Sidekick, co-pilot, buddy, amigo, accomplice, consort…through all the years of Star Wars the aliens we’ve encountered in this vast galaxy have all fallen under one of these categories. In fact, in the 40 years of Star Wars screen media we have yet to see an alien/non-human character take the lead in either the big or small screen formats. That’s 11 films and counting (13 if you include The Clone Wars and the Star Wars Holiday Special) and over 240 episodes of Star Wars TV shows where the leads have been human.
Sure, we’ve been close a few times. Chewbacca certainly has got his share of screen time over the years, Ahsoka Tano played a major part in both The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels TV series’, and even more recently Rebels gave us the great Twi’Lek Hera Syndulla. But even in the case of Hera, while immensely popular, the star of the show and the point of view of which the story is told is through the eyes of human Ezra Bridger.
But what about greats such Jedi Master Yoda, Jedi Master Plo Koon, Darth Maul and Asajj Ventress? And what about those loveable droids such as C-3PO and R2-D2 who have literally been in every feature length film to date? Nope, background characters, mentors and sidekicks.
We now find ourselves in a bit of a migration period however. With two new non-Skywalker feature length trilogies planned and two new TV series that we know of, with rumors of a third, Lucasfilm has the chance to check every box when it comes to diversity both in front of and behind the camera. They have the facilities, the infrastructure and the money to write any story they want and hire any person who’s available, but will they?
With the recent announcement of Jon Favreau heading up a new live-action TV series, Kathleen Kennedy had this to say regarding the prospects for the show…
“This series will allow Jon the chance to work with a diverse group of writers and directors and give Lucasfilm the opportunity the build a robust talent base.”
This announcement, which came on International Women’s Day, was ill-timed to say the least but to play devil’s advocate it coincided with Disney’s annual shareholder’s meeting where these types of announcements are generally made by CEO Bob Iger. For his part Favreau, who himself has yet to work with any female leads, writers or directors, is certainly well aware of the fan base and its strong desire to see Star Wars give everyone a shot regardless of their background.
So, whether Kennedy is spouting lip-service or not remains to be seen but to point out the obvious, this is dealing with what’s behind the camera, not in front of it. To be fair, Lucasfilm has led the industry when it comes to diversity on screen as we’ve seen female leads and persons of color receiving juicy roles, especially in the last few years. It still doesn’t address the issue of whether we’ll see a non-human lead in any future on-screen projects. And with no information about casting, characters or plot with regards to the upcoming projects, we are left with the thought that this non-human issue won’t be fixed any time soon.
Technology, which used to be a hindrance, certainly isn’t to blame anymore. The advancements in motion capture technology, in particular by companies like Weta Digital and of course Industrial Light & Magic, have made the impossible seem possible. Just look at films such as War for the Planet of the Apes and Star Wars: The Last Jedi which gave us incredible on screen transformations, both from Andy Serkis, that show the audience having an alien or non-human on-screen is no longer just a person in a foam suit. Additionally, standard visual effects have progressed leaps and bounds so it seems a director’s vision, no matter how far out there, is limited only by their imaginations.
With so many fan favorite characters being animated, this technological age removes the dilemma of not being able to cast the voice actors, whose performances have come to define these characters. And again, Lucasfilm is not in the backseat when it comes to employing uber-realistic visual and digital effects, they are often the leaders in the field and have been since the beginning. So, we’ve got the knowhow, the funding and the support from the higher ups. But what about interesting and compelling non-human characters? Are there any out there that could capture the imagination of the audience and allow them to emotionally connect in a way traditional human leads have?
In a galaxy home to thousands of alien species surely the talented group at Lucasfilm can write a leading role from one of these, right? If Wall-E can easily carry an entire film by himself, don’t tell me mega popular characters such as Ahsoka Tano or Hera Syndulla cannot. After all, aliens have been part of Star Wars from the very get go, starting with the Mos Eisley cantina scene which alone introduced us to 26 plus alien races. Yes, xenomorphs are here and in greater numbers. So why are the majority of the characters on screen still humans in a universe chalked full of non-humans?
Star Wars, and more specific, the rebel alliance, is supposed to be an inclusive group comprised of and appealing more to the disenfranchised and down trodden. Whether it’s an act of altruism, a militarily strategic necessity or a combination of both, any and all species are generally welcome. This of course purposely plays opposite to the Empire whose xenophobic nationalist brand of politics infects their protocols and often determines the entire make-up of their rank and file. And yes, to reiterate, we do see plenty of non-humans on screen, but the point is with the abundance of species available and the Rebel Alliance’s open door policy, there must be a heroic leading alien story mixed in there somewhere.
Rian Johnson, Jon Favreau, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are free from the storytelling restraints of the Skywalker saga and can draw from any number of already conceived stories or characters within the huge library of Star Wars. If they were to go with a non-human lead, would they decide to go with canon favorites such as Ahsoka Tano, Hera Syndulla or Maz Kanata? Or would they branch out and go to the Expanded Universe to look for inspiration? That era is full of popular and intriguing non-human characters such as Bothan Borsk Fey’lya and Falleen Prince Xizor, and if they choose could simply just tap into the Knights of the Old Republic for ideas.
We can guess that from a marketing and accessibility standpoint, whichever species they would choose to build a story around, at a minimum would be humanoid and most definitely speak basic. Lucky for us in a galaxy that has a variety of species from Twi’Leks to Zabraks to Togrutans, there’s plenty to choose from. Sorry Ithorian fans.
Something on the horizon is of course the next Star Wars animated series, again being supervised by Dave Filoni. While he has yet to announce the details surrounding that series, its a good bet it will center on the adventures of Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren as they search the galaxy for their friend Ezra Bridger. If that's the case then the Togrutan would at least be considered a co-lead but for obvious reasons, animation is more flexible when it comes to how it depicts its characters. And that would most certainly kill any chance of seeing a live-action Ahsoka Tano on screen whether it be film or TV.
Till next time…MTFBWY.
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