Making Diversity Seen and Heard: Why Star Wars Must Fully Embrace its Multimedia Identity

By Kate Sedor

While George Lucas’s famous introduction to the Star Wars universe tells viewers they are light-years away from anything they’ve ever known, one of the reasons the film immediately resonates with such a broad fan-base is because, despite the star ships and futuristic setting, children and adults alike see themselves in Luke, Leia, and Han’s struggle. We see not just a story about a rebellion fighting for freedom—we see a coming-of-age tale, and characters lifting themselves up to fulfill their destiny. Or, at least, white fans have been able to see themselves reflected on screen; the franchise’s millions of fans of color, and particularly femme-identifying fans of color, have been forced to make do with a love of the stories and the strength of their imaginations.

Until recently, the only place fans could see major characters of color play a leading role was in various novels or spin-offs that never made it into the mainstream consciousness. But with the diverse casts of the new Disney-owned films, and the recent photo (courtesy of director Ron Howard) of Thandie Newton in what appears to be an Imperial uniform, there’s never been a better time for Lucasfilm to not only start featuring women of color in starring roles, but also to draw those characters from a familiar source – the canon Star Wars novels and comic books.

Read the rest over at Eleven-ThirtyEight!

Our Emperor, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane

By John Robinson, IV

She was born on Ganthel, nearly 20 years before the Clone Wars. As a young adult she joined the Galactic Empire as a Naval officer. By the time she was 30 she captained the Star Destroyer, Ultimatum. By the Battle of Endor, she’d become a Vice Admiral. Then, even after the Empire was defeated she was able to obtain the rank of Grand Admiral, and eventually went on to start what is now known as the First Order. Being so well distinguished, capable, and influential on major key threads that link the original and sequel trilogies together, why then does they world know so little of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane?

The Intersectional Black Woman

The primary architects of Rae Sloane’s story and plotlines have been John Jackson Miller, who wrote her debut in the novel A New Dawn, and Chuck Wendig who continued her story in his Aftermath trilogy, which covers the events following the destruction of the second Death Star, eventually leading up to the Battle of Jakku. These writers fashioned a new image of an Imperial officer, and with their perspective, showed the rest of the world what Star Wars truly should be, which essentially, is diverse.

In the above description, I failed to mention the fact that Rae Sloane is black, queer, and (though I’m sure you guessed by the pronouns) a woman. These particular traits have nothing to do with her success or matriculation through the ranks of the Galactic Empire. Her personal relationships or skin color don’t make or break anything about her character and yet, at the same time, they are so important. They hit several intersections that Star Wars has never hit before and that most popularized media in general seems to avoid. Furthermore, she isn’t simply a tool to elevate other “default” characters. She is established as a main character herself, with complex background and ideology. What makes Rae so important is that it shatters the image of what an Imperial (or any) Star Wars character is supposed to look like, and establishes an entirely new spectrum of possibility.

I know some of you are wondering “If her being a queer, black woman, has nothing to do with her character in a far, far away galaxy, why are we discussing this?” This is a common question because some individuals simply don’t understand what it’s like to be a fan of something, but never see yourself in it. Changing these simple traits creates a new vector of representation. Where the average Imperial is a stiff old white guy with grey cresting his hair, we now have Rae that reminds fans that other people actually exist in this universe, and that those people can be the best of the best. To the people whose identities sit at those intersections, she is exactly what they want to see. To others, she should be a welcome change in the status quo, and an example of what future Star Wars characters could look like.

Why Isn’t Rae Sloane on Screen?

And yet, many Star Wars fans don’t know about her. It may be understood, that every character that exists in the books, does not have to exist on screen. We understand that every character, while sometimes referenced, does not have to appear across all forms of media. However, when it comes to black women specifically, until the announcement of Naomi Ackie’s Jannah in Star Wars Episode IX, we have not seen black women in any prominent role (and don’t dare try to mention Thandie Newton’s Val, in Solo, because that’s just disrespectful). This isn’t an accident. While Star Wars has been making strides in diversity, the filmmakers have been apprehensive about black women on screen.

Grand Admiral Rae Sloane was the most powerful Imperial following Endor. It was said that she started the First Order. And yet, there hasn’t even been the mention of her name in the sequel movies, where the First Order is the authoritarian antagonistic force. She hasn’t even been hinted at in possible casting choices for IX. She brought the Empire to where they are now (as the First Order) and it isn’t even acknowledged.

It may be that they are being careful with story conflict. It may be that they never intended to show characters who didn’t originate in the movies on the big screen, but I’m more inclined to believed that along with those factors, is the pure systemic aversion to anything that runs too far from Hollywood’s default- the straight white man. They inch with women. They inch with black men. They inched with Latinos and Asians (to the bear minimum). But black women? Apparently, that’s too “radical.” I think that they are afraid for someone as powerful as Rae Sloane to be on screen, with her demographics and intersections. Right? Sure.

