JJ Abrams has brought diversity to the “Star Wars” franchise!
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has blasted into the theaters, crushing box office expectations while also receiving some (inter)stellar reviews. But the weapon the “The Force Awakens” team used was not a lightsaber but diversity. Abrams used his diverse cast to full effect and in the process gave the fans what they were hoping for this Christmas.
Since the first trailer was released there was a contingent of vocal Internet trolls that voiced their displeasure with having a black storm trooper. The black storm trooper thing is a foolish gripe given that the original “Star Wars” trilogy as well as the prequels did actually have primary characters that were black. Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, etc. I mean friggin Darth Vader was voiced by James Earl Jones! While not exactly the gold standard there was enough representation of minorities that it shouldn’t have even been such a huge uproar when the first trailer revealed Finn (played by John Boyega) as the face under the iconic storm trooper helmet. I would argue there should have been more but we have seen them before.
While there was much ballyhooing about having a black storm trooper or main character in this film, there was a far more glaring issue of diversity in the series to date. The lack of strong female characters was an oversight that fans have endured for 6 movies. When you go back and look at each film in terms of female characters with dynamic backgrounds and archetypes you’d be hard pressed to find them. Think about it, Leia who, (as controversial as it may seem) is basically a damsel in distress the entire time. Even the name Princess Leia denotes a second tier of royalty and evokes the image of a little girl playing dress up. While it may seem a position of power in a vacuum where there are no other women of power or influence, it seems a bit off. The same holds true for Padmé. Some lip service was paid to her being tough but mostly she spends her time running away and calling out for help. After that who is there?
Fast forward to “The Force Awakens” and we find a far more diverse galaxy especially in the area of strong female role models. This is a galaxy in which Princess Leia is now General Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) looks to be one of the most powerful Jedi of this time. It doesn’t stop there. Maz (Lupita Nyong’o), the sage wise one who shows Rey her destiny so to speak, has an entire city erected in her honor. Even Kylo Ren’s second in command is none other than Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) herself under that helmet. These are all strong characters, all breathing something into the Star Wars Universe that was missing.
When you add in Finn and Poe (Oscar Isaac) to the mix you get a far more diverse palette of characters than all “Stars Wars” before it. These characters seem real and their diverse backgrounds make the world of Star Wars seem expansive. This touch of having a diverse group of actors playing characters in this universe perfectly enhances the feeling that the galaxy is a huge place with all kinds of different humanoids inhabiting it. That bit of realism is engaging and propels the story just by virtue of showing us these faces.
The diversity of the cast plays a huge role in making this film a success proving that all the hoopla over the Summer and Fall was unwarranted. “The Force Awakens” is a great entry into the “Star Wars”, perhaps even an instant classic and the diversity of the cast had a lot to do with it.