As Lucasfilm has been making more Star Wars films, tv, and books since their Disney acquisition, they’ve been increasing representation. There are visibly more characters of color on screen, there are two Latinx leading series coming out this year on Disney+ (The Mandalorian and the untitled Cassian Andor show), and there are queer characters in novels and comic books.
However, this increased representation has been notably limited. It was not until The Mandalorian that Lucasfilm employed women and people of color as directors (except for Vic Mahoney as second-unit director for The Rise of Skywalker), and there are still none announced for the films. There is virtually no queer representation whatsoever in films and tv. Star Wars: Resistance, the franchise’s most diverse show yet with majority characters of color, is coming to an end after only two seasons.
While the books and tv shows have pushed the bar the most, the film front seems reticent to let characters and creators of marginalized backgrounds to fully shine. At Dragon Con 2019, a group of diverse StarWars fans, including David Parry as moderator with Marie Wilson of thestarwarsreviewblog.com, John Robinson, an admin, and writer for SWRepMatters.com, Melissa Perez, a writer for SWRepMatters.com, and Dr. Annalise Ophelian of Looking For Leia, came together to discuss.
Parry, the moderator, said straight off the bat, “We’re not going to debate whether representation matters.” He instead led a frank discussion about what it will actually take to increase diversity in the content we see from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. “You vote with your pocketbook,” he said, noting that “Disney and LFL are looking to put seats in tickets.”
The panel was a frank look at the state of how Lucasfilm was doing on this important issue. It was even an emotionally raw discussion with audience participation that took up almost half of the time. In many ways, it felt like a group discussion that aimed to be inclusive of the diverse peoples in attendance, as well as the panelists.
The panelists had some crucial things to state on this broad issue, of course. Wilson, whose work focuses on LGBTQIA representation in her writing and other work, had a lot to say with how LFL handles the issue. While she appreciates LFL having more queer representation, she noted that they had missed some opportunities to push the bar, particularly with Admiral Holdo. “There was an opportunity in TLJ to make her bi or pansexual as was implied in Leia: Princess of Alderaan, but it didn’t happen. They could have expanded upon that but they didn’t, even though it was there.”
When asked about whether film studios are driven by a sense of altruism to increase representation, Robinson was also realistic in his initial answer. “In Hollywood, money’s always going to drive them. That’s how the world works, unfortunately.” However, he noted that creators on platforms that receive less attention like tv, books, and comics books push for representation out of a sense of real altruism. “When you have people who are more altruistic and care about the process, mostly the book, comic writers, and TV producers, you see more of that [altrusism].”
Robinson also noted the importance of having behind-the-scenes representation. “The more important thing is the perspective and nuance aspects. The people that are behind the scenes are going to bring something new to the table.” Additionally, when asked about one new character he would have star in a series on Disney+, his answer was unambiguous. “Rae Sloane.”
Perez also stressed the crucial role that behind-the-scenes representation plays, referencing the horrible treatment of Val, a Black woman, in Solo: A Star Wars Story. “For me, I thought [my representation] was going to be Val in Solo, and we saw how that turned out, and it wasn’t well!… If we got more representation behind the scenes this wouldn’t happen.” She also noted that having diverse representation behind the scenes would lead to continual attempts to have diverse peoples in front, and help spur studios to make the effort when they try to make financial excuses. “Having the people BTS who say this doesn’t work this time but we’ll try it again [is important],” she said.
She noted that Lucasfilm, for the most part, sees people of color and queer people headlining films as a risk they are unfortunately unwilling to take. “They really are playing it safe with the movies. With the comics and books, they’re making leading characters people of color.” She additionally noted that the movies have not had a headline person of color leading them because Lucasfilm caters to a particular group of fans. “With the movies, they don’t think that’s going to work with the fandom. For a small, vocal group, it doesn’t work, but with the larger fandom it IS wanted.”
Dr. Ophelian noted that Star Wars’ lack of inclusivity was apparent to her since childhood. “I was obsessed with the behind the scenes featurettes as a kid. It was only in my adulthood that I’ve seen women represented on a set. All of the documentaries I watched were white cis men on the set.” She noted, like the other panelists, that who gets to tell the story in the Galaxy Far, Far Away matters. “I am primarily interested in who tells the story. Filmmakers, writers, everyone who is on a set making things happen.” With so many more fans aware generally of who exactly makes our favorite films, it’s likewise become much more of primary interest.
It was an illuminating, necessary, difficult, and strong conversation held all around. Panelists and panel attendees alike made crucial points about how big studios, not just Lucasfilm, can do better. Hopefully, Dragon Con has more of these types of panels, covering the range of issues relating to representation, in the future.