We all want to see ourselves sitting in the cockpit of an X-wing ready to take on the Death Star. We imagine holding a lightsaber, swinging it inches away from a stone pillar as we train. For many Star Wars has been the gateway into a larger world. The problem is that often we don’t see LBGTQ+ representation in these stories. Unless you are a die-hard Star Wars fan names like Juhani, the Female Cathar Jedi knight, or the Mandalorians Beviin and Vasur would be met with crickets. Queer representation in Star Wars has not been gold star worthy, more like bronze. That’s not to say that within the pages of the books, video games, and comic books queer representation doesn’t exist. But, yet our only “treatment” to queer representation in the canonical movies was a quick, easily edited-out, not impactful to the plot, kiss by Commander D’Arcy and some female Resistance fighter. But, that’s it? That kiss has been edited out for overseas releases.
Gather around, younglings, for a lesson I have for you…
Close your eyes and imagine, you are hearing the story of a young hero who is going to save the Galaxy from the evil space totalitarian bad guys of the week. Often than not you will envision someone who looks like you. You see yourself in that story. But expectations and reality don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Usually, the hero of these stories is a white cis-gender male. The narratives of these great stories for years have been directed by white cis-gender males. The idea of the white savior has been clearly established in the media. With the given awakening in society and our attempts to re-educate the culture, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the image of the hero is clearly changing. Yet, why is the queer narrative missing from the Galaxy far, far away? Former Professor Emeritus of the University of Massachusetts, Michael Morgan, told Huffington Post: “When you don’t see people like yourself, the message is: You’re invisible. The message is: You don’t count. And the message is: ‘There’s something wrong with me.’”
With Disney purchasing Lucasfilm in 2012, the Expanded Universe in which many queer characters had fully developed stories were now made Legends. No longer part of the new narrative going forward. The new canon has given us some specs of queer representation. Again, not in the movies, but in the comics and books. Queer representation has been moved to the fringes of the galactic literary frontier, territories in which not many often travel to. So, how will they meet these characters? The Aftermath trilogy novels, set in the early years after the events of Return of the Jedi, gave us the first character with gender-neutral pronouns, Eleodie Maracavanya, zhey are later joined by Taka Jamoreesa in 2018’s Last Shot. The sad part is that in the non-English translations the gender-neutral pronouns did not cross over. One of the most notable things within the trilogy was the inclusion of the series first gay character in ex-Imperial Sinjir Rath Velus, and his boyfriend New Republic Slicer Conder Kyl. Sinjir becomes a major point-of-view character in the first book of the series. As the Disney-era books continue to expand and flesh out the new canon stories, the appearances of queer characters began appearing within post Return of the Jedi events and the Prequel era.
One of these notable new queer characters is the archaeologist-turned-smuggler Doctor Chelli Aphra. She has worked with the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader, and the Rebellion as well. All before embarking on her own path in her own comic book series. It was within the pages of her comic that her identity as a queer character was confirmed. On her 16th issue, she and her on-and-off-again “special friend” Magna Tolvan, an Imperial Agent, kissed. In an interview with StarWars.com, creator Kieron Gillen states: “I normally say Aphra’s a lesbian. I’ve never written her with any romantic interest in men. There’s definitely some people who think Vader and Aphra were flirting but I’m not going to get into that.”
Let’s talk about the High Republic’s first trans/non-binary characters, the Jedi twins Tener and Ceret, and how they are a case of tokenism. A quick refresher Tokenism, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce. Now, they were brought to the pages by creator Cavan Scott, and they are Kotabi twins who are able to share one mind and can communicate with each other even at great distances. But, why do they look so… ugly? It’s kinda hard to believe that these two characters are honest and true trans representation within the Star Wars universe. Star Wars has a collage of strange and weird aliens with all sorts of colors and appendages protruding out of their bodies. So... for a pair of bald, grey-skin, featureless aliens, who share a “one mind” link, is not “forward-thinking”, it’s crap. Real-world trans and non-binary people don’t actually get to see themselves represented within the Star Wars Universe, instead, they get gray-skinned Uncle Festers from Space. Doesn’t help that as an audience we don’t know much about these characters. There’s nothing really there for the fans to fall in love with and want to see more of their stories played out. They are described as “living legends'', but why? They had a prominent role in the opening story-arc of the series, in which a group of Jedis are investigating strange happenings in a frontier world. And that's it.
