It’s time for another Star Wars movie, which means more minor pandering to LGBTQ audiences — and more disappointment. Two weeks ago, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment in the space opera’s third trilogy, debuted to lackluster reviews and watered down a much-anticipated queer moment: a brief and underwhelming gay kiss.
In the new film, two unnamed female Resistance soldiers quickly smack lips while nearly lost in a crowd celebrating the defeat of the Final Order’s fleet. It’s all a shame: Director J.J. Abrams already had an iconic queer character to work with, and I’m not talking about Resistance leaders Finn and Poe, whose relationship Abrams made a bromance (yuck).
I’m talking about C-3PO, a wiry, aging twink droid in love with an old queen, R2-D2. Introduced in the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, in 1977, C-3PO is science fiction’s first great queer character. He proved that gays are not a monolith and can, in fact, show up early.
In A New Hope, Anakin Skywalker builds C-3PO from the scraps of a trashed protocol droid. Once brought to life, C-3PO immediately starts whining until he discovers little R2-D2 standing in the corner. At their meet-cute, they shade each other; R2-D2 makes fun of C-3PO for being naked. What’s more queer than a newly out and damaged twink undressed and head over heels in love with the first droid daddy he sees? Talk about a circuit party.
Once he received his shining gold plates, there’s no stopping C-3PO. He’s a fashion god with a crop top and single silver leg for stunt value. He’s overly dramatic, often posing with a limp wrist and pointed body language that makes you forget his face never moves. But contrary to popular belief, he’s actually not a lank. Openly gay British actor Anthony Daniels, who plays the droid in all films, is 5-foot-9. With R2-D2 coming in at 3-foot-6, C-3PO is still a proud Tall Bottom.
For some die-hard Star Wars fans, R2-D2 and C-3PO have always been a coded queer couple: two confirmed bachelors who tour the galaxy together and no one asks why. “In all of the movies, the two snipe at each other like old partners. But when in crisis, they respond to each other with great love and devotion,” says Troy Williams, executive director of LGBTQ political advocacy organization Equality Utah.
That’s not to say C-3PO and R2-D2’s relationship has always been perfect. R2-D2 is a little bit of a droid-whore. “R2 certainly knew how to talk up other computers and systems in rather promiscuous ways,” Williams says.
But they always have each other’s back. Case in point: Toward the end of A New Hope, C-3PO rushes toward R2-D2, who’s been injured during an attack by the Death Star, and offers his own parts to fix his damaged best friend. “I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of examples in movies of that level of care shown between platonic friends,” Star Wars stan Zach Price, 21, tells me.
Still not convinced C-3PO is queer? Just look at the drama he’s started around his age. According to the Star Wars Character Age Table, C-3PO is over 67 in The Rise of Skywalker. But his exact age is a mystery. Not only was he built from a pre-existing droid, but he’s also rebooted several times throughout the films. His personality always stays the same.
So a gay droid goes through multiple midlife crises and decides to “reboot” his personality each time only to find that it doesn’t temper his anxiety? That is the Star Wars equivalent of the bleached-hair theory.
Whenever C-3PO’s sexuality is mentioned, die-hard Star Wars fans are quick to note that droids don’t have a sexuality. It’s an almost laughable dissent when discussing anatomic inaccuracy in a fictional space odyssey where Yoda can be 900 years old and “the Force” is an accepted supernatural power.
Lucasfilm Story Group determines what is official Disney-approved Star Wars canon, and they’ve yet to rule on the lore of C-3PO and R2D2 as a queer couple. The popular online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic allows players to explore queer relationships, including our two queens — but, sadly, this is a BioWare production, not Lucasfilm. (Still, there’s a chance queer C-3PO might become canonical one day: Lucasfilm recently reintroduced BioWare’s role-playing video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic into the canon.)
Gene Park, who covers gaming culture for the Washington Post, isn’t holding out hope that C-3PO will become accepted officially as the queer icon he is. “Given the way it’s reported how they treated Finn and Poe’s bromance, not likely for a long time,” Park tells MEL.
But really, C-3PO’s queer legacy has little to do with proving he has robot sex with R2. It’s about his ability to stand up in the face of a never-ending threat from the Empire — something that feels all too relatable right now.
“3PO is terrified of the Empire and worries incessantly about his companions, yet continues onward,” says Williams. “His queerness inspired me to press on despite the Empires of my own life — be they discriminatory social attitudes, HIV/AIDS or even actual violence.”