I took a poll on Twitter the other day asking if people would like to see LGBTQA characters appear in Star Wars. I did this expecting maybe a few hundred people to respond. I have a decent-sized Twitter following, but nothing excessive.
In 24 hours, 3,600 people voted. And the results — unanimously — stated that people either really wanted LGBTQA characters to appear in Star Wars or did not feel strongly about it and wouldn’t care either way.
But through it all, the poll also attracted a good deal of homophobic responses as well as some perhaps well-meaning responses counter to my central desire to see Han and Chewie fly through space in a rainbow Millennium Falcon.
There are two approaches I could take to these comments: ignore them or respond to them. In debating to do this, I came across a reoccurring response from the side that didn’t want queer characters in their Star Wars: LGBTQA characters in Star Wars would “ruin” it.
All or Nothing
The responses functioned under the belief that, if LGBTQA characters were to appear in a Star Wars film, the story would become about queerness, therefore ruining it. This tells us a few things about the way these people view the art of story telling:
- A story can only be about one thing.
- The sexuality of the characters changes the whole story.
- Queer stories are inherently less enjoyable than straight ones.
All of these are pretty wrong, but let’s start with that first one and work down. Many fans are “afraid” that a queer character in Star Wars would corrupt and corrode their fandom, that the mere presence of homosexuality will cause the structure of their fandom to implode.
This is of course ridiculous.
Because heterosexuality — even horribly written heterosexuality — didn’t kill Star Wars.
Part of the original trilogy’s success with mainstream audiences had little to do with the space battles or special effects, but the romantic chemistry between Han Solo and Leia Organa, who, as two of the main leads of the film, had some pretty explosive chemistry. While the first film features little romance, Empire Strikes Back is practically half of the film. This romance changed the course of the Star Wars saga forever, as Han and Leia’s child, Ben Solo, would eventually become the Big Bad of the sequel trilogy: Kylo Ren.
That’s heterosexuality done well. Heterosexuality done badly, though?
The prequels. Just…the prequels.
It has been said before that the romantic chemistry between Anakin and Padme is strongest when neither person is talking. This is because the unchallenged romantic dialog written by George Lucas is horrendous. Most of Han and Leia’s dialog in the original trilogy was written by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher (Fisher especially would have a long career as a script doctor, punching up scripts that needed help). The film that most prominently featured the romance between Anakin and Padme, Attack of the Clones, is arguably the worst film in the entire franchise.
Romance has played a core role in all but two of the Star Wars films, with The Phantom Menace and A New Hope being the exceptions. Every Disney era film has featured romance to some extent, with the least prominent being, ironically enough, the heavily shipped Reylo ship between Kylo Ren and Rey.
None of these films were ruined by romance. Attack of the Clones was ruined by bad writing. The romance just happened to be a symptom of that problem. So the idea that same-sex romance would be out of place in a Star Wars film when opposite-sex romance featured so prominent a role is an argument that makes no sense.
That is unless you believe…
Star Wars: A “Gay” Story
The idea that featuring a gay character will somehow corrupt an entire story is as foolish as believing a romance will corrupt an entire story, as, in essence, there really is no difference.
The problem here is that, especially in mainstream media, gay stories are about gayness. Few stories seem to feature characters in a same-sex relationship or attracted to members of the same sex that are not about that topic. Stories featuring trans characters are almost exclusively about that topic, usually as seen through the lens of a story teller who has no life-experience of the topic. This results in melodrama that imitates what people think real life is like.
That is of course not to say that straight people or cis people can’t write stories about those unlike themselves, but it is important to listen to the experiences of people who have in order to create an authentic representation of an LGBTQA person. This is at least easier in film, which is a collaborative creative effort in general.
Of course, all this has very little to do with how Star Wars will become a gay story if it features gay characters.
Often, people hear “gay story” and think of one of three general stories:
- Stories about homophobia.
- Stories about coming to term with confusing feelings.
- Stories about gay sex.
Or some combination of the three.
