That Ship Has Sailed

On Seeing Romance Where There Isn’t

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' (Credit: Disney)

If you’ve watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, you may have come across some articles debating the status of the many relationships played out during the film’s runtime. The film is chock full of fascinating characters, all of whom are well-written despite their rather curtailed screen-time.

I, for one, love these characters, and will fight anyone who says we didn’t get to know them well enough. But, at the moment, my lightsaber’s gone for cleaning, so I’ll write about something else. Romance, or the lack thereof in Rogue One.

The following includes spoilers for the film, so you may want to head to the nearest theatre to catch it before reading further.

Rogue One stands out because it doesn’t bother with including a romantic subplot for any of its characters in the film. The characters simply don’t have the time and that makes me more than happy. Having said that, it’s not like director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy didn’t include some winking red herrings from time to time.

The most obvious is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). They’re our two good-looking leads and spend the maximum time with each other. Cassian also displays concern for Jyn’s safety at several moments during the film. Partway through the story, the two of them start invading each other’s personal space and making heart-eyes at each other, much of which could be put down to how Diego Luna looks at people (seriously, I think it’s his thing), but let’s go with the two characters appear to be feeling something special for each other.

I wasn't kidding about the personal space issues

They’re the only two heroes left standing after their deadly mission is complete. But even then, when they’re alone (on a beach, no less) and awaiting their oncoming death, they do not kiss. They hug each other, as friends, Jyn welcoming her end while comforting her comrade, and Cassian holding onto her for support. That’s it. No declarations of love, no desperate attempts at one last kiss. The two of them could easily have been asexual had it not been for the aforementioned heart-eyes.

If you, like me, like to prolong your stay with something you’ve enjoyed watching, you would probably have scoured the internet for analyses and articles on the film. I’ve been obsessively clicking on everything that happens to mention ‘Rogue’, and have read, or come across, a variety of differing views on every aspect of the film.

Rogue One is novel for not including romance. It would have slowed down the plot and would have been as unbelievable as a regular Disney film. But fans of the lead pairing have cropped up everywhere. #RebelCaptain, #Ersandor #Jassian have become popular tags on Tumblr and Pinterest. People keep wishing these two had walked away from it all; that they’d survived and gone off into the sunset. A lovely sentiment, but one which would have detracted completely from the message and overall feel of Rogue One.

I know the film would not have impacted me as much had the entire crew not gone down with the mission. The eventual realisation that we would never see any of these characters again made the effort of spending two hours with them all the more worthwhile. You love these characters, but most importantly, you love all of them. They came into this together; and now they’ve gone out together, as well. 

Rogue One Cast (Credit: Disney)

At the same time, knocking the creators for hinting at a romance between the two leads seems unjust. They knew what they were doing. There’s a clear pattern to how and when Jyn and Cassian start caring for each other. We see from his introduction that Cassian doesn’t like killing or death. We also know that Jyn is put in his charge – both of these aspects affect how he views Jyn, as an indispensable part of his mission, which translates to him not wanting her harmed in anyway.

He only starts displaying affection for her when she stands up to him, then stands up to the Rebel Alliance and decides to complete her mission on her own. In essence, she doesn’t become likable to him till the ‘rebellion is real to her’.

Jyn’s affection (if you could call it that) for Cassian only blossoms once she realises he’s on her side, backing her play, instead of running and hiding like the rest of the Alliance – or like the rest of the people in her life. She says as much when she responds with ‘I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad’ (or something to that effect). She knows she’s found a true ally in Cassian. Again, none of this means either of them were in love or falling in love with each other. At the very least, they now had trust and respect for each other, which is a huge stepping stone towards love (platonic or otherwise).

If anything, for most of the first half of the film, Cassian’s goo-goo eyes are trained on his best friend, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). K-2 is a reprogrammed Imperial droid, one who appears to have been with Cassian for a long time. It’s evident that off-screen Tudyk and Luna got along well, and that chemistry rubs off on screen as well (despite Tudyk being mo-capped out of the film completely). They work as a great pair, and the immense love and respect between the two characters is evident from their behaviour and interactions.

Cassian Andor and K-2SO (Credit: Disney)

Can’t say the same with Jyn and Cassian. For whatever reason, Jones and Luna have zero chemistry. However much time their two characters spend together in the same frame, the chemistry doesn’t grow. Had a romance been shoe-horned in, it would have been completely unbelievable. Also, completely out of character.

