Anghus Houvouras on why ‘the first gay Star Wars character’ is a war on common sense…
I never thought much about sex while watching Star Wars.
Sure, like many men my age I felt certain stirrings seeing Princess Leia in her slave girl ensemble, barely able to understand what was happening in the deepest recesses of my mind as I watched the final installment of the original trilogy. But I never thought about the characters or their sexual orientation. Even years later when I transitioned from prepubescent science fiction geek to post-pubescent sexually aware adult science fiction nerd, I never really applied the concept of sex to Star Wars. Other than Leia’s brief appearance in the metal bikini that launched a million erections, there really wasn’t a lot of sex in Star Wars.
I suppose you could apply the most basic tenants of sexuality to the awkward, slightly incestuous love triangle of Luke/Leia/Han. My point is, I never really watched Star Wars and thought ‘I wonder who these guys are banging when not fighting in an intergalactic conflict to rule the universe?’ I didn’t care. I was more concerned with lightsaber battles and Death Star raids than the off camera dalliances of their love lives. It’s not like Darth Maul shows up and the first question you think is “I wonder what his sexual orientation is?” Does a double-sided lightsaber mean Darth he’s bisexual? If not for the Star Wars Holiday Special, I never would have known Chewbacca was straight. Frankly, it didn’t matter.
Then this week we get this awkward press release that suddenly makes everything in a galaxy far, far away kind of awkward.
‘STAR WARS TO INTRODUCE FIRST GAY CHARACTER’
Surprise. That was my first reaction. There hadn’t been a single gay character in the Star Wars Universe up to this point? I had always just kind of assumed, you know. There were so few women in the original trilogy. For every Princess Leia or Jabba’s slave girl dancers, there were a thousand uniformed men on either side of the conflict in close, close quarters. There wasn’t one rebel pilot we met who dug other guys? Porkins wasn’t a bear? Not a dancer or bounty hunter in Jabba’s place who fancied another woman’s thermal detonator?
These announcements are designed to showcase the growing diversity of the geek world, but for me it has the opposite reaction. By announcing your ‘first gay canon character’, what you’ve immediately done is stated that every single Star Wars character we’ve met since 1977 has been straight. All these characters whose sexual orientation I had never even considered is now established as ‘strictly heterosexual’. I mean, when does this kind of life choice come up in a Star Wars story?
“I will crush the rebellion… then my same sex lover and I will venture off to the beaches of Naboo for a much needed vacation.”
Up to this announcement, any of the characters could have been gay. Admiral Akbar. Boba Fett. Hell, even, Lando Calrissian. Would it matter if Lando Calrissian was gay? Not at all. His role in the story wasn’t impacted by his sexual orientation. If I had read the headline ‘Lando Calrissian revealed as gay’, all I would have thought was ‘that makes sense: those overtures to Leia were overcompensation.’ Lando ran Cloud City, betrayed Han and friends, and redeemed himself by blowing up Death Star 2.0. Gay… straight… it didn’t matter.
I think one of the biggest lessons learned from the prequels is that delving deeper into the personal lives of our favorite Star Wars characters doesn’t always lead us to a better place. I enjoyed Star Wars for the action, adventure, and charismatic characters. I think anyone and everyone would argue that the worst part of Star Wars was the painful romance of the prequels. Their sexual preferences were irrelevant. With this ‘canonical’ announcement, the shepherds of Star Wars have basically told us that the Star Wars Universe is a very hetero galaxy far, far away. In their efforts to seem more inclusive, they’ve actually shown us how short-sighted they’ve been all these years.
We live in a time where everyone is desperate to label everything. To define what something is or isn’t because saying nothing somehow implies intolerance. To me, the Star Wars Universe feels far more intolerant because they’ve flat out told me there’s been no gay characters in canon until now. I liked it better when there was ambiguity to it, because it had no impact on the story I was watching or comics I was reading.
Maybe the heroes and villains of Star Wars live in a galaxy where sexual orientation isn’t your defining characteristic: Where being heterosexual or homosexual isn’t worthy of mention because either choice is fine, no one is judging anyone else outside of their Empire/Rebellion alliances, and it doesn’t really factor into this particular story we’re watching
Political Correctness run amok is a trap. A way of exploiting progress for headlines, which seems insane to me given the ridiculous popularity of Star Wars.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.