Though we live in a more progressive society these days, the topic of race and film casting remains a hot button issue in the industry. One only has to look at the vitriol and controversy generated by Michael B. Jordan playing the Human Torch in this summer's Fantastic Four reboot to see how some feel about diversity in Hollywood tentpoles. A section of filmgoers feel moves like this are nothing but political correctness plays by the studios (as opposed to finding the right actor for the role).
John Boyega, one of the leads of the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was at the receiving end of some unflattering comments when the film's first teaser trailer came out last fall. Enough people took issue with the fact that J.J. Abrams was depicting a man of color as a First Order stormtrooper - which they felt went against the Star Wars tradition of an army of "white clones" - for Boyega to take a moment to address his critics head on.
Speaking with V Magazine, the actor called the reaction "unnecessary" and told those against his casting that it's time to get over it. His comments are very reminiscent of Jordan's thoughts on the same matter in the months leading up to Fantastic Four's release:
“I’m in the movie, what are you going to do about it? You either enjoy it or you don’t. I’m not saying get used to the future, but what is already happening. People of color and women are increasingly being shown on-screen. For things to be whitewashed just doesn’t make sense."
It is a little surprising that there was such a firestorm once Boyega's Finn was shown in stormtrooper armor. It has never once been even vaguely hinted in series canon that all members of the Imperial army are of the same ethnicity. In addition, the claim that the prequels illustrated how the Empire's infantry was designed to be all-white clones is incorrect. Temuera Morrison, the actor who played bounty hunter Jango Fett (the basis for the Republic's clone army), is a New Zealand born thespian of partial Maori descent. So, even the original stormtroopers were not 100 percent Caucasian.
Furthermore, it makes narrative sense for there to be a variety of people serving in the First Order in The Force Awakens. Not only was the Empire most likely recruiting from the general population during the events of the classic trilogy, a period of roughly 53 years have passed between the events of Revenge of the Sith (the last confirmed period of a 100 percent clone army) and The Force Awakens. It's implausible that the First Order's ranks would consist entirely of Jango Fett clones - given that their age would render them useless in a widespread conflict. Logic would dictate training new combatants at an Academy to gain new forces.
The bottom line here, is that Boyega's skin color is completely irrelevant to The Force Awakens and larger Star Wars lore. His casting is not going against any previously established franchise mythology, and it seems to be based solely on Abrams' feeling that Boyega was right for the part. Consider that on the reported shortlist for the Finn role, Boyega beat out competition such as Jesse Plemons and Ed Speleers (both white actors). There certainly doesn't appear to be some kind of "nefarious" agenda at play here, just a search for the most talented performers.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Source: V Magazine