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The Saga Concludes – The Minority Report, Year Five

Welcome, one and all, to the final Minority Report, my annual(ish) update on diversity in Star Wars’ screen and printed content. As discussed in my last report, I’ve reached the conclusion that this new era of the franchise has brought us to a point where it’s better that the raw numbers, which have been my bailiwick for more than ten years now, take a backseat and that representation—what types of characters we’re seeing and how they’re used—becomes the primary focus of these conversations. While I still plan on running said numbers for my own edification, I’m going to refrain from these regular updates and save my commentary for when and if something really noteworthy happens.

I first took on this project way back in the days of the Expanded Universe, where most new characters were coming from books and their demographics were both more uniform and harder to notice; now that movies and television are steering the ship, Star Wars has responded to this increased scrutiny with a boatload of new female characters, characters of color, and even a small but not insignificant population of queer and nonbinary characters. But while the weight of focus has shifted drastically away from the usual parade of white guys, there’s still a lot to discuss about exactly how characters like Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Holdo, Val, and L3-37 are used, how they intersect, and what messages their stories are sending.

The thing about that, though, is that I see my own role in those conversations to be much more that of a listener—and ideally, a promoter of great voices from within the relevant communities here at this blog. When I started tracking diversity it felt like no one else was paying attention to it at all (at least in the not-very-diverse forums I was hanging around in back then), so having real numbers to throw around was my way of holding up a flashing neon “PROBLEM” sign. Now that diversity and representation are a huge, flourishing topic of discussion, I see how much I still had to learn, and while I still believe sheer volume is a big part of the solution, this is about much more than which types of people we see walking by in the background and who they happen to be kissing.

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Diversity Versus Representation: The Minority Report, Year Four

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As you may know, a little personal project of mine is to tabulate and track the demographics of named Star Wars characters from year to year, so that we fans can discuss with some accuracy how diverse they are (or aren’t). If this is the first you’re hearing of it, click the series tag at the end of the piece or see last year’s entry for a more thorough explanation. It’s been an interesting year for this subject—two new films have been released since my last update, and only three original adult novels.1 This is a self-explanatory phenomenon, of course, because two films means two novelizations, which means two fewer original stories. Add in the final season of Star Wars Rebels and for the first time, the amount of visual Star Wars media in a given year equaled the amount of published media—at least by the methods I’ve chosen for this project.

While that’s very much out of the ordinary for the franchise—last year’s update included one film, one season of Rebels, and eight novels2—it helped bring into focus something I’ve only vaguely acknowledged over these last few years: when characterizing the overall diversity of the franchise no amount of novels can really compare to the representational value of a movie star. So even though there are far more novels overall than films or television series, the latter category deserves at least equal weight to the former, debatably even moreso—and with multiple live-action television series on the way it’s only getting more important.

Another development of the past year was the dawn of the #SWRepMatters social media campaign. Short for “Star Wars Representation Matters”, the hashtag was started by a group of fans on Twitter that includes several former Eleven-ThirtyEight guest contributors to highlight different communities of underrepresented people and why they belong both in the Star Wars universe and behind the camera (or pen). It’s been a great campaign to watch (with no signs of letting up!) in part because of the diversity of participants—one reason I choose to talk about this in such a dry, academic way is because I’m not from an underrepresented community; I can’t speak about it as insightfully and passionately as fans who really do long for that representation, and I wouldn’t presume to be an arbiter of which characters are or are not “good representation”—numbers, though, I can do. Read More

  1. One of which, Most Wanted, is technically “young adult” but for my purposes I’ve found that distinction to mean basically nothing. []
  2. Ahsoka, Catalyst, Empire’s End, Thrawn, Rebel Rising, Inferno Squad, Leia: Princess of Alderaan, and Phasma. []

How Foggy is Too Foggy? The Minority Report, Year Three

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One in three named Star Wars characters is a straight, white human man. Three in four are male.

I know that because I’ve done the math—both before the reboot and ever since. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you probably know that, but I find it helpful every so often to restate my case for people who haven’t kept up with this particular project of mine (though the older pieces are of course still available). Once a year, I take it upon myself, with a big boost from Wookieepedia, to tabulate every named character from the previous twelve months1 of Star Wars novels, films, and television, and calculate how many are straight, white human men (hereafter WHMs), and separately, how many are males of any kind.

