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The arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens made the Star Wars fandom explode earlier this year. The modern Star Wars fan is catered to not only by seemingly every kind of product with enough surface area to slap Kylo Ren on (laugh all you want, this cereal is wicked delicious), but also by the width and breadth of the fanworks available to her. With decades of fanworks to sift through, the possibilities can seem infinite. But once she’s read her eyes out on all the Poe/Finn fic she can find and indulged in prequel fanvids set to Evanescence songs (kids, ask your parents), she might have a question.

Where, a new Star Wars fan might well ask, is all the Han/Luke fic?

"C'mon, Kid."
"C'mon, kid…"

Han Solo and Luke Skywalker have all the hallmarks of a successful slash ship: namely, they are two white dudes who stand next to each other in a mainstream media property. Pointed, bitter joking aside, they’re initially thrown together by happenstance and grow to become friends after a rocky start over the course of A New Hope. They then embark on, with Leia, one of the greatest love triangles of the twentieth century. (It must be deeply stressed that nobody knew that Luke and Leia were siblings for six years. Including George Lucas.) Han and Luke clearly enjoy each other’s company and value each other greatly. On top of all that, Ford and Hamill have good chemistry and banter well together, the hallmark of any true Star Wars romance (prequels? What prequels?).

And yet, other and newer Star Wars ships seem to take precedence. Like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi or Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the latter a pairing whose canon interaction is now limited to a single film. (Whose living canon interaction is now limited to a single film. I am perfectly aware that Qui-Gon sometimes appears as a Force ghost to Obi-Wan, presumably to continue the endless torment of having such a terrible Jedi as your master. Qui-Gon Jinn: the original Bad Idea Jedi.) It seems impossible that Star Wars fandom somehow just politely ignored the slash potential of Han and Luke from 1977 (when Star Wars debuted) to 1996 (when the first Han/Luke fanzine, Elusive Lover, was published), and yet that’s what the fossil record seems to indicate. And why didn’t it have more of a presence in the last two decades?

Well, friends and fen, to answer that question, we have to go back to the late seventies.

The Empire Strikes Back

People Magazine July 18, 1977 Star Wars Cover
The only time Star Wars has been referred to as a "sizzler."

It is impossible to convey how much of an impact Star Wars had on American pop culture when it debuted in 1977 (sans its later A New Hope subtitle), especially since I, personally, have never known a world without Star Wars, so I won’t even try. But what I can tell you is that that seismic shift caused major waves in Western media fandom—especially the mother of Western media fandoms, Star Trek.

The constant turmoil over the future of Star Trek—a Star Trek film which had been in development at Paramount for two years was axed the same month Star Wars came out—made Star Wars look particularly shiny and new to interested fans. (The sometimes playful, sometimes bitter tension between Star Trek fandom and Star Wars fandom during this time is best demonstrated by Gordon Carleton’s comic in The Sehlat’s Roar #5, where Captain Kirk accuses crew members going to go see Star Wars of mutiny.) And Charles Lippincott, the advertising publicity supervisor for Star Wars, had already reached out to the geek community at large by hosting a panel about the upcoming film at the 1976 San Diego Comic-Con.

The migrating fans brought with them the fannish work ethic they’d honed on Star Trek—the fanzines Hyper Space and The Force launched only a month (!) after the film had been released in June 1977. While The Force “only” included meta and fan art, Hyper Space did include fic. Fanwork was being produced at a steady and regular clip, no doubt encouraged by constant viewings of the film during its astonishing 44-week original theatrical run. That December, a fan wrote into Interstat’s second issue suggesting that the nascent fandom contact 20th Century Fox to nail down their exact position on the legality of fanzines and, therefore, fanworks.

The modern fan might find it hard to imagine that fans would ask permission to go about their fannish ways, but 1978 was still early days for Western media fandom—fandom hadn’t yet developed into the Barthes-quoting hordes of today. Gene Roddenberry and company had always been very gentle and loving towards Star Trek fandom. He often wrote to zines, appeared at conventions, and reacted gracefully and neutrally when Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath subtly tried to ask after the possibility of Kirk/Spock (a level of decorum that appears beyond the ken of several showrunners decades later). In his introduction to Star Trek: The New Voyages, an officially licensed Star Trek anthology of fanfiction culled from fanzines, he called Star Trek fanwork in particular “…the highest compliment and the greatest repayment that [fans] could give us.”

