In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a legion of fans waited with bated breath for the confirmation that Finn and Poe Dameron were in love. We read between the lines in The Force Awakens, when Poe not only gave Finn his jacket, but bit his lip sensually and told Finn to “keep it, it suits you”. We saw the way Poe embraced Finn tenderly and cared deeply what happened to him. We saw their chemistry; we saw the seed of what could be.
Alas, The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson delivered a film that, by LGBT+ standards, was more in line with what we’re used to from Hollywood. A visually stunning, sensational film that turns everything we thought we knew about Star Wars at a surface level on its head, but a relatively straight film nonetheless.
Though there are, once again, hints (perhaps even subtler than in The Force Awakens; I won’t spoil them if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet) at a deeper relationship between Finn and Poe, nothing in The Last Jedi confirms that either man has feelings for the other or could potentially be a member of the LGBT+ community. JJ Abrams confirmed in 2015 that definitely, as long as he was involved with Star Wars, a gay character would be included and part of the mythos–because it makes absolutely no sense that, in a galaxy where people can move things with their mind and where aliens and humans live among each other, no one would be gay. And we all assumed he was talking about Poe and Finn. But that seems to not be the case–something that has left us all puzzled.
If you aren’t familiar, let me explain the definition of ‘queerbaiting’ and the significance of how it relates to Star Wars. Queerbaiting is when a person, usually the director or writer of a television show, film, comic or book, understands that the audience that consumes that content is looking for representation. But rather than give them that representation, the creative chooses to remain intentionally neutral–a glib line here, a wink or a slightly flirtatious look there, but nothing more. And with The Last Jedi, the relationship between Finn and Poe moves into queerbaiting territory.
We want it to happen so bad that some of us are willing to look beyond it. I mean, the idea that not only would a major gay couple be a part of the new Star Wars trilogy, but that said couple would focus on a Black man and a Guatemalan man, is too enticing for LGBT+ fans of Star Wars to pass up. Plus, if you look at the model of both the original and new trilogy, we have our Luke, Han and Leia in Rey, Poe and Finn. Rey is our Luke, the Jedi who is powerful with the Force and doesn’t want to be a hero, but has to. Poe is our Han–a hotheaded pilot who sometimes is in over his head. And Finn is our Leia–the headstrong fighter who is passionate about the resistance. If we follow that format, Finn and Poe have to end up together.
Perhaps Disney is afraid that if they go fully in this direction, they’ll lose their “wholesome, family-friendly” image. We saw the way that people reacted at the idea of a woman and a Black man being the faces of a new Star Wars trilogy, and how a new campaign has cut every scene with a woman out of The Last Jedi (ridiculously sexist, right?) But that’s frankly ridiculous. There’s no reason that LGBT+ inclusion in your film has to make the brand any less family friendly. In fact, seeing Finn and Poe get together in a gargantuan franchise like Star Wars could be beneficial to young children of the LGBT+ community, specifically children of color. To be told that they are cool enough to save the galaxy, to be part of the resistance, and that their Queerness does not negate or denote that validity.
The idea that Queer kids of color could know that they can be a part of Star Wars could be huge. Because like it or not, Star Wars–and franchises like it–influence pop culture. They shape the way we see the world. And if Queer kids of color see themselves as the hero, it will make them feel much better about being the hero in the real world.
And if Disney didn’t want fans to speculate and want for these elements, they shouldn’t have included them in the first place. They could’ve made Poe a ladies-man like Han Solo, instantly attracted to Rey. They could’ve taken steps to combat the inevitable realization on the fans’ part that pretty much anyone who interacts with Oscar Isaac in a scene will want to swoon over him, regardless of their gender. And they could’ve done away with all this chatter before it even got started.
Or, they could’ve been brave and realized they’re a billion-dollar empire with money to burn, and taken a risk for once in their lives. Sure, Star Wars is important; it’s a brand that isn’t going away any time soon. But if it has no identity other than a faint idea of what fans believe it should be, will it lose its wonder to become yet another recycled franchise that puts out cookie-cutter movies every year to make money?
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy The Last Jedi. I thought it was a wonderfully made film, with beautiful cinematography and a wonderfully written story arc between Rey and Kylo Ren. The ending made me cry, and I’m very excited for Episode IX. But if Poe and Finn aren’t going to be together, I’ll be honest–it’s going to take down my enthusiasm about following them in future films. Because it’s just so obvious.
Disney, and Hollywood at large, needs to learn their lesson. You can’t dangle a four-course meal in front of someone who hasn’t eaten for weeks helplessly, and earn their loyalty just on the hope that someday they might get to taste the plate. Eventually, you’re going to have to give it to them.