Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an incredibly diverse portrayal of humanity across the galaxy, with one notable exception — there are no LGBT characters onscreen. However, could one of our new The Force Awakens heroes step up to fill that void?
This article is full of spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Read at your own risk!
The afternoon before the release of the most anticipated movie of — well, let’s call it all time, shall we? — the three young heroes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens visited The Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk to America’s BFF about the experience that’s already changed all of their lives forever. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are a dream come true for a new generation of Star Wars fandom — they’re fun, smart, charming, unjaded and relatively lacking in celebrity polish. They’ve become ours, instantly, and watching any press with them is a delight. However, on Ellen’s couch last Thursday, a conversation took place that I’m kind of surprised isn’t making world news.
After a lighthearted chat about filming locations and Boyega’s impersonations, Ellen implores the cast to spill the beans on whether we’ll see romance between any of the trio in the new movie. Oscar Isaac, who plays Princess Leia’s top Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, is the first one off the marks, explaining “I think it’s very subtle romance that’s happening. You know, you have to just look very close — you have to watch it a few times to see the little hints. But there was.” Isaac sounds seemingly honest with this statement, then goes on to make a few jokes with the others of the ‘we can’t spoil you, so we’re getting ridiculous’ variety. However, Ellen comes back to Isaac to confirm: “So it’s subtle, but you were playing romance. When we’re watching you, that’s what we should be aware of.” Here’s where it gets good — Isaac agrees, but teases that he won’t say with which character, gesturing between Ridley and Boyega.
Look. I know what you’re going to say. Isaac could have easily been talking about the seeds of potential romance between Boyega’s Finn and Ridley’s Rey — only really hinted at when Finn asks Rey, rather worriedly, if she’s got a cute boyfriend to get back to – and maybe turned the heat onto himself as a joke to distract from Ellen prying at the others. He could have been talking about Poe’s deep passion for flying, or his adoration of his droid, BB-8. We all feel pretty strongly about BB-8. But if you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens already, you’ll know that, if Isaac was being serious, the romance that he mentioned playing as Poe was directed towards his male, not his female, co-star.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I’ve interpreted it wrong. Maybe this is Isaac’s idea of humor. Maybe he just has the world’s best poker face. But maybe, just maybe, there’s something in this, and if it’s real, it’s going to change everything.
It’s fascinating to me that Ellen uses very vague, non-heteronormative language and gestures to ask about the romance between any of the characters, rather than either man with Rey specifically. It’s fascinating that Isaac is the first one to jump on the answer, and it’s even more fascinating that after his jokes are over, she checks back in with him and makes sure to confirm his comments in a sincere manner. If you were to analyze the “evidence” further (Oscar Isaac wants a rainbow lightsaber, you guys!) you could wonder if there’s a possibility that she’d been let in on the secret by Lucasfilm’s PR, and if it had been requested that she guide the conversation in this manner to help lay the groundwork, but when you spend too much time thinking about that kind of thing, you begin to tread into conspiracy theory territory, which is not actually the point I’m trying to make. I’m not actually sitting here trying to convince you that Poe Dameron is gay. I’m trying to convince you that he should be.
Rewind for a minute. I hadn’t seen that Ellen interview when I first saw the movie — in fact, due to Australian time zones, I saw The Force Awakens before many spoilers had even hit the internet. So it was with no preconceived notions about these people that I sat down in the cinema — I actually hadn’t even seen the trailer. I wasn’t looking out for a potentially queer character, or a ship that everyone was hyped for — I knew nothing about what was promised in The Force Awakens except that it was going to be good, as I’d been too caught up in my experience watching the other six Star Wars movies. And it was good — better than. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an absolute triumph which rewards every second of love and energy that you’ve put into this franchise in the past, yet also stands on its own feet as a piece of cinema that holds up on its own. And then, there was him: Poe Dameron. Handsome, daring, feisty, viciously competent, sweet, elegant… and gay, some part of my own queer subconscious immediately whispered to me. I’m pretty sure he’s meant to be gay.