Majel Barrett;Gene Roddenberry [& Wife #2]
Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett at Star Trek's Platinum Anniversary Convention in 1986.

But independent filmmaker wunderkind Lucas and Lucasfilm were, surprise surprise, not as cuddly as Roddenberry. Part of it was Lucas’ own standoffishness and nerves (this was a man who went to Hawaii on vacation instead of attending the premiere of Star Wars, so convinced was he that it was going to be a huge bomb), and part of it was the simple luxury of the fact that they didn’t have to cater to or care about fandom. While Star Trek fandom had literally saved the franchise by campaigning for the third season that gave the show enough episodes to be syndicated and develop into the juggernaut it is today, everybody and their mom had seen Star Wars. (My grandmother was furious my mom made her go see Star Wars, but, by God, she saw Star Wars.) Fans were, obviously, important—presumably, they were a large part of the repeat business that kept Star Wars in theaters for so long. But Lucasfilm’ attitude towards their activity regarding Star Wars is best summed up by this 2002 quote from then vice president of marketing, Jim Ward, responding to disappointment about an official Star Wars fan film festival ignoring more popular fan films in favor of legally more palatable spoofs and documentaries:

We've been very clear all along on where we draw the line… We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that's not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.

(Bowie above us, couldn’t you just barf?)

The balance of power in the relationship between Lucasfilm and Star Wars fandom involved much more than just who held the copyright. If fans were going to play in Lucas’ sandbox, they were going to have to play by Lucasfilm’s rules.

For the next few years, there was confusion over how Lucasfilm was handling fanzines. Some zines received notices that they were in violation of copyright, while others were asked to send copies to Lucasfilm so they could prove to 20th Century Fox that fanzines were a good thing. (Interestingly, the fanzines sent to Lucasfilm made their way into the hands of Ming Wathne, who ran the Fanzine Archives before she donated her collection to the University of Iowa in 2008. What I’m saying is, we should totally go to Iowa.) Protocols, a how-to zine about making your own fanzine, even advised would-be Star Wars fanzine editors to watch it, since “[t]he producers of Star Wars are very touchy about zines.” Lucasfilm generally tried to keep the fanzines clean, but the fanzines continued to operate under their own power until 1981, which marked the publication of two explicit Star Wars fics. The first, “Slow Boat to Bespin,” a first time Han/Leia fic published in Guardian, was actually published as two stories: a more explicit version by Anne Elizabeth Zeek and a more romantic version by Barbara Wenk. (You can read the latter version here!) The second was Eva Albertsson’s “The True Force,” which appeared in the Swedish English language fanzine Dark Lord and featured Darth Vader sexually torturing Han Solo. (…no, I don’t know where you can read it!)

Both stories incited a flurry of letters from Maureen Garrett, then-head of the Official Star Wars Club, to most fanzines, such as this one, published in Alderaan #15:

Dear Fanzine Editor:

Despite our word-of-mouth warning to the contrary, some publishers have chosen to print stories with the Star Wars characters in X-Rated, pornographic situations. Attached is our letter to those publishers, no names are mentioned.

Lucasfilm Ltd. does own all rights to the Star Wars characters and we are going to insist upon no pornography. This may mean no fanzines if that measure is what is necessary to stop the few from darkening the reputation our company is so proud of. For now, the few who ignore the limits of good taste have been turned over to our legal department for legal action.

If you, the fanzine editors, have comments, know of other stories of this nature, or wish to speak in defense of these publishers, please send such correspondence to Lucasfilm...

Thanks, Maureen Garrett, Director, Star Wars Fan Club

Other and more elaborate letters followed, but Lucasfilm finally had a hard and fast policy regarding fan fiction—no sex, not even loving, consensual sex between the romantically entangled Han and Leia. This blanket statement, of course, also excluded anything with queer themes or elements, as even non-explicit queer content was largely considered obscene in Reagan-era America. Lucasfilm’s crackdown on the fanzines was not, as it is sometimes framed, a reaction to slash specifically, but to all “pornographic material.”

