The Breakout Fandom Couple of 2015: Stormpilot (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed awakened the slumbering mass that is the Star Wars fandom, which has been waiting for the franchise’s return to greatness. The film, starring and John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac (as well as the members of the original cast), has already reached $1.23B at the time of this article, and surely, the film will reach even greater heights the longer it stays in the theaters. (This is also not taking into account the millions or billions of dollars spent on The Force Awakens merchandise.)

While the film is being touted as a tour-de-force of nostalgia and a refreshed look at a “galaxy far, far away,” the film has also been an achievement in diversity due to having well-rounded and powerful female characters (with the exception of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, who—while cool—will hopefully be fleshed out in upcoming films) and two leads of color, Boyega and Isaac, who open the film. (The fact that their faces are the first faces we see in the movie immediately cemented the film as a break away from Hollywood’s normal modus operandi.) Boyega and Isaac’s characters, disillusioned ex-Stormtrooper Finn and Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, have also acted as ambassadors to another type of diversity not usually found in films; characters who might not only be on the LGBT spectrum, but might also be in a same-sex relationship.

The fandom who propose Finn and Poe’s relationship (named “Stormpilot” or “FinnPoe”) to the masses provide several clues as to why they thing Stormpilot is possible. First, Poe gave Finn his name; instead of continuing to call Finn “FN-2187” during their escape from Stormkiller Base, Poe immediately decides to call him Finn, thus giving Finn a new identity and a new lease on life. Second, Finn keeps Poe’s jacket when, after the crash-land on Jakku, Finn assumes Poe’s died in the crash. Third, Finn completes Poe’s mission to get BB-8’s message to the resistance base. Fourth, Finn and Poe passionately embrace after realizing the other is alive and kicking after all.

All bets are off when Poe lets Finn keep his jacket, saying “It suits you.” Poe, biting his own lip before speaking, then says with bedroom eyes, “You’re a good man, Finn.” The playful punch to Finn’s shoulder simply looks like a feeble attempt to cover up what could be construed as obvious flirting. Finn’s focused stare back (as well as another focused stare he gives Poe after Poe slaps his shoulder again in a pseudo-camaraderie fashion before taking to the skies in his X-Wing) seems to suggest that Finn can feel something brewing between them as well.

The clues start coming together after Isaac revealed, albeit with a little dry humor thrown in, that he was, in fact, playing up a romantic angle with his character. John Boyega seems to concur.

Normally, fandom character pairings, or “ships” (short for “relationships”) don’t make headline news. But Stormpilot not only lit up fan spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, but also mainstream sites like E! Online, Buzzfeed, Hypable, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Metro, Pink News, Comic Book Resources, The Mary Sue, Bleeding Cool, MoviePilot and certainly many more.

Star Wars fan Stephanie wrote one of the many pieces on Stormpilot for The Geekiary. The post, called “Everyone is Talking About Our ‘Star Wars’ Slash Ship'” (with “slash” fandom slang for same-sex pairings) focuses on Stephanie’s cautious optimism when it comes to how those outside of the fandom ship world will accept Stormpilot’s existence. “The best thing about mainstream coverage…is that it normalizes queer romances,” she wrote in her article. “…When all these outlets are reporting on our fan activities as something worth noting, it sends a powerful message to studios that there’s an audience out there that wants these narratives.” However, Stephanie notes in her article, the usage of some outlets using the term “bromance” when describing a ship that much more than just friendship can be problematic and awkward. “The main issue with mainstream media’s coverage of slash shipping is that, since we’re so obscure and don’t often leave our isolated communities, they don’t quite know how to talk about it,” she wrote. “Even worse, this can be an indicator that mainstream press just doesn’t know how to talk about queer romance in general, even in regard to non-fandom inspired pairings.”

Stephanie stated in an email interview about her feelings behind her article. “I wrote my article because I was feeling so heavily conflicted about the fact that this ship was getting such a large amount of mainstream coverage so quickly. On the one hand, I’m elated that a slash ship is getting generally positive coverage. It helps legitimize LGBTQ+ relationships in general, and makes it possible for more visibility going forward. On the other hand, we don’t exactly have the best track record with mainstream press understanding fandom culture. It often feels like we are being gawked at, made fun of, or just outright misrepresented,” she wrote. “I’m really grateful that, so far, we haven’t had any coverage that’s treated us poorly. With any luck, we won’t and all of my worrying will be for naught. We definitely need to lose the term ‘bromance,’ though. Please. Romance is romance and we don’t need to ‘bro’ it up to soften it. But that’s been my only issue so far and it’s relatively small compared to what’s been done to us in the past.”

Stephanie didn’t immediately latch onto Stormpilot after her first viewing of The Force Awakens, but now sees the developing relationship as playing on classic romantic beats. “Unlike a lot of my friends, I didn’t walk out of the theater shipping them right away. I did, however, come out of the film immediately drawn to Poe Dameron. When I got home and discussed it with friends I was introduced to the idea of shipping him with Finn within 24 hours of my first viewing and it didn’t take me very long to get on board with that idea completely,” she wrote. “There are a lot of romantic tropes that code them as being in the early stages of a romance such as clothing sharing, nicknames (or in Finn’s case, a name that isn’t a Stormtrooper number), and even that long dramatic run into each others arms when they realize the other isn’t dead. I’ve seen the film two additional times since my first viewing with my slash goggles on and everything just falls perfectly into place.”