The percentage of a story’s cast that does not quality as WHMs is what I call its diversity score—for example, one WHM in a cast of ten would means a score of 90. The percentage of non-male characters I call the parity score, with an implied “ideal” score of around 50.2 Diversity scores have much less of an objective “ideal”—the occasional story with no WHMs would hardly be the worst thing to happen, but in a perfect world I’d say an average score in the high eighties/low nineties would be pretty good.

That said, we are nowhere near either of those targets, and that’s why I do this. The numbers can of course be broken down much further and endless productive discussion can be had over how intersectional the human cast should be, the ideal amount of LGBTQ representation, the ideal amount of aliens and droids, and most important of all, the strength of the characters as conceived and portrayed—but the bottom line is we’re not where we should be, and this is my way of looking at the big picture of representation and whether things are moving in one direction or another, so that we might decide how to move forward. That is a question with many, many good answers, none of which I claim to offer here. Read More

  1. Note that since the new canon effectively began with A New Dawn, I use that as my rough “zero point” rather than calendar years. []
  2. Nonbinary characters do count toward a work’s score, but there’s so few of them thus far that statistically they barely even register. []

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

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

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 fanbase is because, despite the starships 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.

Lucasfilm’s galaxy far, far away used to be a much messier place. Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the formation of the Lucasfilm Story Group in 2013, however, changed the game for Star Wars fans. Previous Expanded Universe stories, known for their sometimes incongruous storylines and for George Lucas’s indifference to their plots, were jettisoned in favor of a cohesive, multimedia approach to the new canon. This initiative did more than clear up Star Wars “fact” and “fiction”; for the first time ever, various franchise media could overlap in timeline, characters, and plots, allowing for truly multi-media storytelling and opening the door for characters of color to play a more prominent role. Fan-favorite non-white characters who previously only existed in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series began to appear in novels or comics of their own, or, in Saw Gerrera’s case, on the big screen in 2016’s Rogue One.

At this point, however, fans have mostly seen movie characters cross over into the non-film media. Few original characters from Star Wars non-film media have appeared on the big screen, which is hugely disappointing not only because it does a disservice to the Story Group’s mission and efforts since its creation, but also because the franchise’s largest strides in representation, especially of women of color, have been made in the non-film media. Because we feel passionately about this issue, we’re working in conjunction with #SWRepMatters, an upcoming social media campaign highlighting diversity (or lack thereof) in the franchise through volunteer podcast discussions, blog posts, tweets using the hashtag, and Twitter threads focusing on specific nonhuman characters and characters of color. Our goal with this post is to highlight how Star Wars can improve its cast diversity to match its enthusiastic audience by bringing beloved non-film characters to the movies and, of course, hiring more femme-identifying actors of color. And there would be no better place to start than by confirming the hopeful fan theory that Thandie Newton is playing Rae Sloane in the upcoming Han Solo movie.
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Queer Representation in Star Wars: More a Starting Point Than a Final Destination

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There’s a lot to be said for how quickly Star Wars went from no canonically queer characters to more than a handful. Considering that Star Wars had an Expanded Universe that carried on for over thirty years with barely a mention of gay characters,1 the last few years have had a veritable boom of queerness. There was a point in the past where I could count the number of queer characters on one hand, but that’s not where we are anymore.

So: the canon representation is better than before. We can all agree that it’s better than nothing. But better enough? Not quite.

I think that for many of us—queer fans in particular—it’s been a long time coming to see characters like Sinjir Rath Velus, Kaeden Larte, and even Moff Mors in such a beloved universe. Long enough that, understandably, characters and stories that resonate with fans end up on pedestals of a kind. When underrepresented fans find a character they can see themselves in for the first time, it’s not uncommon for them to then turn around and find a large chunk of fans railing against the existence of so-called “forced” inclusivity. Cue sighs.

Except, when even unremarkable diversity is vehemently defended from all objections, the universe isn’t given a chance to grow in a better direction. We butt up against two main issues here: implicit representation—AKA author headcanon, or Word Of God—and just generally average writing that isn’t always given room to be criticized. (And I think it’s not exactly difficult to figure out which trilogy I might be talking about here.) Read More

  1. Yes, I know about the married Mandalorian guys. []