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Star Wars and Race

Star Wars under George Lucas never had a race issue, contrary to what the media tells the world. It has always been a massive blend of various cultures, from the languages used and created for new alien races, to accents, building styles, hair styles and clothing styles. It’s universal mythology is what gave it such a wide broad appeal among fans. It’s very stories themselves are a lesson in how different races (human and non) compliment each other by their differences.. Fans of all nations, races, colors, and ages were brought together by the universal values and common human challenges it presents.

I am not going to banter around with what modern critics call proper terminology here because in Star Wars there IS no Africa, America, Asia or any such place. And on Earth such terms as to what is just a description and what is an insult are constantly changing.

The Creating

The Original Trilogy

In his initial casting for the very first movie (A New Hope) George Lucas actually considered various ethnic race groups, even small people (as he later used in Willow). The casting was open and the runner up for Han Solo was a black man. Harrison Ford won out not due to color but due to the ensemble casting method. The three actors were the best for their roles, together.

Darth Vader was played by several men just in the original trilogy, if you include not only David Prowse but the stunt man and the voice actor. The voice actor of course is James Earl Jones, a man of somewhat darker skin and light eyes that reveal a very mixed heritage of race and a powerful voice. In the radio dramas, another dark skin actor, Brock Peters (later of Star Trek fame) took on the role.

General Lando Calrissian of the human race is played by Billy Dee Williams
General Lando Calrissian

In The Empire Strikes Back we get Lando Calrissian. The role was offered to Billy Dee Williams. One thing Williams has stated he appreciated was that the role was not written for a token black man, race had nothing to do with it. It was just written to be an interesting character in a very bad situation. His attempt to save the city by betraying a friend is later corrected by saving Han and leading the Rebels to victory.

In Return of the Jedi you can see the rebel briefing room full of a variety of colors of human, as well as the numerous other races such as Mon Calamari and Dressellian. There is also a good variety of humans in the space battle scene and that isn’t even including the rebel pilots that didn’t make the final cut.

So the keystone of the original trilogy is that “race” was never remotely an issue. In fact the only real ‘race’ we get is the human race, along with the wookiee race (Chewie), the Hutt race (Jabba), and all the various other individual alien races. The various hues of humanity aren’t much of a reason to squabble when your next door neighbor may have blue skin and head tails, or brown and covered in fur, or might even slither.

The Prequels

bail-organa
Bail Organa

When the prequels came out we again have a diverse cast. This one from Ireland, this from Scotland, and so on. Just as for the first films, alien languages and accents were pulled from all over, just as the hair styles and costumes were, although the latter had better funding than the originals. The Jedi Council, podracer stadiums, Galactic Senate and the Geonosian arena all reveal a wide variety of all colors of the human race, plus many alien race representatives.

Samuel L. Jackson was so eager to be in the movies he volunteered to do it for free. So Mace Windu became a main council member. Bail Organa, Panaka, Typho and Jango Fett, all are various shades of the human race. All have major roles.

jar-jar-chosen

Ahmed Best created Jar Jar Binks, and while hidden behind the CGI he is the first actor to do motion capture. He came out with Jar Jar’s voice based on what he used for his own relatives children enjoyed when he read them stories, and they loved it. It was no different at all than using various nationalities for, say, the Ewoks, Jabba, Ackbar and so on. Yet suddenly this time the media screamed racist for both Jar Jar, (who was played by a black man) and the Neimodians – who were Thai and inspired by a Bangkok audition tape for the eventual dubbing.

The takeaway from the prequels isn’t that George Lucas and Lucasfilm did a thing different than the originals. Just like the originals, they used worldwide cultures and mythologies to make something new. And rather than enjoy what was new, the media decided to rip it apart because being united by a common love of the thing doesn’t fit their strife causing agenda. Besides they want to see the champion toppled, and the one time underdog George Lucas was now the champion.

Voice Making: The Races of the Saga

“Part of my research was to identify real language to use as a basis for alien ones. The advantage of a real language is it possesses built in credibility…..I had to break those boundaries, to search for language sounds that were uncommon and even unpronounceable by most of the general audience.”

