Queer Quest 16 – A Brief Queer History of Star Wars

By Ashley R. Lierman

(image c/o GeekParty.com)

I’ll admit it, I’m not the biggest Star Wars person. I don’t have anything against it, it was just something I never really got into, for whatever reason. But it’s hard not to be aware of the importance the Star Wars universe holds for a lot of us, and that definitely includes a lot of LGBT+ folks; and I’ve at least been peripherally aware of the ways that the Star Wars universe (expanded or otherwise) has touched on queerness in the past, however lightly. So with The Force Awakens on the horizon, I thought I’d take a look back at them, and what may (or may not) be possible for the road ahead.

2003-2004: Knights of the Old Republic I & II

It was almost 30 years after the release of A New Hope before what seems to be, to my knowledge, the first documented Star Wars property to contain queer characters. Knights of the Old Republic was an X-Box game developed by BioWare – a name that might be familiar if you’ve read this column before, at all, ever. The game was set 4000 years before the movie canon, and true to BioWare’s form, it featured a protagonist who could be played as either a man or a woman, with the option for romance plots with some of the supporting characters. One of these, a Jedi named Juhani, was canonically a lesbian; while the game’s initial release allowed either a male or female player character to romance her, this was a programming error that was later corrected, and her romance path was intended to be available only to a female protagonist. Another Jedi knight who appeared in the game, Belaya, appeared to have a close relationship with Juhani that may have been intended to be read as romantic.

Then, in 2004 came Knights of the Republic II: The Sith Lords (which was actually developed by Obsidian Entertainment after BioWare bowed out). Juhani did not reappear, but a third female supporting character, Luxa, would flirt with the player character regardless of gender, arguably hinting that she was bisexual. While both she and Belaya might have been a stretch as queer characters, however, Juhani’s sexuality at least was confirmed and canon.

Canonically queer characters in the Star Wars universe count: 1

2007: Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice

Although the character Goran Beviin first appeared in the e-novel Boba Fett: A Practical Man a year before, this novel – fifth in the Legacy of the Force series – first made it explicit that Beviin’s romantic relationship was with another man. In the novels, Beviin appeared as a Mandalorian bounty hunter who worked with Boba Fett (and here I apologize because I am starting to barely know what any of this means, and may be getting it wrong). Though none of the novels made it explicit that Beviin and his husband Medrit Vasur were married, author Karen Traviss later confirmed it, and they were referred to as such in the 2008 Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia.

Canonically queer characters in the Star Wars universe count: 3

2009-2013: The Old Republic

Okay, this has seemed like pretty straightforward, if very slow, progress so far, right? Well, buckle in. From here on out, this is where it gets depressing, confusing, and hilarious.

BioWare returned to their development role for the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic – not to be confused with Knights of the Old Republic, no matter how easy that is to do for the uninitiated – a game that was several years in the making and much-anticipated. Before it was even developed, however, things got awkward on BioWare’s messageboards for the game, when participants started speculating on potential gay or lesbian content, given BioWare’s track record in the past. Before this could get far underway, moderators began locking threads that included the words “homosexual,” “gay,” or “lesbian,” on the grounds that “these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.”

Yes, BioWare! Yes, that BioWare! I know! Okay, the ban was later lifted with an apology, and the reason given for why it happened in the first place was that participants were using the terms in a derogatory fashion. Though you could rightly point out that doesn’t really jibe with the reason that was given at the time, and community manager Sean Dahlberg, who had made the comments, went on to say that “I have overstepped my boundaries in my original statement and I sincerely apologize for doing so.” So was this one rogue Star Wars fan with bad opinions just egregiously misrepresenting his employers and their approach to the content? Was there maybe even pressure to make this policy from further up the intellectual property ownership chain? No idea, and maybe I’m just being paranoid. There hasn’t even been much speculation on this that I can find. But as someone who was (for once) aware of this going on even at the time, I can tell you two things that it definitely was: weird and off-putting.