But Poe isn’t like that. He’s different. In the best possible way, he has nothing to prove, and it makes for a very refreshing change. He’s an action hero without a chip on his shoulder. Poe is fearless, but not reckless. He’s compassionate, he doesn’t feel the need to pretend he doesn’t have feelings, even about his little droid. When he’s not whooping in delight while flying, he speaks softly and kindly. He’s confident about his abilities — “I can fly anything,” — but it never transgresses into cockiness, and he admits when he’s challenged. Rather than swagger, he moves with an old-Hollywood grace: in the moment where he climbs out of his X-Wing at the rebel base after the battle on Takodana, he looks like an aviator from the 1920s — all he needed was the silk scarf. He’s respected as a commander and beloved as a friend. He doesn’t have to be convinced to believe in things, or in people — there is nothing bitter or hardened about him, but there’s also nothing naive.
There’s nothing whatsoever to say that all of these admirable attributes can’t belong to a straight man, and, indeed, having Poe as a role model for upcoming generations of heterosexual masculinity sure would be nice. Regardless of sexuality, Poe Dameron is a fantastic, exciting, attractive, atypical portrayal of manhood, and I hope that it continues to be the case. But then, there’s the Finn factor to consider.
Finn rescues Poe from the First Order because he wants to use Poe as his chance to escape. Poe never once calls this out as self-serving, instead throwing himself all in with Stormtrooper FN-2187 and considering him an instant team-mate. His handling of Finn’s panic in their escape in the TIE fighter speaks volumes about Poe — he doesn’t condescend, he’s patient with offering instruction even in this life or death scenario, and he instantly interprets the disgusting treatment Finn has undergone up until this point, giving him the thing he needs most – a name, an identity, something to set him apart from the First Order. It’s the start of something beautiful… until it all comes crashing down. Literally.
We then follow Finn for a large portion of the movie as he takes the gifts Poe left behind – a jacket and a name – and struggles on, presuming his first friend is dead. Interestingly, Oscar Isaac — who was hand-picked for the part by director J.J. Abrams — recently revealed that Poe was actually meant to die at this point, for real. That huge opening, and then he’s gone, leaving Finn to carry on his mission in his place. Well, Finn does complete Poe’s mission, but Poe got a reprieve anyway. Why? “Never mind. I’ve figured it out. You’re in the whole movie now,” Abrams came back to Isaac after initially offering him the role — death and all — in a Paris meeting. “Let’s say that it was in that conversation [in Paris] that we began to see a way that being in the movie would be worth his time and the audience’s,” Abrams stated cryptically. How curious. Could it perhaps be that they threw around some ideas about why this particular character could have an important legacy – that he might be able to represent something that’s never been represented in Star Wars before?
Right. Back to the facts. Poe, very much not dead, comes swooping in to save the day, and his reunion with Finn is where all the pieces about him click into place. Poe, healthy and whole, is revealed to Finn in a total romantic hero shot — the aforementioned 1920s aviator moment — and both men, who thought the other was dead, realize all at once that they’re not. It’s a literal screaming-each-other’s-names, running-into-each-other’s arms situation. No shame, no restraint, just relief. But when Poe pulls back and notices Finn is wearing his old leather jacket, that’s the clincher, because unless you’re so heteronormative that you still believe that Hannibal and Will are just buds, it looks like Poe likes what he sees, in a way that’s more than friendly. He even bites his own lip while admiring Finn. Well, hello there. From here on out, I was certain of two things: firstly, that Poe himself had absolutely had the potential to be canonically queer, and secondly, no matter what, that ship was going to sail like nobody’s business. Poe brings Finn to Leia, where he’s treated with trust rather than suspicion, and, as The Daily Dot points out, the next time the two men have to part, “the camera spins around them like something from a ballroom scene in a Regency romance, showing the two men pass through each other’s orbits before they leave for battle.” After Starkiller is destroyed, Poe is last seen running after Finn’s unconscious body as he’s wheeled off to medical.
