BIPOC in the Star Wars Universe
an opinion by Yunseo Chung
The well-loved Star Wars series culminated in the film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker almost a year ago. Earning over a billion dollars in the box office, it answered many of the burning questions surrounding the Star Wars universe. However, one question still remains: in a world where even alien characters have prominent, well-developed roles in the plotline, what is the role of BIPOC?
Perhaps the most outspoken objector to Star Wars’ treatment of BIPOC characters is John Boyega, who portrays Finn in the sequel trilogy. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Boyega’s character was marketed to be much more significant than he turned out to be. From the trailers – and even the movie itself – it was entirely plausible for Finn’s story arc to lead to him becoming a Jedi. Throughout the trilogy, however, Finn was shoved to the side to make room for Rey and Kylo Ren, portrayed by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver respectively. This is especially apparent in the very last movie, in which Finn (along with other POC characters) were simply decorations to the leading white character arc.
“Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” Boyega told GQ in an interview. “You knew what to do with these other people, but when it came to Kelly Marie Tran (a Vietnamese American actress who portrayed Rose), when it came to John Boyega, you know fuck all.” (Famurewa, Jimi. “John Boyega: 'I’m the only cast member whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race'.” GQ Magazine, 2 Sept. 2020.)
This holds true for almost every character of color in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Naomi Ackie, a Black actress who played Jannah, and even Guatemalan Oscar Isaac who held a relatively large role as Poe were completely disregarded in the last two movies. BIPOC character arcs were flattened and their presence squashed out in order to make room for the movies’ white “main” characters. In the last film especially, Rey and Kylo Ren’s Romeo and Juliet-like storyline was disproportionately big. Rey was somewhat forced into the Jedi persona – especially when it would have made much more sense for Finn to have been Force-sensitive instead. Kylo Ren is given a tragic redemption arc that feels too much like the series is trying to wrap things up “nicely.”
Many avid fans agree that Finn should have been the protagonist of the sequel trilogy. (Although, on the other hand, there were many fans who were vehemently against the mere existence of BIPOC characters in Star Wars.) There are moments throughout the movies where Finn is hinting that he is Force-sensitive. He, as an untrained former Storm Trooper, holds his own in a lightsaber fight with Kylo Ren, an experienced Jedi/Sith. Finn even senses Rey’s death near the end of The Rise of Skywalker. It’s also been confirmed by JJ Abrams, the director of two of the movies, that Finn believed he was Force-sensitive - with plenty of evidence to back up his claim. His story could’ve easily become one of a Jedi’s. Arguably, it would’ve been more interesting, too.
“From the beginning of The Force Awakens, it’s clear there’s something different about Finn,” writes Star Wars fan Sayre Bedinger. “His origin story was just as mysterious as Rey, and Finn’s arc would have been better served as the primary tale in the sequel series by comparison.” (Bedinger, Sayre. “Star Wars: Why Finn should have been the main protagonist of the sequels.” Fansided, June, 2020.”
So the question is: why? Why introduce Finn as a potential protagonist, only to give up on his story a third of the way? Why incorporate Rose as a seemingly significant character in The Last Jedi only to give her barely three minutes of screen time in The Rise of Skywalker? Why disregard Poe’s storyline, a well-loved charismatic character? Why hint at Jannah’s bigger connection to the overall storyline to give her exactly five minutes of screen time in the entire trilogy? Why are non-white characters treated as if they’re dispensible?
To Disney: BIPOC characters are real. BIPOC children, teens, and even adults watching these characters are even more valid. We deserve a place in the Star Wars world as much as any other, and we will not be shoved aside to make room for another white narrative. We are not limited to being the supporting characters – we are the heroes, the best friends, the awkward neighbors, the haughty girls, the villains, the kings, and the warriors all at once. There is no fantasy world where we don’t have a place.
Cover Photo Source: Digital Spy