J.J. Abrams says LGBT characters are coming to “Star Wars,” but they’re already here. Get used to it
A lot has changed in the last few years when it comes to LGBT “Star Wars” characters.
For the longest time there were almost none. Now we’ve got Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker himself, floating the possibility that Luke is gay. We’ve got JJ Abrams, director of “The Force Awakens,” insisting that gay characters are almost certainly on the way in future movies (movies he isn’t working on so he can’t say for sure, I should note). And we’ve got John Boyega, who plays Finn in the new trilogy, encouraging the fan theory that his character and Oscar Isaac‘s Poe Dameron will hook up in the future. “Star Wars” has never been as gay as it is right now.
It’s a stark contrast to just a few years ago, when these words appeared: “These [‘gay,”homeosexual’ and ‘lesbian’] are terms that do not exist in ‘Star Wars.'”
In 2009, they were written by Sean Dahlberg, a community manager for Bioware, a company that was in the midst of development on the online video game “Star Wars: The Old Republic.” His comment was made on the game‘s web forum in response to complaints about discussion threads about how the game might handle same-gender romantic relationships being locked, and that the board’s auto-censor tool was removing words like “gay” and “lesbian.”
Dahlberg apologized for his comment within a day and Bioware removed the relevant words from its forum filter, but the damage was done, and that he would even feel compelled to respond to those complaints with that statement was illuminating.
After all, “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is a role-playing game, the sort of thing that purports to offer the player deep options for personalizing the character they play as, and does provide a number of possible romantic entanglements within the stories it tells. And when it was released in 2011 it didn’t have any options for same-gender romantic encounters or relationships.
And at the time that comment was made, there had been only a handful of confirmed LGBT characters in all of the hundreds of officially sanctioned stories that were written for the “Star Wars” universe. Ironically, the best-known example at the time was in a previous Bioware game, “Knights of the Old Republic.” Thousands of characters were created over several decades, and in 2009 so few of them were known to to be LGBT that you could count them on one hand. Some crafty authors slipped some through.
And now, I give you a timeline of the gradually increasing gayness of “Star Wars.”
The first time we encountered a character in “Star Wars” who fans thought might be gay was Sarn Shild in the 1997 novel “The Hutt Gambit,” the second of AC Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy. The book refers to Shild as a person whose “sexual preferences did not run to human women,” but he kept a human woman named Bria Tharen around as an apparent mistress to throw everyone off. It could be that Shild just is into female aliens, but Crispin’s descriptions so perfectly parallel enough real-world stories about closeted gay folks that interpreting Shild as such has validity. It’s not, however, enough to declare Shild the first officially LGBT Star Wars character.
In the 1999 comic “The Bounty Hunters: Aurra Sing,” we meet a character named Reess Kairn who has undergone gender and species transition, having been born a twi’lek male and transitioned to human female. But it’s said in the comic that Kairn did this as a disguise rather than because Kairn’s gender identity didn’t match her assigned sex at birth, which has over the years raised discussions among fans over whether Kairn really falls under the LGBT umbrella.
The first no-doubt, gay-in-the-text, no-debate-necessary character, as mentioned above, came courtesy of the 2004 video game “Knights of the Old Republic” in the form of a lesbian cathar (that’s a cat-like type of alien) named Juhani. Initially, an error in the game‘s code actually made her bisexual, but the intent was for her to only make sexual advances on the player’s character, Revan, if you chose to play as a woman. Either way, she was never straight, but the coding error was corrected and Juhani goes into the books as a lesbian.
Juhani’s Jedi Master, Belaya (a human woman), is thought by many fans to have been in a sexual relationship with Juhani before the events of the game, but this is unconfirmed. In “Knights of the Old Republic II,” in 2005, the character Luxa is thought to be bisexual because she will flirt with the player character and comment on how attractive they are regardless of the player’s choice of gender.
In 2006, the e-novella “Boba Fett: A Practical Man” by Karen Traviss introduced a character named Goran Beviin, a mercenary who was known to be married but it wasn’t specified to whom. Beviin would return in later novels, and in 2007’s “Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice,” also written by Traviss, his spouse made an appearance. And it turned out Beviin was married to a man named Medrit Vasur. Beviin and Vasur were thus the first gay couple in the official “Star Wars” continuity.
It was a bunch of years before any others would pop up, and poetically when it happened it was in “The Old Republic.” Bioware released a continuation of the game‘s storylines in 2013 called “Rise of the Hutt Cartel.” This expansion included the game‘s first same-gender flirtations in dialogue, as well as a man-on-man makeout session with the Sith Lord Cytharat, if the player made certain choices. Another main character, Lemda Avesta, will give both male and female characters a kiss on the mouth for luck before a particularly dangerous mission, if prompted.
Oddly enough, Bioware caught flack for this because “Hutt Cartel” only included one new planet (Makeb) for players to travel to and the gay possibilities, at the time, would only be available there. Makeb was dubbed the “gay planet” and a sort of homosexual ghetto, as if Bioware were compartmentalizing all the gay people there.
Of course, the truth was that the change with “Hutt Cartel” was one of overall policy. As “The Old Republic” story has continued, in the years since a number of other LGBT characters have entered the scene: Koth Vortena, Lana Beniko and Theron Shan are main characters in the current ongoing storyline, “Knights of the Fallen Empire,” who player characters can get with regardless of their gender — or species, as the player character can be any of a number of alien races. That barrier has never been an issue in “The Old Republic.”
In 2015, the novel “Lords of the Sith” featured a lesbian Imperial Moff named Delian Mors. Moff Mors, a supporting character in the book, has been touted as the first LGBT character in the “official ‘Star Wars’ canon,” the distinction there being that when Disney purchased LucasFilm and commissioned new movies, it wiped the slate clean with regards to tie-in stories. So technically she is the first, but only in the Disney “Star Wars” universe.
Later in the year, the book “Aftermath” contained a more legit first: a canonically gay protagonist character, Sinjir Rath Velus. Player characters in “Knights of the Old Republic” or “The Old Republic” don’t technically count because their orientation is dictated by individual players. Sinjir is one of four main heroes in “Aftermath” who all serve as slight subversions of the four main protagonist characters of the original movie trilogy (Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca). Sinjir is the harder-edged Han Solo of the group.
Another of the heroes in “Aftermath,” Norra Wexley, has a sister named Esmelle who is married to a woman named Shirene. A side character also makes a reference to having two dads. That’s a lot of ground for one “Star Wars” story.
But probably the most culturally impactful gay people in “Star Wars” thus far are not actually in any of the stories, but a tie-in merchandising ad for Campbell’s Soup. In the commercial a gay couple feeds soup to their son — “I am your father,” says one, referencing Darth Vader’s line in “The Empire Strikes Back.” “No, no, no, I am your father,” replies the other. It’s really sweet.
Here’s the ad: