Does The Last Jedi have a Diversity Problem?

There’s something off about this new Star Wars film. Far from the giant leap forward for diversity the film supposedly takes—in terms of Star Wars, it could be seen as a step backwards. I’m calling bullshit.

Above deck / below deck

Above deck / below deck

Why are all the figures of authority in The Last Jedi white?

Rian Johnson’s movie opens with an extended sequence in which we cross back-and-forth between First Order Generals (hot on the heals of the Resistance fleet), the Resistance leadership, and below-decks saboteurs hatching a plan of their own.

There are lots of powerful figures on screen all at once, probably as many as there ever have been in the series — which normally tends to focus on the plucky underdog. Let’s break down what Rian Johnson shows us:

First Order Leaders:

  • General Hux (white)
  • Kylo Ren (white)
  • Supreme Leader Snoke (a white special-effect)

Resistance Leaders:

  • General Leia (white)
  • Vice-Admiral Holdo (white)

Resistance workers below-deck:

  • Rose Tico (Asian-American)
  • Finn (black)
  • Poe Dameron (Guatemalan-American)

Hey, that’s odd.

Worse, Leia references a handful of unsavoury stereotypes while reprimanding Poe, such as “get your head out of your cockpit”, and goes so far as to actually slap him across his face. The worst she ever did to Grand Moff Tarkin was give him a dirty look, but then again, all he did was blow up her home planet. Poe though, he was out of control.

And what of the other figures of authority dotted around the film’s ensemble cast? Well, we have Rey (white), Jedi Master Luke (white) and Captain Phasma (white). Hmm.

On the flip side, Benicio del Toro (American-Spanish, Puerto Rican-born) was seen as the ideal choice for the part of DJ, an untrustworthy thief and jailbird. Hmm.

Later, our intrepid band of non-white bunglers (Poe, Maz, Rose, Finn and DJ) manage to completely screw-up their mission before returning to the protection of their stern-but-forgiving white leaders. Also, somewhere along the way mechanic Rose and “I need a pilot” Finn learn to be fighter pilots, then, despite Finn’s best efforts to follow in Holdo’s noble footsteps and sacrifice himself to save his friends, his attempt ends in failure (again), and he gets another lecture for his trouble.

By comparison, thirty-seven years ago The Empire Strikes Back was released, with Princess Leia similarly in a leadership role and giving orders on Hoth, but the film also introduced Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Baron Administrator of Cloud City. If The Last Jedi is notable for its depiction of (white) women in positions of authority, then it’s nothing compared to the sight of a black character in 1980 as ruler of a technologically advanced utopian world; a figure of such status that he was seemingly one of the few civilians in the galaxy who could converse with Lord Vader as a peer.

Lando would go on to be “General Calrissian” in Return of the Jedi, and was “Gold Leader” in the Battle of Endor, where he served under Admiral Ackbar (a non-human) and Mon Mothma, the new (female) leader of the Rebel Alliance.

Likewise, the wise Jedi Master of those films was also a non-human, in the form of Yoda, our beloved, diminutive, green alien. (And heck, even a giant slug got his own palace.)

How does The Last Jedi treat these non-human characters? Sadly, not well. Yoda is made to regress back to putting on the pantomime cackling-frog act from Empire, which he used to get Luke to reveal his prejudices. However, he got off lightly compared to Ackbar, who wasn’t even granted the dignity of an on-screen death.

The Last Jedi deserves some credit for getting Laura Dern in the movie… but that’s about it.