Stephen Colbert, from left, J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, R2-D2 and Anthony Daniels participate in the “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” panel on day 1 of the Star Wars Celebration at Wintrust Arena in 2019, in Chicago. Rob Grabowski/Invision/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy says there’s a gender disparity in the “Star Wars” universe.

In an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday about the latest installment in the franchise, showrunner Leslye Headland’s Disney+ series “The Acolyte,” Kennedy said women tend to “struggle” due to the space saga’s male-dominated fandom.

“Operating within these giant franchises now, with social media and the level of expectation – it’s terrifying,” she told the publication. “I think Leslye has struggled a little bit with it. I think a lot of the women who step into ‘Star Wars’ struggle with this a bit more. Because of the fan base being so male-dominated, they sometimes get attacked in ways that can be quite personal.”

Women play central roles both behind and in front of the camera in “The Acolyte.” It’s the first series in the franchise to be created by a woman and stars Amandla Stenberg, Dafne Keen, Carrie-Anne Moss and Jodie Turner-Smith. “Squid Game’s” Lee Jung-jae, in his first English-speaking role, and Manny Jacinto from “The Good Place” round out the cast.

The series, which debuts June 4, has already come under fire from certain corners of the internet for its increased focus on the inclusion of women and people of color.

At the time of publication, the initial March 19 trailer had received about 194,000 likes and 717,000 dislikes. A top comment refers to a 2023 “South Park” special that accused Disney and “Star Wars” of “pandering” to diverse viewers. The show specifically parodies Kennedy, with her cartoon counterpart offering feedback for “Star Wars” creators to, “Put a chick in it! Make her lame and gay!”


Kennedy said she supports the show wholeheartedly. “My belief is that storytelling does need to be representative of all people,” she said. “That’s an easy decision for me.”

Headland told the New York Times that she tries to avoid social media reactions – positive and negative alike. She unequivocally rejects the corners of the fandom against onscreen diversity.

“As a fan myself, I know how frustrating some ‘Star Wars’ storytelling in the past has been,” Headland said. “I’ve felt it myself.”

“I stand by my empathy for ‘Star Wars’ fans,” she added later. “But I want to be clear. Anyone who engages in bigotry, racism or hate speech … I don’t consider a fan.”

Pushback against more inclusive storytelling in “Star Wars” did not begin with “The Acolyte.” The final movie trilogy released between 2015 and 2019 starred women and people of color. A portion of the fandom did not welcome them with open arms. “Star Wars” actor Kelly Marie Tran left social media following online harassment. Tran’s Rose Tico was the first leading role for a woman of color. “I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” John Boyega, who played opposite Tran, told GQ in 2020. Meanwhile, Daisy Ridley was also scrutinized online for her role in the franchise.

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