There's no denying that the black history of Star Wars is not great. Sure, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) a was a favorite character in the Original Trilogy, and a handful of memorable secondary Black characters like Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie) and Adi Gallia (Gin Clarke) provided some much-needed diversity in the Prequel era.
But these characters were few and far between in a cinematic (and later, literary) galaxy seemingly populated mostly by white protagonists and villains. And this handful of Black Star Wars characters certainly couldn't offset the damage caused by the most racially tone-deaf character concept in recent memory: the Gungan-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
So while the history of Black representation in Star Wars certainly has its problems, the new Star Wars canon seems to be promising a much brighter future. Since the Disney acquisition in 2012, several Black characters have been introduced across multiple storytelling platforms, creating a much more diverse universe of Star Wars characters to love and cheer for. Here are some of our favorites:
Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker)
The Clone Wars, Rebels, Catalyst (novel), Rogue One
Saw first appeared in a pivotal story arc of The Clone Wars, when Ahsoka and the Jedi tried to channel Saw's insurrectionist tendencies towards freeing his home world of Onderon from Count Dooku's Separatists. Since then, Saw has been getting a lot more play, culminating in Forest Whitaker's arresting portrayal of the character in Rogue One. And with another recent animated appearance (voiced again by Whitaker) on Star Wars: Rebels this winter, it seems that we can look forward to a lot more of this good guy who can't help being bad.
Kaeden and Miara Larte
Fanart by artist leechbrain
Speaking of Anakin Skywalker's famous Padawan, Ahsoka Tano starred in her own young adult novel in 2016. Author E.K. Johnston's Ahsoka introduced sisters Kaeden and Miara Larte as supporting characters and—bonus!—Kaeden is a queer teen of color who falls head over heels for Ahsoka.
Senator Tynnra Pamlo (Sharon Duncan-Brewster)
The Rebel Alliance of Rogue One was a precarious venture that seemed doomed before it even started, and Senator Pamlo of the planet Taris argued for caution when confronted with evidence of the Death Star's terrible power. She was a minor character with just a few lines, but her presence and authority in Alliance deliberations affirmed that Black women do indeed play additional influential roles in Galactic history.
Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams and Donald Glover)
The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Lando (solo comic), Rebels, Untitled Han Solo Anthology Film
Billy Dee Williams created the iconic scoundrel with a heart of gold and a weakness for beautiful women, but Donald Glover assumes the Calrissian mantle—which hopefully is still a really fabulous blue cape—for the upcoming young Han Solo film. Also exciting: the insanely talented Thandie Newton (Westworld) will appear in the Han Solo film as an as-of-yet unspecified character.
Korr Sella (Maisie Richardson-Sellers)
Bloodline (novel), The Force Awakens
Korr Sella was a supporting character in Claudia Gray's Star Wars political thriller, Bloodline, where Sella was a conflicted young intern for Leia Organa in the New Republic Senate. Sella appeared briefly on-screen in The Force Awakens as she met her untimely demise on Hosnian Prime, but this deleted scene with General Organa (may the Force be with her) gave us a stronger sense of Sella's pragmatism and dedication.
Ensign Pamich Nerro (Crystal Clark)
The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi
Ensign Pamich Nerro was another background character in the Resistance base scenes in The Force Awakens, much like Billie Lourd's Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix. And like Connix, Nerro is listed in the roles for The Last Jedi, out in December. Lourd has already teased that Connix will have an expanded role in The Last Jedi, so perhaps we can look forward to learning more about other Resistance operatives like Nerro.
Grand Admiral Rae Sloane
Numerous novels, including Rise of the Empire, A New Dawn, and the Aftermath Trilogy; Kanan: The Last Padawan (comic)
Poster art by Steve Thomas
Rae Sloane is a major player in the new canon novels and has gone toe-to-toe with other big ticket characters like Kanan Jarrus, Admiral Tarkin, and Darth Vader himself. Sloane is fiercely loyal to the Empire's promise of an orderly and prosperous society, but she is a far more nuanced and relatable character than many of the snarling, monstrous villains that seem to populate the Empire's ranks. We will presumably learn more about Grand Admiral Sloane's fate in the upcoming novel by Chuck Wendig, Aftermath: Empire's End (scheduled for release February 21, 2017), so stay tuned!
Finn (John Boyega)
The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi
Finn is a former First Order stormtrooper who finds himself thrust into Galactic history in The Force Awakens. And now that the new canon is rapidly approaching the next film in the Skywalker Saga, The Last Jedi, Finn is truly beloved as the first Black main character in any Star Wars film.
The visibility of Black characters in the Star Wars universe has come a long way, although racial diversity in the galaxy far, far away still has far, far way to go. For example, while Black female characters like Grand Admiral Sloane and Kaeden Larte are given plenty of substance and depth in novels and comics, women of color so far have played only minor characters in the Star Wars films. There are Black actors who provide voiceovers for new canon characters that do not reflect the actor's race, like Lupita Nyong'o's performance as Maz Kanata (The Force Awakens) and David Oyelowo's performance as the white Agent Kallus (Rebels), but they are not visible as Black performers. And let's not forget the ugly #boycottstarwarsvii online protest of Finn's race by white supremacists, who were gratifyingly (if only temporarily) silenced by the box office dominance of The Force Awakens and by the sheer force of Boyega's charisma.
But as we celebrate Black History Month, there is still plenty to look forward to with black representation in the new Star Wars canon. Did we miss any of your favorite characters? Let us know in the comments below and may the Force be with you!