‘Star Wars’ takes a big step forward in casting diversity with ‘Rogue One’

With the D23 Expo casting announcement of Rogue One, the first Star Wars anthology film from Disney and LucasFilm, all eyes were on the newest actors to step into that galaxy far, far away. And it’s not because, well, Star Wars.

The Star Wars official website released the first photo of the Rogue One cast after making the announcement for those not at D23, with fans noticing one major thing about it: Aside from the previously announced Felicity Jones, none of the major players shown in their costumes are white.

Pictured in the photo are (from left to right) Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen, and Donnie Yen.

The rest of the star-studded cast includes Oscar-award winning actor Forest Whitaker, Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen, Firefly actor and perennial Disney favorite Alan Tudyk portraying a performance capture character, and Ben Mendelsohn, who do not appear in the cast photo.

Although Jones is currently the only woman cast in Rogue One so far, It’s a Star Wars trend started by The Force Awakens to bring more racial and gender diversity among those in front of the camera. The first six Star Wars films created endless wonders on-screen, but there were only a small number of women (Carrie Fisher, Natalie Portman) and people of color (Billy Dee Williams, Samuel L. Jackson) cast in major roles.

Many Star Wars fans already asked where the women were when the original Force Awakens casting announcement last April only included two: Fisher, returning as Leia, and then-virtual unknown Daisy Ridley, who’s playing Ren. However, John Boyega, who’s playing Finn (and portrayed even then as one of the film’s lead actors in the ensemble) was a welcome sight for those who called for more diversity.

And with the release of The Force Awakens poster at D23, we now know that Boyega’s character will wield a lightsaber, speaking wonders to Star Wars fans of all ages.

Further casting news brought even more gender and racial diversity: Game of Thrones’s Gwendoline Christie as the badass Captain Phasma, Lupita Nyong’o as a motion-capture character, and Crystal Clarke, who went through an open casting call. We’ve seen glimpses of Phasma, but we’ve yet to see Christie under the mask (and we might not at all in this film) and Nyong’o’s face won’t be seen because she’s playing an alien.

It’s a start, but the franchise can always do more. Where The Force Awakens lacks in diversity they make up for with more roles for women. For Rogue One, they have only one role for a woman while bringing more racial diversity to the table.

The diversity behind the the camera is another story. Disney confirmed that Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow will direct Star Wars: Episode IX during D23—becoming the latest white man to direct a Star Wars film. Previously announced were J.J. Abrams to direct The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards for Rogue One, Rian Johnson for Episode VIII, and The Lego Movie’s Christopher Miller and Phil Lord to take on the Han Solo Anthology film. With more diversity reflecting on film, the pressure to bring that behind it will only grow with each new development in these films.

Hopefully Rogue One’s future casting announcements will include more women into the diverse cast that will connect Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope—both in front of and behind the camera.

Photo via Disney | ABC Television Group/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.