by Mia Schoenbeck
In 1977, the world was introduced to “Star Wars: A New Hope,” not knowing that it would become a huge part of pop culture. The world has changed in many significant ways since 1977. Women and minorities have protested for equal rights, and have seen much progress in terms of representation in both popular media and in the real world.
The LGBT+ community has made major strides in its representation in media. Just a few decades ago, a gay person might have been just a stereotype of a stereotype of a social taboo. Today, sophisticated storylines and positive representations of non-straight sexualities are all over the media — in music, television, an major motion pictures and beyond.
Unfortunately, the LGBT+ community is grossly underrepresented and is often misrepresented. Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of “Star Wars.” The massive franchise that has over 100 canon characters back stories; countless books, comics, and video games; five television shows; ten movies; and a fan base that’s been active for 41 years. Still, it only has a handful of LGBT+ characters, and their bases in “canon” are shaky at best.
The main LGBT+ characters whose sexualities are confirmed appear in the video games, like “Knights of the Old Republic,” which became non-canon after Disney bought Lucasfilm and made most of the wider “Star Wars Expanded Universe” “legends” —meaning the characters and events that occur in these sources don’t have any bearing on the wider universe — as well as in the books. This is a great step forward.
However, “Star Wars” has always existed for the majority of the world on screen. Fans’ experiences with the universe circles mainly around what movies and TV shows they’ve watched. So, despite hints and even a fully fledged relationship in the books, there is a lack of LGBT representation where most people have contact with the universe itself.
Most characters’ sexualities are either straight or “up for interpretation.” In “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the characters Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus have unconfirmed sexualities, and some fans interpreted their relationship as a romantic one. When asked, much like Mark Hamill who plays Luke Skywalker, about their relationship in an interview with Yahoo!, director Gareth Edwards said, “I don’t mind people reading into [Chirrut and Baze’s relationship]. I think that’s all good. Who knows? You’d have to speak to them.” This, again, leaves these characters up to audience interpretation.
Even more recently, in the TV show “Star Wars: Rebels,” two characters’ sexualities were once again, up to interpretation. Zeb and Kallus, two characters who started the series as mortal enemies, end up together at the end of it all as Zeb shows Kallus Zeb’s home planet in a quiet, tender moment. And, as some fans took this gesture as romantic, executive producer Dave Filoni was quick to neither confirm nor deny their relationship, saying, “I don’t want to take anything away from people that want to believe, what they believe as far as how close two characters are. I mean, I think that’s completely open and I appreciate all the interpretations of it.”
Hamill has said that Skywalker and his sexuality is up for interpretation as well. In an interview, while talking about fans coming to Hamill over the years and asking about Luke’s sexuality, he said, “If you think Luke is gay, of course, he is. You should not be ashamed of it. Judge Luke by his character, not by who he loves.” This made many fans extremely happy, as Luke is the protagonist of the original “Star Wars” trilogy and a huge part of the universe itself.
While this support for the LGBT+ community is exciting and fresh, characters’ sexualities being left open to interpretation isn’t the same as official confirmation. This means that there still isn’t a character with a sexuality other than straight on screen.
Interpretation is better than nothing. It’s awesomely better than the previous stance that once was a major stance of “Star Wars” creators that “[Gay, lesbian, and homosexual] are terms that do not exist in ‘Star Wars.’” But something that is better is an actual, “Yes, this character is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans.” It’s time to allow people to see themselves in a galaxy far, far away.