The Queer Coding of Ahsoka Tano

 

In my review for “Gone with a Trace,” I mentioned how incredibly queer the episode was. I also speculated if Clone Wars was moving to make Ahsoka Tano canonically queer.

This is all speculation at the moment. These thoughts come from years of head canoning with the character. In my post about what Orka and Flix from Star Wars Resistance means to me, I mentioned that I have always seen Ashoka being coded as bisexual/pansexual and asexual. I can also see Ahsoka being Demisexual too.

I just threw out a bunch of sexualities, so let me simplify it:

To me, I see that Ahsoka likes all genders (Bi/Pan), she doesn’t feel sexual attraction to people (Aesexual), and/or she is only sexually attracted once she gets to know someone (Demisexual).

I’ve thought this about her for a long time as a way to figure out my sexuality as a queer woman. I’ve always had to head canon this, because we never had confirmation of Ahsoka’s sexuality. That is until I saw “Gone with a Trace” from the newest season of Clone Wars. I was floored by how incredibly queer it was. I’ve never seen Star Wars come across this queer. Not even in Resistance where they had a canonically queer couple was it this obvious. I wrote a long post about why Orka and Flix from Resistance was bad queer presentation.

Watching “Gone with a Trace” a second time, I felt the same excitement in my mind. Are they showing queer people in the animated show I love so much? Are they actually moving to make Ahsoka Tano queer?

Let’s ponder and speculate if they are in fact going this route with Ahsoka by looking at the history of hints, romantic tropes in media, the changes from concept art to final product, and how these characters are queer coded. I’m also going to give a warning to the creators of Clone Wars about queer baiting. Fans have already been queer baited once with Star Wars Rebels. I hope this is not happening again.

 

What is Queer Coding?

Basically, it’s a character who you look at and go, “Yup, they’re gay,” based on their appearance and how they act. SYFY Wire has a great article talking about the history of queer coding. In the article, they define it as:

“…Queer coding itself is neither positive nor negative. It has no motivations itself, and in fact can be both a tool used by content creators and one used by audiences in places the creators did not initially intend. The way that tool is used and applied, however, determines its positive or negative effects.

Queer coding, much as the name suggests, refers to a process by which characters in a piece of fictional media seem — or code — queer. This is usually determined by a series of characteristics that are traditionally associated with queerness, such as more effeminate presentations by male characters or more masculine ones from female characters. These characters seem somehow less than straight, and so we associate those characters with queerness — even if their sexual orientation is never a part of their story.”

The history of queer coding comes from the 1950’s to 60’s when the American government created regulations to censor parts of the media from anything they deemed not family friendly. While queer content wasn’t included in the ban, having an “alternate lifestyle” was pretty frowned upon as homosexuality wasn’t legal in most states until the 70’s. “Coding” became a way to show queer characters on screen to get around it. The media never stated a character was queer. But when a male actor played a man in a feminine way or an actress had a masculine take, then it was understood that they were gay.

As SYFY Wire states, this is neither a positive or negative thing in general. It all depends on how the creator wishes their work to be portrayed. For example, Xena is seen as a positive take on queer coding. Most Disney villains are seen queer coded in a negative light, because of a long history of gay people being written as villains. SYFY Wire does a good job breaking down these examples and why they’re either good or bad representation.

But let’s go back to Ahsoka which is what this speculation is about. How could Clone Wars be possibly moving towards making Ahsoka Tano a queer character?

 

The History of Ahsoka Tano Possibly Being Queer

Throughout the Clone Wars series, many of Ahsoka’s action could be read towards her being interested in all genders. She clearly had a crush on Lux Bonteri, the Separatist senator turned rebel freedom fighter. But in the Onderon Arc once she overcame her jealousy, I found her looking more towards Steela Gerrera than Lux. She bonded with Steela and found a companionship with her that she didn’t have with Lux. And it was devastating to Ahsoka when Steela died.

We also saw how close Ahsoka was with Barriss Offee. They immediately became fast friends and relied on each other through the Geonosis arc. The two women had an “opposites attract” effect. Barriss became a common partner in queer ships with Ahsoka. It was why it was so heartbreaking when Barriss betrayed Ahsoka and framed her for murder.

