Diversity at Star Wars Celebration 2017

Star Wars Celebration 2017 in Orlando was a memorable weekend full of news, trailers, and surprises. But between all the center stage fireworks, attendees could see Star Wars deepening its commitment to diversity. Here are some of the most important ways in which the convention celebrated more inclusive representation for gender and racial minorities.

1: To Us, She's Royalty

Celebration was the largest gathering of Star Wars fans since Carrie Fisher's death in December 2016, and her legacy touched the event from start to finish. The kick-off 40th Anniversary panel featured a moving video montage followed immediately by a surprise live performance of Princess Leia's theme by John Williams and the Orlando Symphony Orchestra. And if that didn't leave you completely emotionally devastated, Mark Hamill did his own intimate tribute to his friend and "space twin" on Friday evening that brought down the house.

These tributes paid homage to the iconic way that Fisher's unique combination of humor, wisdom, and courage inspired generations of dynamic female protagonists in science fiction and fantasy stories. Celebration's sustained commemoration of Fisher's life set the tone for a weekend full of female-positive reveals and imbued the entire conference with the sense that Fisher's legacy is at the forefront of Disney's vision for the franchise's future.

2: A Galaxy of Strong Female Characters Revealed

Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy, and panel moderator Josh Gad

Celebration panels dropped several upcoming titles or projects that continue the Disney-owned Lucasfilm's commitment to making female characters a focus. In fact, during the panel for The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy praised writer-director Rian Johnson for his ability to write bold, heroic female characters (presumably including General Organa and Rey).

Forces of Destiny character designs

Throughout the weekend, fans learned about upcoming novels focused on Captain Phasma and young Princess Leia. We also were introduced to Forces of Destiny, a series of young reader books, toys, and animated shorts featuring Star Wars heroines like Jyn Erso, Sabine Wren, and Rey.

Iden Versio, the protagonist of Battlefront II

One of the most explosive announcements came on Saturday afternoon at the Electronic Arts panel on the November 2017 release of the Battlefront II video game, in which the game's main protagonist is a woman of color named Iden Versio, and the panel assured fans that Versio's story will be canonical. A prequel novel by Christie Golden, out in July, will explore Versio's history as the cunning leader of an elite team of Imperial Stormtroopers.

One need not look hard, though, to find a vocal minority of mouth-breathers who had a predictably racist and misogynistic reaction to a non-sexualized and powerful female protagonist in a video game, so it's important to remember that increased representation does not necessarily equal increased acceptance throughout the fandom. Nevertheless, the franchise's commitment to balancing the dude-heavy roster of Star Wars characters with plenty of Strong Female Characters was on full display.

Ashley Eckstein, Tiya Sircar, Daisy Ridley, Dave Filoni, and moderator Amy Ratcliffe

In addition to these upcoming women-focused releases, Celebration's panel schedule included a Heroines of Star Wars panel. This session featured Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano, The Clone Wars) and Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren, Star Wars: Rebels) with a surprise visit from Daisy Ridley. Focusing panels and celebrity appearances on female heroes went a long way in emphasizing the rise of powerful female characters in Star Wars.

3: Race to the Stars

Kelly Marie Tran, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley at The Last Jedi panel

While racial diversity has traditionally not been a particularly strong point for the Star Wars franchise, Celebration certainly gave fans plenty of hope for more inclusivity. For example, it was a huge deal that Josh Gad, the emcee of the panel for The Last Jedi, described John Boyega's Finn as an iconic character equivalent to Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. A Black equivalent to two of the most widely-loved characters in all of genre film is certainly a milestone in the march towards more authentic racial representation.

A new character in The Last Jedi

People of Asian descent have also been underrepresented in media generally, but in particular by the Star Wars universe. Recall, for example, that the Neimoidian aliens of the Prequel Trilogy were coded as Asian by their problematic accents and behavior. But it looks as though Asians will have more positive representation in the Episode VIII: during the The Last Jedi panel, fans were introduced to Kelly Marie Tran, who plays a Resistance mechanic named Rose. The reveal included minimal information about Rose's role in the narrative, but Tran's in-person enthusiasm and excitement won over the audience.

4: Gays in Space

Although there are no immediate plans to introduce an openly gay character in a Star Wars film, LGBT fans certainly are stepping up their own visibility in the fandom. Podcasters from Tosche Station, including Brian Larsen, Shoshana Bailar, and Saf Davidson, were joined by other queer panelists for (the first ever?) LGBTQ+ in the Galaxy Far, Far Away panel on the first night of the con.

Attended by more than 100 fans both queer and straight, the panel covered incremental improvements in queer representation in books and comics, how representation matters to queer youth who look to fandoms like Star Wars for support and affirmation, and favorite queer Star Wars characters.

Naturally, the panel's consensus was that Sinjir Rath Velus from Chuck Wendig's Aftermath Trilogy is pretty much the best Star Wars character, period.

5: Diversity in Cosplay

The imaginative cosplay at this year's Celebration reflected an increasingly diverse selection of Star Wars characters as well as characters that were reimagined as a different race or gender. Here's just a tiny selection of some of the impressive (...most impressive) costumes:

Senator Pamlo, Rogue One

Princess Leia

A Rey-nbow of Star Wars characters

Sabine Wren, Rebels

The cutest R2-D2 and C3-PO ever

Crossplay Krennic cracks up at a fabulous Disco Mandolorian and Stormtrooper, a perfect summary of the Celebration experience.

The racial and gender diversity that infused this year's Star Wars Celebration made the event feel like a true celebration of inclusion and respect for minority members of the fandom. As we all recover from our weekend submerged in all things Star Wars, here's to hoping that the commitment to diversity continues to take root and that ultimately, the cinematic properties will reflect the realities of its LGBT fans.

Stephen T.'s picture
on April 19, 2017

So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb. -Dark Helmet