In fact, Lucasfilm actually allowed a slash fic to be published in 1982. In the summer of 1981, as Garrett’s letters were making their rounds, Karen Osman, the editor of Imperial Entanglements, submitted a story entitled “Hoth Admiral” (written by Barbara T and a collaborator) to Maureen Garrett and Lucasfilm for approval. (I can’t seem to find when starting to submit fic to Lucasfilm before publishing it to make sure it was okay became a thing, but it still freaks me out.) In it, two Imperial crew members, both men, are clearly involved. Garrett’s response was typical: “We're terribly sorry, but we cannot authorize homosexual expression of love among the characters created by George Lucas. This controversial subject must remain detached from the world created by Lucasfilm in order to preserve the innocence even Imperial crew members must be imagined to have.”

But Osman fought back, writing a letter that protested the idea of Imperial crew members being innocent, the idea of gay love being opposed to innocence, and the fact that allowing non-explicit straight romance while banning non-explicit gay romance was hypocritical. She sent the letter to Lucasfilm. She also sent both letters to fanzines to keep fandom appraised of the situation.

Surprisingly, Lucasfilm heard her. in October of 1981, Barbara T wrote to Maureen Garrett to follow up on the status of her story and received the following curt response:

This is to confirm our conversation that we do not object to fan-written stories involving homosexual characters, as long as they, too, remain non-explicit about sex and within the rather nebulous bounds of good taste.

“Hoth Admiral” was published the following year in Imperial Entanglements.

But this official sign-off on tasteful slash did not result in a flurry of fic. Instead, many fans were upset about the new guidelines, worrying that they were vague and encouraged fanzine editors to be wary of any fics with sexual overtones. But just as many fans were content to do what Lucasfilm wanted, either out of respect for Lucas’ copyright or because they didn’t want Star Wars fan fiction to focus on explicit sex at all for fear of it overwhelming the fandom (as some accused Star Trek fandom). Writers of adult Star Wars fic, then, had to go underground.

And that’s where they went, taking all the adult-themed material, including any Han/Luke material, with them.


And there they stayed, for almost a decade. Even fans interested in reading Star Wars slash couldn’t find the stuff. In 1988, a fan wrote into Southern Enclave, a Star Wars letter zine, to ask where she could find more Star Wars slash. Another fan wrote back just to ask where she’d managed to get her hands on any.

Star Wars slash existed, obviously, but it was privately circulated, among friends or even under the table at conventions, to stay out of Lucas and Lucasfilm’s way. Even in the already largely word-of-mouth subculture of media fandom, you had to know somebody who knew somebody else to get wind of the stuff. We know it was out there and, to the extent of our knowledge, it’s still out there somewhere—perhaps in private zines hidden away in attics and in notebooks tucked away in drawers. Precious little from this time period in has surfaced.

But some has. If “Hoth Admiral” is the first Star Wars slash fic (that we know about), then “Evidence,” by Karen Osman, is probably the first Han/Luke fic (that we know about). Written after her frustrating experience with Lucas and Lucasfilm, “Evidence” was written in 1982 and privately circulated, only coming to light in larger fandom in 1998, when it was published in Elusive Lover #3.

As the eighties transitioned in the nineties, Star Wars fans interested in slash started making a little more noise in the fandom. In 1991, Ming Wathne published three Han/Luke pieces in the first issue of her zine, Bright Center of the Universe. And in 1995, Z.P. Florian produced The Rest of the Garbage, an adult-themed zine that featured slash. Slash was still controversial—some fanzines advertising in Southern Enclave in 1992 made sure to tell readers that slash submissions would not be accepted—but it was no longer underground.

The Phantom Menace

Above ground, in the wider world, Star Wars, as a franchise, had laid largely dormant since the conclusion of the trilogy with Return of the Jedi in 1983. Star Wars fandom was now facing the terrain familiar to any fan whose text of choice has gone offline—what do you when there isn’t any more text? There were books, comics, and roleplaying games available for the true believers, of course, but in the eyes of the world, Star Wars was starting to get a little nostalgic.

