A NEW HOPE

Will J.J. Abrams Keep His Promise to Add Gay Characters to ‘Star Wars?’

The blockbuster filmmaker was just installed to direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX.’ Now it’s time to follow through on his word.

This week, the disturbance in the Force created by Colin Trevorrow’s removal from Episode IX was settled when it was announced that J.J. Abrams will be returning to Star Wars to replace him. Abrams will direct the film, currently scheduled for a December 20, 2019, release, and share co-writing duties with Chris Terrio (Argo). As I’ve written, the move isn’t exactly groundbreaking—Abrams is a perfectly capable director, but I don’t expect him to test the boundaries of the genre like The Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson, given his pedigree of genre-busting films like Brick and Looper. What Abrams can do, however, is keep his promise to include LGBTQ characters in the Star Wars universe.

At Bad Robot HQ, where he hosted the US-Ireland Alliance’s annual Oscar Wilde Awards ahead of last year’s Oscars, he told The Daily Beast: “When I talk about inclusivity it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course. I would love it. To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”

So far, there’s yet to be an LGTBQ character in the Star Wars universe, but Abrams’ last outing did introduce us to our first female and black leads in Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn. Perhaps he has more diversity up his sleeve for the final installment? There’s already been plenty of fan fervor demanding a romance between The Force Awakens’ Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, for example.

Both Boyega and Isaac played coy when asked about their characters’ relationship in the film. Boyega told the Radio Times in 2016: “When J.J. [Abrams] sat us down to go through the script [for The Force Awakens], it was a bromance. But now I’m learning what Mark Hamill said before when he didn’t know that Darth Vader was Luke’s father: you never know what they’re going to pull. I’m looking at the director Rian [Johnson] closely so he can get me involved early, so I can prepare myself. So who knows?”

We now know that we won’t see any romance in The Last Jedi, however. Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm chief, acknowledged the fan response to Finn and Poe but speaking to Ecartlera, she said: “We’ve talked about it, but I think you’re not going to see it in The Last Jedi. After 40 years of adventures, people have a lot of information and a lot of theories about the path these stories can take, and sometimes those theories that come up are new ideas for us to listen to, read and pay attention to.”

It’s a nice sentiment but as I’ve written before, Kennedy loves to make beautiful statements like this that she has yet to back up. When speaking of female directors in the Star Wars universe, Kennedy said to Variety: “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success. They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience. We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right.”

So far, Star Wars has cycled through multiple straight white male directors—Trevorrow, Josh Trank, Chris Miller and Phil Lord—because of so-called creative differences or problems on set. But somehow, Kennedy has yet to hire a woman to direct or write a film. It’s even odder considering Patty Jenkins directed the summer’s biggest hit, Wonder Woman, and is now the highest-paid female director ahead of Wonder Woman 2. All signs point to the addition of women as a recipe for box office success, and you’d think a woman like Kennedy would see that herself, yet she’s gone with the industry routine of hiring white men. And now with Episode IX, she’s relying on Abrams.

It’d be great to see not only a woman, POC or an LGBTQ director join Lucasfilm, but until then, we have to rely on Abrams to keep his promise. Kennedy and Boyega have teased a romance for Finn and Poe, and Abrams has said that there will be an LGBTQ character in the universe at some point. If not those two in Episode IX, the sky is the limit. It’s sci-fi and Kennedy and Abrams are crafting this universe themselves, calling all the shots. There’s no studio head above them to keep gay characters out of Star Wars, it’s just a matter of whether or not they want to make the effort.

So if your idea of inclusivity means not excluding gay characters like you said J.J., I’m looking forward to Star Wars: Episode IX debuting a gay couple that will rival the Babadook and Pennywise.