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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Dingwell

Holding out hope for a queer main character in Star Wars

Note: This post was originally published on Medium on August 26, 2021. Since then, I have read Star Wars novels by E.K. Johnston and Kiersten White, who are among those who have pushed to make queer canon in Star Wars. Hats off to them. I did not address Tarkin, because it felt too daunting to explain that whole thing to people outside the fanbase.


Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars has always been about love and family. As a queer woman, I relate to many of the themes and stories that universe provides. I just wish those in charge of the film franchise need to get over their fear of queerness and give fans an explicitly queer character.


To be fair: 2SLGBTQ+ characters have appeared in a few comic and novel tie-ins. Most recently, for instance, Lucasfilm confirmed that Ceret and Terec from Star Wars: The High Republic are nonbinary. The revelation came on March 31 (Trans Day of Visibility) and seems little more than an attempt at getting “diversity points,” though I’d be happy to get proven wrong. And, perhaps against my better judgment, I am still hoping that Star Wars will bring a queer main character to the screen.


In December 2020, Disney+ announced an array of upcoming Star Wars material, including six new live-action series. This is welcome news to most Star Wars nerds, but I can’t help but anticipate I’ll be disappointed. Once again, I have my fingers crossed that we will actually get a queer Star Wars character in film canon. Once again, I suspect I’ll be let down. Even though I can find 2SLGBTQ+ representation elsewhere, I still hold on to hope that eventually, something will shift in my favourite franchise. As someone who’s queer myself, I’ve noticed queer subtext in the stories as they are. Why not, then, bite the bullet and give the audience an explicitly queer storyline?


The found family trope is a story device that comes up in the Star Wars franchise time and again. In Rogue One, for example, an orphaned Jyn Erso finds camaraderie and friendship with a group of rebels. In The Mandalorian, the titular character becomes the reluctant caregiver to a child he was originally assigned to hand over to a client in exchange for a bounty. The concept of a “found” or “chosen” family often resonates with queer and trans audiences in particular, especially if it’s something they’ve experienced in real life. Someone who is trans and/or queer may not find approval within their biological family. And even if that family is accepting of their identity, they still may not ever fully understand it. That’s where a found family comes in: a group of people who support and treat one another as family in an emotional sense. In fiction, a found family might be depicted as teammates, the crew of a ship, or even a group of high school friends. Star Wars characters often lack a biological family, either due to joining the Jedi Order or as part of the consequences of intergalactic conflict. However, they can find love elsewhere.


Unsurprisingly, found family resurfaces in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Protagonist Rey is an orphan who finds a home among the Resistance. Finn, a former stormtrooper, rejects his original purpose to aid rebel pilot Poe Dameron. Poe accepts Finn as a friend almost immediately — one of the most heartwarming moments of the sequel trilogy is when Poe hears Finn’s call number, FN-2187, and uses it to inspire his new name. Some fans (like me!) became invested in this relationship after The Force Awakens and saw the potential for romance. The idea was officially squashed before during the press junket of The Rise of Skywalker, when director J.J. Abrams confirmed the pair would remain platonic.

Alas, the Finn/Poe corner of the fandom had to rely on headcanons and fanfiction. That’s nothing new for queer fans, though. Another popular fan theory reads Luke Skywalker as gay. Mark Hamill has given his blessing to the idea, saying the fans should be able to interpret the character however they like. Since the sequel trilogy retconned the Legends book series, Luke’s wife, Mara Jade, was also erased from canon. That said, revealing Luke’s queerness in the sequels would have been a cop-out. Since those films were barely focused on Luke, it likely would’ve been treated as a footnote or way for Disney to collect those diversity points without actually having to explore same-sex relationships.


Indeed, a footnote was all we got. Although Abrams ruled out a romantic relationship between Finn and Poe, he hinted at other queer characters. In December 2019, he told Variety, “in the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film.” That representation turned out to be an embrace between two minor female characters, in the background, near the end of the movie. I’d be remiss to solely blame Abrams for this, since Disney acquired Star Wars in 2012 and, well, the scene is typical of Disney’s queer rep. Take the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, for example. All that hype over Le Fou being gay, and the confirmation of his sexuality was nothing but him dancing with a male partner at the movie’s closing scene.


Oddly enough, the best on-screen queer rep in Star Wars — in my opinion — is Alexsandr Kallus from the Rebels cartoon. I watched the series with my husband last year (we’re both bi) and I was skeptical initially when he pointed out the subtext in Kallus’ storyline. Originally an Imperial agent, Kallus eventually jumps ship and becomes a rebel spy. His importance in the series grows over its four seasons. In the final episode of the series, a captured villain expresses her disgust with Kallus. Kallus responds: “The day I betrayed your Empire, Governor, was the day I finally stopped betraying myself.”


I looked at my husband. “It’s queer,” he said. “Oh my god. It’s queer,” I replied emphatically. Something about seeing Kallus rejecting his former role — one he never truly believed in to begin with — and finding a group who would accept him for who he was felt so damn familiar. Further, Rebels ends with Kallus going joining another male protagonist to live with him on his home planet.


But here’s the thing about this storyline: it’s still only subtext. I know I can read and watch queer SFF, and I do, but why can’t we have queerness explicitly in the text of all the media we love? After all, 2SLGBTQ+ people have existed in all times and places. It’s not so far-fetched that they’d exist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

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