Nor did it help when, in late 2011, The Old Republic actually came out, and it contained a wide variety of potential romance paths for players – all of them opposite-gender only. Again, this was pretty perplexing given BioWare’s track record in its own games, and while I might indeed just be paranoid, it doesn’t seem like too much of a reach to suspect that external pressure may have been involved. Regardless, though, not long later BioWare announced that it would be adding same-gender romances to the game, although with the inital content already completed it would be apparently be a bit of an arduous process. These romance options were finally introduced early in 2013… but none of them were with “companion” characters (those who can accompany a player character on their quest) like the opposite-gender romances, only with NPCs… and in an infamous move, all of them were confined to a single planet in the game’s galaxy. Like a giant San Francisco in space, Makeb, “the gay planet,” was born.

Like the Guardian article linked above says, to be fair, you can kind of see the logic of how this happened. The whole game infrastructure was already set, changing the whole universe would be hugely labor-intensive and affect play across the board, it seemed more reasonable to make changes only to a certain geographical area. None of this, though, makes ghettoizing all same-sex relationships in a game to a single planet any less of a cringe-worthy or bizarre choice. Regardless of any good or ill intentions that may have been behind any part of this process, it really couldn’t help but leave a bad taste in a lot of queer players’ mouths.

Canonically queer characters in the Star Wars universe count: 3+
Canonically queer planets in the Star Wars universe count: 1

2014: Post-Disney acquisition, Star Wars Expanded Universe content is discarded from canon and relabeled “Legends”


Correct me if I’m wrong, but essentially, my understanding is that from shortly after the movies originally came out, George Lucas and associates kept a sort of lax hold on the intellectual property of the Star Wars universe. A lot of novels, games, and other adaptations were able to carry the name while being free to build out in just about any direction they chose. This was referred to as the “Expanded Universe” of Star Wars, and while it wasn’t exactly canon, it wasn’t exactly not canon, either. The films were the core of the canon, and they didn’t have to agree with any of the rest, but the rest was allowed to exist and be just as valid as anything else.

Then Disney made its 2012 acquisition of Star Wars, and decided that much firmer control of the universe’s continuity was needed. In 2014, it was announced that only the six existing films and the Clone Wars animated TV series were to be considered the Star Wars canon going forward; everything else would still be available, but would be relabeled as Star Wars “Legends,” and no longer considered authoritative in any way. Future print and screen adaptations, furthermore, would be subject to the supervision of Disney’s continuity management.

Why is this notable for my purposes? Well, given what we’ve discussed so far, it has certain implications. Namely:

Canonically queer characters AND planets in the Star Wars universe count: 0

2015: Lords of the Sith, Star Wars: Aftermath, and… Campbell’s Soup?

But it’s not all bad news. This year has seen a couple of positive developments in the newly all-canon Star Wars universe. It was announced this spring that Paul S. Kemp’s upcoming novel Lords of the Sith would include the new canon’s first gay character: lesbian and Imperial official Moff Mors. Meanwhile, just this fall, Chuck Wendig’s novel Star Wars: Aftermath included another, major gay character, a former Imperial named Sinjir Rath Velus. (Delightfully, in a later interview, Wendig also issued a fantastic takedown of homophobic critics of the choice.) And, of course, finally, there’s the Star Wars-themed Campbell’s soup commercial with two gay dads, which may not be a part of the Star Wars universe proper, but is a) kind of related, and b) completely adorable. As Stephen Colbert would tell you, you should probably go watch it again right now. Just because.

Canonically queer characters in the Star Wars universe count: 2
Canonically queer dads who love Star Wars, their son, and soup count: 2

Well… it’s a start. It’s not a great start. Star Wars still has a decidedly spotty track record not only on gay and lesbian characters, but on gender and racial diversity too, and no track record at all on trans representation. (Come on, Star Wars, even freaking Magic: The Gathering has a trans character by now. Sort your life out.) There are some cautious signs of progress, but given strong continuity control from Disney – an entity with its own definite ups and downs in terms of all kinds of representation – it’s hard to say right now how much better we can expect in the future. Still, the more diverse cast of young leads in The Force Awakens is also a promising step, and who knows? We’ll just have to see where things go, especially now, as the universe begins to expand again into its newest phase. Maybe someday – and I know this sounds crazy – we’ll even manage to get that counter above 3.


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