Behind the Scenes

Before we close, it’s imperative that we to hit on another topic that is often swept under the rug. What of the voices behind these characters? We love John Jackson Miller, and we love Chuck Wendig. Their creation and contribution to the legacy of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is much appreciated, so their is no slight intended when I say that they are still the default that white males that were given the opportunity to create her. Now that they have used their privilege for good, it’s the proper time for a new voice should be introduced to this character. I’m talking about a black, queer woman’s voice, or any of the demographics thereof at the minimum.

The fact is that from every level from movies down to books and comics, the white male still dominates. Then the white woman. Why, with so many woman of color fans and talent out there, haven’t we had the opportunity to read a Star Wars book or comic, or watched a show/movie, written or directed by a black woman? In order to fix this issue, we must actively fight back against it by seeking out those talented individuals looking for the opportunity.

There are aspects of Rae’s character that as black, woman, queer, or a combination thereof, a white man just may not be able to see. There is nuance and details that they wouldn’t even know to think about. They’ve already written great stories with Rae, but what might that demographic lens and perspective put on the character? Put more diverse people behind the scenes and natural you’ll get more diverse character writing.

Give Grand Admiral Rae Sloane the respect she deserves, and remember to the crew at #SWRepMatters, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is our emperor.

Star Wars is for Everybody: The #SWRepMatters Panel at Star Wars Celebration Chicago

The following coverage of the #SWRepMatters panel from Star Wars Celebration Chicago, written by Ross Brown and edited by BJ Priester, is republished from FANGirlBlog.com, courtesy of Tricia Barr. Click here for the original article

“Star Wars is for everybody,” John Robinson, a panelist, stated early in the #SWRepMatters Panel at Star Wars Celebration Chicago (“SWCC”). It is the underlying belief behind the hashtag #SWRepMatters, which began more than a year and a half ago as the brain child of Kate Sanchez, Swara Salih, and Jessica Shitara. The hashtag quietly took on an increasingly larger presence on the Twitter platform through monthly campaigns focused on the absence or paucity of marginalized groups in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.  Undoubtedly due to its popularity, the organizers requested and were granted one of the highly coveted slots in the Celebration Fan Stage schedule. Convened before a packed crowd of fans and onlookers on April 14 in the early afternoon, the panel assembled may have represented the most diverse and inclusive membership of any panel at SWCC.

Moderated by Salih, the panel represented people of color as well as individuals who identified as LGBTQ. An early question to Connie Gibbs prompted a response that highlighted a virtue of the hashtag: that it introduced people like herself to characters in the Star Wars universe that she might have not otherwise had been aware of because they are not promoted in mainstream spaces.  Likewise, John Robinson noted that the hashtag helped highlight that there were other people like himself who had the same love of the franchise. When polled about their favorite characters, Gibbs referenced Jannah, the newest woman of color to appear in a Star Wars film. Likewise, Robinson spoke about how much he appreciated Finn, a fellow black man with a military experience like his own. Shitara praised Rose Tico, an Asian-American woman character who was presented without an accent or being of an Asian-based culture, something that she had not seen anywhere else.

Part of the panel involved a slideshow organized by Salih of Twitter responses and participation with the hashtag in past campaigns. The tweets covered a diverse group of fans who noted the wonderful presence of disabled characters, characters from marginalized groups, and different sexual orientations. Salih remarked that this was one of the best parts of the #SWRepMatters campaign, providing a space for voices that otherwise might never be highlighted, never be heard.

The question of representation on the creative and production side was brought up, and it underlined the importance of different voices. Gibbs emphasized how the absence of a diverse and inclusive creator/production naturally leads to blind spots. Robinson followed up by noting that creators without a more diverse or inclusive insight had led to appropriation of different cultures without adequate representation of those culture’s members in the films. Kate Sedor pointed out how instrumental the editing of Marcia Lucas played a role in the original trilogy’s success, as well how Carrie Fisher made Leia Organa into the character beloved by millions.  The question was left lingering how much better the franchise could have become if it had included more voices like theirs in the creative process. Maia Mrkvicka chimed in about how it was great to see that women directors were being given a chance with The Mandalorian, but that more women need opportunities within the franchise.

One of the last questions of the panel noted the representation of LGBTQ+ characters in the Star Wars comics and books, such as Dr. Chelli Aphra and Sinjir Rath Velus, but asked why there wasn’t representation in the films. Gibbs noted that unfortunately such inclusions still made some people mad, and the money at risk in a film led to the powers being simply unready to take the same risks as publishers. The effort to include representation by the editors of Del Rey was praised by the panel, as was comic writer Greg Pak, who strove for diversity in his works on the premise that having just one individual from a marginalized group forced that character to carry all the expectations of that group on his, hers, or their shoulders.

The #SWRepMatters panel concluded with a Q&A and book giveaway, as well as a loud and lengthy applause. The audio for the panel is hosted by the podcast Lousy Beautiful Town hosted by Jessica Shitara and Abby, and can be found here.  Even though the panel is over, along with SWCC, #SWRepMatters continues on with its monthly campaigns on Twitter. As on the social media platform, the panel represented a call for more inclusion and more diversity within the Star Wars universe, be it the creators or the characters.  Star Wars, after all, is for everyone.

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