Talking about Star Wars, its casting choices and storylines is like jumping into a yawning Sarlacc pit on the hottest day in the desert planet of Tatooine. The cardinal rule is, unless you have some energy to spare, don’t bother arguing about any of it in the fandom, lest you awaken the beast. From gatekeeping newcomer fans, unaddressed ‘fridging’ problems to dubious choices of white brunette heroines, going in on an empty mental tank is a surefire way to leave you exhausted in fandom discussions. 

That said, I have a burning question to ask the showrunners, echoed in the fandom: where are the non-human leads in Star Wars films? In a franchise that prides itself in telling stories from a galaxy far, far away, surely by now we can expect non-humans to be front and center on movie posters at every other wall? It’s been over 40 years since A New Hope, and I’m weary of seeing Jedi humans and lightsabers as a Deux-ex-machina prop when things get sticky for other characters. It’s time for non-humans to take center stage and I’m about to tell you why.

The case for non-human leads

Non-human characters have populated every corner of the galaxy and are central to the larger tapestry of the Star Wars universe. In the original trilogy, we get to see Ewoks in the forest planet of Endor and Hoth, the icy planet introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. The prequel trilogy saw even more planets and the creatures that inhabit them for worldbuilding, such as the underwater city of Otoh Gunga run by the Gungans in Naboo, and the aquatic planet of Kamino where Obi-Wan Kenobi first fought Jango Fett, which was missing from the Jedi archives.

Yet, we only get glimpses of these worlds, and they are often nothing but strange backdrops where human lead characters end up in trouble with the enemy. Presenting new environments and creatures without fully developing them into the film storylines seems like a waste, especially if we compare it with the story arcs in canon animated series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels.

Having a non-human lead character in the films will open the doors to uncharted homeworlds, species, cultures, and languages that were previously unexplored in human-centric trilogies that we’ve been shoved with. While the Star Wars movies still have a long way to go on this front, the franchise’s animated and live-action series has made great strides in advancing this premise.

This is most prominent in The Clone Wars, the brainchild of George Lucas and Dave Filoni, arguably the best writer the franchise has ever seen. The series witnessed planets populated by non-humans such as the Twi’leks’ planet of Ryloth, and Dathomir, home to the witch-like species of the Nightsisters. The stories set in these locations contain important arcs that embellish the overall narrative of the prequel trilogy. We’ve seen Huttese spoken among bounty hunters in The Mandalorian and in the films; it’s high time that a new language is introduced on the Star Wars silver screen. Having a non-human lead who is a Twi’lek, a Togruta, a Zabrak or a Devaronian might achieve just that. 

Another problem of having human-centric narratives in the films is the sidelining of non-human characters, who mainly serve only to further the growth of their human counterparts. Characters like Master Yoda, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO all assist in the bildungsroman of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, but they do not receive the same screen time or character arc as the main leads in the original trilogy. The same can be said for the prequel and sequel trilogies, where new non-human characters are barely memorable. Maz Kanata or BB-8 isn’t exactly the first to come to mind when we talk about the sequels, especially with pitiable screen times they both received in the films.

Relegating non-human characters as sidekicks also misses out a key point hinted in the Star Wars canon—the theme of marginalization and systemic oppression at the hands of humans. Time and again, we see non-human characters as being expendable and subservient to humans. For instance, female Twi’leks are often exported off-world as slaves, such as Oola, a dancer at Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Tatooine. 

Darth Maul’s backstory revealed in the Clone Wars and the comic series Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir explores themes such as childhood abuse and trauma, and how these engender cycles of hatred exploited by Chancellor Palpatine in his goal towards becoming Darth Sidious. With that in mind, having non-humans leading insurrections in films might prove to be even more relatable than the story of human heroes we’ve been fed with in the last four decades, especially concerning the current global political climate filled with global uprisings amid a pandemic. 

However, things seem to be looking up with the announcement of new films and live-action series by the franchise. Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins is set to direct Rogue Squadron, a new film focusing on starfighter pilots in the galaxy. A Taika Waititi film that is yet to be named will follow suit, among many others. Most importantly, we will finally get a new series centered solely on Ahsoka Tano, a beloved character whose growth has been witnessed by fans since her early years as a young Padawan to Anakin Skywalker.

This will be the first non-human character leading a Star Wars series, and I’m hoping for a glimpse into the Togruta species’ homeworld of Shili and other unknown planets. If the success of The Mandalorian is any indication, we can expect good things on the horizon, and more fandom debates to come. Meanwhile, let’s hope one of the upcoming films announced will feature non-humans in the limelight. It’s been far too long.

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  • Thira Mohamad

    Thira Mohamad is a writer based in her seaside hometown of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. She has lived and studied in Toronto, where she found her love of writing, poetry, and grassroots community work. When not busy battling tropical allergies, Thira dabbles in literary translation, teaches poetry workshops, and mulls over the unwritten manuscript of her first book. She loves coffee, and Star Wars even more.

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