For Pride Month, let’s talk about LGBTQ+ Representation in Star Wars.
Star Wars is important to millions, likely billions of people. It represents a story that has inspired and entertained people for over forty years and is a major part of our cultural zeitgeist. Because of this, the types of people represented in Star Wars is important and can be very empowering. Sadly, Star Wars has not had the best track record with representation in general. That is changing, far too slowly. Today let’s look at LGBTQ+ representation in a galaxy far far away, and why there is some hope.
A Poor Track Record
The Original Trilogy focused almost entirely around cis-heteronormative, white characters. Lando Calrissian was the only BIPOC in any significant role, and was prestented as a straight man. While Leia represented a strong female character to look up to, she was pretty much the only female character in the three movies. The Prequel Trilogy had a slightly more diverse cast, but it was a limited improvement. It wasn’t until 2015, and the Force Awakens that we would get a female-led movie and a multiple BIPOC on screen at the same time.
Outside of the movies and under the old EU, things were a bit better. There are many more female charterers in major roles, such as Mara Jade Skywalker and Jaina Solo. You also had an increase in the number of BIPOC represented (and more non-human characters as well – it is sci-fi after all). In both movies and other media however, LGBTQ+ representation was sorely lacking.
Star Wars didn’t get a confirmed gay couple until the 2006 novel Bloodlines, and even after that representation was sorely lacking (the character Juhani from 2003’s Knight of the Old Republic is *technically* the first LGBTQ+ character in Star Wars, as you could romance her while playing as a female Revan, however, this pairing is non-canonical as Revan is canonically male and had a relationship with Bastila Shan). There is an argument to be made that interspecies relationships fall under the LGBTQ+ banner, but it is not my place to make that call. They did exist in old Star Wars were but where always between a male/female pair and generally between a human and a close to human species, so I don’t feel they did much to help real-world representation. Overall it hasn’t been a great track record.
The lack of LGBTQ+ representation is made more evident by the fact that romance has always played a role in Star Wars. Romance is a major factor in the OT; it is practically the driving force behind the Prequels, and there are several romantic subplots in the Sequels. It’s a significant factor in Solo, the Clone Wars, and plays a role in Rebels. Rogue One stands out as the only movie where romance doesn’t have a real part. The EU and non-movie media also heavily dealt with romantic plots. The eventual, heterosexual pairings of all the core OT cast and most of their children (and other decedents if you go in Star Wars: Legacy) played large roles in the overarching stories.
“There is as much of a brother-sister thing between Rey and Kylo Ren as there is a romantic thing.” –JJ Abrams, 2019
Despite the importance of romance and relationships to Star Wars, LGBTQ+ representation remained functionally nil before the Disney buyout. It seems the franchise ahs been far more accepting of showing on-screen incest, both between Luke and Leia and (sort of) Rey and Ben Solo (who share a common ancestor in Sheev Palpatine according to the canon Vader comics). It is only since the Disney buyout that things have gotten a bit better.
If all you’ve seen of the new Star Wars is the recent movies, you could well be forgiven for thinking that LGBTQ+ representation hadn’t gotten any better under Disney. Most people are likely familiar with the pathetically hidden (and cowardly removed in some regions) gay kiss from the Rise of Skywalker, which was more of a slap in the face to representation than anything else. You might also be aware of Oscar Issac’s push for a Poe/Finn romance, and Disney’s or Abrams’ refusal to allow that.
It’s not great, but we can say that the new movies do have… a little better of a record. There is a #gaymoment for Disney to make a fuss about. Poe and Finn could be read as queer (if most of Rise of Skywalker didn’t keep trying to force them into straight relationships that never pan out). Lando is now described as a pansexual and maybe got down with some droids. Also, overall romance has been downplayed in the Disney movies; there are just fewer relationships in general. It’s really, really, really not great, but it’s… something?
Beyond The New Movies- A New Hope
Looking beyond the new movies to the more recent comics and books, we can actually see a real push for more representation. Recent books have a rather surprising (for Star Wars) amount of LGBTQ+ characters in major roles. Most prominent is the breakout star of the new comics Dr. Chelli Lona Aphra. Dr. Aphra is openly lesbian and has a relationship with both Sana Starros and Magna Tolvan, both important characters in their own right. Dr. Aphra stared in her own comic line, making it the first LGBTQ+ starring of Star Wars media.
The newer novels have also had their share of LGBTQ+ characters. Kaeden Larte from the book Ashoka is bi-sexual. The Aftermath trilogy contains two gay couples, and Eleodie Maracavanya is gender-neutral, often using the zhe/zher pronouns. Other novels, such as Bloodlines, Lords of the Sith, and even the Lando comics have LGBTQ+ characters. Even more recently, Alphabet Squadron, a great novel in the vein of the old Rogue Squadron books and one that ties into the new Squadron video game, contains several LGBTQ+ charterers. I think most of the new characters in the novel, whose sexuality is touched on at all, are queer, with most seeming to fall into the pansexual category (which you know makes sense in a massive, diverse galaxy). Several of them have or are heavily implied to have had queer relationships. I think it’s possible that Alphabet Squadron along has more LGBTQ+ characters in it than the whole 35ish years of the old EU combined.
A Lot More To Be Done
Despite the fact that recent representation has increased, it’s still far from where it should be. Until every book is handled as well as Alphabet Squadron, the franchise won’t be close to where it needs to be. Still, there is hope for Star Wars, and if readers are looking for LGBTQ+ characters to enjoy, they do, at last, exist in some numbers and with important roles to play. Alphabet Squadron is supposed to be getting two sequels, and we also have the new High Republic Era to explore. Hopefully, this positive trend will continue through these upcoming novels and, with some luck, make a jump onto our screens soon.
Happy Pride month Star Wars fans!