Sunday, May 19, 2024

Let’s talk about Vel and Cinta and Star Wars relationship with queerness

Star Wars doesn’t like gay people.

Wait, let me start again. Star Wars, as an idea, as a concept, doesn’t really like or dislike gay people. There are too many cogs in the machine, creatives, directors, producers, etc, who all have their own idea on what Star Wars is, and honestly? That’s a good thing. You can’t have every live-action TV series take on the same tone as The Mandalorian, just like you can’t have every film be as life-changing as Star Wars: Rogue One. I shouldn’t have to tell you that different stories means new, exciting ways for fans to explore this gigantic universe.

Disney, however, is a company that has come under fire time and time again. Because, despite selling all of those Pride shirts, peddling the same story about how everyone is welcome at Disney, etc, Disney still bristles at the concept of LGBTQ+ inclusion in their films, TV and shorts. Of course, despite being one of the – if not the – most successful companies in the world, Disney has to think about a very pressing, very real, issue: money. How can they not piss off their shareholders, while also tempting people from all walks of life to tune in? Because despite that age old argument used by right-wingers of ‘go woke, go broke’, it’s actually quite the opposite. Inclusion, and that includes LGBTQ+ inclusion, is profitable and has been profitable for a while now. The why is simple: because, after so long of being denied our right of something as simple as being ‘seen’, big companies are starting to realize they can give us just enough to profit. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who truly do believe in diversity and inclusion, there’s more people who want that than anyone is willing to admit, but we live in a capitalistic hellscape and money is king.

And that’s why we need to talk about Star Wars: Andor, the relationship between Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) and Cinta Kaz (Varada Sethu), and why, despite the muddied history of Star Wars relationship with queerness, they are so significant.

First, we need to look at how the Star Wars trilogy films, the originals, the prequels, the sequels, have all been big-hits at the box office. For a lot of people, these films alone make up the beating heart and essence of Star Wars. They are huge events that pull us into the cinema with our big boxes of popcorn, sugary drinks, and the all-encompassing excitement of getting lost in a galaxy far, far away. To be blunt: nobody is missing a Star Wars film, even if that Star Wars film is Solo. So the best way to appeal to queer fans of your sci-fi galaxy is oftentimes through the biggest thing you have available, however queer representation in these films is next to none, and I’m only including the 1-second same-sex kiss in The Rise of Skywalker because I’m feeling generous.

Rise of Skywalker lesbian kiss
Disney really thought they did something here, huh?

And really, it’s a shame that the live-action side of Star Wars has had a lot of catching up to do. The High Republic era alone has given fans several different queer characters and relationships, and that goes without mentioning other iconic characters like Doctor Aphra, Sana Staross, and even Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, it’d be easy to miss out completely, because none of these characters sexualities have been introduced or even explored in live-action. Hell, Doctor Aphra and Sana Staross aren’t even part of Star Wars current live-action roster, and as far as Star Wars projects go, we’re not entirely sure if they ever will be. Never say never, though.

My obsession on live-action and animation in regards to queerness in Star Wars may seem strange and reductive, but TV and film is what gets the most eyeballs in comparison to books and comics. Disney+ is one of the most popular streaming service around, and is the best way for anyone to consume the ‘full’ story of the eras which take place after The High Republic. So the fact that Andor includes the very first live-action space lesbians (who happen to have more than one line) in the Star Wars series is a pretty big deal, even if the confirmation of said relationship came much, much later in the series.

Viewers are introduced to Vel Sartha and Cinta Kaz for the first time in Andor‘s fourth episode ‘Aldhani’, and it’s quickly established through a warning to Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor that his initial interest in Cinta will be rebuffed because she’s ‘already sharing a blanket’ with someone else. The camera focuses on both Vel and Cinta and, as someone whose job lies in looking at media and being like ‘hmm, what if a queer coded this?’ it is one of many moments where Andor blatantly points at the two of them being in a relationship with one another. It’s not exactly subtle, but their relationship becomes much more apparent during the Aldhani heist where Vel has to leave Cinta behind to secure the tremendous amount of credits they plan to steal.

