By Joe Glass
This time last year, the first new Star Wars film in years was released in cinemas, The Force Awakens, and immediately audiences came out wondering if Star Wars maybe possibly just included, under the radar, their first gay character, in the form of hotshot X-Wing pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
In fact, I even wrote about it myself.
This year, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first in the Star Wars Anthology films, has been wowing audiences across the world…and left some audiences asking the same questions all over again.
[MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR ROGUE ONE]
This time, however, we get more than one gay in space, and they might even be a couple, if what some fans are reading into the portrayal of erstwhile Guardians of the Whills, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), is true.
The pair have a kind of old married couple vibe going throughout the film, share a few poignant lines fraught with multiple meanings, and share a very close moment towards the end of the film.
For me, when viewing the film for the first time, their chemistry for much of the film felt like it could potentially be that of a couple, but I felt it could also be that of wartime fraternity and years of combat together. Moments such as when Imwe says to Malbus, "I don't need luck. I have you", did give me a momentary thrill of 'Is that where they're going?', but I felt it could be read either way.
However, for me it is in Chirrut Imwe's final moments that my viewing of the pair completely changed to that of an old gay couple. As Imwe lays dying in Baze Malbus' arms, he momentarily lifts his hand as if to brush Malbus' cheek in a brief, touching moment. And Imwe's last words to Malbus?
"Look for the Force and you will always find me."
Malbus then wades into a final charge, blasting Storm Troopers and Death Troopers to smithereens as he utters a variation of Imwe's constant prayer: "The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force". Particularly poignant as up until this moment, Malbus is shown to be a Force sceptic.
The drama of these moments, the closeness that actors Wen and Yen bring to the scenes, and the comfortable humour and trust portrayed by the characters feels like a relationship born out of companionship and love even more than any other to me.
In fact, I personally could believe the notion of a romantic element to these two more than I could main characters Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).
Of course, so far, yet again, this has not been officially confirmed by Disney. However, in a recent article in the Independent in the UK, Rogue One's director Gareth Edwards has said,
"I don't mind people reading into [Chirrut and Baze's relationship]. I think that's all good. Who knows? You'd have to speak to them,"
He may be referring to Disney, he may be referring to the actors, who may have decided to add that element to their personal backstory and chemistry for the pair.
And whilst it is fantastic to have this potential representation, in a medium (sci-fi) and a class of movies (massive blockbuster action/adventures/events) that are far from swimming in LGBTQ representation it would be nice to have it be legitimised as more than just fan theories or critical readings. After all, it would be nice to see the LGBTQ community become a reality of the sci fi medium, and not merely subtext.
Of course, maybe Disney, holders of the Star Wars universe now, may yet come out and make it official. Or if it is not currently an official part of the characters back stories, it may yet become a part of it, as the Star Wars lore is prone to revision and additions, and surely, 2017 will see new Marvel Star Wars comic series' starring characters from the Rogue One film. If one of those titles isn't one starring Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, I'd be deeply surprised.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and comics creator. He is the writer of LGBTQ superhero team book, The Pride. The first issue was one of ComiXology's Top 25 ComiXology Submit Titles of 2014, and the entire first volume has now been collected in an oversized hardback book. The Pride is available here and on ComiXology.