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‘Star Wars’: 96% of Its Film Universe Writers and Directors Are White Men

I love the “Star Wars” movies. I adored “The Last Jedi” and cried during almost all of Carrie Fisher’s scenes. I’m a fan of the other recent “Star Wars” films as well, and watching the first George Lucas space adventure back in 1977 — in a second-run theater with wooden floors — is one of the formative experiences of my childhood. I was transported into the stars, and in some ways, I never came back.

But loving something doesn’t mean you ignore its flaws. In fact, if you’re a critic, you’re not doing your job if you fail to comment on the patterns you see. 

The “Star Wars” tapestry is now 41 years old, with 17 theatrical films (released or planned) forming the backbone of the franchise. By my count, during those four decades, 24 people were hired to direct, write or otherwise take the creative lead on “Star Wars” feature films.

Twenty-three of those key creators were white men. The sole exception is Leigh Brackett, a white woman who had a screenplay credit on “The Empire Strikes Back,” which came out 38 years ago.

Otherwise, no men of color, women of color or white women have held these positions. The franchise’s leading creative voices have been white men 96% of the time. 

That’s shocking, and it has to change.

Forgive me for being blunt, but General Organa taught me to face problems head on, not politely avoid them.

Has the “Star Wars” franchise made strides in the kinds of characters it showcases in its tentpole films? Absolutely. Is the whole enchilada run by a woman? Yes, I’m aware of that. But I’m not sure what’s stopping Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy from hiring any of the talented, hungry and skilled men and women of color and white women who have “Star Wars” stories to tell. 

I honestly don’t care what the justification is for failing to make the “Star Wars” writer and director rosters truly inclusive; in the many years I’ve reported on these kinds of topics, I’ve heard every rationale and they’re all frankly lame. The Force is not strong in these defenders of the status quo — and honestly, it sure seems like some of the people who make the “Star Wars” films actually agree with me.

Rian Johnson, after all, made a film about how part of growing up is letting go of the way things used to be. “The Last Jedi” introduced a crop of flawed but well-intentioned heroes, who have more or less taken the place of the warriors and rebels who fought before them. Those new characters come in all colors and genders, and Johnson, Kennedy and J.J. Abrams — the first to put out a “Star Wars” film with a female protagonist — deserve a lot of credit for that.

But it’s not enough.

More needs to be done. And we’re way, way past the point where anyone can say that non-white, non-male filmmakers and writers aren’t ready to make this kind of big-budget extravaganza. “Wonder Woman” cleaned up at the box office, and “Black Panther” has shredded pre-opening ticket-sales records. Most of F. Gary Gray and Justin Lin’s films have been commercially successful, crowd-pleasing hits. Ava DuVernay was able to attract A-list talent to “A Wrinkle in Time,” and will do so again for anything she makes down the road. Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Dee Rees, Michelle MacLaren, Rick Famuyiwa, Mimi Leder, Shonda Rhimes, Rachel Talalay and Gina Prince-Bythewood are just a few of the creative minds that could be writing, directing or shepherding stories in the “Star Wars” universe. Most of them have been ready to do so for years, if not decades.

So when the news broke today that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the “Game of Thrones” showrunners, had been handed one of the choicest assignments in the entertainment industry — leading a trio of planned “Star Wars” films — I had a few reservations.

On “Game of Thrones,” at times they’ve given women great material, but they’ve also repeatedly mishandled female storylines in problematic ways. The constant and cliched use of sexual violence has been the biggest and most frustrating stumbling block in the HBO drama’s history. And for the most part, “Game of Thrones” has focused on the journeys and interior lives of white characters. If they import some of those patterns into the universe George Lucas created, I may start a rebellion of my own.

Of course, many aspects of “Game of Thrones” have been fantastic. When the show is on its A game, it’s transfixing. And I understand why the large media conglomerate that owns Lucasfilm went this way: The guys who skillfully combined character drama and CGI dragons were going to be the obvious hires.

But I can’t help but thinking of something Carey Mulligan said in a recent Variety interview: “If Dee Rees was a white man she’d be directing the next ‘Star Wars,’ she’d be nominated for an Oscar without question.”

She’s right.

After 41 years, where is a “Star Wars” film directed by an African-American woman? By an Asian man? By a Mexican-American woman who grew up riding her bike past the legendary Skywalker Ranch? Why can’t we see those visions of the Force and the Dark Side? 

The “Star Wars” franchise is not just healthy — it’s positively robust. It makes a mint for its corporate masters. There’s no reason not to open up the roster of creative talent to the wide array of voices and visions in Hollywood. There’s no reason to be stuck with mindsets that originated a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

THE MATH

In the last 41 years, 24 people have been hired to be writers, directors or creative leaders of 17 “Star Wars” films. Not all of them stayed throughout the entire production. Of those hires:

23 were white men.

1 was a white woman.

0 were women of color.

0 were men of color.

“Star Wars” (1977)

Writer*: George Lucas
Director: George Lucas

“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

Writers: Leigh Brackett (white woman), Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

Director: Irvin Kershner

“Return of the Jedi” (1983)

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

Director: Richard Marquand

“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” (1999)

Writer: George Lucas

Director: George Lucas

“Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” (2002)

Writers: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

Director: George Lucas

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (2005)

Writer: George Lucas

Director: George Lucas

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, J.J. Abrams

Director: J.J. Abrams

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016)

Writers: John Knoll, Gary Whitta, Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy

Director: Gareth Edwards

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)

Writer: Rian Johnson

Director: Rian Johnson

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” (2018)

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan

Directors*: Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Ron Howard [*directing credit not final]

“Star Wars: Episode IX” (2019)

Writers: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Jack Thorne [prior writers]

Writers (since Trevorrow departed as writer/director): J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio

Director: J.J. Abrams

Future “Star Wars” trio of films:

Creative leader: Rian Johnson

Future “Star Wars” trio of films:

Creative leaders: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

[*Writer =  anyone who has received a screenplay or story credit.]

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