But the biggest hint that we have comes from the Ahsoka novel by E.K. Johnston. In the novel, a young woman named Kaeden meets Ahsoka and immediately falls for our hero. Ahsoka notes how intimate it is when Kaeden sits on her bed. Ahsoka even notes that she never even thought about going to the bed of another padawan like her fellow padawans had, which is where the Aesexual side of her comes in (page 35-36 of Ahsoka). Everyone but Ahsoka can tell that Kaeden likes her. And at one point when Ahsoka rescues Kaeden from the Empire, Kaeden says that she could kiss Ahsoka (page 329 of Ahsoka). In that moment, Ahsoka is more surprised but she doesn’t react in disgust. She doesn’t say she’s not interested. She even says thank you to Kaeden. And at no point for the rest of the novel does Ahsoka ever reject Kaeden because she’s a woman. Ahsoka leaves because she’s an ex-Jedi, and her presence is putting people in danger. When Kaeden asks if she will ever see Ahsoka again, Ahsoka leaves the door open for the possibility of meeting her once everything is over (page 341 of Ahsoka).

Yes, I’m wildly speculating here. When you’re a queer fan who has barely gotten anything queer in your favorite franchise, you really squint to see what you want to see. The Clone Wars episodes are a huge amount of squinting. I can understand if people don’t read any of the episodes as queer. But the Ahsoka novel is very different. It was a turning point to seeing Ahsoka in a new way, one that is not heteronormative like we’re used to seeing in Star Wars.

Then, we got the episode “Gone with a Trace.”

 

The Queer Tropes of “Gone with a Trace”

A trope is a shorthand to help tell stories based on previously told media. They’re story or character elements, like an archetype, to drive a narrative. Some examples of tropes are a character having a secret identity, the enemies to love narrative, Deus ex Machina endings where a higher power fixes everything, red herrings in mystery stories, and femme fatales. A Star Wars example is Wrecker from the previous Bad Batch arc. He’s the muscle of the team. This trope of him being the muscle tells us all we need to know about him. He likes to break things, he’s physical, and he’s not the smartest guy in the group. We know this based on characters in media before him such as the Hulk.

“Gone with a Trace” had a lot of romantic and queer tropes in it. But we also have to look at how the characters are coded as well. I’m going to look more at Trace over Rafa between the two Martez sisters. Rafa doesn’t seem to be the one interested romantically in Ahsoka. Though, Rafa does fit the coding for a Lipstick Lesbian, and she’s definitely rocking that J-Lo from Hustlers look.

Trace on the other hand is queer coded as what’s called a Butch Lesbian. Butch Lesbians tend to have shorter, masculine hairstyles. They take on jobs that are normally seen as masculine. They’re clothes usually include boots, slacks, and jackets. Trace has all of these with a short haircut, her masculine looking clothes, and she is a mechanic which is normally seen as a male job. It’s very easy to look at Trace and go, “Yup, you’re gay.” Ahsoka’s new outfit with the denim coveralls is quite masculine too, thus queer coding her more than ever before. RIP that tube top from earlier seasons!

Then the romantic tropes begin to come in. We see in the opening of the episode that Ahsoka literally crash lands outside of Trace’s mechanic’s shop. The “Crash into Hello” trope is a common Meet Cute story for romantic interests. It puts two characters in the same place in a dramatic way or else they probably wouldn’t have noticed each other. This is how Ahsoka and Trace meet.

From there, they fill the position of various different romantic tropes. Ahsoka has always been an Action Girl, a female character who is an all-around badass and kicks butt. Action Girls are usually never Damsels in Distress types, which we’ve only seen Ahsoka a Damsel once in Clone Wars when Cad Bane captured her. From there, there are different kinds of Action Girl stereotypes, often used in romantic situations, that Ahsoka could fill. Depending on how the future episodes play out, Ahsoka could be the Bodyguard Romance as we’ve already seen her save Trace once. I could see Ahsoka and Trace fall into the “Strong Girl, Smart Guy” trope where Ahsoka is the brawn while Trace has streets smarts that Ahsoka lacks. One could even argue Ahsoka fits parts of the Magical Girl archetype, and the Magical Girl genre is filled with romance as a staple for those stories.

There’s a lot of possible ways to see these stories and interpret them. But the most important part of this is who Trace actually replaced in the big scheme of things.

 

Changing Nyx Okami to Trace Martez

Artwork by Dave Filoni

Who is Nyx Okami? Nyx was a character originally shown in concept artwork for stories that were planned to be told before Clone Wars was cancelled. He was a smuggler type who had a repair shop where Ahsoka would crash land and meet him. In the “Ahsoka’s Untold Tales” panel at Celebration 2016, we got more details that he was going to be a love interest for Ahsoka. Animatics have been released of a scene where Ahsoka saves Nyx from some goons. These were part of the “Ahsoka’s Walkabout” arc.

