Skip to content Skip to navigation

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Blog

Other Blogs

What I Told You was True, from a Certain Point of View: EDI, Star Wars and the dominant voice

12 April 2023

6 mins

Unlike most other films, Star Wars has connected with its audience in a way that allows them to feel part of the story. George Lucas’ original story, focusing on the adventures of Luke Skywalker, was written in a way to allow fans to engage with and become part of the Star Wars universe. As the story develops, it has become a rich story of war, love, politics, and redemption. Coupled with the fact that it was the first franchise to develop an extensive toy line to allow youngsters to continue to engage with and develop the story, this places Star Wars in a unique position.

The depth and range of story allows for a rich corpus for use in the classroom. From my own teaching we approach Star Wars as Historians and Political Scientists covering issues such as how history and story-telling influenced George Lucas to issues on representation of power and populism in the films.

So, how does this link to Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity? The answer is Star Wars is a story. It has a dominant narrative through which we get to know about the characters and their backgrounds. The simplistic way in which the first six films are told causes us to become invested in the films. Just as Star Wars is a story told through a dominant voice, so too is history. History is not the past, but a story we tell ourselves about the past.

Therefore, as history is a story, it is somebody’s story. By extension, history is also not somebody’s story. With the rise of social history in the 1960s, historians have discussed the ‘whose voice’ question: Whose history do we tell? What happens if our history excludes groups? How do we add additional voices to the story? Should these additional voices supplement or change our history?

In Week 2, we watched A New Hope in class. Prior to the film screening, students were asked to read a piece by Will Brooker (‘Using the Force. Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans’) who observed a group of Star Wars fans watching The Empire Strikes Back. Using a mixture of sociology and anthropology, Brooker wrote up his observations about the dynamics within the group, how they communicated, and how they assigned worth to individual members. One point he raised was all members (apart from one female) were members of the “dominant group”.

As my students watched A New Hope, and based on the Brooker reading,they were given three questions to ponder. Their answers formed the basis of the seminar discussion:

  1. How would you characterise yourself? By gender, ethnicity, age, etc?
  2. To what extent did characterisation shape your “interpretation” (Ibid) of the film and how?
  3. On what aspects of the film did you focus and why? What does this focus say about who you are?

The interesting point about the first question was the group that struggled most to answer it (and this included me) was white male students. As they are part of a dominant group, they saw their story on the screen, so felt the question did not apply to them. The non-white, male students were more likely to identify themselves according to their race, ethnicity or gender: that is in opposition to the “dominant” voice. The lesson that most white male students learnt was this is how institutional discrimination can occur. Often this discrimination is not intentional, but it still exists. It may be a standard and accepted practice or language to you, but it is only standard as it reflects the dominant group. Imagine you are not in the dominant group? How would you respond? As members of a dominant group, we may not understand the issues that other groups have, therefore, do not see the relevance of EDI. However, this view does not remove the need for EDI initiatives nor, more importantly, does it make white men part of the problem.

Too often, at best EDI is seen as something that applies only to non-white men. At worst, it can be seen as something in opposition to white men. So, why should white men become part of the discussion? They are part of the problem, so other groups need to act in a way to change the system. What our discussion on how we view films showed, was twofold: firstly, it showed white, male students how stories become dominant and, by virtue of their dominance, can exclude other groups. Secondly, it suggested that all groups need to be shown the problem and, in a non-judgemental way, all groups need to be involved if any meaningful solutions are to be found. White men should not be made to feel guilt by association.

Having attended a recent Town Hall meeting with the Pro-Vice Chancellor for EDI, Professor Charlotte Croffie, one point that resonated was the idea that we learn to disagree well. We will not always agree, but we need to make EDI a space for discussion. It is about learning about others, what makes them who they are and how we can strive towards a society in which we can be what we want to be, free from barriers that may hold us back. We will make mistakes along the way, but we will learn from these mistakes. Some groups have less barriers to remove than others, but this should not mean these groups cannot be part of the discussion.

One of the many challenges is to show that EDI is for all groups. If you are fortunate enough to be part of the dominant voice, it is too easy to feel that you do not belong in the EDI space. However, if EDI is to prove successful and bring about meaningful changes in institutions and behaviours, all groups need to be involved. A big challenge here is to make all groups aware of how they fit into EDI. In our Star Wars discussions, members of the dominant group were shown to be part of the dominant group. For some, including me, this was quite a moment of self-realisation about who I was, but also about how others may see me. What we saw on the screen reflected who we were. Therefore, we had no need to define ourselves due to a particular characteristic.

What was powerful was just that: How as white men we do experience privilege. However, this privilege is often not consciously understood until it is shown. We did not create the systems, norms or values in place, but we benefit from them. While the benefits are there, we do not see them. We are taught in a particular way that benefits us. To make EDI inclusive maybe, to quote Yoda, we “must unlearn what you have learned.” As my Star Wars module shows, George Lucas’ story is a valuable corpus in which to learn about ourselves, our stories, and the people we want to be.

Dr Matthew McCullock

Senior Teacher in History and Politics

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Reflections, comments, discussion and opinion on EDI topics from Loughborough University staff and students

Scroll to Top