Today, as every year on May 4, Star Wars fans will take over social media celebrating the iconic franchise. This year, the holiday has a special focus: Gay The Fourth, a celebration of LGBTQ fans and the need for queer representation in the series. And make no mistake, that need is great.
The Star Wars universe has not featured a single LGBTQ character in a film or television show. Ever. Evidently the stories take place in a universe populated by aliens and Force-wielding Jedi, but only heterosexual and cisgender people. This is an utter failure of imagination at best, complete creative cowardice at worst.
And, frankly, it’s time to do better.
Stories matter. Fiction helps define our landscape of possibilities and helps determine whose experiences we can identify with. For many people, storylines in movies and TV are the most powerful way they come to see and understand people who are not like them. Seeing the experiences of people unlike ourselves is humanizing and normalizing. Once you watch someone struggle and love and hurt and celebrate, it becomes a lot harder to dismiss them as disgusting, or the enemy.
Even more importantly, LGBTQ audiences desperately need to see ourselves reflected in our most popular and accessible stories. You can’t be what you can’t see. Children need to grow up seeing characters like themselves, knowing they matter and are worthy of having stories told about them. That they are worthy of being heroes. Adults need it just as much.
What happens when we can’t find ourselves in our most important stories? What happens when we can’t see ourselves as heroes? When no one can? What makes any story powerful are the small moments reminding us that we are not alone in our experiences. LGBTQ audiences deserve that too.
Given the current cultural climate, it’s all the more important. The current administration is bloated with anti-LGBTQ voices and has already rolled back key protections. President Trump is likely to sign a “license to discriminate” executive order soon. Hate crimes are on the rise, and not even a year after the Pulse nightclub shooting, we are no safer.
Hollywood, unfortunately, is not doing its part to fight back. Only 17.5% of films released by major studies in 2015 included characters who were explicitly LGBTQ, according to GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index report. That’s no better than the year before. And the numbers are even worse among genre films (action, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror), of which only 6.4% were inclusive. Much of this representation is only as a punchline.
Stunningly, two studios contributed precisely zero inclusive films in 2015: Paramount and Disney. Disney, in charge of both the Star Wars franchise and the Marvel cinematic universe, has perhaps the best chance of any major studio to include LGBTQ characters in a meaningful and powerful way. Yet both of those incredibly popular universes feature zero queer characters on the big screen.
This is not “social justice warrior” pandering. Erasing the existence of LGBTQ people actively keeps old prejudices alive and fosters a more dangerous climate, not only in the U.S., but around the world where audiences soak up these stories as eagerly as we do. Creators have a responsibility to consider the messages they are sending to the world and to use the power and influence that comes with a franchise like this to do some good — to faithfully represent the world not only as it is, but as it should be in terms of the stories of those who have been erased and demonized. In short, gay Star Wars characters could save lives in this galaxy.
Star Wars is insanely popular and almost universally recognizable. It has a huge audience and a huge impact. Creators have already realized the positive effect they can make by placing non-white and women heroes central to the newest films. It’s past time they extend the same thought to their LGBTQ fans.
Star Wars is about defeating coded space Nazis, overcoming the forces of fear with hope, and resisting authoritarian power used to control and harm. So it’s not like the inclusion of LGBTQ characters would be wildly off-theme. And you can’t argue that gay characters are any less realistic than Force magic, with all that levitating and long-distancing strangling.
Nor would such inclusion come as a huge shock to the audience. Rumors have swirled around other characters before, but with the arrival of Finn and Poe, almost no one would even be surprised. The actors have teased it. The director has teased it. The President of Lucasfilm has teased it. Devoted fans and media outlets and casual watchers have all noticed the possibility. Not to mention the many, many fans breathlessly, painfully rooting for it.
That’s assuming, of course, you don’t count Baze and Chirrut from Rogue One as the universe’s first gay couple. Many people, myself included, left the theater not realizing they hadn’t actually been a confirmed couple. The chemistry and possibility was so obvious we took it for granted. Now, we’re ready for more than subtext.
We know the Powers That Be have considered it. The question has been asked and answered several times. Some involved in Star Wars — from directors to actors — have spoken positively about the potential for future LGBTQ characters, but fans don’t have time to wait around while they tease the possibilities. (J.J. Abrams said “of course” there are gays in space. We have to ask: Where?)
After all, these are space nazis we’re talking about — a terrifyingly relevant concept always, but especially now. All we want is permission to join the fight and swing some lightsabers alongside our heterosexual brethren, because these queer hands aren’t new to the struggle against the dark side.
As Master Yoda taught us: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. It’s well-past time to end the fear. So let’s #GayTheFourth already.
Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr with #GayTheFourth.