Star Wars and Liberating the Imagination of What Can Be

finn star warsMy nerd-meter went out of control on Sunday when I saw the poster for Star Wars: Episode VII finally be unveiled, and then later that night when the trailer was released. I won’t say how many times I watched the dang thing, but I can say I’m not sure there is an amount of Star Wars media you can consume until you become tired of it. At least for me, the limit did not exist.

We all have our relationship to Star Wars. I was 6 years old when my dad took me and my cousin to see the original trilogy as it was being shown in the local movie theaters. My mind was  blown by the remastered visual effects, but also by the world it was envisioning. Of course, I was drawn to Lando Calrissian, played by Billy D. Williams, because he happened to be black. At an early age, when black representation was still minimal, any chance I had of seeing someone who looked like me, I was drawn to them. But Lando wasn’t enough. Why couldn’t we have a black Jedi? Two years later I would see Samuel L. Jackson play Mace Windu, head of the Jedi Council. 

It would have been great to see more than just simple tokenism, but to witness a Jedi whose story took center stage and who also happened to look like me. When I would play Star Wars with my toys as a kid (a little embarrassing to admit, right now), I would imagine that world–a world where a black Jedi could be the main protagonist–because at that time, no such world existed. It was my way of coping with the lack of black representation in Hollywood and the world of science fiction. But for a moment, using that imagination could hurt, because actively envisioning such a world meant also acknowledging that a leading black Jedi would most likely never happen. It reminded me of what my own limitations in life would be. I didn’t know all the ways racism could manifest itself, but at 9 years old, all I needed to do was watch some of my most beloved movies to know my skin made me a sideline player.

When I watched the trailer, and when John Boyega, the black storm trooper turned Jedi, raised his blue light saber, it meant more than a nerding-out moment to me, it meant a childhood fantasy–one I never deemed could be a reality–transforming into something tangible.

That following morning I was awoken by the #BoycottStarWars tweets trending around the world. At this point, we all know it was trolls doing what trolls do best–riling up the masses–but when it comes to anti-black sentiments, it can never be just satirical. The damage has been done, once again, whether a joke or not, it shows us how cruel society can be. The idea that  black childhood dreams should be mocked, and our–black people’s–aspirations are somehow deemed deserving to be teased by online trends is enough to know we still aren’t there yet. We still haven’t reached a point where we don’t have to prove the merit of the leading protagonist because the world seems to think he got the gig due to tokenism.

But I will rest in the fact that I am not alone in welcoming new dreams. I will rest in the fact that an overwhelming defense shows that we are all attempting to envision my childhood world. I know there is a 9 year boy somewhere who looks like me who will see a Jedi who looks like him, and so he will imagine himself saving a galaxy far far away without attempting to think too hard, because it will be right in front of him.

Maybe we’ll get to a point where black kids will never have to realize and appreciate how science fiction should be a place to offer alternate realities freed from the oppressive forces their lives have perhaps been restrained to. But maybe I am thinking too wishful, and–for now–should just appreciate a black Jedi with a blue light saber on one of the biggest Hollywood franchises.

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