Courtesy: Lucasfilm

Opinion

Lando's Pansexuality in 'Star Wars' Spurs Mixed Feelings

It’s unlikely to have escaped your notice that Lando Calrissian—everyone’s true favorite rogue from the Star Wars franchise, especially when played by Donald Glover, as he is in the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story—is now pansexual, at least according to Solo screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan. His assertion, made during an interview with Huffington Post, would mean that the massively successful franchise finally has a canonically queer character onscreen for the first time in its 40-plus year history, something that resulted in all manner of breathless media coverage. The fickle beast that is Star Wars fandom was less excited, however, and with good reason.

For one thing, Calrissian wouldn’t be the first queer character in the franchise. In 2015—a year after Lucasfilm announced that it was revising the mythology of Star Wars to ensure that everything “counted,” regardless of whether it was a movie, TV show, novel or comic book—two out queer characters debuted in tie-in novels. Star Wars: Lords of the Sith introduced the franchise’s first gay character, a lesbian Imperial officer called Moff Mors; soon afterwards, Star Wars: Aftermath introduced the series’ first gay man, Sinjir Rath Velus. (A sequel to Aftermath, 2017’s Star Wars: Aftermath—Empire’s End, would reveal that another character is bisexual; yes, that character was also an Imperial officer. There was a trend, however subconsciously.)

By contrast, the most that movie fans got was the tease that maybe two characters in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story might be in a relationship, along with fans (and actors, as it turned out) imagining that maybe two heroes of the new trilogy could hook up. For Lando to be canonically pansexual would be a massive step forward for the movies, if not Star Wars as a whole.

It should, however, be noted that Kasdan didn’t bring the subject up by himself in the interview; instead, he appears to have been asked whether Lando’s casual flirtiness with … well, everyone in his immediate orbit, really, translated into the character being pansexual. His answer, in fact, suggested that Kasdan was only really considering the topic for the first time. “I would say yes,” the screenwriter said. “There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee [Williams' portrayal of Lando’s] sexuality.”

He continued, “I mean, I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity―sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to and that droids are a part of. He doesn’t make any hard and fast rules. I think it’s fun.”
That comment about wishing for a “more explicitly LGBT character” in the movie is important, and one of the reasons that elements of Star Wars fandom aren’t too excited about this reveal: If Lando is actually pansexual, it’s not something that’s explicitly stated in Solo—or, for that matter, even particularly heavily implied. Instead, it’s an inference audiences can draw if they choose to, using the source material that Glover’s version of the character is charming with everyone, from droids to smugglers to Wookiees. Alternatively, for audiences who’d rather that Lando was entirely straight—and there is almost certainly a sizable contingent of them, given the number of conservative fans of the franchise—there’s nothing in the movie that explicitly argues otherwise. Lando’s sexuality is the latest pop cultural example of Schrödinger’s Cat.

This is nothing new for fans of genre properties that want to seem progressive without pissing off their fan base. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling made headlines by declaring, after the publication of the final book in the series, that paternal figure Albus Dumbledore was gay, even though there has never been any suggestion of that in the books themselves. Those defending the decision, however after-the-fact, then had to deal with the news that the character’s sexuality will not be addressed in this winter’s prequel movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. It is, it seems, easier to claim diversity and representation when it doesn’t actually involve doing anything onscreen to risk upsetting the more uptight members of the audience.
Straight characters get to express their desires, date their crushes and fuck in front of the audience. Why can’t queer characters?
For both Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts, there’s an argument in favor of keeping characters in the closet onscreen that goes beyond “Don’t scare the bigots”: It goes, essentially, “LGBTQ people in real life don’t proclaim their sexuality every minute of their lives, so why should fictional characters? Maybe they’re busy with more important matters, like the story of the movie.” On the one hand, there’s something to this argument: Sure, for those who want accurate representation of diversity in fiction, there has to be an inner life to queer characters that goes beyond their sexuality. That, hopefully, should be a given.

At the same time, though, it’s not too much to ask that queer characters are permitted to be sexual beings in the brief time they’re onscreen; straight characters get to express their desires, date their crushes and, in certain movies, fuck in front of the audience (albeit tastefully, or at least without showing penetration). Why can’t queer characters, outside of cynical fear and bigotry? If Lando truly is pansexual—let’s assume for a minute that Lucasfilm, the Disney-owned corporation that controls the Star Wars universe, agrees with Kasdan’s take on the character—then why can’t we see him pursue his romantic and sexual wants with the same attitude that he goes after everything else he wants? Sure, Star Wars takes place “a long, long time ago,” as everyone familiar with the movies knows by heart—but does it have to have its attitude toward queer characters rooted in the past as well?