A Gay-laxy Far, Far Away

The Star Wars universe, for all its galaxy-skipping breadth and depth, has been devoid of any LGBT presence for virtually all of its 40-year history. But as LGBT fans of Star Wars (and science fiction in general) well know, Star Wars is not unique in this way. Although television series and films are beginning to occasionally offer some positive portrayals, LGBT characters are almost entirely invisible in their respective fandoms.

Fortunately, there seems to be (a new) hope that positive and authentic LGBT representation in the Star Wars universe may be gaining momentum.

Back in 2003, Star Wars fans got their first confirmed canonical LGBT character in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game: Juhani, the Cathar non-player character. When the player encounters her in the game, Juhani appears to be romantically involved with another female Jedi, named Belaya. Eventually, depending on the player’s in-game choices, Juhani was romance-able by female player characters. Juhani and Belaya were the first LGBT characters in the Star Wars universe when they appeared in 2003 — nearly thirty years after the original Star Wars film.

In 2004, the sequel to Knights of the Old Republic, Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords, included another non-player character, Luxa, a dangerous female underworld smuggler and arms dealer. Luxa would flirt with the player character regardless of the player character’s gender, but whether that made Luxa canonically bisexual or pansexual was never really clarified.

Speaking of ambiguous video game flirting, a handful of non-player characters in BioWare’s 2011 online roleplaying game Star Wars: The Old Republic had flirt or romance options with every player character, regardless of a player character’s gender. It’s a stretch, though, to consider these characters as LGBT in any meaningful way, given that the non-player characters’ sexualities depend solely on the choices made by individual players.

The only unambiguous same-sex romancing in The Old Republic was a male pureblood Sith, Lord Cytharat. A non-player character featured in the 2013 Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, Cytharat would flirt only with male characters, so it's fair to say that Cytharat was gay. If your Empire-side male character makes a Light Side choice to save Cytharat from a suicide mission, they will share a kiss before the wounded Cytharat is evacuated to safety. Although the character later learns that Cytharat is recovering, he never reappears in the storyline.

Meanwhile, in one of many Expanded Universe (EU) novels, Ferus Olin and Roan Lands were technically the first gay male Star Wars couple, although the true nature of that relationship has only recently been confirmed. Ferus is a Jedi character in the Prequel and Original Trilogy eras and the central heroic protagonist of the young adult book series Last of the Jedi (2005–2008) by Jude Watson. Although the books never explicitly acknowledge that the characters are gay, they strongly imply that Ferus and Roan are more than just business partners and friends. But in September 2015, Watson confirmed on Twitter that she intended Ferus to be read as gay and that Ferus and Roan were married.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the actual books merely implied Ferus and Roan's relationship.

The honor of being the first out gay male couple in the EU goes to Goran Beviin and Medrit Vasur. Goran first appeared in the Karen Traviss novel Boba Fett: A Practical Man in 2006. He was a Mandalorian bounty hunter during the post-Episode VI era of the Yuuzhan Vong, and the story referenced his and Medrit's marriage. But it wasn’t until the 2007 release of Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice, also by Traviss, that the text confirmed that Medrit was a Human male and that Goran and Medrit were a gay male couple. Theirs was a depiction that LGBT Star Wars fans can be proud of: Goran was a courageous and loyal character, and his marriage to Medrit was long, happy, and stable. They even adopted a Mandalorian war orphan as their daughter.

After its acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2014, Disney announced that all previous stories outside of the original films and The Clone Wars television series would be classified as Star Wars “Legends,” and not canon. So the video game and EU characters were a good start, but sadly they are no longer — strictly speaking — LGBT characters in the canonical Star Wars universe.

The good news is that more recent Star Wars stories, produced after the Disney acquisition, have been steadily ramping up the LGBT visibility. On the other hand, the depictions in these new stories have been a rather mixed bag.

