Jedi: Fallen Order is widely considered one of the best Star Wars games ever made, but it still falls victim to many of the tired tropes of the franchise. A former Respawn developer has revealed, via Twitter, that the team originally wanted the protagonist of Jedi: Fallen Order to be black and/or a woman. That idea was apparently quickly shot down at the studio, and the cis-gendered white male Cal Kestis was created as the player character. This revelation highlights a depressing trend that continues to wrack both video games and the Star Wars series in general — and one that quickly needs to change.
According to Nora Shramek, a former lighting artist at Respawn, the proposal for a black or female protagonist was shot down for a couple of different reasons. “We already have 2 black people in the game. Rey is a woman & we can't do that too,” writes Shramek. Past that, Shramek also described an alleged experience of racist commentary, with an undisclosed persona saying, “I think all the black people need to have more glossy skin because black people have more oily skin than other people.”
All of this is troubling, to say the least, but it’s not new for the Star Wars series. Consider how the sequel trilogy totally squandered Finn.
Even the character’s actor, John Boyega, has criticized Disney, saying that the company had no idea what to do with Finn. “What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are, and then have them pushed to the side,” said Boyega. “It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.” Finn wielded a lightsaber in The Force Awakens, which was included in much of the film’s marketing material. And yet he wasn’t confirmed as Force Sensitive until late in Rise of Skywalker — when it was narratively meaningless.
Boyega’s thoughts are indicative of not only Star Wars but pop culture at large, which still has an overwhelming focus on white male heroes. Star Wars has even received criticism over the lack of diversity in its creators. A 2018 Variety report calculated that 96 percent of its film universe writers and directors were white men.
Jedi: Fallen Order falls right in the middle of all of this, as one of the major criticisms of the game was how generic and bland Cal Kestis feels as a character. Even worse, the two women of color characters are relegated to a disgraced mentor and a villain. At face value, there’s nothing wrong with these characters, but in light of Shramek’s story, it certainly looks worse. Instead of doing something new and interesting in terms of a hero, Jedi: Fallen Order upholds a bland status quo.
While video games are making small strides in diversity, it still feels like you see dozens of white heroes for anyone of different ethnicity. Nathan Drake, Commander Shepard, Ethan Winters, the list goes on and on. Cal Kestis is especially frustrating when other creators are trying to make Star Wars much more inclusive and diverse. The High Republic setting has put a focus on introducing heroes of color and LGBTQ characters, even introducing the first non-binary Jedi.
With a sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order reportedly in the works, it could be a chance to introduce more meaningful diversity, new playable characters, or any other number of additions. There's a lot of change that needs to happen in the gaming industry, not the least of which is the diversity of characters and experiences in AAA gaming.