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The Hue (and Cry) of Stormtroopers

Temuera Morrison

Well, this is amusing, if only because it highlights the parochialism that reigns supreme in SFF. The first trailer of Star Wars 7 just appeared, and a character in it (played by actor John Boyega, who’s black) is shown wearing a stormtrooper uniform; the rumor is that he is in fact a stormtrooper who defects to the Good Guys. People pointed out that stormtroopers are clones and the person who served as the template was Jango Fett — played by well-known Maori actor Temuera Morrison.

Cue the cries of racism, because people are saying that a stormtrooper cannot be black unless the bioengineers developed multiple lines from independent templates. Never mind that Morrison is rather obviously non-white.

Now everyone in THIS galaxy knows I detested Star Wars for reasons explained in We Must Love One Another or Die. So I don’t much care about the logic of a plot that will undoubtedly be as well thought-out as that of the rest of the franchise. However, I must state for the record that people who argue that stormtroopers (as Fett clones) cannot be black aren’t racists. They just, you know, watched Star Wars 1 through 6 and know enough science to be aware that clones usually look like their prototype (although that has the usual nuances if one wants to inject real biology into the equation, something also unknown in Star Wars).

Even more importantly, people should consider the question of why stormtroopers, who are disposable fighting machines bred for obedience, are non-white. The human characters of Star Wars were actually racially diverse; nevertheless, all the primary heroic roles still went to the customary demographic group — though at least the lone female figure in each trilogy was a brunette (we’ll take whatever we can get, even pathetic crumbs).

ETA: A commenter brought up the fact that Star Wars hews to the traditional dark/light split (and value assignment) of many mythologies and religions. Currently, such dualisms may feed into racist assumptions. However, I think the original division arose because humans are diurnal, whereas their predators were almost entirely nocturnal until technology made this issue irrelevant. Before the advent of electric lighting, humans feared and respected the Night. But like almost everything, Star Wars deploys this ancient behavioral mode with zero nuance — a huge waste, because the best stories and characters develop in the ever-shifting shadowy realms between Light and Dark.

Image: Temuera Morrison

26 Responses to “The Hue (and Cry) of Stormtroopers”

  1. Adam says:

    Having just watched the trailer and being a fan for 37 years, I don’t get the grizzling. After the Clone Wars I don’t think the Empire stocked the ranks with just clones, but maybe only because in Episode IV, Obi-Wan and Luke talk of “the Clone Wars” was something in the hoary past. As for the Race angle, really? Are we so petty?

  2. Athena says:

    Yes, Adam, the Empire had non-stormtoopers in its military but they didn’t wear that uniform. As for race issues in SFF, have you been in a silently running nuclear submarine?

  3. Calvin says:

    It’s also possible Boyega knocked out a stormtrooper and put on his uniform, just like Han and Luke did in the first one, er, episode IV, whatever. I’m sure you were just too weary of this nonsense to point that out.

    Your last paragraph, of course, is the crucial one.

  4. Athena says:

    I was planning to outline that alternative, except that I read he IS a bona fide stormtrooper. Mind you, rumors swirl around films like this and it may be that Boyega’s character has stolen the uniform to escape notice. But as you say, much of the “critiquing” consists of swallowing camels and dissecting gnats.

  5. Calvin says:

    Or maybe the previous set of clones all died from some fungus–much like the Cavendish variety of bananas, also clones, are dying from fungus, and the Gros Michel variety before it–and this is a *new* set of clones. Just like bananas.

    Alas, I doubt the filmmakers are that thoughtful….

  6. Athena says:

    Nah, as long as Lucas sells enough lunchboxes, why care about the rest? More seriously, clonal lines could get weaker but Star Wars has had zero science and is unlikely to start now.

  7. Asakiyume says:

    The thing that preoccupied me after watching the trailer was the whole dark-side/light-side paradigm, which has racist overtones if you do the equation physical darkness=metaphysical darkness=bad. But even their dualism they were doing wrong, because dualist systems generally admit that you need both aspects (even if they denigrate one side), and you need them in some sort of balance, but the trailer seemed to be equating the dark side with imbalance, which, guys, no. You’re doing your metaphysics as bad as your biology.

  8. Asakiyume says:

    (Heh, let’s make that either “You’re doing your metaphysics as BADLY as your biology” or “You’re as bad at metaphysics as you are at biology.”)

  9. Athena says:

    Light and darkness co-exist in mythological and metaphysical schemes. I think the early fundamental division and value assignment didn’t come from racism but from the fact that humans are diurnal, whereas their main predators are nocturnal (before technology made the issue irrelevant). Until the advent of electric lights, humans respected and feared the Night.

    But what depth or nuance were we expecting from people who have read only Campbell, and probably only a Cliff notes version of him on top of that?

  10. Athena says:

    Understood! *laughs*

  11. delagar says:

    “…people who have read only Campbell, and probably only a Cliff notes version of him on top of that?”


  12. Athena says:

    Lucas, Cameron, Abrams (and, to a fair extent, Nolan) have become the Walmart of mythic film.

