(NOTE: For the purposes of this essay, only the six feature films are considered canon, since all novels and comics are extratexual materials, I haven’t read any, and they were mostly declared non-canon by Disney, anyway.)
If you have any interest in Star Wars and spend any amount of time online (which, honestly, is less of a Venn diagram than it is just a circle) then you probably know that the Internet really, really, really wants Finn and Poe Dameron to get together. A significant part of the Force Awakens viewership sensed a palpable chemistry between the characters played by John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, and the scent of yaoi in the water kicked off an editorial frenzy of everything from professional essays to tumblr photosets. This is great, in part because “why not?” (pretty sure the Star Wars films have zero queer characters) but more importantly because it keeps pesky shippers away from Rey, who is free to be the most high-profile asexual character in modern cinema. It’s not confirmed or anything, and could easily be changed by information in later films (please don’t happen), but my current impression is that she’s Ace as hell, and even a cursory Google search shows that this is not an unpopular opinion.
To clarify up front: asexuality is generally agreed upon as the lack of sexual attraction toward other people, though there’s a whole spectrum ranging from “no interest” to “low interest” (not to mention a whole spectrum of romantic orientations to go along with it). The tricky part of labeling a character as asexual is that you’re essentially trying to prove a negative, though with Rey it’s not that difficult a case. She expresses absolutely no interest in anyone, male or female, and is either indifferent or oblivious to Finn’s obvious flirtation with her. On top of that, she’s quite good at a lot of very technical and difficult things, like flying and engineering, which would suggest that she doesn’t spend her spare time thinking about men and women. Refreshingly, unlike a handful of other suspected asexual characters like Sherlock Holmes or that sociopath on Dexter, this doesn’t mean that Rey is devoid of emotions or is distant. She feels a very strong connection to her missing family, she’s a total fangirl for Han Solo, she feels great compassion for BB-8, she’s very concerned for Finn by the movie’s end, and she has a lot of pent-up anger from years of being treated like dirt. She has lots of interests and passions, and none of them appear to be sex.
Which isn’t all that unusual in the Star Wars universe which is a largely, almost aggressively asexual universe. Not sexless, as contemporary superhero movies are often wrongly (and, in my opinion, stupidly) accused of being, but asexual. There are two significant exceptions in Han/Leia and Anakin/Padme, but most of the characters are never engaged in, or even hinted at being in, any romantic or sexual relationships, most prominently Obi-Wan and Luke. There’s really no question about Obi-Wan, who even in his newest days of The Phantom Menace never seemed particularly bothered by the Jedi’s code of celibacy, and while the question of Luke’s paternity hangs over Episode VIII, it’s important to remember that a lack of sexual attraction does not mean an inability or even an unwillingness to engage in sexual acts. (Luke is probably on the demi/grey-asexual spectrum, which means sporadic sexual attraction, or attraction only after forming a deep emotional bond, which sounds like Luke.) One critic smartly observed that, more than anything else, Star Wars is a series all about friendship. The most triumphant moments of the series are centered around moments of platonic union (such as Han Solo’s surprise appearance at The Battle of Yavin), while the most disastrous moments are about betrayals (such as all of Revenge of the Sith).
Of course, the big reason people are so excited about Finn/Poe, and why I’m so excited at the prospect of Asexual/Aromantic Rey, is because for all the imagination and boundless possibilities that science fiction ostensibly affords, it’s still largely a very heteronormative genre. The genre has made big strides in terms of racial diversity recently, but anything beyond cisgendered heterosexuals are a very rare sighting, even among the uber-liberal Utopian universe known as Star Trek, and this despite every show runner saying “yeah, we really should get on that.” And that’s for the really high profile letters in LGBTQIA. Bisexual, Intersex, and Trans people have next to no representation in science fiction, and forget about confirmed Asexuals. Do you know how many confirmed asexuals there are in movies as a whole? Two, and one of them is in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. You know, that movie about porn. (The other is Mysterious Skin).
The story may be happening a long time ago, but cinema is in the future now, so isn’t it time we started reflecting that?