Luke Skywalker and Other Celibate Heroes (Reprint)

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the release of Star Wars. In honour of the occasion, here is an article I wrote last year. A version of it was published in the March/April 2016 issue of AVENues; this is the original.


With a new Star Wars movie out, I’ve been thinking about Luke Skywalker and why I liked him growing up. Sure, I envied Han’s swagger and Leia’s hair, but Luke was the character I identified with, the character I wanted to be. He was brave, determined, kind, compassionate, loyal, selfless – all the qualities you want in a hero. He was also celibate, which is less common but may have been just as important.

Now, there’s a good reason Luke didn’t “get the girl” – and it’s not just that the only “girl” around was his sister! Typically, romantic union stands as a kind of “reward” for the hero, symbolising the fulfilment of his personal life goals. But Luke didn’t have much in the way of personal goals. Besides becoming a Jedi, all his goals involved helping other people: save the Alliance; save the galaxy; save Leia; save Han; save Darth Vader. Luke wasn’t the kind of hero who craves wealth, glory, or power for himself; he was the kind who’s happiest when others are happy. For Leia and Han, being together made them happy. So when they hooked up, it wasn’t just a happy ending for them; it was a happy ending for Luke, too.

Luke wasn’t left on his own, either. He’d found a sister and a group of friends, and would probably acquire a brother-in-law and some nieces and nephews before long. If he never married he’d still have a family, and if he was never a father he’d be the galaxy’s coolest uncle. Being celibate didn’t cut him off from love, friendship, or family bonds; it just meant he came at them in a slightly different way.

Of course, all this is complicated by the new trilogy, but I could point to other heroes in similar situations. Frodo Baggins shares his home with his friend Sam and Sam’s wife and children. The Eleventh Doctor has adventures with his companion Amy and her husband. Queen Elsa enjoys a good relationship with both her sister Anna and Anna’s boyfriend. These characters are comfortable in their celibacy, but they’re also comfortable with other people’s romantic relationships. To change the language just slightly, you could almost say they’re comfortable in their asexuality, but also comfortable with other people’s sexuality.

Not that being celibate is the same as being asexual, but I’ve always found it comforting to have heroes of this sort. It says that those of us who, for whatever reason, don’t end up having sex, spouses, or children still have a role to play in the lives of those who do, and that we can make their lives better and have our lives made better by being with them.

I don’t know if I exactly have a Han and Leia in my life, but I do have friends, and some of my friends have spouses and babies. And I’m neither jealous nor resentful of them. I’m happy to see them happy, to be welcomed into their homes, and to help them raise their children. And I don’t think my life is going to be any less complete if all the marriages in it are other people’s marriages and all the children are other people’s children. If I’m the hero of my own story, I’m perfectly content to be a celibate hero. Being celibate doesn’t mean being lonely.

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