“There shouldn’t be a black guy in the new Star Wars movie. And on a separate note, Lando Calrissian should totally be in the new Star Wars movie.” The new Star Wars 7 trailer was intended to get people talking about the movie a year before its release, and it’s done precisely that – though perhaps not quite the kind of conversation that director JJ Abrams and company were expecting. Some viewers are suffering from a meltdown of logic which has them bending over backwards to explain why they disapprove of John Boyega being the first face to appear in the trailer – and some of it isn’t pretty.
The intention of the opening shot of the Star Wars 7 trailer is obvious enough: we’re supposed to be disturbed by the fact that, even thirty years after the Emperor is dead, there are still stormtroopers. What does it mean? Did the Empire survive after all? Were all those Jedi battles for naught? And why does this confused stormtrooper look like he just woke up from a trance? It’s a powerful opening statement, one which should cause fans to question everything that may have transpired since we last saw this universe in action. Instead, some folks can’t seem to get past the fact that there’s a black stormtrooper.
They’re arguing that because the stormtroopers were all Jango Fett clones, it breaks with Star Wars lore to suddenly see one who looks nothing like Fett. But these folks have their facts wrong, as that was only true in the prequels. By the time of the original trilogy, the stormtroopers were individual people who looked nothing like each other. We can pardon some fans for not recalling this. But it’s a bit odd that they’re going so far out of their way to claim to know why there can’t be a black stormtrooper, while inadvertently revealing that they have no knowledge of the topic.
In any case it’s even more odd that some of those same viewers trying to explain away their discomfort at the prominence of a black actor in the Star Wars 7 are simultaneously trying to make the case for why Billy Dee Williams should be in this movie. But then we suppose that’s different: Lando Calrissian is a beloved character who has already proven himself by rescuing his white friends; in the minds of white conservatives, that makes him plenty safe and trustable, while the new black guy most be met with instinctive disapproval (and explained away by whatever rationalizations necessary) unless and until he does something to ingratiate himself to white audiences.
It’s not a good look for those who have reacted this way to the trailer. If their racial instincts are this flawed when it comes to fictional films, must be worry that they’re inclined to react just as irrationally to racial situations in the real world? In any case it raises some issues in a year where race is already at the forefront of the American conversation. White conservatives instinctively accepted Samuel L Jackson as Made Windu in the prequels, but then again, by that time the actor was already considered safe by white audiences. Will they end up loving John Boyega’s character after he ends up saving Han Solo’s life in a bar fight or some other similar potential scenario? And after that, will they then claim to have always loved Boyega, just as they now claim to have always loved Billy Dee Williams? That remains to be seen, and disquieting as the reaction of some viewers has been, the benefit of the doubt is indeed necessary.
And then there are those unfortunate confused viewers who mistakenly believe that John Boyega is Lando Calrissian, a new actor portraying an old character Star Trek-style. But those folks have forgotten that Star Wars 7 is set decades after Return of the Jedi, with actors like Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill reprising their characters as senior citizens. If Lando is to make an appearance in the new trilogy, it’ll be Billy Dee Williams playing the role, and his appearance will be universally celebrated. Just don’t expect any viewers to admit that when he first made an appearance in Empire Strikes Back, they disapproved of him just as much as they disapprove of John Boyega in the new trailer.