Get this everyone: there is hand touching and hand-holding and a whole scene where Vel and Cinta share a moment of ‘tell me you’re going to be alright’ and look deeply into each other’s eyes. What makes this scene particularly funny is that it happens right in front of a group of hostages that may or may not have been killed off-screen later on, but that doesn’t stop the clear moment of love between these two women being romantic as hell. Step back Kylo and Rey, you ain’t got nothing on these two lovebirds.

Star Wars Vel Cinta
Unintentional or not, Vel and Cinta are the first full-fledged same-sex couple in Star Wars live-action

Vel and Cinta’s relationship continues to grow throughout the series, and because Disney can’t ever let the sapphics be happy for one moment – and, to be fair, they are pretty busy fighting against galaxy-wide fascism – we learn just how the Rebellion and their different backgrounds has affected their relationship. Cinta’s entire family were annihilated by the Empire and Stormtroopers when she was a little girl, and she’s pretty much been in the Rebellion since the very start and knows nothing else. Whereas Vel gave up her cushy life of being a rich gal from Chandrila to join the Rebels, and it’s clear that at times the fight for a new tomorrow does grate on her. Where Vel wants moments to breathe and seems to be in emotional turmoil when parted with Cinta, Cinta has been in the fight for so long that, despite her obvious love for Vel, the utter destruction of The Empire is what matters most. That brings its own turmoil to their relationship, giving it an uneven footing.

With such a tenuous and fraught relationship, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that Vel and Cinta’s relationship was hard fought for. Yet Andor creator, Tony Gilroy, has already stated that he didn’t have “any trouble” in including the relationship between the two women. “From the very beginning, no one ever said we couldn’t do it, and no one ever said, ‘Oh, God, please do it.’ Our whole attitude is it’s just another relationship.” Gilroy told Variety. “I mean, it’s one of the least complicated relationships in the show.”

And yet, unintentional or not, Vel and Cinta have the added weight of being the first significant same-sex couple in Star Wars live-action. That comes with its own baggage, namely: are they ‘good’ representation or not? A question that feels so utterly worthless nowadays that it’s hard to run the couple through such clinical criteria. But we have to, because Star Wars relationship with queerness is so frail, so thread-bare, that to not do so would be a disservice to Vel and Cinta’s place in this universe.

Cinta Vel Star Wars
Are Cinta and Vel’s inclusion too little, too late?

For some, Vel and Cinta will be an inclusion that feels too little, too late and I can understand that thinking, even if I don’t share it. Despite being a pretty sexless universe by design, Star Wars has plenty moments where sex and sexual interest is portrayed – through dialogue, kissing, family legacy and even a post-coital scene in Andor. Vel and Cinta do not get that same treatment, despite millions of queer fans around the world no doubt screaming ‘KISS’ at the TV screen whenever they so as much glanced at once another or held hands.

But, it begs the question: do Vel and Cinta need to kiss to be considered noteworthy? I certainly wouldn’t say no to a same-sex kiss between two main characters, but I don’t believe the couple are lesser if they don’t share a kiss. Physical intimacy is more than just the locking of lips, it’s meaningful action and fitting in a story that doesn’t feel performative, something which Gilroy himself has stated was the goal for the couple’s relationship in the first place. And yet, I do believe that Gilroy – whether he intended to or not – needs to give this relationship more than just a few meaningful glances and hand touches. I’m not asking for a full-blown episode away from Cassian and his role in the Rebellion, this isn’t the Vel and Cinta show after all, but a sense of intimacy that is freely given to heterosexual characters involved in the universe.

Ultimately, the one way for me to forgive Disney and Star Wars for some of its crimes is to give me a Vel and Cinta spin-off. Will that ever happen? I doubt it. Will I hope for it anyway? Oh, you betcha.

Andor is available to watch now over on Disney+.

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