Shortly before the release of Solo: A Star War Story, the latest Star Wars midquel film that dives into the backstory of the original trilogy’s Han Solo, screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan supported describing the iconic Lando Calrissian as pansexual. While he may have had noble intentions, the robot-focused exploration of Lando’s sexuality does more harm than good in introducing people to pansexuality. L3-37, his co-pilot and love interest, unfortunately falls into misogynistic tropes for the first leading droid played by a woman in a Star Wars film. Together, they leave Solo with a lot to be desired in terms of gender and sexuality in science fiction.
Of course, this post contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Specifically in a May 17th article for The Huffington Post, Bill Bradley asked the screenwriters of the film if Lando is pansexual, and Jonathan Kasdan answered yes. Pansexuality means “emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to people of all genders and biological sexes,” according to PFLAG. This definition and identity can overlap with bisexuality, though some prefer identifying as pansexual for explicitly stating all genders, including nonbinary gender. It is not an identity exclusive to fiction, and has been on the rise in the last decade.
Jonathan Kasdan added that Lando has a “sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald [Glover] appeals to and that droids are a part of.” While real life pansexuality is defined by gender, Kasdan makes Lando’s sexuality about fictional robots. He mentions wanting “a more explicitly LGBT character,” but not Lando’s chemistry with Han of the same gender (in Solo or the original trilogy). Compare to Captain Jack Harkness of Doctor Who created by the openly gay Russell T. Davies: inspired by the idea of future Earthlings being open to relationships with aliens, who had clear interest in human men and women with the intent to represent bisexuality. It’s unclear how familiar Kasdan may be with pansexuality or if he had the term in mind for Lando before Bradley prompted it, but it nonetheless creates a confusing dissonance. Pansexuality has nothing to do with robophilia, technosexuality, or any other forms of robot fetishism. While Kasdan’s comments have been compared to J. K. Rowling’s retroactive representation in Harry Potter for confirming Lando’s orientation outside the story, Rowling has applied sexual identity labels correctly.
This was probably the first time hearing of pansexuality for many Star Wars fans, but it’s unfortunately been misrepresented. Pansexuality is apparent in the film, unlike Rowling’s retroactive comments, but only when viewed through the lens of robophilia. The younger but charming as ever Lando playfully works in sync with the bossy and sarcastic L3-37, which makes fertile ground for an entertaining romance. On the way to the Kessel mines L3 reveals to Qi’ra she believes Lando is attracted to her, but they’re too proud to be together despite being sexually compatible. Qi’ra reacts with surprise and amusement, but later it seems L3 was right about Lando being in love with her as he risks his life to save her and cradles her collapsing body.
Solo‘s conception of pansexuality as essentially “men, women, and non-humans” equates the nonbinary people included under pansexuality with non-humans. Although marginalized people may relate to fictional non-humans, it’s unfortunate that nonbinary gender is often only represented in media through aliens, robots, and monsters. Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty was also described as pansexual by creator Justin Roiland at a convention, later apparent in an episode involving his intangible hivemind lover who possesses the entire population of an alien planet. Cases like Rick and Morty and Star Wars ignore real nonbinary people and the possibility for them in science fiction through inaccurate pansexual “representation.” In Donald Glover’s own words, in space “it’s not like, ‘only guys or girls.’ No, it’s anything.” However, L3 is clearly a “girl” despite being a machine.
It’s not a coincidence the first Star Wars movie to have a feminine droid is the one to confirm humans and droids can have sex, considering the saturation of heterosexuality and sexual objectification of women in film. Sexual tension with men is out the question for droids like R2-D2 and K-2SO with humans like Luke Skywalker and Cassian Andor, because those droids are registered as male by the audience. When male is considered the default for non-human characters, L3’s gender has to be obvious–especially after BB-8 in Episode VII: The Force Awakens was ambiguous enough in character design and lack of speaking voice to spark arguments over his gender. On top of being played by a woman, Solo makes L3’s gender clear by designing her with large hips she doesn’t want others to look at while she works and characterizing her as stereotypical haughty feminist who deep down actually wants to be cared for by a man. She may be introduced insisting on the sentience of droids, but her soft spot for Lando is the moment meant to humanize her.
Lando and L3’s relationship reinforces her gender as well. Heteronormativity defines women by attraction to men, so L3’s attraction to Lando affirms how feminine she is for a machine. In turn Lando’s pansexuality, defined by attraction to non-humans such as L3, is in fact to a woman. Moviegoers with no knowledge of Kasdan’s interview would think nothing unusual of Lando’s sexual orientation, because he and L3 are effectively heterosexual. The same goes for Lando and Han calling each other “baby” and being teased for flirting, which aren’t indicative enough of same-gender romance in a culture where men play gay chicken and disclaim their behavior with “no homo.”
Sexual relations between feminine robots and human men don’t challenge heteronormative ideas of gender and sexuality. At worst, the woman as a synthetic creature plays into women as sexual objects for men. The interspecies romance isn’t part of a grander theme like The Shape of Water or Ex Machina, but a gendered way of grounding the characters in a science fiction setting. That becomes painfully apparent when their relationship concludes with the familiar fate of many a woman in genre fiction: L3 dies, shot down in her moment of glory liberating her fellow droids. She may be retroactively part of the Millennium Falcon now, but it silences her and strips her of the autonomy she believed so strongly in to only be controlled by a pilot.
L3 isn’t acknowledged much after her death, but it ultimately serves to develop Lando’s character by increasing his resentment of Han just like Val’s sacrifice for Beckett. Qi’ra the white woman isn’t fridged, but the black woman and the racialized science fiction slave don’t make it out alive. Perhaps upcoming Star Wars films will incorporate L3’s personality into the Falcon, but what about Lando? He’s been conveniently confirmed pansexual with no word on returning post-Episode VI: Return of the Jedi where his sexuality could be further explored. In the end L3 and Lando are squandered in a movie that fails them both in terms of sexuality and gender, to never be seen again. Star Wars has plenty of potential to include LGBTQ people in mainstream science fiction, just like its increase in casting of people of color, but a long way to go.