But Star Wars came back in full force in the nineties in two major ways. Firstly, Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy debuted in 1991, heralding the vast bulk of the now non-canonical Star Wars Expanded Universe, bringing the ever varied delights of officially licensed fanfiction to the Star Wars faithful. Secondly, and more importantly, George Lucas announced that he was making the long-rumored prequel trilogy in 1993.

The next five years—between the announcement of what would become The Phantom Menace in 1993 and the crushing disappointment of the film itself in 1999—was a magical time for Star Wars fandom. To promote the upcoming new films, the original trilogy was rereleased in theaters in 1997 (albeit in their infamous Special Edition cuts), attracting new fans. Chris Taylor, in How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, describes this as a golden age for all Star Wars fans, no matter to what degree they participated in fandom. Director Kyle Newman explicitly made the film Fanboys, which is about a group of Star Wars fans desperately trying to get their hands on a copy of The Phantom Menace for a dying friend, as a throwback to this beautiful time in Star Wars fandom.

It was during this time that the first dedicated Han/Luke zine, Elusive Lover, debuted in 1996. Publisher Cara J. Loup accepted and published stories of all ratings, often contributing stories of her own, which were very well-received. (You can see for yourself—the first two issues are archived online!) Fans were receptive and Lucasfilm looked the other way.

Perhaps now it was the right time for Star Wars fandom to reclaim its slash bonafides, with public attitudes towards queerness improving in general in the nineties. As Star Wars and other fandoms slowly lurched online, the barriers for both participating in fandom and distributing fanfiction were lowering. After so long underground, could Han/Luke finally have its day in the sun?

There was only one thing standing in their way of becoming the slash ship du jour of the franchise.

That thing? Ewan McGregor’s stupid beautiful face.

Star Wars Young Obi Wan Kenobi
Yes, even with this haircut.

The animanga boom of the nineties in English-speaking countries had inadvertently reared an entire generation of Western slash fans familiar with and fond of the codified parameters of yaoi. The influence of yaoi on slash during this time frame is an entire dissertation in and of itself. We’ll talk about it another time. Suffice it to say for our purposes here that when handsome young padawan Obi-Wan turned up onscreen with an equally handsome, bearded, and much taller master, the next generation of Star Wars slash fandom took one look at them and went “Han and Luke who?” The Master/Apprentice Fanfiction Archive debuted two days after the North American premiere of The Phantom Menace on May 21st, 1999. With the introduction of adult Anakin in Attack of the Clones, Anakin/Obi-Wan also became a ship along the same lines. While it never matched the popularity of Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan, it had more material in Clone Wars and The Clone Wars, keeping Star Wars slash fans busy—seemingly, up until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens has, obviously, revitalized the fandom as a whole, leading many fans, old and new, to revisit the films and rediscover Han/Luke. While Han/Luke will never be Finn/Poe, it’s gotten more attention as of late. “Skysolo,” as the ship name goes (I use Han/Luke because I’m a thousand years old, apparently), has a presence on the Archive of Our Own and tumblr. Most telling, there are over 80,000 notes on a tumblr post of a deleted scene from Return of the Jedi, with new fans asking whatever happened to Han/Luke as a ship and tumblr user meeedeee schooling them in the ways of Star Wars fandom.

Which brings us full circle. Looking back on the history of Star Wars fandom, it’s heartening to see a new generation of Star Wars fans that doesn’t have to worry about corporate or fan backlash when it comes to adult works in general or queering the text in specific. In fact, the Star Wars universe now even has canonically queer characters. In Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith, Imperial officer Moff Delian Mors loses her wife. In Star Wars: Aftermath, the gay Sinjir Rath Velus plays a major part, while a young Temmin “Snap” Wexley ends up living with his married aunts for a time. And with everybody, their mom, and their local media outlet vocally shipping Finn/Poe, I wouldn’t be surprised to meet a supporting queer character in Star Wars: Episode VIII.

Poe and Finn
"You need a pilot."

It’s a brave new world, kids.


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