As The Rise of Skywalker hits cinemas to a mixed response from fans and critics, it’s hard to believe we’re only four years removed from the ecstatic buzz of The Force Awakens. Back then, the Star Wars franchise seemed reborn and full of new opportunities, with the prospect of a romance between ex-storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) and resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) sparking some of the most intense fan discussion online.
For a brief period of time, it looked as if such a momentous love story could actually be heading to a galaxy far, far away. However, as the afterglow from The Force Awakens began to fade it became clear it was merely a pipe dream.
Perhaps this is down to a reluctance to incur the wrath of some socially conservative audiences, or concern over losing certain corners of the fandom. Whatever the case, the fact remains that there was a chance to do something genuinely groundbreaking with the new Star Wars trilogy and the decision not to is a real shame, particularly as the cards were laid out so neatly.
Director Rian Johnson with John Boyega and Oscar Isaac on the set of The Last Jedi
The chemistry between John Boyega and Oscar Isaac in The Force Awakens was so strong that the evolution of their relationship just seemed natural to large swathes of the fanbase. Although romance wasn’t the original plan for Finn and Poe, the Star Wars saga has a history of behind-the-scenes story changes midway through a trilogy; remember, Darth Vader wasn’t envisioned as Luke’s father until The Empire Strikes Back.
Most of all, it would have brought a vital ingredient into Disney’s Star Wars trilogy that has been sorely missing thus far: a love story. Both the original films and the prequels had romance at the heart of their epic action, be it the fiery passion of Han and Leia or the more subdued courting of Anakin and Padme. It’s a useful tool for making the audience more invested and upping the dramatic stakes of the battles unfolding on screen.
What would the original trilogy have been without the Han and Leia romance?
Yet despite having a franchise known for telling epic love stories and a likeable couple staring them right in the face, the idea was unceremoniously canned (with a fleeting background kiss between two female pilots the only nod to an LGBT+ relationship in The Rise of Skywalker).
Boyega and Isaac haven’t always helped matters. While they obviously didn’t have personal control over where the Star Wars saga was headed, they have capitalised on the interest surrounding Finn and Poe’s relationship for no less than three years. From cheeky comments on chat shows to tweets encouraging fan speculation, Boyega and Isaac never missed an opportunity to hint that romance was on the cards.
Isaac has since admitted that “I kind of hoped and wished that maybe that would’ve been taken further in the other films,” telling Variety “It seemed like a natural progression… but sadly enough it’s a time when people are too afraid, I think, of… I don’t know what.” So perhaps those jokes were hopeful attempts to steer things in a certain direction, but ultimately they only served to get people’s hopes up.
It’s unfortunate because, for a large number of fans, the idea of Finn and Poe getting together isn’t a joke or a questionable Tumblr hashtag. Rather, it would be a powerful sign that times have changed and acceptance is at an all-time high, meaning that LGBT+ characters need no longer be relegated to niche television and independent film, but can appear in the most mainstream of pop culture phenomenon: a Star Wars movie.
Some LGBT+ Star Wars fans themselves should also consider the impact of their own behaviour around this. Shortly after the release of The Last Jedi, it became apparent that Finn and Poe’s big screen romance was definitively not happening. Yet even after this point, large portions of the community would continue to erupt in wild support for any romantic hints dropped by Boyega or Isaac, despite most people knowing full well that these were purely fantasy.
This may seem harmless enough at first glance, but the truth is altogether more damaging; so long as the LGBT+ community is seen to be satisfied with make-believe representation, they will remain completely absent from the landscape of blockbuster cinema.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now