As much as I’d love to see the new era of Star Wars end in a queer romance between two of its heroes, I still think that Finn/Rey is the canonical ship to beat here. My love triangle theory, if Poe is indeed gay, is that he’s attracted to Finn but won’t end up with him – through this plot, we’d learn that he’s queer, and it will either be heartbreaking or a “more (male) fish in the sea, still love ya, buddy” situation. Or maybe Finn won’t factor into it at all, and we’ll incidentally see Poe saying goodbye to a boyfriend or husband before his next mission, revealing that yes, in his private life, it’s all about the dudes, but it’s not a major part of this story. The non-love-triangle option might be less controversial for Lucasfilm, as it’s slightly less in-your-face, but given Isaac’s comments, it seems like Poe’s got it pretty bad for our favorite Stormtrooper.
Another thing to note is that in times of yore, alpha-male characters like this would always end up with a chance to cement their manliness by proving to us that they want women, whether that’s by outright interactions with a girl, a comment to a pal, a metaphor. Poe? Nothing. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of screen time for this to happen in, but I’ve seen it shoved into less plausible scenarios. If they wanted to put it in there, they could have, and they didn’t.
As soon as I got out of the cinema, I was desperately searching Twitter and starting conversations with friends about whether anyone else had seen what I’d thought I’d seen. Plenty of people had latched on to the idea of Finn/Poe as a new OTP, which is totally fair, but it seemed like it was simply because they enjoyed the potential and the chemistry, not because they thought it might be real. Fandom is gonna ship as fandom always ships: with the glorious, transformative disregard for canon that has always been both its greatest strength (carving spaces for ourselves that were denied to us in the narrative) and its biggest downfall (no one takes us the hell seriously). I love fandom and I love queer interpretations of characters, but I never go into new franchises wearing slash goggles. Some people look for, or actively invent, queer pairings to ship in every fandom, and that’s fine, but it’s not me, and in this scenario, I’m more invested in the idea of this one character being gay, with no romance involved, than in shipping a queer ship that will probably never come to pass. However, I can’t deny that this one’s definitely got some textual fodder. In the week since The Force Awakens has come out, even the media has jumped all over the Finn and Poe “bromance” as the internet’s favorite new ship, but for all that, there still hasn’t been much serious discussion of whether this is a thing that is actually happening, even in a one-sided way.
I was ready and raring to come home from The Force Awakens and write this article on the spot, but it would have consisted mostly of me shouting “OMG! Poe should totally be gay! Why? Because I say so!” which, admittedly, may not have made much of an impact, and would have played right into the hands of those who stereotype us negatively for seeing a queer narrative where they see a straight one. So I slowed my roll, but as the week unfolded, more commentary about this situation began to make its way to me. When it came out in America, others who had immediately vibed the same thing came to talk to me about it on Twitter. A couple more articles were published – mostly about the shipping hype surrounding Finn and Poe, but one, from Bleeding Cool, was similar to my experience — a journalist who walked out of his screening having read Poe, specifically, as queer. And of course, there’s the Ellen thing, which is a whole other ball game.
I started to consider how likely this idea was — whether it was something that Star Wars could get away with, or pull off. Isn’t that a terrible way to have to think about it? “Getting away with it.” “Pulling it off.” In a fictional universe full of hundreds of worlds, thousands of sentient beings in their various alien forms, where we see unspeakable horrors and ethereally magical moments take place, where we’ve seen male aliens leer over females not of their own species, we have to seriously think about whether they can “get away with” a man being attracted to other male human beings? It’s nearly 2016, and for some reason LGBT representation still feels like the final frontier in Hollywood, particularly when it comes to family-friendly content. We won’t forget the reaction any time soon to Marvel’s generous statement that they might be able to include a gay character in their movies… within a decade. And Disney owns Lucasfilm, just as they own Marvel. Is it the House of Mouse calling the shots here? Is being queer something they can’t expose their audiences to? They just showed us Han Solo — the Han Solo — being violently murdered by his own son. Is that meant to be cleaner, less hard to deal with? If they can “get away” with that, they can get away with anything. The ball is in their court — it’s their choice about whether they want to include queer characters in this world, as simple as that. Nothing is holding them back.
