“Do gay people like Star Wars?”
That was a question someone asked me once.
“Uhhhh, yes.” That was my response. Pathetic, I know. I didn’t even tell him what a generalizing asshole he was being. Or that queer people are not a monolithic group, nor am I their sole representative. Instead, I just said, “Uhhhh, yes.” I’m gay, and yes, I like Star Wars. But, does Star Wars like gay people? Now we’re getting somewhere. The relationship between the Star Wars films and their queer fans is not exactly a love affair--it’s more unrequited than that. Fans of Star Wars produce tons of queer fanfic and gender-bending fan art everyday; but the Star Wars film franchise has refused to return the love.
In the absence of queer representation in the film franchise, fans have taken things into their own hands. Since the release of the latest installment in the Star Wars saga, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, two of the film’s central male characters--reformed Stormtrooper Finn, played by John Boyega, and Rebel pilot Poe, played by Oscar Isaac--have become the subject of much fanfic “slash shipping.” In the creative wonderland that is fanfiction, slash shipping has been around for a while. “Shipping” comes from “ship” which comes from “relationship”; and it refers to fans’ imagining, via fan art or fully composed fanfiction narratives, of two characters in a hypothetical, romantic relationship. For example, when everyone was hoping that Ross and Rachel from Friends would get back together, that was a light form of shipping. “Slashing” is the “shipping” of two same-sex characters, usually male. You can see this in the slashing of Harry/Draco from Harry Potter, Holmes/Watson from BBC’s Sherlock, and even Jared/Richard from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
Cue Episode VII, and almost instantly we have Finn/Poe. There is so much Finn/Poe. People are really trying to make Finn/Poe happen. So, are Finn and Poe REALLY a couple in Episode VII? Did the screenwriter really include a gay subtext to their relationship? Is it true, are they actually gay? Who the fuck cares!? If I want to imagine Finn waking up next to Poe every morning and tracing the letters F, I, N, N on his back, no one is going to fucking stop me. Slash shipping or “queering” characters is a post-structuralist affair--it isn’t concerned with the “truth” of the matter. Are they gay? Well, they are now! By bending characters into new directions beyond the original canon of a fictional work, fanfic writers and artists challenge the authority that the original creators exert over their own work. After Harry and Draco left Hogwarts, did they fall in love and eventually get married in the Great Hall? Not according to J.K. Rowling. But, it happened according to StormyFireDragon in For Love of a Slytherin. Similar to fanfiction, post-structuralists argue that there is no single “true” reading of any text, not even what the screenwriter or the director originally intended. There are only many possible interpretations, and the viewer (or fanfic writer) is implicated in the construction of those interpretations.
And while the nature of slash shipping is unconcerned with the “truth,” this has not stopped John Boyega himself from raining “truth” over the whole parade. When he was asked about the possible romance between Finn and Poe, Boyega immediately rejected the fan theories, saying: "It's so not true. Oscar [Isaacs] wishes it was though, it's all in his head. It's a brotherly love, a bromance, that's for sure." You heard it here, folks! Boyega, the ultimate authority on Finn’s sexual identity, the man who reads Finn’s lines and shoots his plastic blaster on the green screen, has proclaimed that Finn and Poe are simply involved in a *wince* bro-mance *gulp*. No homo, bro. But, don’t worry, the Grand Boyega himself later caved to fan pressure and began fanning rumors of a possible future romance between Finn/Poe in the only way a secure, homophilic adult can--with lots of jokes and innuendos. Thanks, Boyega.
And, of course, it would be really fucking nice--and the right thing to do--if Disney held up a mirror to the queer fandom and included an out queer character in the actual films. However, the purpose of making enormous blockbuster films is to delight audiences only insofar as it creates a market demand for spending money to see the film; and this profit-motive is influenced in a huge way by moviegoer markets in Russia and China--two governments who do not welcome with much enthusiasm films with queer characters.
Are Finn and Poe gay? It depends on who you ask. No interpretation is neutral or objective--our knowledge of anything is based on who we are, where we are, and when we are. And I, a queer man, will take any chance I get to imagine a non-heterosexual relationship in the queer-less world of Star Wars.
About the Author
Adam Apo is a contributor to General Snobbery and quite the righteous snob. He lives in Chicago, where he works as a school librarian. We greatly thank him for his honesty and intelligence in this analysis of Star Wars he has so generously offered our enterprise. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.