It’s an exciting place, that galaxy far, far away. The Star Wars films are filled with action, romance, and humor but, up until very recently, they weren’t a very inclusive place. There are a few notable exceptions, but for the most part the Star Wars films were predominately made by and marketed towards straight, white men. Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and the revival of the franchise, however, that has changed. Female characters now serve as the protagonist more often than the damsel in distress, and diverse casting choices are becoming the norm, not the exception. And yet, there is one notable exception when it comes to representation on the big screen: Star Wars has yet to introduce an LGBT protagonist or major character.
The new canon novels are doing a better job of representing different sexualities. Many of the books contain references to LGBT characters, and Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy features the multi-platform universe’s first gay protagonist. Yet when it comes to films and television shows, things have remained consistently heterosexual. The original trilogy and the prequel trilogy can be forgiven because of the time in which the films were made, but now times have changed and more questions are being asked about whether Star Wars will broaden its horizons.
Fans and journalists have become obsessed with finding scraps of representation in the films and shows. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) biting his lip while gazing at Finn (John Boyega) birthed a thousand fanfics, and the Finn/Poe phenomenon has become so widespread that Josh Gad even asked Boyega about it at Star Wars Celebration. Similarly, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story fighters Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) drew similar interpretations from fans. There are countless other readings of a variety of characters as LGBT, and yet, with the exception of Aftermath’s Sinjir, all protagonists remain either explicitly straight, or with their sexuality left undefined.
Disney faces perhaps a greater hurdle than other studios when it comes to LGBT representation, since the brand is uniquely targeted towards younger audiences, and there is a cultural perception that LGBT characters are more adult or explicit than heterosexual ones. In fact, until Beauty and the Beast let LeFou out of the closet earlier this year (albeit in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment), there had never been an overtly gay character featured in a Disney movie. Beauty and the Beast might have drawn controversy, but it also drew a staggering $1.14 billion at the box office, demonstrating that LGBT characters can be included in a children’s film with no apparent impact on commercial success.
There is, of course, a small but noisy corner of the Star Wars fanbase that vehemently opposes LGBT inclusion (bolstered by trolls who have only a glancing interest in the franchise, but seize on any opportunity for “anti-PC” campaigning). It can be disheartening to see such comments flooding the discussion, and it’s easy to lose hope, or to paint all fans with the same brush as these trolls. But these fans are not the norm. Over the past week, I have spent time with fans from all walks of life and spoken to them about the need for LGBT representation in Star Wars. Some of these fans are in their teens or twenties, while others are older. Some identify as part of the LGBT community, others do not. What is important is that these are the fans who are pushing for better representation and who are standing up against the hateful trolls. These are the fans who truly embody what Star Wars is about: love, community, courage, and hope.
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