Optimistically, there have been a couple of un-Poe-related incidents recently that made my faith in what Lucasfilm is capable of, and how they want to present themselves, grow. I discovered that Sinjir Rath Velus, the lead character of Chuck Wendig’s new Star Wars tie-in novel Aftermath, is gay, and that Lucasfilm were nothing but supportive of the first queer hero in a Star Wars story. “There was no issue in terms of the Lucasfilm people. They have been very gracious and accommodating for that sort of thing, as they should be,” Wendig told EW. Transgender rockstar Laura Jane Grace posted about playing with the voice effects on her new Kylo Ren mask, and the official Star Wars twitter got involved in a conversation with her, even using the hashtag #TrueTransForceRebel, a spin on one of Grace’s most famous songs about her gender identity, True Trans Soul Rebel. A transgender support hashtag for Star Wars fans? Started by someone sitting in their marketing department? Is this real life? There’s now even a fan petition to get her a role in the next Star Wars movie. Between Wendig’s and Grace’s experiences, it sounds like someone higher up at Lucasfilm has made an active choice to approve that kind of direction for the public image of Star Wars, and you’ve got to admit, that’s a very hopeful message. Even if it isn’t Poe himself, I find it impossible to believe that this next Star Wars trilogy will end without us seeing any queer characters at all.
“Some stories just have shoebills in them, without being entirely about shoebills. These are valid narratives to exist alongside (but not replace, and certainly are only possible after) narratives that center entirely on the presence of the shoebill.” Stay with me, folks. A shoebill is a bird, and this quote is a joke in a tumblr post by author Maggie Stiefvater, a little bit of commentary about the response to her own books. It’s a very astute metaphor about minority groups in fiction — some stories just have queer people in them, without being entirely about queer people. Star Wars could be, should be, must become one of those stories. I’m not saying that The Force Awakens hasn’t taken giant strides in the right direction already — it has, and we must thank Lucasfilm for that. It shows us women and people of color, all ages, doing all sorts of jobs in every faction, in a way that’s played as completely standard. But it’s kind of actually gone so far that, unless these movies plan to feature no romantic implications whatsoever, the lack of queer representation — in the background, the foreground, wherever — is soon going to stand out dramatically. With everything this franchise currently seems to stand for, I can’t see them making that mistake.
In a recent interview, Hamilton creator (and composer of TFA’s new cantina music!) Lin-Manuel Miranda was asked what it means for him to be called a game-changer, and he spoke about how what he likes to think about is the impression left on the young kids coming to see his diverse, genre-melding, bar-raising show. “I’m excited to see what that kid writes, because for them, Hamilton has always existed. And that’s just what musicals look like to them. So if Hamilton’s your default musical theatre experience, what are you gonna make?”
Imagine the new Star Wars trilogy as your default movie experience, starring Rey, the tiny, terrifying Jedi whose womanhood is never equated with weakness, Finn, the black, brave ex-Stormtrooper who made a choice not to kill for his captors, and Poe Dameron: alpha male, queer, Latino, the poster boy for the Resistance. Imagine growing up, from childhood, with those characters as your Luke, Leia and Han. Imagine the way that could help to shape hearts and minds and opinions. Imagine what it would allow, and what it would normalize. Imagine what the kids for whom this has always existed will be able to contribute to the world.
Star Wars has brought hope to millions for many years, and it’s bringing hope again now like never before. This one issue, which should be unremarkable and yet is still the most remarkable thing in the world, this is all that’s missing. You’re so close, guys. Follow through on this. Shine your Light on the LGBT community – give us the hero that we deserve. Any queer character would be a long-overdue win, but for the love of the Force, make it Poe Dameron. It’s all but there — all he needs is your blessing.