The Star Wars film franchise has paved the way for many actors looking to find their place in Hollywood, and helped cement the legacy of stars like the late Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill. The recent instalments of the space saga have also opened doors for a new crop of actors, but John Boyega says that the coveted gig was as painful as it was exciting. Yes, Star Wars pushed him into the mainstream — but at what cost?
Boyega has made headlines in the past for speaking casually about the problematic nature of parent company Disney, but the actor's new GQ UK cover story is the first time that he's shared just how deeply he was hurt by his time in the sci-fi universe. A year after the release of Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker, Boyega still feels like a Disney token.
"What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side," he said in the GQ interview. "It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”
Boyega revealed that he believed that Disney and Star Wars promoted his character Finn (the first Black Stormtrooper!) as if he would be more essential to the plot to give off the appearance of a more diverse story, only for Boyega to be sidelined in favour of other stories. He wasn't alone in this; Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron and Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico were also paid dust in the films.
"Everybody knows," he continued emphatically. "I’m not exposing anything."
The actor's frustrations with his part in the trilogy are also directly connected with the disconnect he feels with the fandom. From the moment that he was revealed to be under the Stormtrooper helmet, many Star Wars fans went out of their way to target him with racist vitriol. By virtue of being Black, Boyega didn't belong, and a number of Star Wars fans made that exceedingly clear.
Being minimised onscreen and harassed online led Boyega to distance himself emotionally from the massive project. He's developed what he calls a "militant" attitude towards working in Hollywood, knowing that the industry is inherently anti-Black, and restrictive towards Black actors as a consequence. That's why he's not afraid to stand up for himself and for the billions of Black people across the world being marginalised in some shape or form; he's too fed up to stay quiet any longer.
"It makes you angry with a process like that," Boyega admitted candidly. "It makes you much more militant; it changes you. Because you realise, ‘I got given this opportunity, but I’m in an industry that wasn’t even ready for me.’"
"Nobody else in the cast had people saying they were going to boycott the movie because [they were in it]," Boyega said. "Nobody else had the uproar and death threats sent to their Instagram DMs and social media, saying, ‘Black this and black that and you shouldn’t be a Stormtrooper.’ Nobody else had that experience. But yet people are surprised that I’m this way. That’s my frustration.”
Boyega is glad to be able to step out of Star Wars canon and start a new chapter in his career; his next projects include a film called Naked Singularity (also starring Bill Skarsgård and Ed Skrein) and an anthology series Small Axe with Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen. The actor's days of saving the Empire are long behind him — he's got new worlds to conquer.
"I’ve moved on," Boyega said of his role in the saga on Instagram. "I have more to offer than that."