t connect with heroes who don’t look like them.
Ha. Yeah, no. I refer you to the point I made above. The idea that people can only connect with characters who look like this is absurd. That is not to say that the Star Wars creators should continue to put forth main white male heroes though but rather that they should strive for diversity when it comes to casting these roles and focus creating well rounded characters. Make your characters compelling and people will like them and connect with them. I promise you that white men are just as capable of cheering for a black female character in a story as Asian women are capable of cheering for the white male hero.
Also as an addendum to that last point, if you’re saying you as a white man can’t connect to characters that don’t look like you, how do you explain that I as a female am able to connect to male characters? How can I be a film buff when nearly all of the films I’ve ever seen were presented through a male lens? Also ALSO, if no audience member can identify or connect with heroes who don’t look like you, then apparently NO ONE understands the appeal of Yoda, R2D2, Admiral Ackbar, C3P0, or even Darth Vader, for that matter. Or, outside of Star Wars, how about Wall-E (or nearly all of the Pixar universe)?
And that’s where this principle really applies. There is not a problem with straight white men wanting to see themselves in stories. It becomes a problem when anyone says “I can expect stories and characters that reflect me, but you asking for them is just wrong, and too much to expect, and nobody wants to see that anyway.” It’s about inclusion, and about not following the same old sexist and racist tropes that we have seen in film and literature for decades.
Because, you know what? This is sci-fi and fantasy. We love these genres because in them, anything is possible. Writer Jane Espenson nails it: “And if we can’t write diversity into sci-fi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones.”
So, Star Wars – for Episode VII, what do you say? Let’s see this universe through some new eyes. It’s not like there aren’t enough to choose from.