Stephanie attributes Star Wars large fanbase for the reason Stormpilot became the phenomenon it is.  “I think a lot of what has drawn people to Stormpilot is what draws people to slash pairings in general, but on a much larger scale since the Star Wars fandom is so huge. Many LGBTQ+ people like myself enjoy queer pairings because we just don’t get them that often in mainstream media. It feels good to see characters that reflect our own sexuality off on adventures,” she wrote. “Many heterosexual women are drawn to slash ships either because they like the idea of two men together in general, or because these specific characters in this specific story happens to speak to them regardless of gender. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen many straight men also shipping Stormpilot, which seems to be rare in a lot of my other slash pairings (though not unheard of). There might be more visibility here because of how huge the fandom is. Or maybe straight men are just getting comfortable enough to admit that these guys are kind of perfect for each other. I’m not sure why there’s a higher visibility of heterosexual men shipping Finn and Poe, but it’s definitely unique.”

Geek Girl Diva, another Star Wars fan onboard with Stormpilot, wrote a similar response in an email interview to the fandom’s love for the pairing. “I think people connect with both the characters and how they are with each other. Poe and Finn already have a friendship that’s romantic in a sense,” she wrote. “They fell into immediate like with one another. You get the sense that both Boyega & Isaac would be totally down with playing gay characters and Isaac has a very open faced admiration. I think people connect to the deep liking these two have for one another, and it’s not a stretch to take it to the next level.”

Geek Girl Diva was immediately a part of the Stormpilot fanbase thanks to the ever-present chronicler of fandom things, Tumblr. “It was all Tumblr, bless its shipping heart,” she wrote. “Once I saw the meme, I fell in love with the ‘ship.”

The fact that so many people, men and women alike, have latched onto Stormpilot could have implications for how Disney and the Star Wars movie team goes forward, right? Or could stuff stay at the status quo? With so many billions at stake, and with such a wide intersection of people in the Star Wars fandom (some of whom aren’t as open towards LGBT representation), it’s difficult to say if Disney and Lucasfilm will take the promise of diversity to the next level.

“I think [the mainstream press is] great, wrote Geek Girl Diva, adding, “As much as I love the ship (and I love it like a house on fire), I don’t think Stormpilot is in the cards on the big screen. But I do think Poe could very well be gay and he’d be a perfect way to bring an LGBT character into the Star Wars Universe.”

LONDON, UK - DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.
LONDON, UK – DECEMBER 16: Actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac attend the European Premiere of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens in London on December 16, 2015.

There has been a Change.org petition asking Lucasfilm’s president Kathleen Kennedy to include LGBT characters in the new Star Wars films. When it comes to whether the petition could cause a rush of LGBT characters to enter the Star Wars film franchise is difficult to say. But both Stephanie and Geek Girl Diva point out that LGBT characters are already a part of the franchise, if just in books and games.

“Lucasfilm has already made the jump into showing LGBT characters, first in [Star Wars: The Old Republic] and then in a couple of the new canon books (Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath & Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars),” wrote Geek Girl Diva. “I don’t know 100% that Poe isn’t already the lead into an LGBT presence in the films. I think he might be, but it’s a guess and nothing more. That said, I do think that the Stormpilot love could make it easier for [Lucasfilm] to flip that switch. But I’m not in a position to make a decision on that.”

“Thanks to Chuck Wendig, there are LGBTQ+ characters in the novels, but we are still lacking big screen representation. I have a feeling that if they were planning for Poe and Finn to be in an onscreen romance, that’s already been decided and a petition wouldn’t sway that,” wrote Stephanie. “However, something like Poe’s sexuality may still be negotiable and we could have an affect on that. Poe’s sexuality hasn’t been touched on and Oscar Isaac has been incredibly supportive in interviews. He’s treated the idea of two men in a romantic relationship with respect and even said he’d go for a rainbow colored lightsaber. This could all be joking, of course, but I get a strong vibe from him that he’s supportive of our community. It’s hard to explain why, exactly, but these tidbits from his interviews don’t feel like they [Lucasfilm] are ‘making fun’ of us at all.”

“Finn’s sexuality may be more difficult to sway. Unfortunately we operate in a ‘straight until proven otherwise’ mindset with the majority of mainstream media, and the idea of bisexuality seems particularly difficult for a lot of writers to grasp,” Stephanie added. “With Finn expressing even a moderate interest in Rey, this could be the writers coding him as heterosexual. But hey, it’s possible that the people who are writing the next couple of scripts could have a good grasp on the idea that you can be attracted to more than one gender at a time and we may get bisexual Finn after all.”

