We Belong: Representation in Star Wars

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Why do you love Star Wars?

When this question comes up, I hear a wide range of answers. I’ve heard people discuss the stories: the Original Trilogy’s brilliant execution of the hero’s journey, the depiction of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side, Cal Kestis’s adventures as he rediscovered his place and path. I’ve heard people explain how they relate to the main themes: hope, good vs evil, love, family (especially found family).

But one of the most popular responses is “the characters.” People identify with Luke’s heart, with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s torment, even with Han’s scoundrel ways. But for many in the fandom, there’s an eternal barrier between them and most of the heroes of Star Wars. Luke, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Han, Ben Solo, and Cal Kestis all have one very important thing in common: they are white, apparently straight men.

There’s a reason such a large part of the fandom was excited to see Finn, Rose, and Poe Dameron introduced by the Sequel Trilogy. A reason we were glad to see Rey as the Jedi and hero. A reason people headcanon these characters’ sexualities. There is a reason for the backlash that came at the conclusion of their stories.

It’s no secret that it’s hard for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community to join the Star Wars fandom. Star Wars has long been viewed as a “boy’s club” and there are too many gatekeepers who want to keep it that way, who scream “SJW propaganda!” every time they see characters like Finn, Rose, Poe, and Rey given major roles. There are too many people who deride fans who see the characters as anything but heterosexual. There are too many people who claim, “we don’t need that in Star Wars.” And they make anyone who is not a straight white cis man feel unwelcome in the fandom.

Fortunately, these hateful people are the minority. Unfortunately, they’re a vocal minority and the stories that Star Wars is giving us cater to them. Consciously or not, the creators are not giving Star Wars and its fans the diversity that—despite what the gatekeepers claim—is very much needed. The creators are not giving us the stories that we deserve.

“You have some of those characters, why do there need to be more?”

There need to be more because just throwing in one woman, one person of color, or one LGBTQ+ character is not true representation. It’s performative, especially when those characters are given secondary roles and left undeveloped, or when they’re killed off or given badly written arcs. If you are part of the white straight male demographic, you literally cannot understand how hurtful it is to see these characters given such poor treatment. You cannot fully understand the effects this has on the diverse, underrepresented members of the fandom.

People of color saw themselves in Finn, Rose and Poe, then had to watch them be pushed to the background and racially stereotyped. Members of the LGBTQ+ community saw hope for representation in Finn and Poe, then got a one-second kiss between two women who held minimal, background roles. Women identified with Rey and then had to watch her die and return only to lose her dyad partner and love interest.

Back in the Original trilogy, there was exactly one main female character: Leia, who ended up forced into that awful bikini and collar. One person of color: Lando, who was on-screen for only a few minutes. The Prequels tell the same story: Padme died of sorrow after giving birth to Luke and Leia, and Mace Windu was given minimal screen time. And neither trilogy had any representation for the LGBT community (yes, this is expected for movies made in their time periods, but it can still be disappointing to see).

And I’m only looking at the movies right now. I’m not even going to go into discussion of the comic that introduced Vader’s stalker fan, a woman who was killed nameless and declared garbage. I’m not going to explain everything wrong and sickening about the Bounty Hunter comic that depicted a pregnant woman being attacked, and an LGBT woman of color being murdered by Boba Fett (who was given a disgustingly heroic pose next to her body).

Do you see the problem here? Star Wars gives us the smallest amount of diversity possible and dismisses those characters out of hand to cater to those who don’t see the significance of it.

“The Force is female,” they say. “Star Wars is for everyone,” they say. “The movies are for kids,” they say. But if those sayings were true, we would have very different stories. If they were true, we would see strong female characters who aren’t turned into sexual objects, who don’t suffer and die to prop up a male character’s story, who get to have healthy romantic relationships without their partners dying. If that were true, we would see people of color leading films as three-dimensional characters, free of stereotypes and profiling. If that were true, we would have LGBTQ+ characters whose sexual orientation is publicly established and embraced.

Maybe it isn’t intentional, but Star Wars is sending a clear message: none of that has a place here. Fans who support that have no voice here.

The same message the gatekeepers, racists, sexists, and homophobes of the fandom scream.

Think about this for a minute. Star Wars—a franchise known for its themes of love and family, a galaxy that (despite being fictional) is supposed to have a place for everyone—is alienating its fans and telling them they don’t belong. In an essay from my first semester of college, I said that I have three homes and Star Wars is one of them. I said that I have three families and the Star Wars fandom is one of them. And now Star Wars is telling me that I have no place here? Parts of the fandom are telling me I do not belong?

I’m relatively sheltered from these parts of the fandom, but from Star Wars itself? This franchise has given me comfort and hope and a sense of belonging, helped me get through some of the darkest times in my life, and now it’s telling me it wants nothing to do with me. Do you have any idea how painful that is? And for so many people, it’s even worse.

I’ve rewritten the last two paragraphs three times trying to delay typing this, but it needs to be said: if Star Wars continues this path, it loses its soul. That’s right. The franchise that brought us together is falling to the Dark side, because it refuses to acknowledge a huge section of its fanbase in any meaningful way. Because it is being continued with stories that are—intentionally or not—written for a specific demographic, in a way that satisfies the negative, exclusionist parts of the fandom.

Times have changed. The world has changed. It's time for Star Wars to catch up, to embrace the beauty that can be found in true diversity. This franchise needs representation, true representation, in all its forms of media. Numerous characters whose stories are told and told well; not one character who is only written into the story as a throw-away, performative gesture. One character does not equal diversity, especially when they are dismissed and mistreated as characters in the past have been. We need this change, because whether the lack of effort is intentional or not, it sends the message that these characters are not important. That the fans who see themselves in these characters are not important.

The characters are important. The fans are important, and we deserve to see stories that celebrate diversity along lines of gender, race, and sexual orientation. No matter how much gatekeepers want to see us leave, we are not going anywhere. And we deserve to be welcomed. To be included. To have Star Wars show that we belong and we matter. We deserve to have our voices heard, to see our stories on-screen. We deserve to say, “That character is like me,” and then watch them shine as a three-dimensional character with a well-written story.

The best stories Star Wars has told are about people finding family, love, and belonging. These re the ideas that give it its heart. If it continues to exclude and ignore women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community, then it will lose its heart.

And when that happens, it won’t truly be Star Wars anymore.


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