A ‘New Hope’
The first scene in the teaser trailer for the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, is one that some fans did not expect to see: The camera opens on a desert landscape, then suddenly an out-of-breath character played by John Boyega jumps into the frame.
Many fans beefed with the brief sequence because the relatively unknown Boyega is black and was dressed as a Stormtrooper, one of an infinite squad that the Star Wars mythology posits are footsoldiers cloned from Jango Fett (Boba’s dad), a character played by Maori actor Temuera Morrison. Even more shamefully, some fans were upset with the sequence because Boyega is black and his character Finn, is ostensibly one of the main characters in The Force Awakens, the newest film in a movie franchise dominated almost entirely by white on-screen protagonists.
Greensboro cosplayer Kenya Thompson knows the myopic and sometimes overtly racist fanboy criticisms that Boyega faces all too well. An African-American costume designer and nerd entrepreneur who grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and comic book superheroes, she has taken flack at fan conventions in the past for cosplaying as characters who are white or male. She accomplishes both with her most polished cosplay inspired by Star Wars — the young, morally flawed Star Wars prequel hero Anakin Skywalker, who was played by Hayden Christensen in the films.
Thompson: People don’t like it when things aren’t the way that they think it should be, and Star Wars fans are both the best fans and the worst fans in the world. They can be the worst, because some can be very picky about what they want to see and what they want to experience. They get comfortable.
And I think because Star Wars fans can be so set in their ways, the Star Wars franchise as a whole has become stagnant, almost to the point of death.
According to Thompson, the addition of a black male leading character into the Star Wars cinematic cannon will inject new life into the film series as well as embolden young children of color who might have previously felt shut out by mainstream genre films.
Thompson: Having young kids, particularly African-American or kids of color in general, to have someone to look at and say, ‘Oh my God, he’s going through this struggle!’ And then in real life, face an obstacle or something that they have to deal with, they will be able to say, ‘Well you know what? If Finn can do it, I can do it.’ So that very positive reinforcement I think will be great.
With new characters and story backed by an all-new creative team that includes producer Kathleen Kennedy and Star Trek and “Lost” director JJ Abrams, even Johnson, the self-described “first fan” of Star Wars cannot help but be excited.
Johnson: Kathy Kennedy and JJ Abrams are going to do an amazing film. I have no doubt in my mind that what is coming is going to be one of the best, and I’ve already said this in print, it might be the best Star Wars movie. And that’s a big claim, but I actually believe its possible that it might be the best.
As for older fans like Exum who felt burned by the less-than-spectacular prequels, if they had to sum up their expectations for The Force Awakens in one word, that would most certainly have to be “redemption.”
Exum: I want to be excited about the Star Wars movies again. I want them to be something that sparks a new generation of young people to get into science fiction and science fantasy. Bare minimum, that’s what I want.