Ben Burtt, Galactic Phrase Book and Travel Guide

Among those he created were the Hutts, Ewoks, Wookiees, Jawas, Sandpeople, and Neimodians. They had to sound exotic but still believable. Many things were tried, people talking after a whiff of helium, the old fashioned ‘backward’ language of Martians from old films, electronic synthesizers. Some things could be dubbed if the language was all alien. Some couldn’t without a lot of reading, and there were limitations of the masks and puppet movements such as Neimodian and Ewok heads.

Here is a brief list:

  • Quechya (Hutts)
  • Zulu (Jawas)
  • Tibet (Ewoks)
  • Thai (Neimoidians)
  • Animal sounds (Wookiees, Sandpeople)
  • Electronic and baby sounds (Droids, R2-D2)

Funny isn’t it how only in the prequels people objected to any of these languages or accents? At least as a kid I was blissfully unaware of any such during the original trilogy. Yet all along they were real dialects in use, and none of those real people complained about ‘racism’. To this day I have never heard of any Asian, or the Caribbean people complain. It’s always media critics and those listening to them.

The Expanded Universe

The Expanded Universe consists of games, comics, TV shows and books created before the Disney buyout. Those too have come under the same unfounded attack. But anyone who has played, read or watched knows the accusation is a bunch of bantha fodder.

In Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Jedi Academy you could play as various shades of the human race, male or female and in at least 2 of these games, various races of aliens of every color of the rainbow. (I should know, I have at least one of each!) The companions of these games also have a wide variety as do the non player characters. Your imagination has always been the limit. SWTOR isn’t limited by shape, or color, or age, or sex or much else in your player choice.

Salla_Zend
Salla Zend, smuggler

In the comics there are various shades of human race as well as the alien races. Dace Diath, Jedi Knight in Tales of the Jedi (whose family is still around in the Clone Wars Republic comics) hails from Tatooine. Sixtus Quin was a brown skin stormtrooper who is betrayed by his commander and goes rogue in the X-Wing comics. One of Han’s first girlfriends was the brown skinned smuggler, Salla Zend, first revealed in Dark Empire comics and her story was expanded into the novels.

In the books various characters have either no description (choose your look) or descriptions suggesting that once more humans have a wide variety of shades and no one cares. Literally no one. Who is going to care if Fiolla comes of a world with high solar radiation and darker skin when that fellow with her is short and resembles an otter? He isn’t her pet, he is her boss! Belinda Kalendi of New Republic Intelligence has dark skin, Tionne’s is honey color and who cares? This is a world where humans aren’t even limited to dating or marrying humans, sometimes they marry twileks or date selonians!

In Universe Lessons on Unity

jar-jar-talking-to-queen

In the Films

In the Phantom Menace, the invasion of Naboo has everyone stymied until Jar Jar makes an off hand comment to the Queen about the gungan army. She has no personal bias against the gungans, but many of her people do and the gungans know it. But the Naboo, so secure in their ideals, now are helpless. Where either group alone have no hope of winning this fight, together, they have a chance. And indeed, they succeed. This doesn’t stop Darth Sidious AKA Palpatine’s plans, but there is no way he failed to notice that their unity put a crimp in them.

“Wesa no like the Naboo. They think they brains so big!”

Boss Nass, The Phantom Menace

Gungans no given up. Wesa warriors. Wesa got a grand army. That’s why yousa no liken us mesa thinks.

Jar Jar Binks, The Phantom Menace

In the Clone Wars, we see the fabric of Galactic Society break down. Most of Dooku’s immediate followers among the Separatists are the Corporations and non human races. The Clones of course are all human. But the Jedi are all varieties as are the Senators. The War breaks down the value of life of all kinds. Cloned humans treated as disposable for an army, Senators willing to cast them aside for the sake of their own security, Jedi caught in the middle.

