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Sorry, haters: Almost no one in ‘Star Wars’ is canonically straight
The debate over Lando’s sexuality illustrates how many fans misunderstand the ambiguity of ‘Star Wars’ canon.
No one in Star Wars is canonically queer, which at this point is definitely bullshit. Disney made an effort to hire a diverse cast for the new movies, but queer representation remains a “maybe one day” hypothetical. That’s part of the reason why fans draw attention to characters like Poe Dameron and Lando Calrissian, who are widely interpreted as queer.
That being said, no one in Star Wars is canonically straight, either. I don’t say this as a balm for the lack of queer characters, because ambiguity is no substitute for representation. No, this is a reminder for anyone who recoiled at the suggestion that Lando is pansexual. Because at no point did the movies say Lando was straight. Never!
If you automatically objected when Solo co-writer Jonathan Kasdan said Lando is pansexual, then you need to examine why. In his 14 minutes and 30 seconds of screentime in the Original Trilogy, does Lando ever turn to the camera and announce, “I’m only interested in women, so when I showed up wearing Han’s clothes in that one scene, it was totally just a bro thing”? No. Does anyone else make a similar declaration? Also no, unless you count a brief conversation in a tie-in novel, where Leia tells Amilyn Holdo that she’s only attracted to humanoid males. Everyone in Star Wars is assumed to be straight, because that’s how queer erasure works. But if you try to cite canonical precedent for Lando’s alleged straightness, you don’t actually have a leg to stand on.
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From his role in the Original Trilogy, we can glean a pretty good mental picture of Lando’s personality. He’s a charming flirt with impressive managerial skills and snappy fashion sense. He’s comfortable working with the Empire for business purposes, although he decides to join the good guys in the end. Basically, he’s a more suave, successful version of the person Han wants to be. Empire also portrays him as a ladies’ man, a recurring trait in Star Wars books like Last Shot and Lando. For some reason, this led a lot of people to decide that he’s straight—as if sleeping with a lot of women is extra heterosexual. In reality, it doesn’t preclude him being attracted to other genders as well.
When you look at the fan reactions to Jonathan Kasdan saying Lando is pansexual, they’re split down the middle. Some say Lando’s sexuality was blindingly obvious from the get-go, while others believe Kasdan’s comment is a total betrayal of the character. Of course, that interview makes no difference to canon. Like J.K. Rowling with Dumbledore, Kasdan shared a well-meaning opinion that isn’t acknowledged onscreen. To take a cynical view, he’s capitalizing on the desire for queer representation without taking meaningful action.
What is canon, anyway?
The debate over Lando’s sexuality illustrates an awkward overlap between queer representation, queer subtext, and shipping. In fandom, these ideas are connected, but they don’t mean the same thing. Queer subtext is open to interpretation, and it’s often unintentional. People have read Lando as queer since 1980, and Jonathan Kasdan shares the opinion that Billy Dee Williams and Donald Glover display a kind of sexual “fluidity” in their performances. Likewise, plenty of shippers believe that Han and Lando’s relationship makes the most sense if they’re ex-boyfriends. These ideas originate with fans, whereas representation originates with the creators. It’s something that isn’t up for debate.
The concept of canonical “fact” causes a ton of problems, especially in Star Wars fandom, where people are notoriously detail-oriented. Unfortunately, it’s not a great way to approach conversations about sexuality. Until Star Wars finally does the right thing and includes explicitly queer characters, we’re basically arguing ourselves round in circles. Everything is open to interpretation, and viewing Han and Lando as ex-boyfriends is just as legitimate as viewing Lando as the Hugh Hefner of Cloud City. And regardless of what happens onscreen, people can write fanfiction about whatever the hell they want.
If you find it hard to reconcile these ideas, I have some good news. Star Wars fans already have a built-in role model for handling this debate, and his name is Mark Hamill. For years now, Hamill has made it clear that Luke Skywalker is “whatever the audience wants him to be.” He’s confirmed that Luke can be gay, bi, asexual, or trans. He simultaneously understands the desire for real representation and the power of ambiguity in Star Wars canon. So follow Mark Hamill’s example, and try to be more open-minded.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor