Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is many things in Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy of Star Wars novels. She is a true believer in the Empire's promise of an orderly and prosperous society, even as that vision is perilously upended by the Emperor's death on the second Death Star. She is a cunning Imperial Navy commander. And, as confirmed last week, she is also bisexual.
Poster art by Steve Thomas
Chuck Wendig's Aftermath novels have been praised (and reviled) for their inclusive casts, including several people of color and openly LGBT characters. The novels followed gay male main protagonist Sinjir Rath Velus and his dashing romantic interest, Conder Kyl, throughout the trilogy. Another protagonist had a lesbian sister and sister-in-law who figured prominently into the narrative of the first Aftermath novel, and one of the interlude chapters mentioned a war orphan's two dads. The sequel, Aftermath: Life Debt introduced the first nonbinary Star Wars character, Eleodie Maracavanya, an interstellar pirate captain who uses zhe/zher pronouns.
Throughout the Aftermath trilogy, Grand Admiral Sloane, the principal antagonist, did not exhibit romantic inclinations at all: she was a single-minded career soldier, fearlessly loyal to the Empire. But in a climactic confrontation near the end the final Wendig novel, Aftermath: Empire's End, Sloane reflected on her life with some regret:
"I have none of those things. I never had a husband or a wife to die in my hands. I never had a child. I had only the Empire and now…"
This passing reference to the husband or the wife Sloane never had seemed only to be curious phrasing for a character who was thinking generally about the costs of her single-minded loyalty. Then, an intrepid Twitter user asked Wendig directly about whether this phrasing in fact meant that Sloane was bisexual. His answer:
That was my intention, yep. https://t.co/XEjsSJOhjA— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) May 15, 2017
This revelation has interesting ramifications given Sloane's apparent founding of the First Order at the end of Aftermath: Empire's End.
"It's time to start over," she says to Hux. "That is our first order. To begin again. And to get it right, this time."
The Original Trilogy's Empire was a repressive regime that was overtly xenophobic and brutally homogenous. George Lucas has acknowledged that the themes of Star Wars were inspired by the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany in World War II. So, aside from Hollywood homophobia that has prevented openly gay characters in onscreen Star Wars stories, the Empire would, as a matter of canon, suppress diversity of any kind, including sexuality and gender identity.
But perhaps Sloane's leadership of the Empire's remnants as they coalesce into the First Order of The Force Awakens era heralds a different kind of antagonist. Sloane's reference to "getting it right" echoes her musings throughout the Aftermath trilogy about the Empire’s diversions (misguided, in her view) into terror and petty despotism. Portraying Sloane as a villain with dimension and humanity sets up the First Order as a more nuanced and a more dangerous enemy: one that focuses less on the differences between its constituents and more on the purity of their fearsome unifying vision.
In fact, we see a much more gender-diverse roster of antagonists in the new era of Star Wars canon. For example, in The Force Awakens, units of Stormtroopers not only include females, but are led by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). And in the Poe Dameron comic series, readers were recently introduced to another Strong Female Character First Order villain, the sinister Commander Malarus.
Commander Malarus: eyebrows on fleek.
Maybe this increased acceptance by the Empire's holdovers is directly attributable to Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, a queer woman of color, and to her legacy as the founder of the First Order.
Ultimately, just when you thought the Aftermath series couldn't get any more refreshingly queer, it does! And we can all thank Chuck Wendig for challenging the notion that heroes and villains in the Star Wars universe are simply black and white: believable characters come in every shade of gray and, sometimes, all the colors of the LGBT rainbow.