In Return of the Jedi we see the full Rebel fleet as represented by the command briefing. This includes human and non human, all those who have been harmed or threatened by the Empire. The Mon Calamari race has brought its amazing ships. Bothans brought data, and even if leaked by the Emperor it cost them lives to do so. It takes many races to win this victory, including the primitive Ewoks who had no hope of defeating the advanced Imperials but who provided a chance for the Rebels to escape and complete the mission.

Lesson learned: It was the common cause of resisting evil and promoting freedom that had different beings first upholding the Republic, then restoring it after it had fallen It was the Jedi, for all their flaws, that negotiated peace with many races and kept it strong and at stable. Padme’s team up with the Gungans proves this, the Jedi’s being sent on the mission also confirms their role. The Clone Wars tore this unity apart setting race against race, human against non human, droid against all of them. The Jedi were torn from their mission of peacemaking and made warriors. It took the various races coming back together in a Rebellion to set it to rights.

The Expanded Universe

Keep in mind that all the expanded universe was founded on the movies. They could not contradict and the lessons here reflect those of the movies.

Tales of the Jedi

In this we see Exar Kun intentionally provoke the cathar Sylvar, suggesting “animal Jedi” aren’t as good as human. He understandably provokes her wrath. Not too long after Exar Kun falls from being a Jedi Knight and becomes a Sith Lord.

Lesson Learned: If someone is judging you purely on your race, no matter what race that is, they aren’t a good guy. Exar Kun needed a humility check and didn’t get one. It plunged the galaxy into war. Star Wars knew this all along.

Knights of the Old Republic

The Old Republic was made up of many races just as the New Republic was. But that didn’t mean no worlds had issues. On Taris, the alien races were oppressed by the human race. The reason was simple: greed. By increasingly passing laws against the aliens the humans got the land, the property, the money. When the Sith invaded, Taris was hardly a planet ready to resist without substantial Republic backing because it wasn’t unified. So it fell to Revan and Malek. Eventually the planet was devastated by orbital bombardment and from SWTOR we know that only a few escaped by carbon freezing themselves inside a vault!

Lesson Learned: A people divided by purposes of greed can’t support each other during a crisis. We can’t know what would’ve happened had the humans of Taris not oppressed the aliens. But we can know that they all would’ve been needed to repel the Mandaloreans and then the Sith’s initial invasion. Instead of pulling together they divided by race and were destroyed.

Star Wars the Old Republic

In Star Wars the Old Republic, the badly named “Project Noble Focus” is an experiment on the prison world of Belsavis pitting the various alien races against each other. It’s part of the planet storyline and any light sided character is going to let the Senator involved knows what he thinks and make sure word gets out. Warden Grall is equally furious, being more responsible and respectful to the life forms under his charge whether they deserve it or not. This is one of the moments the light side character can make sure the truth gets out so it can never happen again.

Lesson Learned: Even in a the best planned civilization, corrupt politicians and those who abuse their responsibilities need to be vigilantly rooted out. It’s not a job for just one person. Warden Grall couldn’t do it alone. If his predecessor knew, he said nothing. And his predecessor had no qualm about punishing innocent people for the crimes of their ancestors even if (in all likelihood) they were only there because they were forgotten.

Jedi Apprentice

In Jedi Apprentice: Defenders of the Dead and the follow up, The Uncertain Path, the Melida and Daan nearly destroy their world fighting for past wrongs. No one even remembered how it started, only that they wanted revenge. Even the Jedi had no luck, until the children of the Melida/Daan had had enough and fought back. They succeeded, not without Obi-Wan’s aid and eventually Qui-Gon Jinn.

Lesson Learned: This is a lesson taught by children, they are the ones who suffer when the adults battle for revenge for disagreements long past.

Wraith Squadron

In X-Wing Wraith Squadron one of the pilots expresses discomfort being roomed with a non human. It wasn’t a question of whether they snored, or smelled funny. He carefully offered the man other room assignments including different non humans and his reaction gave him away. The leader, Wedge Antillies, puts him in his place, pointing out that the New Republic owes its success to many different races, not merely humans.

