Just a few days before Christmas of 2017, like many others out braving the holiday crowds, I went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Star Wars isn’t my primary fandom, by any means. Having grown up on Star Trek: The Original Series in syndication, I came to appreciate Star Wars well in my teens and twenties, drawn to its breezy characters and underlying mythic themes. Now, I eagerly anticipate the release of each new film. I even have a few preferred ships, which I support to varying degrees of ship loyalty, depending on my mood and current tastes.
Poe Dameron/Finn is a ship I have proudly sailed on since The Force Awakens, from the first moment Poe told Finn to keep his jacket. It was Oscar Isaac biting his lip and giving John Boyega a firm yet affectionate slap on the shoulder that did me in, I’m afraid. While I have other ships in the universe, this is the one I’m prepared to go down with. However, not with the same intentions in mind that many others do, as I came to find out following The Last Jedi.
There were quite a few notable ships going into this installment: Finn/Rey, Poe Dameron/Finn (known as Stormpilot), Rey/Kylo Ren (AKA Reylo), Kylo Ren/General Hux (dubbed Kylux, which is actually just a fun thing to say on its own merit), and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. With all the drama surrounding Finn’s relationship with series newcomer Rose Tico and Rey’s deepening connection to Kylo, fans from every corner of the internet have been busy discussing the effect of the new film on their respective ships. The amount of news outlets dedicating stories to Reylo and Finn/Rey has been both amusing and a little surreal, with websites such as The Atlantic, Bustle, and Polygon reporting on their changing relationship statuses.
End game shipping has become a topic of debate in the public sphere. Fans have always shipped with the hope of their favorite pairings one day becoming canon, but the tone of these conversations has shifted in recent years. In my experience as a seasoned shipper, it’s something of a recent phenomenon in our current landscape of pop culture journalism, wherein The Walking Dead fan theories and risqué IT fanart are reported as newsworthy. I tend to encounter these kinds of discussions in very large, well-established fandoms, with recent influxes of newer, younger fans through adaptations and sequels. The times are changing, after all.
Strangers will rarely engage me about my ships from cult TV shows or Playstation 2-era survival horror games (and rightfully so), but they will tell me their very strong opinions on who Rey or Steve Rogers should date. Moreover, they will explain the corporate and moral necessities of all their ships as they pertain to canon. While shipping wars and varying degrees of shipper elitism have been prevalent in fandoms across time and space, this is now common in many contemporary communities, to the point that these internal scuffles are now public discourse.
All of which is to say, depending on where you align yourself in Star Wars fandom, The Last Jedi probably crashed your ship. It very likely crashed mine. Poe and Finn appear to just be good friends at the end of the day. There may even be a romantic subplot brewing between Finn and Rose, which could close the door on Finn/Rey for those who sail that ship, as well. And that’s fine. Rose is a great character, and if she ends up with Finn, so be it. Unlike some who remain adamant about the viability of their ships as canon romances, the events of Episode 8 don’t discourage me in the least.
For many fandom veterans, the value of the ship doesn’t rest in its acknowledgment by the source material, but the love that fans put into it. Our most beloved ships come not from their canonical relationship status, but from the personal, creative endeavor of engaging with those characters. It’s about the journey we undergo through our connection to characters, and not the destination of a canonical Happily Ever After.
I have been involved in online fandoms of every shape, size, and variety since the late 1990s. From X-Men to Supernatural, Star Trek to Heroes, I’ve sailed on many a proud ship. In that time, I’ve come to see fandom specifically, and pop culture in general, as a sandbox. The characters I love belong to everyone, but my relationship with them is personal. It’s special, shaped by the lifetime of experiences I bring to the source material and the many lenses I view it with. Through shipping, and more explicitly through creating fanworks about my ship, I’m free to investigate the relationship as it exists in the canon, and beyond it.
Take Stormpilot, for example. There’s a wealth of intriguing thematic material to examine just between these two men. They’re men of color raised on opposite sides of the battlefield, to very different ends: Finn, a child soldier raised within the First Order’s war machine, and Poe, who followed his mother’s footsteps to serve as a pilot in the Resistance and forge a strong relationship with General Leia Organa. As men who came of age entrenched in conflict, Finn and Poe have refused to become defined by it. Instead, they establish close, devoted friendships with those around them. They’re both brash and emotional, but they learn to balance those impulses through their obligations to their friends.
Each character fulfills their respective, roguish archetypes with a certain bravado, but they do so with a measure of tenderness, as well. Unlike Kylo Ren, whose internal conflicts manifest through escalating acts of personal and political violence, Finn and Poe are willing to grow. Their relationships with women inform their development by holding them accountable for their actions and pushing them to do better. They are as capable of violence as Kylo, sometimes to the ill-advised ends of Poe’s failed mutiny, but their violence is in response to, and contained by, the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance. As seen in the films so far, their violence isn’t for personal gain, but are direct actions taken against fascism.
Exploring the subtextual relationship dynamic between these two characters opens avenues of storytelling that the source material only touches on. If Kylo Ren can be read as an examination of white male radicalization across present-day America and Europe, as has become a popular reading, the power of Finn and Poe as revolutionary characters resisting literal white fascists can’t be understated. To take their relationship a step further in this textual reading, seeing two queer men of color in love, flaws and all, would be revolutionary in and of itself.
As a fan, I do very much want to see that relationship unfold on screen. I want to see how they work together, both as Resistance fighters and as partners. I want to see the highs of a hard-fought success and the lows of a costly battle, as they navigate a relationship in the midst of a war. I want to see what comes of them after that war, in my imagined Happily Ever After of a fallen First Order and a peaceful galaxy. More than anything, I want to see what queer love looks like in the Star Wars universe, one without our explicit prejudices against a romance between two men of color.
Do I think it would be great if Finn and Poe became a couple in Episode 9? Yes, I do. I could say the same of many other beloved ships, as well, purely from a storytelling standpoint. As a matter of representation, it would be a beautiful and fulfilling moment for many fans, starved for a queer relationship in a franchise as ubiquitous as Star Wars. Do I think it will happen? No, I don’t. It’s disappointing, but I fear my ship is as good as sunk.
That said, Finn and Poe are still in a supportive, affectionate male friendship, which is satisfying to see play out on its own merits. The kind of sweeping love story I imagine for them just doesn’t have a place within the scope of the current trilogy. Appealing though it may be, this isn’t the story being told. Beyond that, Finn and Poe’s individual relationships with other characters, such as Rey and Rose, are intriguing for different reasons. A canonical Finn/Rey or Finn/Rose romance would be just as worthwhile to me as a fan. The entire cast ending up in platonic friendships with each other would be great, as well. None of these outcomes would be a defeat by any stretch of the imagination.
While a Stormpilot romance may not figure into the end game of the franchise, the thematic possibilities of their relationship remains deeply fascinating to me. Their lack of explicit, canon romantic love doesn’t dampen that fascination, nor my enduring interest in fanworks about them. In that respect, their decidedly non-canonical affair is even more satisfying for me. I can have my own respective interpretation, extrapolation, and headcanon on their relationship, and I can freely engage with the headcanons of others. Without the potential disappointment that comes of a canonical acknowledgment, the ship can exist unfettered by the powers that be.
Stormpilot is truly infinite in the creative works of their shippers, open to as many interpretations as there are fans to envision them. After all, is it not a radical act in and of itself to repurpose these larger-than-life characters for our own narrative uses? Isn’t fanfiction a form of subversion, wrestling icons of the popular imagination away from their corporate owners to explore our personal relationships with them? While other fans are free to argue about end games and canon, fighting to be the last ship standing as the rest of the fleet burns, I’m content with what I have.