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Moses Ingram’s Reva is a big step forward for Black ‘Star Wars’ characters

By David Betancourt Washington Post

Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

It turns out being Black a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away can be just as stressful as it is here in the Milky Way.

The return of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, a momentous occasion of geektacular anticipation for fans, has been marred by the vitriol of online racist taunts.

Moses Ingram, who stars as Reva the Third Sister in Disney Plus’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series, revealed through social media in May that she received hundreds of hateful and racist messages after her ascension to canon in one of pop culture’s biggest sci-fi playgrounds.

There were threats. She was called a diversity hire. It was ugly.

The response from “Star Wars” was swift. Official social media accounts posted support of Ingram and denouncement of the messages, and called for patience to let the story of Reva unfold. Titular star Ewan McGregor posted a video of support for Ingram – and you know how ugly things are getting when the star of the show has to more or less say, “Don’t be racist,” before it barely has a chance to begin.

Fans of color, like me, can’t help but feel upset over the repetitiveness of such attacks. Kelly Marie Tran couldn’t escape them in the last theatrical trilogy.

This is what Mace Windu had his arm sliced off for? We can do better, people.

Black actors and other actors of color have always been a part of the “Star Wars” universe. Has it been perfect? No. But after some blunders, and after the racist attacks, Ingram’s central role over the six-episode series, which drops its finale Wednesday, has been the best kind of progress a fan of color could ask for. Once a lightsaber is in your hands, things get serious.

“Star Wars” has been plenty Black for a minute now – from the soulful swag of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in the original trilogy to the intimidating presence of Samuel L. Jackson’s Jedi Master Windu and his cooler-than-yours purple lightsaber in the prequels.

Are people’s ears deceiving them? Because the last time I checked, the creative nucleus of the “Star Wars” universe is Darth Vader. His humble beginnings. His legendary Jedi status. And his eventual fall to the Dark Side. But the man within the black machine is nothing without the Black voice that gives him his true power. It could be argued that the vocal talent of James Earl Jones is the most important force in the entire “Star Wars” universe – and just as integral in this new “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series as it was back in the 1970s and ’80s. No one delivers paternity results like Jones can. Not even Maury Povich.

Puerto Ricans have made their presence known in live-action and animated “Star Wars” worlds. Jimmy Smits is one of the most important dads in the galaxy as Princess Leia’s adoptive father Bail Organa in the prequels and “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Freddie Prinze Jr. voiced Jedi Kanan Jarrus on the animated “Star Wars” Rebels,” and Rosario Dawson (who has tweeted that she is “half Puerto Rican/Afro Cuban & half Irish/Native Indian”) is playing Ahsoka Tano in “The Mandalorian” and set to star in her own series soon.

It could be argued that the future of “Star Wars” is very much Latino. Just look at the recent Vanity Fair cover that featured McGregor, Dawson, Pedro Pascal (Chilean) and pending “Andor” star Diego Luna (Mexican).

And let’s not forget Temuera Morrison. The Indigenous New Zealander played Jango Fett and every clone trooper in the prequels and recently starred as Boba Fett in his own series.

But “Star Wars” made some missteps when it came to Black talent. John Boyega was a stormtrooper janitor and part of a cruel play-action fake in trailers that made it seem like he was the next big Jedi in the franchise. The grace, beauty and skill of Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o was tossed aside, and she got only a voice-over role of a CGI character. Jackson’s cool Jedi vibes were short-lived – he was Darth Vader fodder by “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”

Now, in this Obi-Wan series, Reva has a beautifully woven origin story that appears to be trying to make up for those missteps. She was a child training to be a Jedi who witnessed Anakin Skywalker fall to the Dark Side and kill younglings like herself. So she hates Anakin, but she also hates Obi-Wan for not protecting everyone from the rage of his once star pupil. That’s what makes her so compelling as she’s gone rogue – it’s impossible to see which side, if any, she is leaning toward.

This is the type of depth most Black characters in the “Star Wars” universe haven’t been afforded in the past. Reva as a child is the first face we see on camera in “Obi-Wan Kenobi” – a hint to her relevance in a show that many thought would be just the ultimate galactic rematch between master and student. We later see her grow into a hate-filled, vengeance-hunting tool of an evil empire, and we have one episode left to see whether she will seek redemption and return to the light side of the Force. The franchise’s errors of the past sting a little less when a character like Reva is allowed to live, breathe, make mistakes and atone.

The future of “Star Wars”, which now looks as bright as it has been, under the direction of Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, is just as much about the creation of new characters as it is holding on to the past. That’s how we ended up with new icons such as the Mandalorian and Grogu. And now Reva can be added to that list.

A Black woman’s revenge against Darth Vader just might be my favorite Star War. And I’ve been in this fandom for decades. It’s crazy how something can make you feel when you can see yourself front and center and not cast off to the side.

Reva could die the hero or the villain in the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” finale. Or she could live to see another day and show up on another series. If the latter happens, Lucasfilm will have to hope returning is something Ingram would even consider given what she’s been through.

No matter Ingram’s “Star Wars” future, Reva’s tale mattered. And the “Star Wars” universe is better because of it.

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