Lesson Learned: the Star Wars heroes of the New Republic have their priorities straight. You judge by character and action, not by looks. A pilot who is busy worrying about race is focusing on the wrong thing, a dangerous thing for a soldier who needs the team to be unified.

Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future

In Specter of the Past, the remnants of the Empire used the news of the bothans involvement in destroying a world to try and stir up racial hatreds in the New Republic and topple it. They almost succeeded, because many of these were merely seeking an excuse. Without the Jedi (who as yet had insufficient numbers to negotiate all these fires) they were almost destroyed.) The day is saved when the Empire’s involvement is known and the names of the specific Bothans involved in the destruction of Caamas are revealed.

Lesson Learned: no one race of people should be judged by the actions of individuals. That way leads to the fall of civilizations.

Young Jedi Knights: Diversity Alliance

In YJK Diversity Alliance, the non humans led by Nolaa Tarkaan hated them so much they sought to blame them for all their woes (the Emperor was human, after all, and some of the Imperials were unquestionably racist). the Jedi trainees friend Rabbaa has fallen into this trap of hatred, as had Jacen and Jaina’s childhood friend Lusa. The young Jedi prevent disaster, as this virus would’ve killed the good along with the evil.

Lesson Learned: Once again, judging a whole race by the actions of some individuals is wrong. These non human races individuals had reason for hate, but they directed against even those who had stopped the injustice. And once again it was Jedi that checked this disaster.

Identifying with the Star Wars Characters and Situations

It is the heart of the heroes that draws us, not their mere appearance. We feel the longing of the boy clashing with family because he wants a bigger life, not due to his color or sex, but because we all dream. We all have that longing for better family relations as well, even as our different personalities make it unlikely to happen. We’ve all had them dashed, as Luke’s initially were on finding out his Father wasn’t just a Jedi, he was the one who betrayed them all.

You don’t need to be a certain sex or skin color to get Padme and Leia’s grief, their pain is universal. Padme watched the one she loved deceived and betray everything she believe in, destroying it in the process. It’s no wonder she was heartbroken. Leia was tortured and literally watched her whole world destroyed, was it any wonder she was angry?

We don’t need to be a wookiee to feel Chewie’s pain when he’s shot, or a twilek to feel Oola’s fear as she falls in the rancor pit. Even the droids express emotions we identify with just via body language and sound. We don’t need to be the brown skin man who was blackmailed to betray his friend to feel the pain on both sides, and the desire to escape and make it right. The relief of success in correcting the mistake is a purely human trait, and Lando is rewarded with the role of leading the starfighter attack and gets to be the only other person who blew up a Death Star.

We can even identify with our villain. Once we know Anakin is Vader (and this I think is why some hate it). It is our choices that make a hero or villain and in Anakin’s case, we see his choice was based on a lie. Palpatine lied to him and Anakin (overwhelmed and acting more on emotion than logic) fell for it. Unlike Lando’s, he had (he thought) gone too far to correct it.

Conclusion

Star Wars from the movies to the other media has always had a large element about how diverse beings compliment each other and how any can be heroes. It’s a background message behind the story of family, of friendship. They can be any color of the human race, male or female or some completely alien race. But united for the common good they stand for freedom but divided, a free civilization falls. It is the heart of the heroes that we identify with, the universal values of morality that we all share and are far beyond the superficiality of ‘looks’.

Sources

  • Star Wars Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide by Ben Burtt
  • Star Wars The Annotated Screenplays by Laurent Bouzereau
  • The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J.W. Rinzler
  • Star Wars Insider 38 (interviews with Samuel L. Jackson and Billy Dee Williams)
  • Young Jedi Knights: Diversity Alliance by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta
  • Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn
  • Jedi Apprentice: Defenders of the Dead (book 5) and the Uncertain Path (book 6), by Jude Watson
  • Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston
  • Star Wars the Old Republic (Belsavis story arc)
  • Knights of the Old Republic (comic series and game)
  • Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith