Real Allyship or Cynical Ploy: On Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm’s Modern Politics

During the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the spring and summer of 2020, actor John Boyega made headlines by bluntly stating that Lucasfilm and Disney mismanaged the Star Wars sequel trilogy, especially in its portrayal of actors of colour like Boyega himself and his co-star Kelly Marie Tran. More recently, the news broke that actress Gina Carano had been fired from The Mandalorian. Fans had been calling for Carano’s firing since before the second season premiered due to Twitter posts which had expressed transphobic views and the ridicule of being “politically correct”. Lucasfilm and Disney made no comments at that time, though her co-star, actor Pedro Pascal, said he had “explained things to her” and fans such as myself thus had some hope that the situation had been resolved, and that Carano had seen the error of her ways. Yet Carano quickly disabused people of that notion by continuing to make highly problematic and deeply offensive social media posts. Now the small but vocal segment of the Star Wars fandom that aligns with right-wing populism is pouring their outrage on “cancel culture” in protest of Carano’s firing.

As a long-time fan of Star Wars novels and comics, I feel it’s important to take a look at Marvel and Lucasfilm’s firing of author Chuck Wendig in 2018. You can find one of the many articles written at the time here: https://www.vulture.com/2018/10/why-did-marvel-fire-star-wars-comics-writer-chuck-wendig.html

Wendig is well-known for the introducing an openly homosexual main protagonist in his Aftermath trilogy which enraged a small but vocal segment of the Star Wars fandom in 2015. Wendig was known for not pulling his punches, and his Twitter feed contained some quite strong and explicit language with those who expressed openly homophobic views towards him. In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Wendig posted another such post on Twitter which was addressed to the GOP as a whole. It was this Tweet which drew enough public media attention and scrutiny that Wendig lost his role on a planned Star Wars Marvel comic miniseries, and has never been hired by Lucasfilm since.

This all raises the question of where the sympathies of Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm. The Star Wars saga has long been debated by interpreters with people across the political spectrum claiming it supports their views. George Lucas himself is not always the most reliable narrator on the logic and conception of the saga–but his most consistent sympathies have been far more aligned with the type of interdependence, collective responsibility, anti-authoritarian and socialist views of the political left. The original trilogy and prequel trilogy are certainly not the most balanced media portrayals in terms of representation–but discerning fans have long been drawn to the messages therein as logically extending to people of all backgrounds and identities. Lucas then, was not afraid to focus scrutiny on the “good guys” of the USA and to question whether the USA was, in fact, as “good” as it claimed to be. Considering the Cold War context of the original trilogy and the inspiration of Nixon’s administration towards the character of Emperor Palpatine and Galactic Empire, this was nothing short of radical–and indeed, well within the tradition of Star Trek in its use of science fiction/fantasy as a way to get around censors and comment on sociopolitical concerns.

Now, the question must be asked: does Lucasfilm maintain that commitment to truth-telling, or does it favor a more moderate and centrist political stance in these times? When Wendig was fired, the question of whether it was his politics, vulgarity or both that got him fired was raised; now, with Carano likewise being fired, it seems that the question is solidly answered. Carano and Wendig are opposites politically, but they both reached a threshold of attention that could not be ignored. Their firing was not a result of strong political ideals, but a desire to “ride the middle” and not “rock the boat”. This is deeply concerning, because that desire takes away much of the power of Star Wars. Perhaps that is also part of the reason the Star Wars sequel trilogy failed to resonate for many quite as much as the previous films by Lucas.

Of course, it is difficult to say how much of a say Lucasfilm itself had in some of these cases, as opposed to Disney and Marvel, respectively. Yet Star Wars must remain a place to question the status quo and move towards greater equality, interdependence, and resistance to those who would oppress others. Otherwise, the oft-voiced criticism of Star Wars being mere “popcorn entertainment” will become valid, and that would be a great shame indeed.

Published by Devin Hogg

My name is Devin Hogg. I was born and raised in Carnarvon, Ontario, Canada. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2009 for university and lived here ever since. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV and movies, going on long walks, swimming, and practicing Chen style Tai Chi. I love to write poetry and blog regularly about topics such as mental health, sci-fi/fantasy series, faith, sexuality, and politics.

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