The other ‘pairing’ most people have got behind is Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). These two veterans of Chinese cinema come together for some scene-stealing action and dialogue. The characters are polar opposites of each other – Chirrut is a blind, Force-sensitive (or is he?) monk who fights in haste and Baze is a gruff, former soldier, always ready to protect his foolhardy friend. Where Chirrut relies on the Force, Baze relies on his instincts. They are the perfect Yin and Yang combination for a film like this.

Many people have read more into their relationship than may have been evidenced on screen. Are they wrong? I don’t think so. Chirrut and Baze may not canonically be a couple, but there’s not a lot on screen telling us otherwise (barring, you know, them actually declaring their love for each other). Yen and Wen have fantastic chemistry and it’s easy to see why, when most mainstream cinema lacks any overt LGBTQIA+ representation, a need for reading covert messages for the same is required. It helps that the two of them bicker like an old couple, but are inseparable throughout. You can put their banter during the film down to ‘brothers in arms’ camaraderie, but that doesn’t quite explain their end. When Chirrut is hit, he tells Baze to ‘look for the Force, and you will find me’. Sounds pretty romantic to me. Once Chirrut dies, Baze walks into oncoming fire, no longer interested in protecting himself. But, and most importantly, when Baze sees a grenade rolling towards him, he turns around to make sure he can see Chirrut. In essence, the last thing he sees before dying is his friend. Now, I’m not one for shipping (I don’t see the point in it), but I can’t hardly judge anyone who does so - all the evidence of a romantic relationship is right there! 

Chirrut and Baze in Rogue One (Credit: Disney)

Would it have killed the creators to make the relationship canonically romantic? In a way, I like the ‘were they, weren’t they’ aspect of their relationship (and the Jyn/Cassian one). It adds to the mystery of these characters even more. But I can see why the LGBT community is tired of all this mystery. Mainstream cinema still hasn’t had the courage to put a non-heterosexual pairing in the forefront, and despite all hopes, 2017 is unlikely to change that.

The big screen version of The Flash has out gay actor Ezra Miller playing the title character, but that most likely won’t extend to his onscreen persona. Many people are adamant that Finn and Poe from Star Wars: The Force Awakens are the next Han and Leia. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac certainly had plenty of chemistry in their scenes together, and during an interview Isaac hinted at ‘playing romance’. But again, this is wishful thinking. Aside from the fact that Boyega has already stated that there’s nothing going on between the two characters, TFA also established that Finn has a little more than a passing interest in Rey. If anything, we can at least hope that Poe is revealed to be gay in this year’s Episode VIII, even if he isn’t allowed to act on it. But no, #StormPilot is unlikely to be canon, and fans will need to come to terms with that.

A lot of people were upset with the way Captain America: Civil War played out with regard to Steve Rogers. No one in their right minds should have or could have thought that some or any of the characters appearing in CA:CW would turn out to be queer or on the LGBT spectrum. We've known all these characters for a while now (most of them for over 3 films and several decades of comics). New entrants to the MCU are also straight veterans in the comics. So, why the bitter outrage from fans after this film?

Captain America and Bucky Barnes in 'Captain America: Civil War' (Credit: Marvel Studios)

Promotions and publicity, that's why. All that Marvel executives, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and even stars Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan and others, talked about in the run up to the release of CA:CW was the Bucky/Cap relationship. They went as far as to use the slash fiction name to describe their relationship in the film - Stucky. You mention slash fiction (or fan fiction for that matter) and you enter deep waters. It's foolish on the part of big names to do so because you're courting trouble if you do not fulfil that promise. And what is that promise? That Marvel, a giant profit-making icon of pop culture, will finally do right by society and accept that there are relationships in this world outside of boy meets girl. Even the most ardent fan of these decades’ old comics can and will admit that the MCU is too disturbingly heteronormative. CA:CW went as far from the Stucky relationship as possible, to the point where the two leads hardly had any screen time together. Forget romance, their purely platonic, brotherly relationship barely got explored, not least because the creators shoe-horned in a very icky romance for Rogers. So, why the queerbaiting?

Rogue One didn’t go that far (thank goodness), but both these institutions are ruled by all-powerful Disney, who are not going to have the courage to make any of their leads LGBTQIA+. They’ll tell you it’s too much of a risk (so was casting an international cast of various ethnicities with a woman in the lead, and look at how much they’re raking in with Rogue One), but they’re essentially alienating too large a part of their fandom if they don’t get with the times.

Fans who like to ‘ship’ the pair (or any of the above pairs) are welcome to do so. It’s not like they don’t have enough material to go on. And if Star Wars and the MCU are based in multiverses, alternative storylines can logically bring these ‘ships’ to life. Just don’t look for official confirmation on it because, even in the 21st century, heroes can only be straight, white men to make Hollywood its money back.

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That Ship Has Sailed