Current Star Wars Movies 'Much More Mindful' of Diversity, Says Lucasfilm President

The initial cast photo for "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" showed a Star Wars movie that, while set on fictional worlds, looked like the real one. English actor Felicity Jones, who stars as Jyn Erso, was at the center of the image promoting the next film in the historically male-dominated franchise, alongside Diego Luna (from Mexico), Jiang Wen (from China), Donnie Yen (also Chinese) and Riz Ahmed (British of Pakistani descent).

"Rogue One" is actually the latest in a trend of increased representation in the Star Wars films, which started with last year's noticeably diverse "The Force Awakens." It's a noticeable change from both the original trilogy and the prequels, which -- aside from Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Padmé Amidala and Mace Windu -- predominantly featured white male characters and actors.

At Sunday's "Rogue One" press conference, CBR asked President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy about the importance of diversity in the upcoming standalone film, and in the Star Wars franchise in general -- with Kennedy indicating that beyond the importance of reflecting the world we live in, the realities of the global film market also makes increased representation a practical decision.

"I think it's incredibly important to Star Wars," Kennedy told CBR. "I think it's more important to the film industry in general. I think having a cast that represents and reflects the world today, and having characters that people can relate to all over the world -- this is very much a global industry. Films mean something to people all over the world."

The representation seen in "Rogue One" itself is intrinsic to the story itself, Kennedy said, with the wide-ranging cast reflecting the film's plot of a diverse group of Rebels banding together for the high-stakes mission of stealing the Death Star plans from the Empire.

"It was certainly important to this story," Kennedy said at Lucasfilm's San Francisco headquarters. "It lent itself very, very well. This was a group of people who come together in ways that are kind of inexplicable, but they show a very common belief, and they feel very strongly in their desire to do the right things. They work together incredibly well. Having that sense of diversity as people come together was really important to our story."

This type of change doesn't happen by accident, and while it remains to be seen what underrepresented groups will be seen next in a Star Wars film -- 2015's Aftermath" novel introduced the openly gay Sinjir Rath Velus, though a Star Wars character has yet to be identified as gay on screen -- Kennedy said that Lucasfilm is now "much more mindful" of diversity than in the past.

"Every movie has reasons for why you cast certain people, but I think what we're doing is today is just being much more mindful of that," Kennedy said. "I think it's important."

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" is scheduled for release on Dec. 16.

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