This mindset is highly reductive. There are several stories that feature LGBTQA characters that don’t fall into these traps. Most notably, Steven Universe, She-Ra, Yuri on Ice, Sailor Moon, Percy Jackson (and Rick Riordan’s other work), Game of Thrones, Marvel and DC Comics — to name a select few.
None of these stories are necessarily about LGBTQA life, but all of them feature multiple LGBTQA characters in prominent roles. And, Yuri on Ice being the exception, they’re all speculative fiction — science fiction, fantasy, and horror — much like Star Wars.
So the problem isn’t so much can a story incorporate LGBTQA characters into a narrative without being purely about the problems facing LGBTQA people — because obviously it can. The problem is that these people complaining about gay characters can’t see anything beyond the fact that a few characters are LGBTQA.
The truth is they’re bigoted, whether they realize it or not. Having to watch gay people be happy is something so shocking that it keeps them from seeing anything else. When people say “gay people would ruin Star Wars,” what they’re saying is “gay people will ruin Star Wars for me.”
Fear Leads to Anger; Anger Leads to Hate; Hate Leads to Suffering
So here’s the thing: Star Wars has gay characters. You probably don’t know about them, though, because they weren’t in the films.
Reess Kairn appeared in the 1999 comic “The Bounty Hunters: Aurra Sing.” Reess gets reconstructive surgery to become a woman, which people nowadays might assume means the character is trans.
Of course, one quick look at Wookiepedia — created and curated by people way more into Star Wars than I can ever be — confirms that, nope. He’s a he. Not a she.
Many potentially queer characters in Star Wars are like that. Accidentally queer coded or do things that would traditionally paint them as queer only for them to be…not.
It wouldn’t be until Knights of the Old Republic that we had a real openly gay character in the form of Juhani. Since then, the majority of queer characters in Star Wars have appeared in Old Republic games or extra-canonical novels.
The closest we have gotten to on-film queerness is in the form of Lando, who audiences were informed outside the film is pansexual, and Holdo, who may have a “special affection” for Leia Organa. But since the text of the film never canonizes this, we can assume it’s just lipservice to satisfy queer fans.
Queer fans want queer characters in Star Wars so badly they’d tried to make due with Porgs cuddling. And as we saw in Knights of the Old Republic and its MMO spin-off, you can have multiple queer characters without anyone batting an eye.
But despite this clear imbalance of straight-to-queer characters, fans insist that putting LGBTQA characters into Star Wars would “ruin” the story. This concept only makes sense if you believe that stories about queer characters are inherently worse by the nature of being queer.
Despite the fact that one of the only stories to really include queer characters in any meaningful context is often regarded as one of the best parts of the series.
So what gives?
The problem is mainstream recognition. I do not believe the majority of Star Wars fans willing to play an expanded canon game mind seeing something different. In fact, I’m sure they might anticipate it. They see it as an extra thing, and if it’s good, great. Whatever.
But the films get put under a far heavier lens of scrutiny for being main entries in the franchise. They draw more attention, and, with the more eyes drawn, the more bigots show up. And the more bigots show up, the louder the response to any “nitpicks.”
When The Force Awakens first came out (and later Rogue One), a small but vocal part of the Star Wars fandom threatened to boycott the film for being racially diverse. These complaints escalated when The Last Jedi came out, which gleefully deconstructed all the expectations of a franchise that, frankly, needed to have the status quo shaken up. Many drew issue with a group of diverse heroes opposing a racially monolithic empire.
It should be unsurprising that the single most hated character in the new series is a soft-hearted Asian woman.
Now imagine if Rose were a lesbian.
While the majority of Star Wars fans are normal and rational people, there is a subset who hate anything that’s different. This is compounded with the differences in narrative or execution tie in with pre-existing bigotries.
When fans say “gay characters would ruin Star Wars,” they aren’t complaining about a romance being added, since they didn’t complain about Han and Leia. They are saying “it’s different than what I want, so it’ll ruin it.” Just like how ethnic diversity “ruined” Star Wars.
So here’s the litmus test: do you feel Star Wars is too ethnically diverse? Did you say that ethnic diversity would “ruin” Star Wars, too?
If so….you are part of the problem.