While Disney and Marvel Studios continue to struggle to find appropriate ways to diversify their white-male-dominated cinematic universe, another popular science fiction franchise is blasting full steam ahead into a future that's looking more and more diverse every day. Variety has just revealed that 35-year-old Mexican actor Diego Luna has been cast in Star Wars: Rogue One , the in-between-quel that will premiere in 2016, after this year's Episode VII and before 2017's Episode VIII.
Rogue One is the first in a series of planned spinoffs that will air in the off-years between installments of the new trilogy, and will be directed by Gareth Edwards (of the recent Godzilla reboot). It will actually take place during the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, focusing on a fleet of X-wing pilots and their mission to steal the blueprints to the Empire's new secret weapon... the Death Star. (The second anthology film, supposedly centered around bounty hunter Boba Fett and due out in 2018, recently made headlines when it lost its director, Fantastic Four 's Josh Trank.)
You may know Luna from his roles in films like Y tu mamá también, Milk, or Elysium. His casting is only the most recent in a series of exciting announcements. At the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim last month, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy promised the fans that the franchise will contain even more "really strong women" going forward — and she wasn't kidding around. Not only will Carrie Fisher be reprising her role as Princess Leia in The Force Awakens, but newcomer Daisy Ridley will star in the film as scavenger Rey. Other major supporting roles will be played by Game Of Thrones 's Gwendoline Christie and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Rogue One would feature a female lead, with producers considering such hot commodities as Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara. Ultimately, the role went to recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything), who's now joined by Diego Luna as the film's co-star. This is remarkable when you consider how male-centric both the previous Star Wars trilogies were, with Fisher and Natalie Portman having the only significant (token) female roles.
And an increase in roles for women isn't the only kind of diversification hitting this galaxy far, far away, either. Both The Force Awakens and Rogue One are showing a surprising range of ethnicities. Jones and Luna will be joined in their spinoff by Riz Ahmed, a 32-year-old British actor of Pakistani descent most famous for his role in Jake Gyllenhaal's Nightcrawler. In fact, the only white male on that film's cast list so far is Ben Mendelsohn (Netflix's Bloodline) as the villain. Over in The Force Awakens, the trio of main characters, along with Ridley's Rey, includes Oscar Isaac, who was born in Guatemala to a Cuban father and Guatemalan mother, as Poe, as well as John Boyega as Finn. Boyega, a 23-year-old British actor was born to two Nigerian parents, and first gained attention for his leading role in the 2011 sci-fi action-comedy Attack The Block.
It's notable that this news comes on the heels of backlash against Marvel for both the male actors' cavalier attitudes towards the franchise's most popular female character, as well as the lack of diversity behind the camera. (Reports claim that Marvel is seeking an African-American director to helm Black Panther and a female director for Captain Marvel. Why not hire a woman or a person of color to direct Thor: Ragnarok? Or Inhumans? Or the untitled Spider-Man film?)
To be fair, Star Wars could use some more diverse talent behind the camera as well. So far, every film in the franchise has been directed by a white man — including, most recently, J.J. Abrams, Gareth Edwards, and Rian Johnson (who will be directing Episode VIII). But the continued trend of casting a diverse array of actors like Luna to populate the onscreen universe will hopefully result in a trickle-down effect that will someday (soon?) reach behind-the-scenes as well.
Images: Joe Klamar, Jesse Grant/Getty Images