Credit: Lucasfilm

Take one look at the ragtag Rebellion or walk into any cantina and it’s clear the Star Wars galaxy is packed with the full spectrum of many types of life.

But historically, it hasn’t been all that diverse when it comes to the human population. With John Boyega’s Finn, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, The Force Awakens will be the first Star Wars movie in which the young leads are not mainly white guys.

In the new novel Star Wars: Aftermath, author Chuck Wendig takes another step forward for diversity, introducing a major gay character to the mix: the Imperial turncoat Sinjir Rath Velus.

He’s not the first gay character to turn up in the new canon. That distinction belongs to last April’s Lords of the Sith novel by Paul S. Kemp, which introduced fans to Moff Delian Mors, a lesbian Imperial officer who feels adrift after her wife is killed in an accident. But Sinjir Rath Velus holds the distinction of being the first major hero in a Star Wars story to come from an LGBT background.

Sinjir is an AWOL Imperial loyalty officer who now finds himself siding with the forces of the Rebellion after witnessing the horror of battle on Endor. There’s also the question of what life is like for gay men and women in the Empire. There’s something seemingly … intolerant about that bunch. (Wendig, who is signed on to write two more books in the Aftermath trilogy, says that’s a topic he intends to delve into further in the future.)

There are also two background characters who are gay: the Rebel fighter Norra Wexley, one of the main characters in Aftermath, has an older sister named Esmelle, who agrees that she and her wife, Shirene, will watch over Norra’s son while she is off fighting.

In Part I of Entertainment Weekly’s interview with the author, we discussed the various new heroes and villains he’s using to explore the first few months after the events seen in Return of the Jedi. But the topic of diversity seemed worthy of standing out on its own. Here’s what Wendig had to say about breaking down cultural barriers in the galaxy far, far away.

Entertainment Weekly: I wanted to go back to Sinjir. There was a lot of attention paid to a lesbian character who becomes a part of the Star Wars universe in another book this year, and late in Aftermath, a character sort of flirts with Sinji. It’s not a big part of the plot, it’s just a character beat; but he says, “Actually, no, I’m not interested,” and she’s slightly offended. Then he explains. Was that something that you personally wanted to put in the story? I know you’re a big advocate for diversity in storytelling, and I wonder how that went over, trying to get it into the Star Wars canon.

Chuck Wendig: There was no issue in terms of the Lucasfilm people. They have been very gracious and accommodating for that sort of thing, as they should be. The only question in terms of story stuff was, some of the earlier readers of the book were like, well, it’s kind of a shame, because he and that other character actually have some good chemistry. So in some ways it’s like, well, it’s a shame that they’re not getting together.

Not all chemistry has to be sexual, though.

Yeah, there’s more to do there in terms of both their friendship and who he is. I don’t think that his homosexuality needs to be this giant plot point, but at the same time, it’s part of who he is as a character, and I thought it was an interesting moment. Especially since you don’t necessarily see it as much — not just in Star Wars but just in science-fiction.

It’s happening more.

You’re starting to see it more, obviously, in the larger narrative properties. Comics are just starting to figure out that that [LGBT men and women] exist in the world, and you can include and incorporate them in stories and speak to those people, and speak to audiences who may not have been spoken to before.

Do you find it more powerful that it’s not a plot — that it’s not singled out as an issue in the story? It’s accepted that he just happens to be gay…

Well, it’s not even just that he “happens to be.” I don’t want it to seem like a glib choice. I mean, I think it’s fundamental to who he is, in terms of his character, but at the same time, it seems strange to sort of exploit that for plot fodder at the same time.

So why is it important to you? Is it just because there might be somebody out there who reads that and sees a part of themselves represented in the galaxy?

Yeah, you know, it is increasingly clear to me — and it wasn’t necessarily clear to me when I first started writing, because when you first start writing you’re sort of in your own head, you sort of think that everyone is you. And as I go out and I meet fans, it’s very clear that that’s not at all the case. I used to work at a library, and one of the jobs I had at the library was marketing, and we did outreach for what they referred to as “underserved populations.” To me, it was important that we were going to bring people into the library who maybe didn’t think we had something here for them.

Fiction can do the same thing.

I think fiction has sort of a value and an opportunity to speak to audiences beyond both the author and beyond what you “expect” that audience to be. And it allows people to see themselves in stories where, before, they hadn’t. I don’t think it’s necessarily the responsibility of storytellers to do that, because everybody’s free to tell the stories they want to tell, but I think there is a value and opportunity in doing so.

Check back later for Part III of the this interview, with Chuck Wendig discussing his take on Han Solo, the restrictions he faced when penning a story that takes the first few steps toward The Force Awakens.

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