If there's one thing that can be criticized about the early days of Star Wars, its that it was an overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male franchise. That's been changing lately, as the roster of main characters is better reflecting the world around us. That started in earnest with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the 2015 release that continued the Skywalker Saga. In the new trio of stars, we saw a woman, a black man, and a hispanic man in the leading roles (white men were also still well-represented, of course). We saw female pilots, and more Asians in that particular film than were likely present in the first six combined.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story heightens the pace further. In the core group of Rebels we have, again, a white female lead, with a supporting cast of a hispanic man, a black man, a Pakistani man, two Chinese men; while women of color are still underrepresented in the core cast, we have at least seen a speaking role or two in the trailers.
"I think it's incredibly important to Star Wars," Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said of a diverse cast when speaking at the Rogue One press conferences. "I think it’s more important to the film industry in general. I think having casts that represent the world today and having characters that people can relate to all over the world. This is very much a global industry. Films mean something to people all over the world."
Actor Diego Luna, who stars as Captain Cassian Andor using his native Mexican accent (a rarity in a film series that has typically used either American or British accents across the board), agreed, echoing the notion and saying that a clearer world view is good for cinema in general and Rogue One in specific.
“I think it’s a modern approach. We live in a different world today," Luna said. "When you revisit other films, it’s a stamp or a reflection of what was going on in the world back then. Our film is the same. We live in a world where racial and cultural diversity is in fact making us richer and more interesting."
Kennedy added that diversity was "very much important to this story" because the characters were meant to be disparate, showing how their different walks of life and backgrounds could reach common ground for a higher purpose.
"[Diversity] lends itself very easily to this group of people coming together in ways that are kind of inexplicable, but they share a very common belief and feel very strongly in their desire to do the right thing. They work together incredibly well, and having that sense of diversity is really important to how we tell our story," Kennedy said.
Ultimately, it's not about casting a woman or a person of color just to do it, as some fans on the internet like to claim, it's simply about trying to be true to the broader range of humanity.
"Every movie has reasons for why you cast certain people, but I think what we’re doing today is being much more mindful of that need [to represent all people]," she explained.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards, is in theaters December 16, 2016.
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