In the new season, “Gone with a Trace” is the beginning of the “Ahsoka’s Walkabout” arc. Trace has taken the place of Nyx Okami. The same scene from the animatics has Trace in Nyx’s position almost shot for shot. We know it’s the same story, because the goons belong to a character named Pintu who appear in both.

Knowing that Nyx was supposed to be a romantic love interest for Ahsoka, does that mean that Trace now fills the role? We can see that Trace is queer coded along with Ahsoka in her new outfit. The Ahsoka novel gives us a best look of Ahsoka possibly being queer. Now, she and Trace already share romantic tropes in the opening of their story. There’s set up for those narratives to continue. Are we actually seeing moves in the story to make Ahsoka Tano a queer woman?

I’m speculating a lot here. We know from later canon that Ahsoka and Trace are not together in Rebels, the Ahsoka novel, and the Sequel Trilogy timeline. All I’m looking for here is a confirmation that while Ahsoka can’t settle down with Trace, she can admit that she is a queer woman.

 

Star Wars Animation’s History of Queer Baiting

And as much as I wish and hope to see Ahsoka as queer, I am also not holding my breath. I’ve been burned before by this very group of animators. As mentioned, Orka and Flix were not good queer representation. More than that, we’ve been queer baited by Star Wars Rebels.

Queer Baiting is defined as “a term used to describe the perceived attempt by advertisers or canon creators to draw in a queer audience and/or slash fans by implying or hinting at a gay relationship that will never actually be depicted… Queer baiting may also involve the suggestion of a romantic or sexual interest between two characters of the same gender without making it outright canon.”

I want to state up front that in the case of Star Wars Rebels, I DO NOT IN ANYWAY think it was a malicious attempt. I think it was based in excitement for the characters and their journeys. We also don’t know what happened behind the scenes with Rebels being the first Star Wars animated show under the Disney umbrella. This could have been the best attempt the creators could do when facing off with the Big Mouse Company. Disney does have a history of keeping queer content out of its animated shows.

 

So what happened in Rebels? Well the KalluZeb Ship happened.

Agent Kallus and Zeb followed the romantic trope of enemies to lovers. They started off on opposite sides of the war, both tied to the genocide of the Lasats. They were stranded together on an ice moon and found common ground. Because of Zeb, Kallus defected from the Empire to join the Rebels. And in the final episode, Zeb brings Kallus to his new home pretty much introducing him to his family. Leading up to the finale, Zeb’s voice actor Steve Blum was very vocal about wanting Kallus and Zeb to be together in the end. I even spoke one on one with him at Dragon Con a few years back at his Walk of Fame table. You could see how excited he was about the ship possibly becoming canon. He spoke in panels at Celebration like it was going to be canon, and none of the other creators like Dave Filoni stopped him. They went along with it.

The issue is that it never became official canon. It’s all hints and winks, but Kallus and Zeb are not an official romantic pairing. Without that, this is queer baiting. It fits the part of the definition of “suggestion of romance between two same sex characters without making it outright canon.”

This was incredibly hurtful for queer fans of Rebels. We thought we had gotten a well written, four season arc, enemies to loves trope filled story that would end with two boyfriends. The finale left us without any confirmation. Two years later, it’s still not confirmed.

Star Wars Resistance was a step in the right direction. We got Orka and Flix as the first canonically queer ship on Star Wars screens. But why not let us know from the start? Why queer code the two of them for the first season before announcing they were a queer couple as the show was set to end? Why not show them as actual husbands or boyfriends (see my article for more on this)? But a step in the right direction is still a step. Resistance could have been the queer representation move from Kalluzeb in Rebels to Ahsoka coming out in Clone Wars.

 

So, we’ll see what happens! As a queer fan, I can see all the gay writing on the wall from “Gone with a Trace.” It’s the gayest piece of Star Wars I’ve ever seen. But because of Kalluzeb, I am not holding my breath. I’m expecting to be disappointed. I’m expecting for Star Wars creators to continue to ignore queer fans and not write these characters properly. I’ve been burned before. I’ll be burned again.

