Don’t Kid Yourself: You Care About Sexuality in Star Wars

by Christopher David Lawton

Aftermath - CoverI’ve read a lot of Star Wars books in my life, both good and bad. When I was in my early teens, my friend Logan, who loved — I mean LOVED — Star Wars books bought a bunch of them and loaned them all to me. Others I bought myself, or I got from the local library. I was blown away by the Zahn trilogy, I was captivated by Shadows of the Empire. I was even okay with Darksaber, despite what I consider fairly subpar characterization of the classic heroes of of the Star Wars universe. I fell off the bandwagon sometime around the New Jedi Order, when R.A. Salvatore so cruelly killed Chewbacca, quite possibly the most noble of all the characters in the Star Wars universe.

My point in all of this is that I have been around the block when it comes to Star Wars books. I have.

So, I feel like I have a fair amount of credibility when I write about Chuck Wendig’s recently released novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, the first of a trilogy that seeks to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Unleashed. Like many fans of The Wars, I picked up Aftermath on Friday, and have spent the past few days, when I can, making my way through the events that immediately follow the destruction of the second Death Star per the current canon. I haven’t finished the book yet — so, no spoilers — but I have noticed a pretty crappy criticism of the book pop up over the past few days, and I feel it’s one I need to address.

Now, before I go on: again, I haven’t finished the book. I don’t want to comment on Wendig’s style or voice, or even the major events of the book, and how they hold up to the previous expanded universe. I will most likely post my review over at Idealcomics.net a little later this week, and maybe I’ll address some criticism there. I don’t know. Instead, today, I want to respond to a very, very specific critique I’ve seen pop up here and there. I want to respond to the critique over the gay characters that Wendig has chosen to include.

In reviews on Amazon.com, and even a column over at Allenbwest.com, I’ve seen people complain about the gay characters, and they always seem to say the same thing: “I don’t want to read about the sexuality of the characters.” Now, I understand this argument, only to the point of understanding the ignorance behind it. I understand it because I used to say it. Way back when I was a teenager, I used to say the same thing: “Ugh. Why do I have to know that character is gay? I don’t care about the sexuality of these characters. I only want to know what happens.” Of course, back then, I was misguided, ignorant, and to put it quite bluntly, bigoted in these comments. I understand that, I accept it, and I’ve worked really hard over the past years to change my thinking in this regard. I hope, by writing this, anyone who holds this perspective can join me in this journey to arrive at the other end of enlightenment.

The importance of including gay characters in fiction is quite simply a case of representation. Whether you agree with it or not — which is really inconsequential — people from across the spectrum of sexuality exist in this world, and like you and me, they enjoy seeing characters in fiction that reflect who they are. Including gay/bi/trans characters in fiction does that, and really, it in no way affects you at all, so why complain? Do you feel that in reading about these characters, you’re going to suddenly become gay? Because it doesn’t work like that.

Second, to address the wording of the criticism directly. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you do care about the sexuality of the characters. I’m going to include a snippet of dialogue here from Empire Strikes Back, which should require no introduction. It’s quite possibly the most famous interchange in all three movies.

Leia: I love you.
Han: I know.

I KnowThat is quite possibly the most gender-stereotypical, heterosexual interchange many of us have ever heard, and we most likely didn’t even realize it. Leia pours her heart out. Han responds in a curt, manly way. He’s getting ready to face his doom, and he doesn’t show emotion. He stares her straight in the eyes and responds, coolly, “I know.” Cue panty drop.

This line is proof that people care about the sexuality of characters because people love this line. People quote this line. As I said earlier, it’s one of the most-recognized lines in the original trilogy. But, it’s a very heterosexual line, and it reaffirms the heterosexuality of Han and Leia. And it doesn’t stop there. We see the heterosexuality of Luke established in the Zahn trilogy with the introduction of Mara Jade. Even in the prequel trilogy, a heterosexual relationship is one of the primary catalysts of the entire story.

Don’t kid yourself. You care about the sexuality of the characters. The truth is — and this was a hard truth to come to for myself — you care about the heterosexuality of the characters. When I had a problem with gay characters, it wasn’t that I didn’t care about the sexuality of characters, or that the sexuality of the characters shouldn’t matter, I just didn’t want to read about gay characters. I had issues with it for a whole host of reasons which I don’t want to go into here. Just know that I eventually recognized the errors of my ways, and I started to question a lot of environmental, societal, and ideological ideals that informed and shaped that perspective.

Once I recognized my issues and understood them, I started to change. It’s something that I hope can happen for many of the reviewers who are struggling with the gay characters in Star Wars: Aftermath. Like I said, I understand your perspective because I at one time wrongly felt the same way. I only hope that you take the same journey that I did. Try to come to the same realizations that I did. And, ultimately, try to make the same changes that I did. Trust me, you’ll discover some great fiction and great characters, and ultimately, you’ll find more fiction to enjoy. And, really, isn’t that why you read fiction to begin with? To enjoy it?

I know that hoping to change anyone’s perspective with a little 1,000 word blog post is most likely a tall order, but if these words make their way into even one critic’s head, I’ll felt like I did some good. Heck, even if no one ever reads it, I’ll feel like it’s doing some good. Because the voices of bigots are loud, and we sometimes need to counter with something even louder.

I think that’s worth it, if nothing else.