The new era of Star Wars at the box office—amplified by a legion of new books, comics, video games and TV shows—has brought with it a renewed focus on presenting diverse characters in the galaxy far, far away, be it across the spectrum of gender, race, or sexuality. While there have been strides for the latter, it’s yet to come up on the big screen.
It’s not like we haven’t been talking in earnest about LGBTQ+ rep in Star Wars movies ever since The Force Awakens landed in 2015, though. The movie brought with it a chemistry between Oscar Isaac’s hotshot pilot Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s ex-Stormtrooper turned Rebel hero Finn so electrifying, fans across the world immediately launched a flotilla of fan art and stories pairing the characters together romantically.
Although fandom drove the conversation, creatives behind the saga heard the message—both Boyega and Isaac have repeatedly talked about the reaction to “FinnPoe” (or “StormPilot,” depending on your fandom circle), and the possibility for their characters to be presented as a couple onscreen.
Responding to calls from activist organisations like GLAAD, Force Awakens (and now Rise of Skywalker) director J.J. Abrams said that seeing an LGBTQ+ character in a Star Wars movie wasn’t a case of if, but simply when, an inevitability.
Four years later, little has changed. Yes, Star Wars tie-in media has given us LGBTQ+ characters here and there, from Marvel Comics’ Doctor Aphra, to Resistance’s Orka and Flix—a reveal itself clumsily handled given that the creative team behind the series confirmed the detail on a podcast, and explicit confirmation of the pair as a romantic couple within the show wouldn’t come until afterward. But its movie side (for many casual Star Wars fans, the only side that really exists or matters, no matter the revered canonicity of this new expanded universe) has failed to live up to the promises of Abrams’ aforementioned inevitability.
In the years since The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Rogue One, and Solo have all failed to bring even minor LGBTQ+ representation to Star Wars on the big screen, with only the latter of those movies even remotely attempting it.
In interviews prior to release, screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan said that the film’s interpretation of a young Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover, was openly pansexual, but the text of the film itself never addressed Lando’s sexuality, explicitly or otherwise. Which now brings us to The Rise of Skywalker which is—if Lucasfilm is to be believed, of course—the last chance for the “Skywalker Saga” of mainline Star Wars films to include LGBTQ+ representation. Now at least, we know that whatever it does, a Finn and Poe pairing won’t be a part of that.
“[Poe and Finn’s] relationship to me is a far deeper one than a romantic one,” Abrams told Variety in a recent interview when asked about what the new film could do to bring LGBTQ+ representation to the franchise on the big screen. “It is a deep bond that these two have, not just because of the trial by fire in which they met, but also because of their willingness to be as intimate as they are, as afraid as they, as unsure as they are, and still be bold, and still be daring and brave.”
Boyega added that “it wouldn’t be too weird” to present the characters as a couple, “they are just platonic at the moment.” But while Boyega—who has more than happily fuelled fans’ love of the chemistry between himself and Isaac on-and-off screen with adorably fun Instagram skits during Rise of Skywalker’s press tour—left the potential open for future stories, Isaac instead directly addressed his own disappointment that Star Wars had chosen not to capitalise on the potential it had to present two of its current major characters as explicitly queer.
“Personally, I kind of hoped and wished that maybe that would’ve been taken further in the other films, but I don’t have control,” Isaac told Variety. “It seemed like a natural progression, but sadly enough it’s a time when people are too afraid, I think, of I don’t know what...but if they would’ve been boyfriends, that would have been fun.”
That Finn and Poe aren’t a couple is not really the disappointing part of Abrams, Boyega, and Isaac’s discussion. It won’t stop the legions of fans that have now spent four years telling LGBTQ+ stories about these characters from continuing to tell them. Hell, it wouldn’t stop them even if Rise brings with it either an LGBTQ+ or straight romantic partner for either of the characters (and why should it?).
If anything Isaac’s own commentary on the situation feels unprecedentedly frank, compared to the usual way actors handle confirmation or denial of this type of representation in the media. An explicit confirmation, albeit a denial, alongside an expression of regret that the potential wasn’t enacted upon is infinitely more respectful to LGBTQ+ fans than teasing “wait and see” knowing it would never be the case.
This is why what is disappointing about the Variety discussion is that Abrams went on to only dance around what LGBTQ+ representation The Rise of Skywalker would actually have. “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.” Abrams went on to say when asked about what queer representation is in the movie. “I will say I’m giving away nothing about what happens in the movie,” Abrams concluded. “But I did just say what I just said.”
After explicitly denying one popular potential piece of representation, to offer no concrete alternative beyond vaguely dancing around that there is indeed some level of it in The Rise of Skywalker is, at this point, asking for a level of trust in this specific matter that the Star Wars movie franchise has yet to prove it has earned.
The simple act of letting queer people exist on screen should not be teased like it’s a secret plot point to be hidden away, or some fan-friendly Easter egg to be saved as a surprise when you sit down in the theatre. If that representation exists in The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams should just say that it does, so the discussion around it can grow beyond the equally simple discourse of “does it exist or not” and onto what actually matters: Is it substantially good representation, or is it another in a long line of Disney’s “exclusively gay moments”?
This is a double-edged sword for Abrams and Lucasfilm of course. Another Disney acquisition, Marvel Studios, found itself in hot water earlier this year when, ahead of its premiere, directorial duo Joe and Anthony Russo made a big deal—whether they wanted to or not—about Avengers: Endgame having the first openly gay character in a Marvel movie.
It was an anticipated moment that came after several disappointing missteps in a decade of Marvel movies, but the character ended up being a self-insert cameo from Joe Russo, on screen for a matter of minutes (if that).
Ultimately, it was an inconsequentially minor addition to the movie that made the Russo’s media confirmations and back-patting over its inclusion beforehand all the more infuriating. Say too much over too little, and a similar backlash could happen in the galaxy far, far away.
But, in this day and age, it shouldn’t be a double-edged sword (or laser sword, and one that’s maybe even double-bladed, this is Star Wars after all). Hollywood’s excruciatingly slow crawl at presenting explicitly queer characters in some of its largest blockbuster franchises has left fans being offered table scraps as groundbreaking moments of representation.
Star Wars can be better than that. It should be better than that. Offering much in the way of denial when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, and only teasing in exchange when asked directly, is not the way to prove that it can be.
Whatever The Rise of Skywalker’s LGBTQ+ representation ends up being—a minor character in the background, a prominent one on the level of Finn and Poe if not themselves specifically—the discussions around it should be far clearer and franker than they are, so we can move beyond applauding the barest acts of inclusion and onto actually bringing forward diverse characters of substance into the worlds and stories we love.