The diversity of the cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been a hot topic on the Internet, bringing to the surface some ugly racism present in the fan community. One aspect of the film in particular that attracted nasty comments was the casting of John Boyega as a stormtrooper, a controversy Boyega did not shy away from in a recent interview alongside costar Daisy Ridley.
From the very first trailers it was apparent that Boyega plays a prominent role in the film. His character Finn starts out as a stormtrooper but undergoes an "epic journey" that lands him on the side of the good guys. Ridley plays the seemingly humble role of Rey, a "scavenger in a ship graveyard" on the desert planet Jakku.
Speaking to EW, both actors talked about the depth to their characters and how they're not just stereotypes but three-dimensional and nuanced. Boyega touched on the subject and backlash to Finn, and was confident about the role that Star Wars: The Force Awakens could play in the new landscape of cinema.
"We see through the eyes of children that they’re not talking about race the way we grown folks are. They’re not talking about color or how much melanin is in someone’s skin. That should teach us something... We've been having a continuous struggle with idiots, and now we should just force them to understand – and I love the way I just used Force there, by the way – just force people to see this is the new world. There are loads of people of different shades and backgrounds. Get used to it."
Boyega, who in the past has dismissed critics of his role in the film, also spoke about Finn's character arc - which promises to be very interesting since the leap from stormtrooper to a member of the Resistance is pretty substantial.
"It’s about looking for a greater purpose, rather than thinking ‘this is the only thing I can do.' He wants to change. He wants to make a difference. He’s trying to find some kind of moral dignity in this war."
Ridley was equally enthusiastic about Rey and spoke about her fierce independence:
"There was no one really guiding her. She’s never sat around a table and had a meal with someone else. She has a boss, she has someone to answer to, she has to trade the junk for food, and that’s how it has to be. She works to feed herself, and she goes to sleep, and she gets up again. It is a sad life."
According to Ridley, she and Boyega knew what they would be getting into ahead of time in playing Star Wars characters who were not white men.
“John and I had a conversation last year and we both knew that was how it was going to be. He was going to be the black guy and I was going to be the girl. I think neither of those things could ever be a bad thing.”
That The Force Awakens has generated any controversy simply by having more diverse lead roles than in past films is an unfortunate reminder of the worst that the Internet commentariat has to offer. For Ridley, though, the hope is that everyone will find something to like in her character. “My main thing is that people connect with her, regardless of gender, color, age."
With talented and enthusiastic actors such as Boyega and Ridley on board, hopefully critics and audiences will find their characters as interesting and engaging as the actors do.
Star Wars: 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.