For example, in 2015, the Marvel comic Star Wars: Lando by Charles Soule included a pair of male aliens, Aleskin and Pavol. They are deadly clones from a dark and mysterious feline humanoid race, and it turns out that they are lovers who are saving money to clone a child for themselves. Unfortunately, the reader doesn't get to learn too much about them before they are possessed by a Dark Side artifact, go on a murderous rampage and are killed. Given their stereotypical treatment as dark, duplicitous and dead, Aleskin and Pavol are not likely to go down in Star Wars history as groundbreaking LGBT characters.

Then, Moff Delian Mors, the lesbian commander of an Imperial planetary occupation, appeared in the Paul S. Kemp novel Lords of the Sith. The depiction of Moff Mors as lazy and self-indulgent is initially not flattering, although it turns out that her indolence is a result of losing her wife in a terrible accident. Ultimately, Mors undergoes a redemption of sorts — in a ruthless-Imperial kind of way — that restores to her character some measure of dignity and authority. But while she is certainly a more three-dimensional and dynamic LGBT character than many others in science fiction, Mors still tends to recall that well-trod trope of the degenerate homosexual villain.

Fortunately, after a rocky start with representations of LGBT people in the new Disney canon, things seem to be looking up. In late 2015, Chuck Wendig went big with LGBT characters in his novel Star Wars: Aftermath. Set in the days and months after The Return of the Jedi, Aftermath has several notable appearances by LGBT characters. For example, a side-story interlude set on Naboo makes a fleeting but heartbreaking reference to an orphan's deceased gay dads. And one of the main characters, Norra Wexley, has a lesbian sister, Esmelle. She and her wife, Shireen, share several scenes with the protagonists as supporting characters.

But Aftermath really makes a big jump to rainbow-streaming hyperspeed with Sinjir Rath Velus, the gay male Imperial defector. Sinjir is a complicated, deeply flawed scoundrel who drinks too much. He is duplicitous and self-interested, and disconcertingly ambivalent about his history of interrogation and torture as an Imperial loyalty officer. At the same time, Wendig portrayed Sinjir’s crisis of conscience sympathetically, which was similar to Finn, the former First Order stormtrooper who defects in The Force Awakens. And unlike many stereotypical portrayals of gay men in science fiction stories, Sinjir is a skilled hand-to-hand fighter who holds his own and then some in the novel’s action sequences.

In May 2016, Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline included a gay male character named Ledaney, a good-natured X-wing pilot who trades some collegial teasing with Joph Seastriker, one of the supporting protagonists. Ledaney’s appearance is only a few paragraphs long, and he is such a minor character that you could miss him entirely if you blinked at the wrong moment.

Finally, the fandom also just recently learned at the end of May that Sana Starros and Dr. Aphra, two female characters in the current Marvel Star Wars comic series by Jason Aaron, were previously in a relationship. With that revelation in issue 19 of the series, Sana and Aphra are the newest ongoing LGBT characters to be introduced in the new canon.

So, to date, that’s about it. In the entire Star Wars galaxy, you can count all of the LGBT characters, from both "Legends" and Disney canon, on your fingers and toes. But according to JJ Abrams, more LGBT characters are coming to the Star Wars universe. Many fans speculate that Poe Dameron, the dashing X-wing pilot in The Force Awakens, is the top contender for the first gay male protagonist in a Star Wars film, possibly with some sort of romantic dynamic with Finn.

In any event, there seems to be plenty of reasons to be optimistic about LGBT visibility in the Star Wars universe as we celebrate our LGBT heroes this June, both here on Earth and in a galaxy far, far away. To tide you over until more LGBT Star Wars characters are introduced, don’t miss the further adventures of the sassy-but-deadly Sinjir Rath Velus in Wendig’s upcoming sequel to Aftermath, Star Wars: Life Debt, which hits bookstores on July 12, 2016.

Until then, may the Pride be with you!

Stephen T.'s picture
on June 23, 2016

So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb. -Dark Helmet