It’s been fifteen years now since the first LGBTQ character appeared in the Star Wars franchise. Granted, it wasn’t on the big screen, and Star Wars are still waiting for their officially confirmed LGBTQ film protagonist. Nevertheless, the Star Wars universe does have multiple amazing stories featuring LGBTQ protagonists. I would like to introduce four of these protagonists who are unique in some respect.
Juhani (Knights of the Old Republic)
Juhani was the first character in the Star Wars universe that was written to be lesbian. She was introduced in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game (2003). Her appearance was remarkable not only in terms of Star Wars, but in terms of the entire gaming industry – there had not been many LGBTQ characters in the mainstream projects at that time.
Juhani was a female Jedi from the Cathar species – a cat-like people whose home planet had been devastated during the Mandalorian Wars, nearly three thousand years ago before the original film timeline. Juhani would join a crew of galactic heroes (the protagonists of the game) to battle against the ancient Sith.
Like many Jedi, Juhani struggled with her attachments (she had a deep relationship with fellow human female Padawan, Belaya) and also with controlling her anger, stemming from what she had suffered after the destruction of her homeworld. During lightsaber training, Juhani would lash out in anger and accidentally strike her Master, Quatra. Believing that she had killed her teacher and thus fallen to the Dark Side, Juhani would flee into the wilderness.
She would be rescued by another Jedi – the game’s protagonist. If the player character was female, Juhani would eventually develop feelings towards her and confess them. She would find the protagonist a source of inspiration and light. The one safe way to save Juhani from the Dark Side during their initial meeting was for the player character to tell her “you are beautiful and talented young woman”, rescuing Juhani from her self-doubt. The affirming aspect resonated with many LGBTQ players who struggled with similar belief that they were not “right” according to the standards of their society.
Unfortunately, some of the content had been cut from the game before release and the romance hasn’t been explored in full, even though the dialogue files still exist in the game. The original intent of the writers still remains, however, as well as pieces of dialogue that confirm Juhani’s feelings.
Sinjir Rath Vellus (Aftermath)
“I just mean… I’m not into… this.”
“This?” Her scowl deepens and her teeth bare. “Aliens?”
– Sinjir Rath Vellus and Jas Emari, a female Zabrak bounty hunter (Star Wars: Aftermath)
As opposed to Juhani, Sinjir Rath Vellus was the first male gay protagonist in Star Wars, appearing in the novel Star Wars: Aftermath (2015 – my SFFN review of it can be found here). In that light (with a twelve-year pause between the appearance of major LGBTQ protagonists), Juhani’s existence seems even more remarkable.
Sinjir was a former Imperial loyalty officer (essentially, his job was making sure fellow Imperials are following the doctrine). After the Rebel victory on Endor, he lost his purpose and spent most of his time in cantinas on backwater worlds. He would later accidentally join a group of Rebels and, somewhat in the Han Solo fashion, find that under his cynical outer shell, he was a good person after all.
Sinjir is an interestingly written character – somewhat melodramatic, perhaps, but his struggle to come to terms with his past is genuine. His “redemption arc” also includes forming a sincere, lasting, loving relationship with a New Republic slicer, Conder Kyl.
The Korrasami of Star Wars: Kalluzeb (Rebels)
One of the most celebrated moments in recent years for LGBTQ SF/F fans was the finale of Avatar: The Legend of Korra. It was the first time a “kids'” TV show confirmed a same-sex romantic relationship. The finale of Star Wars Rebels, also a “kids'” show, deserves an honorable mention for a similar moment.
The relationship between Garazeb Orrelios, the alien Rebel, and the redeemed Imperial, agent Kallus, is one of the most beautifully written relationships even without the romantic aspect. It is a tale going from bitter rivalry through honourable respect to genuine care and partnership. Like with Korra and Asami from Avatar, it is difficult to argue for them being “just friends” after the season finale.
The comparison is inevitable. Not only do Kallus and Zeb “go on a holiday, just the two of us” (to quote from Legend of Korra), the scene portrays Zeb uncovering Kallus’s eyes to show him the sight of his homeworld and tenderly resting his hand on his shoulder. The authors themselves have left the interpretation open to the audience as to how close the two characters actually are, but even the actors and the show’s creator Dave Filoni spoke encouragingly in regards to perceiving them as a couple. In that context, Filoni also spoke repeatedly about what he perceives as deficient in Western (especially American) culture, the taboo surrounding showing an image of two men loving and caring about each other – at the expense of the culture that keeps pushing men to “toughen up” and closes them to emotions. Even without the romantic aspect of Kallus and Zeb’s relationship, their story bears great significance.
Kallus and Zeb’s case differs from that of Korra and Asami in that it is less apparent, partly also because of its interracial aspect. Likewise, the characters are not the chief protagonists of Star Wars Rebels (still, Zeb is one of the protagonists and Kallus is a major secondary character). Nevertheless, after various hints, the finale of the series came as an unexpected confirmation to many fans that there is a romantic dimension to the relationship.
By now, there are many more characters in the Star Wars universe who could qualify as LGBTQ, but I have tried to elaborate on the most significant ones. The only remaining question is: when can we expect something similar on the cinema screen?