When the official cast for The Force Awakens was announced I was very excited because it seemed that a genuine effort was being made to create a more diverse cast, both racially and based on gender. I became an even prouder Star Wars fan when the announced cast for Rogue One continued this effort to make the Star Wars universe be more representative of the world we’re living in. And now J.J. Abrams has made it clear that this trend is not going to stop any time soon!
As The Daily Beast reported, while hosting the Oscar Wilde Awards at the Bad Robot HQ this Thursday, Abrams responded to a question about inclusivity as follows:
“When I talk about inclusivity it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course. … To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”
It’s very rewarding to see that the directors that are responsible for continuing Star Wars for the next few years are not only aware of the need to be more diverse but also phrase it in such a way that there is no way to argue against them without betraying a prejudice. And yet I still want to go into this a little bit more and argue why exactly gay characters should be a part of the main canon films and not “just” the novels or the Legends material.
The main evidence I want to bring to the table is the pure joy that is ‘Stormpilot’, the ship consistent of The Force Awakens’ Finn and Poe Dameron. Within hours of the films release this ship got off the ground due to the amazing chemistry between John Boyega and Oscar Isaac and some significant hinting on the latter’s part. It is all good fun, even if the signs are that Stormpilot won’t become canon any time soon. Next to Stormpilot, however, we also got people shipping Rey and Jessika Pava (a personal favourite of mine) and promoting a three-way relationship between Rey, Finn and Poe. Now, naturally as a Star Wars fan you don’t have to pick one of these three, you can make your own, join one of the many other ones out there or not take part at all. However, the existence of these ships, in every single fandom, does betray a need by fans for more sexually representative media.
The seeming predominance of ‘slash ships’ in the fandom should be a clear sign that popular culture and media is severely missing out on representing amazing characters. The Star Wars fandom is massive and clearly there is a desire out there to see the make-up of the fandom represented in the canon itself. However, it is more than just wanting to see two guys kiss. What makes the relationship, whatever its nature, between Finn and Poe so important for fans is that here are two men being friends, hugging, relying on each other, asking for help, etc. in a way that you don’t see very often. I would even go as far as to say that the fact these are so often homosexual rather than lesbian is because film and TV aren’t half as willing to show two men being emotionally close whereas close female friendship is much more prevalent. Similarly, the relationship between Rey, Finn and Poe is amazing because we see people from different backgrounds, different ages and different races coming together for a single cause, becoming friends and growing as people.
In The Force Awakens we get both men and women who are scared, who try, who forge friendships and manage to create enemies, and in the end their race or their sexual orientation is only a small part of that. But here my second argument for explicit inclusivity comes into play because it still matters that it is made obvious rather than that fans have to make up fancanons and then be derided for it by popular culture. The backlash that certain fandoms have experienced for having gay ships shows that although in theory many people are fine with gay relationships, there are those who don’t want it to explicitly infringe on their favourite films or tv shows. Similarly, the argument that Rey was a Mary Sue because people were not used to seeing such a capable female character in film. A relatively innocent example of this kind of intolerance was when someone was baffled by the idea of ‘female armour’:
Although it was a stupid comment to make, it was mainly funny due to the great way the Star Wars Facebook account responded. However, the wave of negative responses upon the revelation that John Boyega was playing a Storm Trooper was less innocent and should have shown everyone exactly how important it is to push inclusivity and equal representation. Because most of us aren’t racist or homophobic or sexist, but unfortunately those who are are incredibly loud and happy to share their opinions. And by being so loud they end up being a major influence on how the fandom is seen and how Star Wars responds to it. For me it is no problem to imagine that a character is gay or not because it makes no significant difference in what kind of a person they are to me. But some people have to be shown that no matter who you are, how you look and who you love, you can be a character in Star Wars and be included in one of the biggest merchandises in the world. And no matter how wrong people will be about Storm Troopers, Clone Troopers, race and Star Wars, they now have to deal with the fact that a black Storm Trooper exists, that a female Storm Trooper exists and that their gender and race doesn’t affect their role in the narrative. And even if they’re not happy with it now, it will become something they have to accept, automatically making the fandom and the canon more inclusive.
Star Wars has been pushing hard for diversity on all fronts and for some that may feel unnecessary but I hope I’ve shown that there is not only a desire for a more varied cast within the fandom but that there is also a duty there to stand up to those who want to deny people equal rights and freedoms. Sometimes you have to push a little bit harder to stand up against a shouting minority of fans who are set in their ways. And it’s good to see that Star Wars is not only doing so but is embracing to do more and respond enthusiastically to the fandom.