  13. Esebian says:

    Did you have to look up the name of Morrison’s character? If not, kudos for keeping enough attention during that borefest to remember Lucas’ pulp names.

    Any bets Boyega will be the only major non-default of the new series?

  14. Athena says:

    Well, Lucas names are frankly embarassing. “Jango Fett” I remembered because of the biological and ethical issues swirling around the cloned soldiers. But I concur that Boyega may be the only major non-default in this round. Personally, I have zero interest in the revival of the Jedi, so it’s entirely possible I’ll skip the coming trilogy altogether.

  15. Zarpaulus says:

    Well, it never actually stated that the stormtroopers of the original trilogy were clones. And the ones who had fought in the Clone Wars would be the equivalent of pushing 60 with their accelerated aging. Not to mention that their progenitor is dead and cloning clones has its own issues.

    Most of the books and comics and video games, etc, assumed that most stormtroopers were naturally born humans who enlisted or were drafted for some reason.

  16. Athena says:

    Books, comics and videos are not canon but offshoots — and we’re discussing continuity within the films themselves, which showed stormtroopers to be clones (otherwise they wouldn’t obey as they did). In any case, the focus is not on nitpicking but on weak logic struts. Not that I was much for canon, mind.

  17. stevenjohnson says:

    I haven’t seen the trailer. Maybe it’s just me, but what immediately struck me as problematic about this is that there are storm troopers of any sort. I rather thought the empire was supposed to have been defeated thirty one years ago. If they’ve been revived so the movie can look like the original trilogy, it’s an exercise in retro. But if “midichlorians” ruined the prequel trilogy by being sciencey, why try to get all sciencey about clone coloration?

    (For what it’s worth, I rather tend to think that jamming the past into your scifi operates directly opposes the very notion that Things Might Be Different…which for me is the underlying appeal of the stuff in the first place. It’s sort of like writing a mystery novel without a crime.)

  18. Athena says:

    Well, some things aren’t made better by change. Prominent example: Abrams blowing up Vulcan in the Star Trek reboot. Terribly impoverishing narrative choice.

    Likewise making the stormtroopers “any sort” removes one of the few interesting premises (and ethical issues) in Star Wars. Ditto if “anyone” can become a Jedi. In fact, the Order took kids with potential from their families the way the Ottomans collected boys to become janissaries (and, less told, girls to become odalisques). So in this case, such a change would make the narrative more generic. As for the midichlorian idea, it wasn’t bad as a selection premise — it was just inconsistently and not too intelligently applied, then abandoned, as was the case with a lot of shiny toys in Star Wars.

  19. Esebian says:

    Maybe they’ve taken cues from the so-called Expanded Universe (=offshoot media) where the outside writers they brought on board quite sensibly pointed out a galaxy-spanning empire doesn’t just vanish from one day to the next only because the head honcho did. That way they could follow along historical precedence in the post-OT novels with warlords quarelling over the remains, successor states emerging, etc. And now the powers that be declared all that non-canon. Welp.

    But the most likely reason is that Star Wars is simply a reactionary fairy tale set in space (well, “space” as in Lensmen-era caricature of strange, foreign lands). The setting is not allowed to move on. There always has to be a strictly dualistic evil antagonist of Nazi stand-ins to provide the prescribed conflict for the movie writers’ paint-by-numbers stories.

  20. Athena says:

    To paraphrase Tom Lehrer: “If we sell more lunchboxes, who cares about plot holes?” (or anything else, for that matter, except CGI)

  21. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Well, I saw the trailer, and it looks like a fairly earnest CGI-laden effort at selling more lunchboxes – the trailer doesn’t even hint at a plot. But with JJ Abrams at the helm, what can we really expect? 😀

    humans are diurnal, whereas their predators were almost entirely nocturnal until technology made this issue irrelevant.

    Until you are cornered by the Alien!

    On a more serious note, I think that the imagination of current Hollywood SF is becoming ever more impoverished. We have endless reboots and remakes and recycling of the same old messianic plots and what not – with the added element of plenty of CGI to mask the lackluster storytelling.

    For example, I have not seen Cameron’s AVATAR because I could almost map, scene for scene, the animated kid’s movie Ferngully, The Last Rainforest to the trailer. I kid you not.

  22. Athena says:

    Yes, nothing avails against the Alien!

    And I couldn’t agree more with you about the reboots. Abrams, in particular, has a black thumb.

  23. intrigued_scribe says:

    But like almost everything, Star Wars deploys this ancient behavioral mode with zero nuance — a huge waste, because the best stories and characters develop in the ever-shifting shadowy realms between Light and Dark.


    That in mind, the trailer hints at everything I’ve come to expect from the franchise – loads of CGI, little substance.

  24. Athena says:

    I cannot imagine why directors with the clout of Lucas and Cameron continue to choose the single-note path… it’s depressing to consider that maybe that approach is what gave (and continues to give) them such clout.

  25. Jay says:

    Maybe the Empire realized that Jango Fett clones couldn’t hit a protagonist at five paces with ten clips worth of ammo, so they cloned a better shooter for the next batches?

  26. Athena says:

    I stopped caring about the “logic” of Star Wars a decade ago, myself.