The new Disney canon is producing new LGBTQ+ characters but they are only appearing in the pages of the comics and the novels. What about a larger reach? What about on-screen where representation matters the most? On the tv screen, in the animated series Star Wars Resistance in its second season the supporting alien characters, Orka and Flix were revealed to be a couple. Yet, the acknowledgment of them as queer characters took a while. Screenwriter Jon Kasdan faced backlash when he stated that Donald Glover’s portrayal of a younger Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story was a pansexual character. Yet, that’s never stated anywhere in the movie or in the script. But we do get a human-on-droid relationship. As L3-37 states: “It works.”
When J.J Abrams was brought on in 2015 to direct and co-write Episode VII in the saga, he deliberately set out to cast actors that could reflect the audience of the world today, as he put in an interview with Variety. In fact, Abrams and Episode VIII director, Rian Johnson, actually cast several actors of color in prominent roles in the stories. One of the great things that the new saga brought was the increase in screen time for women. Abrams himself was the first to mention the possibility of an LGBTQ+ character in Star Wars, planting the seed to the possibility of the gayest coolest characters in space, since Ruby Rodd from The Fifth Element-- yes I know he’s not Star Wars but, yah know…. Moving on--
During the promotional period of The Force Awakens, Disney spent a total of $17 million in ads on Tv, according to iSpot.tv. The amount of money invested into these projects clearly helps with the success of these movies, given the fact that Episode VII grossed a total of $2.071 billion compared to the initial budget of $306 million. Even the final entry in the Saga still made over a billion dollars, despite its many flaws. Dr. Tom McNamara and Dr. Irene Descubes reveal that there’s often dissatisfaction with members of the LGBTQ+ community around their depiction in targeted marketing. In an article from Marketing Magazine, “many companies are still hesitant when it comes to direct marketing that uses the mainstream media to reach the (LGBTQ+) community, the fear being that there will be a negative backlash from the larger (and therefore more financially valuable) heterosexual market. This fear is not totally irrational in that studies have shown that under certain conditions, mainstream consumers can have a negative reaction to ads that they feel are gay-themed”. Using that logic, Disney has a fear of queer depiction in Star Wars movies purely for financial reasons. Fear of losing money, fear of receiving negative public reaction, and criticism for their attempt. Better to play safe than sorry.
Oscar Isaac, who played dashing-suave Resistance Captain Poe Dameron. Who was quite vocal about his character being queer, said in an interview with IGN about the lack of a Poe and Finn romance: “I think there could’ve been a very interesting, forward-thinking – not even forward-thinking, just, like, current-thinking – love story there, something that hadn’t quite been explored yet; particularly the dynamic between these two men in war that could’ve fallen in love with each other. I would try to push it a bit in that direction, but the Disney overlords were not ready to do that.” As mentioned before the only queer treatment we got in the movies, where the most exposure these stories have to a wider audience, was a blink-and-you-miss-it kiss, that can and has been edited out.
In a Galaxy as vast as Star Wars, keeping their queer representation to the fringes of comic books and books away from the most commercial ways of exposing them, which is the movie, is almost in a way a disservice to the fans. These stories are meant to represent the fans, they are meant to be a place in which the audience can disappear and allow their imagination a place to grow. Giving a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one, especially within the current cultural and political climate in which we are in. The times are changing and it’s times that these queer characters get their moment on the big screen and do their part to bring down the Space Nazis, or the Bad Guy Space Pirates. It’s time for a queer character to stand on the sands of Tattooine and look on to the horizons as the suns begin to set. If Episode IX, the final feature in the Skywalker Saga, has taught us one thing it’s this: Anyone can be a Skywalker.