Responding to eager fan anticipation for any kind of news about the solo Han Solo movie, Lucasfilm have released a cheeky behind-the-scenes photo of the cast and directors crowding into the Millennium Falcon cockpit. This provoked many responses from fans, mostly along the lines of "wow awesome!" or "aren't they cute?" and the like. Some, however, were more critical, pointing out that yet again Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has cast a white, brunette (British) female lead, defying her claims that she is attempting to promote diversity in Hollywood.
But it's not just the female lead that's causing contention: The role of Han Solo's conman mentor has been given to Woody Harrelson, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge will be playing a motion capture role.
The only two people of color in the cast are Donald Glover playing Lando Calrissian — which doesn't really prove any kind of diversity push as he's an established character from the original #StarWars trilogy — and Westworld's Thandie Newton. Not appearing in the cast photo, Newton is playing an as yet unnamed role, and we don't know if she's part of the main cast. (But it's a damn shame if she isn't, because every minute of screentime Newton got in Westworld was an absolute gem.)
The upshot of this is: After #RogueOne's stellar diverse cast finally started to balance out Star Wars' bias towards white characters, #HanSolo seems to be taking a few steps backward, casting mostly white actors in leading roles with only two people of color so far. This undermines the comments Kathleen Kennedy made in the past about introducing racial diversity to Star Wars, even as recently as the Rogue One press conferences:
"I think it's incredibly important to 'Star Wars'. I think it’s more important to the film industry in general. I think having casts that represent the world today and having characters that people can relate to all over the world. This is very much a global industry. Films mean something to people all over the world."
It's also worth noting that literally none of the (very few) major female roles in Star Wars have been women of color — and no, Maz Kanata (played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o) doesn't count because she's a tiny motion capture alien. If Thandie Newton is playing a main character in the Han Solo movie, and that character isn't an alien, then that makes her something of a representation trailblazer for the franchise — and it's pretty depressing that it took Star Wars until 2018 to have a woman of color in a main role. However, with Emilia Clarke cast as the leading actress, it seems likely that Newton's role is a supporting one.
Of course, Kathleen Kennedy is not a casting director, so the responsibility for representation in the Han Solo film isn't solely on her shoulders. While she did oversee all of these casting decisions, it's safe to say that a bunch of people were involved. But here's the crux of the issue: One of Kennedy's main talking points since she became president of Lucasfilm was that she would push for more diversity, something which is sorely needed across the board in Hollywood. Like with any of the other Star Wars movies, the Han Solo film was a chance to introduce more people of color to the fictional universe, but right now it looks like this was an opportunity missed.