Earlier this week, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry made some claims of racism in the Star Wars films that would cause even the most ardent social justice warrior to groan. While her claims that Darth Vader—voiced by James Earl Jones and clad in all black—only becomes good again when it’s revealed that he’s white are off base, the Star Wars franchise has endured claims of racism and sexism since the release of the 1977 original that certainly hold quite a bit of weight.
Matthew Monagle of Film School Rejects wrote a fascinating article based around an opinion piece titled “The Great White Void” that was published in the Los Angeles Times in July of 1977. Written by black actor Raymond St. Jacques, the piece “took issue with science fiction stories that refuse to acknowledge racial diversity.” According to Monagle’s article, the Times published “a wide selection of letters to the editor in response to St. Jacques’ piece.” The letters to the editor section was the 1977 equivalent to the comments section on a YouTube video, but it would appear a more elegant way of addressing disagreements for a more civilized age.
Screenwriter Robert E. Thompson chimed in on “The Great White Void” stating that he attempted to write both black and white characters, as did several readers who seemed to completely miss the point of St. Jacques’ piece asking why the Wookiee didn’t get a medal. (Just like a typical Facebook post in 2015.) One female reader, Linda Buzzell, noted not only of the lack of color in George Lucas’ space opera, but a lack of female faces and that Princess Leia is “only in a position of prominence in the story ‘because she’s somebody’s daughter.’”
It’s worth mentioning that St. Jacques had seen Star Wars five times. The actor didn’t want to boycott the film, as it would appear he enjoyed it just as much as the rest of America. St. Jacques simply felt that there were issues that he had with the film that needed to be brought to light. Forty years later, and the subject of race is still a touchy subject in the Star Wars franchise. There was a very small minority that took umbrage with John Boyega portraying a black First Order Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens, but those doofuses just have to get with the program because Star Wars looks different now. Star Wars truly is for everybody.