The Real Reason Carl Sagan Called Star Wars Racist

The first "Star Wars"  movie came out in 1977 and despite how (or because of) it was much different from anything most viewers had ever seen, it has since become a lucrative franchise, with nine movies in the main Skywalker Saga, multiple spinoff films such as "Rogue One" and "Solo: A Star Wars Story," several live-action and animated television shows, and other forms of media. And we're only talking about the stuff that currently exists.

As is the case with any other super-popular intellectual property, "Star Wars" has faced its share of backlash in the 40-plus years since George Lucas first brought Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and other iconic characters from the franchise to life. Back in 2017, Lucas himself said that the first movie in the original trilogy (or "Episode IV — A New Hope," as it was later subtitled) was a "film for 12-year-olds." But decades before that, another prominent figure — astrophysicist Carl Sagan – had some pointed critiques to make about the film. While his comments about "A New Hope" possibly being racist were mostly forgotten through the passage of time, fans in recent years have discovered footage of him making these remarks and weighed in accordingly. But why, in specific, did Sagan feel "A New Hope" may have been a racist movie?

Sagan took issue with the 'all white' cast and the 'human chauvinism' in the storyline

During a 1978 episode of "The Tonight Show," Carl Sagan sat down with legendary host Johnny Carson to discuss various topics, most of them related to science. As "A New Hope" had just come out a year earlier and become a huge hit with viewers, it was inevitable that the two men eventually touched on the film. At that point, Sagan made the rather accurate observation (via YouTube) that the cast of "Star Wars" — or at least the cast members playing humans — was "all white."

"The skin of all the humans in Star Wars, oddly enough, is sort of like this [looking down at his hands], and not even the other colors represented on the Earth, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges," Sagan added, doubling down on his earlier comments.

After Carson, who seemingly didn't know how to respond at first, explained that "Star Wars" also features aliens who look different from each other, Sagan noted that none of them "seemed to be in charge of the galaxy." While the famed scientist eventually acknowledged that the child in him still appreciated the movie, for the most part, he also called out the "human chauvinism" that was supposedly present, as well as what he felt was a lack of scientific accuracy. It was only then that the audience really broke out of its momentary, yet awkward silence and started laughing along with Sagan's observations and Carson's reactions to them.

Star Wars is far more inclusive now, but fan racism is still an issue

At the time of Carl Sagan's interview with Johnny Carson, there was only one "Star Wars" film, and only one Black actor of note who contributed to the franchise — James Earl Jones, who voiced but did not physically play Darth Vader. As shown on the movie's IMDb page, Jones wasn't even credited for his role, despite how his distinctive booming voice was likely recognizable to many viewers. Since then, there have been many other people of color who have gone on to appear in "Star Wars," including Black actors Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), John Boyega (Finn), and Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata). Donald Glover, best known for his roles in "Community" and "Atlanta" and his rap career as Childish Gambino, also joined the franchise fairly recently, playing Lando in 2018's "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Sagan, who died in 1996, would have most likely been happy to see a more inclusive "Star Wars," had he been alive to see everything from 1999's "The Phantom Menace" onward. Unfortunately, the point he was trying to make is still oftentimes lost on the franchise's fans, many of whom were unhappy with the idea of a Black actor (Boyega as Finn) playing such a major role in "The Force Awakens" in 2015 (via Vanity Fair). These fans took to social media to post racist hashtags and call for a boycott of the movie, with some even going as far as to send Boyega death threats, as he revealed to the publication.