SDCC19: “The Diversity of Star Wars” Panel Offers Insight to the Future of the Franchise

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San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) is the place where fans of almost every entertainment property from film to anime games of all types go to congregate and share their nerdiness. But with all the panels about the latest casting announcements and special screenings of the newest screenings for television shows, discussion about representation in media were held, because whether some people like to admit it or not, fans of all races, genders, and ethnicities want to and deserve to see themselves reflected in the things they enjoy seeing.

One of the benefits of SDCC is that it gives fans the opportunity to speak with and hear what those involved in the industry think about their work, and its impact on them and the community, which is what happened at “The Diversity of Star Wars” panel. Moderated by comic book historian and author Jessica Tseang, the panel featured actress Tiya Sircar (the voice of Sabine Wren), voice actor and stuntman T.J. Storm, actress and entertainment news host Alana Jordan, and entertainment news host and journalist Markeia McCarty.

When asked what being the voice for Sabine in Star Wars Rebels means to her, Sircar explained that having young girls look up to her has been an inspiration:

“It’s such an honor playing a character that has had and hopefully will continue to have such an impact on not just little girls, but boys and people of all ages and people from all kinds of backgrounds, which is so gratifying for me and it’s such an honor to get to play someone that I respect and admire. I think Sabine is the coolest and I look up to her in so many ways even though she’s younger than me…but it’s an honor to get to be a small part of bringing a character that to life. Someone who I really feel so privileged to play.”

Since the Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope premiered in 1977 audiences have been enamored with the characters of the world. The saga of the Skywalker family has fascinated and entertained fans, and while the men like Luke and Han took center stage, it was the lone female lead Leia, played by the one and only Carrie Fisher, who stole hearts. With her tenacity and quick wit, Leia was proven to be a woman not to be underestimated, and an example for the kinds of female characters people wanted more of.

For many years Leia remained the only lead female character  – and one with a significant role – until the introduction of her mother Padme (Natalie Portman), in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It would take an additional sixteen years to have Rey and later Rose Tico – the first woman of color in the franchises near 40-year existence with a speaking role and significant live-action screen time – played by Daisey Ridley and Kelly Marie Train respectively in the sequel trilogy.

For Star Wars fans who are People of Color, it has been a frustratingly long wait to see characters who look like us to be leading characters. When aliens and creatures of all kinds exist in the Star Wars universe but the possibility of a woman with Black, Asian, Native American, or Latinx heritage was seemingly improbable. But now, progress is being made and with that comes hope for more representation. McCarty explains:

“I know for me, I have a singular love for Star Wars in general but it did feel a little bit… not for me when I was growing up. When you look at this galaxy far, far away, you know and so long ago…and then you see that they have aliens of all types and forms but yet I don’t exist, you know in that world? So to have that now with [Star Wars] Rebels, to have Rose, to have Paige, to have even have Val, Thandie Newton’s character, to even have these characters exist now is kind of like having the volume turned down way, way low to where you can barely hear something to where it’s steadily coming up to a level where it’s like yes, we exist in this galaxy and I love having that representation.

“I really want them to go even further with it. I’m looking forward to Star Wars Celebration. They announced another character, the actress Naomi Ackie is going to be playing a character called Jannah. As soon as I heard that, I flipped out. My first thought was Jaina Solo, so I was like how would we…how is that going to happen, but you know it’s a possibility they might have a character and she might be a Jedi who balances on light and dark side. They can take elements of Jaina Solo and put that into whatever this character is going to be.”

 

For Sircar who has wanted to see a character that looks like her on-screen, playing a character like Sabine has given her the chance to be part of this positive change:

“I watched not just Star Wars, but all kinds of movies and would sort of liken myself to certain characteristics in a guy or girl, someone that I thought was awesome or beautiful or interesting or whatever, but none of those people looked anything like me. Same with Star Wars, like yes, I though Princess Leia was the most amazing because she was regal and beautiful and also really snarky and spunky and I loved that. But did I see myself in her only because I was like I’m spunky, I can do that? So, it’s so important to me that I get to play a character that is…luckily it’s changing more and more within Star Wars and outside of Star Wars.

She went on to say “love that Rebels introduced us to multiple characters that were not necessarily white men, you know like Ezra…who knows what Ezra is but I don’t think he’s white, and same with Ashoka…is Ashoka a white woman? I don’t know…but to get to play a character like Sabine who opens the door in ways that like twenty, thirty years ago didn’t have those options of heroines or heroes that look like Poe or Sabine ow whomever I feel really lucky that I get to be a part of that change that’s happening. But like you said there’s a lot that needs to keep happening, and it will I feel like.”