This Week in Nerd Rage: Rex is Not in RETURN OF THE JEDI

Welcome to This Week in Nerd Rage, the weekly column where I rant about whatever news pissed me off the most this week.

This week—well, just yesterday actually—Star Wars fandom was rocked by yet another earth-shattering controversy. Except not really. Except the fact that there could’ve been a controversy means there really was one. But in the end it turned out that people were arguing over nothing. Look, this situation is pretty classic Star Wars fandom, so bear with me here.

The fracas all started when Clone Wars and Rebels writer Steven Melching posted a tweet with this picture:

with the caption, “This is happening”, seemingly confirming what at that point had only been one of a million fan theories: that the old white dude you see in like two shots of Return of the Jedi was actually Clone Trooper Captain Rex, a role originated by Māori actor Temuera Morrison in the prequels, and voiced in animation by Dee Bradley Baker.

Let’s get all the facts out up front. Melching later deleted that tweet, and explained that he was just referencing a fan theory he thought was funny and not actually confirming that Lucasfilm was now saying that Rex is in RotJ. So, since nothing actually changed, there was nothing to actually get worked up over, but in the hours between Melching’s original tweet and his clarification, Star Wars fandom took off with a speed and volume that only Star Wars fandom can muster.

Fan sites published articles confirming Rex’s retconning into RotJ. Social media erupted with commentary, some in favor of the change, some not. The pure trolls—I mean, super cool guys that we should all look up to because they’re just, like, so above it all—chimed in, criticizing both sides for having an opinion about the subject at all. The fact that it all amounted to basically a moot point is, like I said, pretty classic Star Wars.

But just because it turns out that no official change to Star Wars canon has taken place, doesn’t mean that a genuine discussion of the subject is without value. The question of whether that old guy in Jedi should be considered Rex or not is a great entry point into talking about the ways in which playing with the established canon of the Star Wars universe can go wrong.

Diversity in Star Wars

Despite the title of this feature, I don’t actually have any rage about this issue. I do have an opinion, however, and given the platform, I’m only too happy to share it with whichever poor souls have stumbled upon this article in their travels.

That opinion is this: that old guy, named Nik Sant, apparently, cannot be Rex. Why not? Well, first of all, because he already has a name, apparently, and it’s Nik Sant. Rex’s name isn’t Nik Sant. It’s Rex. It’s a pretty cut-and-dry issue. (I’m also just now realizing that the name Nik Sant is probably supposed to be George Lucas’s idea of a clever reference to Santa Claus, which, ugh)

Jokes aside, the most important reason that Nik Sant can’t be turned into Rex is because it would be yet another example of Hollywood whitewashing. As I mentioned above, the Clone Troopers, and the character Jango Fett who served as their template, were played in the prequels by Māori actor Temuera Morrison. Morrison is a person of color. The guy who played Nik Sant is some white Santa Claus-looking jabroni. Therefore, to call Nik Sant Rex would be to take a character of color and make them white. This, too, is a pretty cut-and-dry issue, if you ask me.

On Twitter yesterday, I saw someone who was in favor of this change say that the reason they liked it was because it showed Lucasfilm trying to retroactively make the original Star Wars movies more diverse by adding Rex, a character of color, into the film. All due respect, but that simply is not what calling Nik Sant Rex would accomplish. Return of the Jedi is a fixed document, and unless you go into that document Special Edition-style and replace white Nik Sant with a white-bearded Temuera Morrison, then scrub all earlier versions of the movie from existence (which in today’s world is impossible), that character, no matter what you call him, is physically a white person, not a person of color. To call that white actor Rex would unequivocally be an act of whitewashing.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm presented a multitude of exciting opportunities. Wiping the post-Jedi canon clean, while upsetting to some, made the future of Star Wars a clean slate, where anything can happen, and that’s only a positive thing. But Lucasfilm’s continued interest in tinkering with the prequel/original trilogy time periods is a more fraught prospect.

The right way to go about it is the way that, by and large, they have: filling in the blanks around existing stories, rather than altering those stories themselves. Want to give Han a wife we never knew about? Cool. Want Darth Vader to have adventures with a space archeologist? Sounds fun.

It hasn’t always worked perfectly. For all the people who loved Rogue One (myself included), there are others who found it grating how the movie had to bend over backwards not to disrupt the events of A New Hope. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming Han Solo movie will enrich our understanding of the character or somehow damage our love for him.

But the “fill-in-the-blanks” strategy is infinitely less perilous than trying to amend the existing text of the original movies. Doing so will never be wholly positive; rather, it will only ever create problems. At best, those problems will be nothing more than the annoyance of a segment of the fandom, like dropping Hayden Christensen into the end of RotJ. Making Nik Sant Rex would be a much more significant problem than that: it would be a case of whitewashing in a franchise that, while slowly improving on this front, still has issues of diversity to address, both in front of and behind the camera.

Luckily, Lucasfilm has not yet created an unnecessary problem for itself. Rex is still Rex, Nik Sant is still Nik Sant. Hopefully, after seeing the furor that just the possibility of officially making that change engendered, Lucasfilm won’t be tempted to actually make it. Officially confirming fan theories can be fun, increasing the feelings of participation and ownership fans develop around a franchise, but if it’s going to significantly alter the fabric of the text, pleasing whatever small segment of the fandom supports that theory probably isn’t worth the broader headache that will result.

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