The Black Storm (Trooper) in a Teacup

If you recognise him, consider yourself a sci-fi nerd with good observation. He played the lead character in the horror-comedy Attack the Block. theatlantic.com

Sorry about that truly terrible pun, but I must confess to being genuinely perplexed when I heard about the #blackstormtrooper controversy this morning. I had to dig around to find out just what people were complaining about. My first thought when I saw the trailer last week was “ooh, he’s wearing Stormtrooper armour”, my second was “I recognise him”, my third “is that Tatooine?”, my fourth “I wonder what’s startled him?”

Black? Yes of course I noticed, but I didn’t and do not care beyond thinking I recognised him, and it certainly did not jar me. I’m still not certain what the controversy is about, but I think it is largely two things: firstly that the Stormtroopers are clones of Jango Fett and he looks nothing like that Maori bloke that used to be on Shortland Street, and secondly that a racist government such as The Empire would never employ blacks at any level.

For me, the first hypothesis is a bit of a grey area. Firstly, though we know the Clone Troopers of episode II-III were clones, we do not know with any certainty that the Stormtroopers of IV, V and VI were also clones. The later books take it to the worlds still under imperial control and shows the Empire’s recruiting process – not clones, these were individuals. I am satisfied having read most of the books that Stormtroopers are not and were never intended to be clones.

The second has many problems. Firstly, and this is something that is fairly clear in the films and made much clearer in the later books, is that the Empire’s “racism” applies to non-humans – racism in the truest sense of the word. “Human”, “Dolphin” and “Chimpanzee” are races as the original word was intended, “White”, “Asian” and “Black” are not. There is no suggestion that The Empire divided humans according to colour and ethnicity.

Humanoid but not human… Grand Admiral Thrawn. starwars.wikia.com

From this perspective, it is perfectly reasonable that black-skinned human beings – and recognised as humans by the racist Empire – would have been welcomed into the Imperial Armed Forces. The fact that we do not see many black characters in the higher military roles of episodes IV, V and VI is a reflection of our social attitudes (especially those of the 1970s and early 1980s when these films were made), and not theirs.

Non-humans did make their way up through the ranks occasionally. Admiral Thrawn is one of the most recognisable characters to fans of the extended universe. He did not appear in eps I-VI but was so prevalent in the books, the graphic novels and video games (see left). If a blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss could rise to become the Emperor’s most trusted military advisers and one of his top commanders, then there’s no reason a dark-skinned human could not become a Stormtrooper.

Let’s take it at face value for a moment… for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the Empire was anti non-white during the peak of its power. There is the first problem there – they are most likely no longer at the peak of their power and can no longer be as picky as they once were. They wouldn’t be picky when it came to conscripts and remember, we never see beneath the helmet of a single Stormtrooper. Alternatively, perhaps this Stormtrooper is the exception to the rule like a black slave trader or a working class Tory voter.

The above only deals with the arguments that assume this man is a Stormtrooper and not on the side of the New Republic (or whatever it will be called in these new films). Like Luke and Han in episode IV, it could be a disguise. We’ll have to find out when it is released next year.

I want to wish John Boyega all the best. I thought he was great in Attack the Block and I’m pleased his talent is being recognised with a big screen outing.

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7 thoughts on “The Black Storm (Trooper) in a Teacup

  1. I never saw Attack the Block but am thinking that I need to go back and watch it. As for the ‘controversy’, well, the interwebs are a great place for unfiltered idiocy. At least that’s what I tell myself as I try to remain philosophical about bigoted trolls.

    And in the end their idiocy has no bearing on my excitement. That teaser trailer was amazing.

  2. Yes I heard that there’d been a controversy over the fact that there was a black actor in the trailer. Not sure if it pertained to the stormtrooper context or if it was a broader racism. I haven’t read the books and not seen eps II or III, so I could be missing something there.

    Anyway.

    My thought process when I saw the trailer, roughly, as I recall:
    Ah a black stormtrooper.
    Unusual.
    A black baddie? You don’t see that much. Could be almost seminal actually.
    Hm, maybe he’s a good guy in disguise.
    Maybe he turns over to the good side. That’d be cool.
    Ok he might just be a baddie. Huh maybe stormtroopers have always been black and we just assumed they were white because of racial bias etc?
    But he looks distressed, why would the teaser bother showing a baddie in distress?
    Hmm I reckon he’ll be a goodie – in the end at least. Maybe love interest for the leading lady.
    Hm. He’s cute.
    Ohh it’d be great to see more about stormtroopers from a different perspective.
    MAYBE THEY ALWAYS MISS ON PURPOSE?!

    Why is she flying on a giant Magnum lolly?

    Wow this film’s gonna be good.

    1. I haven’t read the books and not seen eps II or III, so I could be missing something there.

      Ah so you wouldn’t have met the clone troopers or Jango Fett. At no point though does it make it clear that the Clone Troopers are Storm Troopers and there’s no evidence to suggest they are. Sure, the armour is similar but that’s about it.

      Hm, maybe he’s a good guy in disguise.

      But he looks distressed, why would the teaser bother showing a baddie in distress?

      I think you’re right here. Otherwise, why show a Stormtrooper with his helmet off? If they wanted to go for the “oooh, Stormtroopers” they’d have shown a whole regiment in full armour. Last night, I amused myself with the possibility that he’s Lando Calrissian’s son and is probably a spy or something.

  3. Yes I also thought he might be related to Lando but not sure if I like the idea or not (sort of having a small bit of diversity in the films and then detracting from that by making the characters related, if you see what I mean?)
    I’m thinking that the female lead will be Leia’s daughter (continuing the dynasty of ballsy women!) and the guy in the fighter plane could easily be Luke’s son, so it’d sort of make sense to make it a new generation again.

    And yes, why show a stormtrooper with his helmet off? He’s got to be a major player.

    I’d hoped that the voiceover was James Earl Jones (sounded like him to me) but nope, it’s Andy Serkis. I might’ve known, there is sort of a rule about him being in epic trilogies now isn’t there? 😉

    1. I get what you mean about Lando. Of course it will need new characters but judging by how many ancestors appeared in ep I-III I kind of expect quite a few.

      I’m thinking that the female lead will be Leia’s daughter (continuing the dynasty of ballsy women!) and the guy in the fighter plane could easily be Luke’s son,

      I don’t think I am ever going to get over the fact that it won’t follow or reference any of the follow up books. It’s going to jar a lot of people who will expect to see certain events play out – such as Han and Leia having twins and Luke meeting a character called Mara Jade with whom he has children. It’ll be great if they did appear, but I’m not expecting it.

      it’s Andy Serkis. I might’ve known, there is sort of a rule about him being in epic trilogies now isn’t there? 😉

      I think it’s a new UN law that came in in 2002 😉

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