I’m a decently big Star Wars fan, so of course I was hyped about Episode VII: The Force Awakens back in 2015. Unlike most other fans, however, I vowed early on to stay away from every trailer, interview and press release that the internet would throw at me. I wanted to go into the new chapter of Star Wars completely blind, and let it overwhelm me like the original must have overwhelmed audiences in 1977.
The internet being the internet, I inevitably had the basics spoiled for me. I learned that the upcoming film would feature a young, white, female desert-dweller named Rey; a black, male, rogue stormtrooper named Finn; an adorably bulbous droid; and a mysterious, robed villain named Kylo Ren. That, and the return of the senior heroic trio: Luke, Leia and Han. But I refused to learn more than that. And in my ascetic ignorance, the hype grew. Then December came, and posters for the new multi-million space opera popped up all over town. When the release date was only weeks away, a burning question suddenly formed in my mind.
Where is the main character?
Like I said, I knew about Finn and Rey, but where was the white, male protagonist? The Caucasian boy, who would undoubtedly discover Force powers under the tutelage of Luke and Leia, exchange quips and piloting advice with Han, and ultimately lead his sidekicks Finn and Rey to victory over Kylo Ren? Where was the hero, the guy, the person who looked like me? Why didn’t I see his pale, handsome, 20-something face in the middle of the poster?
A few moments later, I understood. Rey and Finn were the heroes. The film didn’t center around a white man for once, but a white woman and a black man. I was pleased by the realization, being a supporter of diversity in blockbusters. But I was also disturbed, that I had gone so long believing that the woman and black man were mere supporting characters. Everything I knew about the film pointed towards them being the leads, but I was so used to seeing white men spotlighted in my entertainment, that I had convinced myself that one would dominate The Force Awakens as well. It didn’t matter that I had liked Rey and Finn from the start; since one of them lacked Y-chromosomes, and the other was a person of color, the idea of them being the main characters felt odd. My subconscious had resisted it, choosing instead to wait for a white man to identify with.
I saw the movie on Boxing Day (I said I was a decently big Star Wars fan, so I didn’t bother to secure tickets to the premiere), and enjoyed it. Finn, Rey, and the other heroes were the best part of it (the villains felt comparatively underdeveloped), and of course I had no trouble identifying with any of them, even though most weren’t white men like me. My subconscious had fretted over absolutely nothing (I know, what else is new).
So why am I telling you this story today? Well, honestly, I’ve been meaning to explain my philosophy in greater detail on here, and I find that this unexciting Star Wars anecdote exemplifies it perfectly. It illustrates what I think it means to be progressive. So many opponents of the ideology seem to think it’s about wallowing in guilt, hating yourself for possessing any kind of privilege. But it’s not. It’s about scrutinizing yourself. Being aware that your thoughts and actions are, to an extent, molded by the injustice inherent in society. I didn’t feel like a sexist or racist person for having assumed that Finn and Rey weren’t the main characters of The Force Awakens. But I did admit that said assumption was a manifestation of the structural sexism and racism that lingered in my subconscious. I identified the harmful idea in my mind, resolved to counteract it in the future, and then moved on with my life, happy to have learned something new. That is, in my opinion, what it means to be progressive.