Some news that’s made the social media rounds is that Captain Phasma will have an extended role in future films due to fan support. With the amount of fan support Stormpilot has, it’s in the realm of possibility that Disney and Lucasfilm could think twice about the extent of Poe and Finn’s relationship. But again, it’s tough to say since there’s so much money and investment on the line.

“It’s possible. Adding a few extra interactions without rewriting an entire script isn’t too huge, but if the characters are written, say, on completely different planets for most of the film it may be hard,” wrote Stephanie when asked if she thought there was a possibility for Disney and Lucasfilm to make fanon canon. “But if we don’t cause enough enthusiasm for Episode VIII, there’s always Episode IX. This is a trilogy and I’m sticking with Stormpilot for the long haul. Just have to keep my fingers crossed that neither of them die in the next film. That’s pretty much the only thing that’d put a nail in the coffin for future interaction.”

Geek Girl Diva differs slightly on the issue. “On [Phasma returning to the series], I think that was a bit different. Phasma caught fire for a few reasons and it’s a lot easier to beef up her story than it is to add in a relationship between two lead characters,” she wrote. “In the end, I think that’s entirely up to [Episode VIII director and Episode IX writer/director] Rian Johnson and the [Lucasfilm] Story Group. It all depends on what the arc is for the trio in the larger story. I don’t think Disney & [Lucasfilm] will shy away from any interaction, but I don’t think they’ll play it up just for fans. I think, in the end, the filmmakers will do what they feel is the best fit for the trilogy and the story.”

“If I have a personal hope, it’s not for Stormpilot (even though I love the ship),” Geek Girl Diva added. “In a perfect world, where we get diversity of all kinds, we get a female lead, a hetero interracial couple and a gay character (maybe in a relationship with a male alien? Let’s think big!), all of whom are great friends and join together to defeat the Darkness. I can work with that just fine.”

If Poe and Finn do become canon, what will Disney do about LGBT representation for women? Of course, the franchise will add characters to subsequent films, but if fans want someone from the main Big Three characters, there seems to be a lot of support for Rey being asexual and/or aromantic. Much of the support for Rey as being along the LGBT spectrum seems to stem from the fact that even though there’s ample time (and many open invitations from Finn) for Rey to take their friendship to the next level, Rey seems to be more enamored with the idea of what Finn leads her to think he is; she’s more fascinated by the idea of him being a part of the Resistance and belonging to something great rather than him being an available guy. Also, she’s more concerned with the mission at hand, getting BB-8 back to the base, rather than hooking up. The final scenes find Rey not cementing a romance with Finn, but with her kissing his forehead while he’s in a comatose state, a goodbye before she heads to the island Luke Skywalker is hiding on in the hopes of being trained by him. Her new mission is to focus on her handling of the Force, not being someone’s girlfriend.

The call for making Rey along the LGBT spectrum would naturally add to the film franchise’ commitment to diversity, but there’s also a smaller contingent of the fandom who want Rey to be lesbian, bi, or asexual/aromantic simply at the expense of removing her characterization and forcing her into the box of a spectator or as a voyeuristic avatar for the fan him/herself. Several fans on Tumblr seem to imply that they want Rey to be asexual and aromantic not for reasons concerning diversity, but just so she won’t interfere with Poe and Finn’s possible relationship. Asexuality and aromantic individuals deserve to be showcased on the big and small screens, which is what happened on USA’s Sirens, which featured asexual paramedic Valentina aka “Voodoo”, who dated non-asexual fellow paramedic Brian. But asexuality and aromanticism—two orientations that don’t describe a lack of a person’s desire for basic human affection, but just the levels to which a person might desire affection—shouldn’t be used as a way to box a character in at the expense of two other characters’ possible romantic relationship.

Such fear of Rey being a wedge between Poe and Finn should be left by the wayside, since directors are beginning to, at the very least, not write fans off for their non-canonical opinions. One example is Captain America co-director Joe Russo stating in an interview (via Vanity Fair) that while he has always personally viewed Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ relationship as brotherly, he doesn’t begrudge or limit anyone else from their own points of view. “People can interpret the relationship however they want to interpret it…People have interpreted that relationship all kinds of ways, and it’s great to see people argue about…what that relationship means to them,” he said. “We will never define it as filmmakers, explicitly, but however people want to interpret it they can interpret it.”

This movement towards fan inclusivity, as well as actors like Isaac suggesting he was playing at romance with another male character, means a lot when it comes to the struggle to get proper LGBT representation. But, as the Vanity Fair article linked above points out, the road towards true inclusivity might be even longer than fans are prepared for. However, something can be said for progress happening in leaps and bounds after years of stuttering steps. Take a look at marriage equality; it has taken over a decade to get marriage equality in a majority of the states, and then, one day, marriage equality was nationwide with the swift smack of the Supreme Court’s gavel. So who knows as to what kind of romantic future Finn and Poe (or Rey) have. While we could be going to the theaters in 2017 with Finn in a relationship with a girl, we could find Finn and Poe in same-sex relationships (if not with each other) and Rey exploring the universe of sexual identity while she hones her Jedi skills. The ball is in Disney and Lucasfilm’s court; let’s see what play they make.

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