Watch: Carl Sagan Critiqued “Star Wars” as “All White” and Full of “Human Chauvinism”

The late, great astronomer enjoyed the films but thought the science was bad and found it discriminatory against Wookiees

Astronomer Carl Sagan in 1981. Sagan had critiqued sci-fi films like "Star Wars" for not being scientific
The late astronomer Carl Sagan offered some valid critiques of "Star Wars" after its release
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Carl Sagan didn’t think much of Star Wars, and all the way back in 1978 the famed American astronomer was making complaints about the sci-fi classic that sounded, well, straight out of 2021.

In an old clip from The Tonight Show recently highlighted on the site Open Culture, Johnny Carson asks Sagan about his remarks on Star Wars (and Close Encounters). “You thought they should have stuck closer to scientific facts,” the host notes.

“The 11-year old in me loved them, but they could have made a better effort to do things right,” says Sagan, who goes on to list his complaints: Star Wars starts out in another galaxy but you see, well, people (“human beings are the result of a unique evolutionary sequence … on the Earth”) and those people are “all white.” Note that decades later, the Star Wars film universe still didn’t know how to handle characters of color.

“It’s not even the other colors represented on the Earth,” he notes. “Much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.” And when Carson points out there are a lot of strange creatures walking around, Sagan quickly notes, “None of them seem to be in charge of the galaxy.” He also complains about the immense amount of human chauvinism, and rightly points out that, at the end, “the Wookiee didn’t even get a medal.” He goes on to call this “anti-Wookiee discrimination.”

It’s a fantastic time capsule of a clip, but it’s also rather astute: Why would beings in another galaxy a long time ago look like white humans? And why didn’t Chewbacca get any love for his heroic work in defeating the Death Star? And Sagan does note — in a critique that’s still valid today — that any movie that touches on science could put in a little more effort.

That said, Carson is also correct when he admonishes Sagan. “You’re taking all the fun out of it for me,” he says.

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