Carl Sagan Knew Star Wars Was Too White in the ’70s. This Isn’t New.
Star Wars first came out in 1977 and became a sensation that today seems obvious, but at the time was a huge thing for the film industry. Carl Sagan—the American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, etc.—in 1978 was asked what he thought about Star Wars on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, as the blog Kottke, by writer Jason Kottke, shared.
Sagan had some notes. He starts off with an explanation of the failures of science, which I think is really funny. There is something comforting in knowing that even before Twitter, the science people were looking at sci-fi movies and saying, “This doesn’t make any sense,” and finding a platform to say just that. Time is indeed a flat circle.
“The 11-year-old in me loved them but they could have made a better effort to to do things right. A lot of different aspects of things — Star Wars starts out saying it’s on some other galaxy and then you see there’s people,” he explained to Carson. “Starting in scene one there’s a problem, because human beings are the result of a unique evolutionary sequence based upon so many individually unlikely random events on the Earth.”
Sagan explained that evolutionary biologists have agreed that “if you started the Earth out again and just let those random factors operate you might wind up with beings that are as smart as us and as ethical and artistic and all the rest, but they would not be human beings. That’s for the Earth. So in another planet, different environment, very unlikely to have a human being.”
Then, the social justice warrior stuff came out: “[…] they’re all white. The skin of all the humans in Star Wars, oddly enough, is like this. And not even the other colors represented on the Earth at present, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.” He also mentioned that everyone in charge of the galaxy seemed to “look like us,” pointing out the fact that other than the voice of Darth Vader, it was a very white galaxy at the time.
Of course, that would slowly change with sequels and a slow introduction of more supporting players of color.
What I find very entertaining about this clip is just how normal it sounds. When these issues are brought up today, there is always an assumption of agenda, or that these are new talking points that were only crafted in order to make people angry or take something away from white men by some new movement. So now, we can all point to that, as early as 1978, Carl Sagan, noted smart white man, pointed out that Star Wars was hella white in a way that did not make sense even then. Point, SJWs.
(via Kottke, image: YouTube Screengrab)
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