I’m just hoping, for once, that we queer fans will get to properly see ourselves on screen. Until then, always remember this quote from Jon Lovett on his podcast Lovett or Leave It from the December 7th 2019 episode “Darin’ to Say ‘Barron.’” His final rant of the episode was discussing the “big” LGBTQA+ moment of The Rise of Skywalker:

“If this gay representation is some tiny little moment, just remember that they don’t get any pats on the back. Star Wars [and] Disney will have a gay hero in a movie the moment it’s no longer brave to do it.”

 

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10 comments

  1. This is a fascinating take on “Gone With a Trace.” Admittedly, I thought the episode was just okay, shacking off some of the dust which settled over the years onto Ahsoka’s Clone Wars arc.

    But your perspective on the episode has immediately captured my attention, giving it a new and deeper meaning. Being cisgender, I am aware of the limits of my ability to read/articulate things like queer coding and queer baiting. This just means, though, that I am even more eager to engage with and listen to authors who articulate this and other concepts in a way I cannot. And frankly, you have me wanting to re-watch the episode, now, doing so through the lens you have provided.

    I am also planning on rewatching Resistance. I didn’t finish the series (I was underwhelmed by it) but I am absolutely going to check out what you have written about Orka and Flix before I jump back in.

    -Jeff

    • Hi Jeff! Thanks for the lovely comment! I really appreciate that!

      I also wanted to say that Resistance is a particular beast of it’s own. It’s a very different show doing very different things than Clone Wars and Rebels. Unlike the other two, it’s a character driven show, not plot driven. It makes for a different kind of and much slower story. I don’t think it’s quite for everyone, so your mileage may vary.

  2. Thanks for writing this and naming some of these terms like queer coding and queer baiting! Appreciate it- as a nonbinary transmasculine person who is also a HUGE star wars fan, Trace and Ahsoka was the gayest thing I have seen in a while, let alone in Star Wars… wish the franchise was brave enough to make it canon. Loved the read!

    • Thank you for the lovely comment! I totally feel you on this. I’m bi/pan on the Ace spectrum so it’s been a long frustrating road getting queer characters in Star Wars. There’s steps being taken. They’re baby steps, but steps are still steps.
      Thank you again for this!

  3. I was reading it out of curiosity. I don’t mind how people look and who they love but when it comes to my favorite Star Wars character Ahsoka… i do care!

    In your article you fairly overlook some other very important things of her character. She is very loving about her friends and close ones. When we don’t take the whole series and just a few episodes/seasons her “affections” to others can lead to some misinterpretations. On a stage Q&A Filoni said that the sisters where invented so there will be no “love story” in the end of season 7 to go clear minded forward to the upcoming events of order 66.

    Out of the current standpoint we can see that Ahsoka´s character is straight or asexual.

    Without overinterpretation some story´s the only “real” crush she has shown was on Lux.

    I dont know. I dont want that Ahsoka gets those sexuality discussions. Just dont show anything of it, i dont want to see it. We dont need to know every sexuality of our hero´s. Sometimes, i just dont want to know it and i think alot of fans will agree on that.

    • Ahsoka’s my favorite character too! *high five for having the same favorite character*
      As I said in my article, I am absolutely okay if people don’t agree with this point. The fun part of media and art is it can be interpreted in many different ways. It’s perfectly okay if you don’t read her as anything other than straight. I, personally, don’t see her as straight. Both are perfectly valid options, because it’s art.
      I do have to disagree with you on one point. You might not want to see varying sexualities in your stories. I do. Growing up, I didn’t have queer stories to turn to in media. Companies like Dic went to great lengths to hide gay characters like Uranus and Neptune in Sailormoon. Can you imagine never seeing yourself in your shows, books, movies, comics, anything you loved until you were in your late teens to early twenties? Take a moment to think about that. How would that have impacted you? How would that make you feel? That was my life. We’re just now getting to a time where we’re starting to get on equal footing with so many different types of characters. There’s been a multitude of studies that show representation in media not only impacts society but the development of children. It might not be important to you, which is fine, but it’s very important to other people. As I respect your opinion, please understand that it’s shaping the lives of some little boy or girl who is trying to figure out who they are. And ask yourself, why don’t you want to think about these “sexuality discussion.” What does it hurt to openly talk about these things? Queer people are just normal people who are part of society. They’ve always been here. Discussing sexuality is perfectly normal if we make it normal. When we don’t talk about it, that’s when it can become weird.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you enjoy other articles on the site. You might enjoy the Clone Wars reviews. (Absolutely no pun intended) they’re a bit more straightforward.

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