We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Star Wars original trilogy movies (Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi).
(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)
- Episode IV: A New Hope: Luke Skywalker, Owen, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Tarkin, Princess Leia, Beru
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: General Rieekan, Admiral Piett, Emperor Palpatine, Lando Calrissian
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:
If the absence of major characters like Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Yoda seems strange, see below.
In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:
- I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
- The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
- For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
- For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
- I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate. “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
- There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.
Corrections and suggestions welcome.
Chart by Erik Jensen
In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.