Why That 'Star Wars' Kiss Is a Step Back for LGBTQ Representation

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - publicity Still - H 2019
Lucasfilm Ltd. Disney
While the moment in 'The Rise of Skywalker' is technically history-making, it also perpetuates the idea that small amounts of representation are sufficient.

[This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker]

Once again Disney has attempted to represent the LGBTQ community with a quick blink-and-you-miss-it moment. This time the culprit is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

In the last few minutes of The Rise of Skywalker, the Resistance returns after defeating the Final Order. The victors rush around looking for friends and loved ones who survived the battle. As the camera quickly pans over the crowd, audiences (if they are looking closely enough) will see two women Resistance fighters share a kiss before the camera quickly moves away. Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) longing look at Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) lasted longer. It's also important to note that neither of the women were characters with substantial plotlines or backstories. 

While the moment is technically history-making, is it on the right side of history? 

Director J.J. Abrams teased the moment prior to the film’s release as representation for the LGBTQ community. “In the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film,” Abrams told Variety during the press tour. But is a two-second scene between minor characters really a form of proper representation? 

Disney has a long history of queerbaiting that has ramped up significantly in recent years. For those unfamiliar with the term, queerbaiting is the tactic of teasing or touting queer representation in a project to get the LGBTQ community interested and talking about it, then under-delivering on the promise. The Rise of Skywalker, sadly, is not the first time that Disney has teased LGBTQ representation in one of its blockbusters, only to yield disappointing results. 

Earlier this year, Avengers: Endgame featured Marvel's first openly gay character. "Representation is really important for us in these movies and I think the thing we are happiest most about Marvel moving forward is it's becoming incredibly diverse," co-director Joe Russo said. "We've done four of these films and it was incredibly important to us to have a gay character represented somewhere in one of these four movies."

But he was referring to another blink-and-you-miss-it moment with a man (played by Russo) in a support group talking about going on a date with a man. The scene, unsurprisingly, stirred up backlash amongst fans, who were hoping for more representation than a remark in passing.

In 2017, Disney made waves with its first-ever LGBTQ character, LeFou, in the live-action Beauty and Tthe Beast. Again, the moment was highly touted by director Bill Condon, who called it an “exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.” It was another blink-and-you-miss-it moment at the end when Josh Gad’s LeFou dances with another man. And yes, that tiny scene still led to boycotts and refusals to screen the film. Touting these few moments as groundbreaking perpetuates the idea that small amounts of representation is sufficient, when in reality it isn’t.

It seemed the Star Wars universe might introduce its first gay characters in 2016's Rogue One with Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Jiang Wen); however, their relationship was kept platonic.

On the heels of Hallmark Channel's controversy last weekend — when the network removed ads featuring two lesbians kissing at their wedding, only to reinstate them a day later after facing severe backlash — it raises the question, is Disney that much better than Hallmark? 

Appealing to the broadest possible audience seems to be more important than holding up a mirror to society and depicting all orientations. Much like Hallmark, Disney’s brand is built on being family friendly; however, if it doesn’t show all types of families, is it really doing justice to that branding? Over the years, diversity has been incorporated more and more into the Disney brand (hello, Black Panther, Mulan, Moana, The Princess and the Frog, and many more).However, when it comes to LGBTQ representation, Disney still misses the mark. 

Ironically, Disney’s biggest franchises (Marvel and Star Wars) are deeply ingrained in the sci-fi genre, which is where LGBTQ representation on TV has made it greatest strides. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer airing a kiss between Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) in 2001 to Ruby Rose as the first out lesbian to play a lesbian lead in the superhero show Batwoman, genre TV has made monumental strides in LGBTQ representation. So, why is it so hard for some of the most-watched movies in the world to do the same? 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker had a great setup for an LGBTQ romance as many fans, and even the stars themselves, wanted Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Isaac) to be an item. Star Wars, and especially the new trilogy, is not overly romantic. But that did not stop the final chapter from featuring a kiss between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Yet, the inclusion that was teased by Abrams was nothing more than a one-off pandering moment of “LGBTQ representation.” 

Marvel's The Eternals is said to have a gay character and Thor: Ragnarok's Tessa Thompson has said she pitched and played her character as bisexual, as she is in the comics; however, none of her appearances in Marvel films thus far have portrayed her this way. Could that change with Taika Waititi's ’hor: Love and Thunder? 

There is also hope for more LGBTQ representation in a big-budget superhero flick thanks to Warner Bros.' Wonder Woman 1984. There is speculation that the sequel could contain a queer romance, because in later versions of the Wonder Woman comics, Diana Prince is confirmed as being bisexual and Barbara Ann Minerva (aka The Cheetah), one of the villains in the upcoming sequel, is depicted as a lesbian. Whether it will be explicitly stated in the film is yet to be seen, but until then…Patty Jenkins, perhaps you are the LGBTQ community’s only hope.