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Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Star Wars and the galactic diversity problem

Star Wars has a diversity problem. This problem is seen in its casting choices and in its storytelling.

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For many, the Star Wars franchise conjures vivid images of a massive universe full of epic clashes between good and evil. The Jedi heroically battling the evil Sith in iconic lightsaber duels, intense fights in space with instantly recognizable starfighters, and charming droids going on wild adventures are all images that come to mind.

This universe is huge. At least, we are told it is. According to the Star Wars fan wiki “Wookieepedia,” there are 3.2 billion habitable star systems with 20 million sentient species. In the entirety of this expansive universe full of different life, planets, and stories, the majority of the Star Wars films — and now TV shows — all go back to the same white space family. (Spoilers ahead for “The Mandalorian” season 2)

Diversity in characters

In a universe that is supposedly vast, Star Wars should be more diverse than the leading family — the Skywalkers. And with recent media, it is clear that they are making an effort, just not a sufficient enough one. With the release of “The Force Awakens” in 2015, a study by Variety showed that the amount of dialogue spoken by female characters tripled from the amount that was in “A New Hope”. But that still just means that women spoke only 27.8% of the dialogue in “The Force Awakens”, despite having a female lead in Rey (Daisy Ridley).

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That, however, is more than “Rogue One” (2016) can say. That film has only 18.1% of its dialogue spoken by women, again despite having a female lead in Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Star Wars should have room for all kinds of diverse voices and characters, with representation from all corners of the galaxy.

And as far as racial diversity, Star Wars’ track record is not very good. The same Variety study also showed that in “A New Hope,” 100% of the dialogue was spoken by white people. “The Force Awakens” made strides to include more diverse voices, but still had 62% of its dialogue spoken by white people.

But Star Wars doesn’t just need diversity in its characters, it needs it in its subject matter and genre. This is a huge galaxy full of tremendous possibilities, with such a large canvas for incredible and diverse storytelling. Yet so far it seems like we have explored such a small part of this universe.

Diversity in storytelling

Diversity behind the camera matters just as much as in front of the camera. With diverse voices creating new narratives, the stories that Star Wars can tell go far beyond the one white space family we’ve been focusing on for 40 plus years.

A series created by the franchise, “The Mandalorian” has more diversity both in front of and behind the camera. “The Mandalorian” is a good example of inclusiveness displaying an identity that stood on its own. It bended genres and explored things we haven’t seen in this franchise before. It was a fresh space western, though it still felt like it was a part of the larger universe.

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But when Luke walked through the doors in the finale of “The Mandalorian” season 2, I had an extremely mixed reaction. On one hand, I was excited to see a childhood hero on screen again. On the other, I was let down because this show seemed like its own thing. Because when Luke walked in, everything changed. Suddenly this was connected to the same war and the same family that we have been following for more than 40 years now.

Suddenly the universe shrank, and the story of the Mandalorian became less unique, and Star Wars once again focused on the white savior.

The use of the Skywalkers over and over again in the movies shows not only a lack of racial diversity, but creative diversity, and shows that the showrunners still rely on what is safe and recognizable as a creative crutch rather than explore the unknown.

Anything can happen within this iconic franchise, so it would be beneficial to finally include more diverse roles and storytelling. Star Wars should not be limited to Luke Skywalker or lightsabers or X-Wings. Luke can embody some of what Star Wars is, but he alone isn’t the whole story. To me, Star Wars is characters the audience engages with emotionally in a deep and engrossing galaxy that feels lived in and that’s full of adventurous heroes and compelling villains, all scored by John William’s excellent soaring orchestral soundtrack that pushes the journey along. More than anything, Star Wars is a feeling. That feeling, that emotional core, means this franchise should extend to the far reaches of the galaxy that we haven’t seen yet, to genres and subject matters more unique that still capture that magic.

It isn’t safe, it isn’t a guaranteed success. It’s a creative and financial risk, because lightsabers, Skywalkers and X-Wings sell. But it is a risk worth taking. Because in a galaxy far, far away, anything should be possible.

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