By Elena Karimi
Have you guys noticed the buzz surrounding Star Wars, The Last Jedi lately? Apparently, some Star Wars fans have become skeptical about the new kind of diversity in Star Wars. They may not be many, but they have made sufficient noise. On the 15th of December 2017, The Wire ran an article stating that Star Wars: The Last Jedi Will Bother Some People. The sentiment has been repeated in the media and some people have been bothered greatly. Unfortunately, the best aspect of Star Wars, diversity, is ironically being used against it.
Star Wars has always been one of my favorite franchises due to the diverse life introduced from the beginning. It caught my attention and retained it. By diversity, I don’t mean humans, I mean all the types of diversity that can be mixed together to make things exciting. Women, men, young, old, different skin colors, different sexual orientations, and different origins, etc. A black man from Kenya is not representation for all black men, because he could never adequately represent a black man from the Bahamas or Surinam, for example. Star Wars’ diversity has been exemplary – creature wise – Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, Jabba the Hutt and his crew of creatures, Yoda the wise and the smart adorable BB-8. In The Last Jedi, the Lanais, Thala-sirens, Fathiers and the Vulptices were introduced. All these creatures and droids have been referred to as amazing, fantastic creatures. But, as soon as John Boyega removed that trooper helmet and showed his black mutt, it became a humongous issue.
The whistles and drums were out to announce danger and gloom, the end of the great wars. According to the doomsayers and cynics, diversity was literally killing a billion-dollar business although most objective studies have found that diversity is good for business. Note: I have not even got to mentioning the insidious Darth and the sinister Snoke and all his minions.
Most things that happen around me remind me of Kenya so it is no surprise that the Star Wars buzz reminds me of tourists coming to Kenya. I grew up hearing how resilient we Kenyans were. Brave, industrious and entrepreneurial. Generous and hospitable. Good tempered and fun loving, making lemonade from all lemons left behind by the travelers, the occupiers, the democracy vendors, the religion traders and the civilization experts. At 18, I started working at a Tourist Agency in Nairobi and most tourists were in Kenya shortly, sometimes, for less than a month. In addition to the feedback form, I would ask every tourist that came through our travel agency about their experiences with the Kenyan people. Mostly, all I heard was high praise for the animals. The geography and geology since both the Equator and the Rift Valley run through the country. The exceptional flamingoes, the incredibly blue waters and the white sands of the Indian ocean etc.
It took me four years to understand that the Kenyan people were invisible in most tourists’ eyes. Except when they did something wrong, something negative. How dare they interrupt the reverie? They were robbers, hence Nairobery. They were poor, hence aid. They were promiscuous and sexually irresponsible, hence HIV and AIDS. Corrupt, therefore, they deserved the corrupt government. Ignorant and un-strategic, therefore electing the wrong leaders. Loose morals, therefore prostitution. Violent, hence unrest during and after every election. You name it, the Kenyan people were it, just not the positive stuff though. Well, except the Maasais who were beautiful! Almost comparable to the lions and leopards. I am digressing.
My point is, Maz is a Maasai. [Spoiler Alert]. In a costume, an attire, a mask and in The Last Jedi, she is shoved into an extraterrestrial glass bowl. Her brief appearance makes it easier to miss her. This is how Maz can be so fantastic, adored and Finn, well, not. I am a Maz and Lupita fan, don’t get me wrong! Of the over 20 human characters in Last Jedi, there are only four persons that qualify to be pushed into the diversity needle-eye: Finn, Rose, Paige and Maz. When Lupita joined the Star Wars franchise, I barely knew she was there. The silence was deafening, except on her Instagram and Twitter. No trolls, no complaints, no drama, no indignation and no tantrums. Maybe because her face and skin were hidden behind Maz Kanata, The Good Diversity is the invisible diversity. “It’s there, you just don’t see it.”
Thankfully, as of 30th December, the Last Jedi has raked in almost 1 million dollars, making it one of the highest grossing earners of 2017. Diversity may, after all, have saved Star Wars. I am very excited by Benicio Del Toro’s presence in the Last Jedi and hopefully, the rebels or the empire will keep him. All my wet dreams start and end with Benicio’s presence. Oh, sorry, I mean Idris Elba. Anywhere, anytime.