Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: A Tribute To The Asians In Star Wars
Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Among my collection is a shelf I have dedicated to the Asians that have appeared in Star Wars. Growing up, I always wanted to see myself in a galaxy far, far away, but, with the exception of one spot which I'll get into in a bit, that galaxy would stay a little less diverse for decades. So, I thought I'd write a tribute to the Asians in the Star Wars universe. Yes, I know that Asia is a continent on Earth, but, for lack of a better way to describe these characters, we will refer to them as Asians.
While there have been Asians who've played aliens and stormtroopers and other characters who's faces are not shown, the only character to be specifically to look Asian in the first two trilogies was a character named Lieutenant Gureni Telsij played by Eiji Kusuhara who appears in the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. Piloting a Y-Wing, he screams "There's too many of them" before he gets shot.
It's a brief moment, but a monumental moment for Asian Star Wars fans everywhere.
Really, it wasn't until Disney bought Lucasfilm did we begin to see the diversity of the universe bloom. I don't know if it's because of Disney or because, as a society, we have grown and become more enlightened about these things. Probably a little of both.
Perhaps the first Asian main character in the Star Wars universe is Sabine Wren from Star Wars: Rebels. Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo seemingly confirmed that she is of Asian descent. Tiya Sicar, Sabine's voice, is also of South Asian descent.
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we do see a group of Asian marauders called Kanjiklub who invade Han Solo's cargo ship. It's not a lot to write home about. Still, I was excited to see them.
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we are introduced to two amazing characters named Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). They were Guardians of the Whills, monks of a religious order that worshiped the Force. While Baze becomes disenchanted with the movement, Chirrut always remains faithful to the idea that he is one with the Force. The two join Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor on their mission to infiltrate Scarif and retrieve the information vital to the survival of the rebellion. They are two of my favorite Star Wars characters not just because they're Asian, but because they are fantastic characters that I want to know more about.
Then, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we see Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and her sister Paige (Veronica Ngo). Sadly, Paige dies in the opening moments of the film as she bought some time during the Resistance escape from D'Qar by exploding her ship and taking out a Star Destroyer. A heroic act indeed. Rose goes on to join the Resistance and aids Finn in an unauthorized mission to find a master codebreaker to aid them. Unfortunately, they are deceived and end up in the possession of the First Order until they are rescued by Rey. By Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Rose has risen in the ranks almost becoming a right hand to General Leia herself.
Kelly Marie Tran gets the notable distinction of not only being the first female Asian American leading character in the live action Star Wars universe, but the first woman of color. There is a lot to celebrate in that, but, sadly, she received a great deal of hate from a small but vocal group of so-called Star Wars fans. Whether this played into her diminished role in The Rise of Skywalker, we'll never know. But, I thought she was a great character and would like to see more of.
In the animated show Star Wars: Resistance, we have Kazuda "Kaz" Xiono (Christopher Sean) who is a hot shot pilot that gets recruited by Poe Dameron into the Resistance. He spends his time spying on the First Order on the Colossus and areas around there. Christopher Sean, Kaz's voice and who's mother is of Japanese descent, acknowledged being the first Asian American lead in Star Wars. I guess that would depend on how you define "lead," but Kaz really is the "main" character of the series. So I get why he would say this. Anyway, it's pretty cool that Lucasfilm actually sought out an Asian American voice actor for the role.
In the comics world, Marvel published a book called Doctor Aphra featuring an Asian woman. Aphra is an archaeologist with questionable scruples who finds herself often in the employ of Darth Vader himself. SyFy Wire has described her as a "Queer Woman of Color." No matter what, she has quickly become one of the most fascinating characters in the Star Wars universe because she has so many layers. Many would love to see her introduced into the live action world. The book is a great comic and well worth the read.
Finally, we are introduced to Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) in The Mandalorian on Disney+. Shand is a mercenary who's bounty is put on her head. The Mandalorian is "recruited" by a rookie bounty hunter named Toro Calican to help him capture her. But, Calican leaves her for dead in the Dune Sea when she convinces him that The Mandalorian would be a better capture for him. While we think she is dead, we did see some mysterious person come to her aid and there are rumors that Shand will return for season two. So, let's cross our fingers.
With Disney+ coming out with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Cassian Andor series and skies the limit as to where we go in the movies, we can only hope that this is just the beginning of seeing Asian faces in Star Wars. Here's to all the pioneers. May we always remember their contributions.