WARNING: This post contains some major spoilers about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
To watch some of the scenes between Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is to watch some of the most tender, emotionally charged exchanges between two people in the history of the Star Wars franchise.
Chirrut, a blind monk whose faith in the Force propels him forward in a perilous adventure to take down the oppressive Galactic Empire, is protected by his gruff, decidedly more world-weary companion, who prefers believing he can blast Stormtroopers away with his handheld laser canon. The dynamic between the two men falls somewhere between R2-D2 and C-3PO's playful bickering and the intimate familiarity Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi enjoyed in The Phantom Menace. In certain moments, the bond that Chirrut and Baze share comes across as downright romantic.
As Vulture's Kyle Buchanan wrote last week, there's a particular exchange toward the end of Rogue One where Baze, while cradling a severely wounded Chirrut in his lap on a battlefield, realizes his lifelong companion is about to die. Moments after Chirrut dies, Baze, grief-stricken, walks into oncoming fire from the Imperial Stromtroopers and takes as many of them out before he's also killed.
Through a queer lens, the scene can be read as one man mourning the loss of his lover before ultimately accepting his fate that they'll see one another in the afterlife. But for a franchise that invests so much time in commenting on real-world politics, Chirrut and Baze's relationship makes a poor excuse for queer representation in a galaxy far, far away.
While it's fun to fantasize about male leads in big-budget action movies not-so-secretly harboring burning passions for one another (hey Finn, hey Poe), explicit, on-screen depictions of queer people give audiences something that implicit suggestions just can't. The past two Star Wars movies have both featured female leads guiding crews of racially diverse freedom fighters—drastic deviations from Star Wars' history of centering its stories on straight, white men.
In highlighting the roles that women and people of color played in the Rebel Alliance and the re-awakening of the Force, Star Wars has invited large groups of fans who have always loved Star Wars into the canonical fold by giving them a chance to literally see themselves alongside their heroes. But in Chirrut and Baze's case, whatever queer potential they have can only be realized if the audience wants to see it.
In a recent interview with Comicsosity, longtime Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka confirmed that the princess of the Amazons was, in fact, a queer woman, despite the fact that DC Comics has always been somewhat cagey in its handling of her sexuality. It should have been a given that Wonder Woman would have had same-sex romances, Rucka said, because in Themyscira, the home of the Amazons, men simply don't exist.
"You’re supposed to be able—in a context where one can live happily, and part of what an individual needs for that happiness is to have a partner—to have a fulfilling, romantic and sexual relationship," Rucka said. "And the only options are women. But an Amazon doesn’t look at another Amazon and say, 'you’re gay.' They don’t. The concept doesn’t exist."
Rucka's official queering of Wonder Woman's history was a step forward for queer representation in mainstream comics. Incidentally, Rucka is also slated to write the upcoming novelization of Chirrut and Baze's life together before the events of Rogue One. One can hope that perhaps Disney gives him the chance to retroactively make Baze and Chirrut the loving gay couple that we know they could be. But until then, we'll just have to wait for those queer characters J.J. Abrams promised us.