Joshua Yehl’s best friend, Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen, was killed in the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida.
To honor his friend, Joshua started a petition asking that Drew be used as inspiration for the first LGBT character in Star Wars. His plea has been heard all over the galaxy -- even by Luke Skywalker himself.
This week, Joshua took some time to speak with us about Drew, his love for Star Wars, and why it’s important that pop culture makes changes alongside political ones.
Kate: How did you meet Drew?
Joshua: I met Drew at a mutual friend’s birthday party. We started talking about Battlestar Galactica (another sci-fi franchise!) and he invited me over for a movie night. After seeing his massive, diverse movie collection and the little Star Wars figures on his shelf, I immediately clicked with him and we became best friends overnight. It felt like I had known him my entire life.
Kate: What was it about Star Wars that Drew loved so much?
Joshua: Drew was a technophile. He always had the latest gadget, phone, watch, home entertainment system, whatever. When I needed a new phone or something, I wouldn’t google it or go to the store, I’d tell Drew what I wanted and he’d point me in the right direction.
Beyond the universal story of good and evil, of a simple farm boy learning about his legacy and toppling an evil empire, Drew just loved the imagination of technology. He was into every character who was part machine, like Darth Vader (his favorite) and General Grevious, not to mention just about every droid.
Kate: In your video, you stated there’s no better way to remember Drew than by Star Wars including a gay character to give “gay little nerds something to look up to.” Why do you think this is so important?
Joshua: Role models are immensely important to young people, that much is obvious. Not just real people like a teacher or an older sibling, but fictitious characters too. Growing up, I didn’t have many LGBT+ role models to choose from, and there certainly weren’t any LGBT+ characters in most of my favorite franchises.
That feeling of never seeing anyone like you in mainstream media can create this idea that LGBT+ people are supposed to be hidden and feared, that they aren’t supposed to live openly and be embraced. But when there’s a well-rounded gay character who lives their life with pride and is accepted by those around them -- and they’re fighting alongside other heroes and beating the bad guys -- that gives hope to people coming to grips with their own sexuality and identity that they can be like that person on-screen too.
Star Wars is one of the most -- if not THE most -- beloved franchises across the world. So one can only imagine the courage it would inspire in young people to embrace who they are if they see someone in Star Wars doing the same thing.
Kate: You mentioned in your petition that it’s important that not only our politics change in the wake of such a tragedy, but also our pop culture. Why do you think this is so important?
Joshua: Just as politics and laws shape our society, so does our entertainment. Millions of people watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, and read comics and novels, so it’s vitally important for those mediums to reflect the way the world really is.
We’re at a time in our culture where people idolize and imitate characters before the movie even comes out -- Star Wars is of course a great example -- and to not include LGBT+ characters eliminates not only the potential for young people to have role models, but for other people to learn about people who might be a little different.
If a movie is made without a single LGBT+ person, then it’s creating the false idea that they don’t exist or don’t matter. This happens without the creators even realizing it, which is why it’s so important to make our voices heard, to criticize worlds without diverse characters and to applaud those that do.
Kate: In your update, you mentioned that while your petition has more than 8,700 signatures, millions of people have seen it. What would you like to say to those that have seen it, but not signed?
Joshua: To be honest, I would remove the signature goal from the petition if I had the option. The word has already been spread further than I ever could have hoped, being written up by more websites than I can keep track of, and translated into multiple languages across the world. I believe my message has been heard and now we’re all just waiting for an answer.
Kate: What would you like to say to those who have signed it?
Joshua: Thank you! Keep the conversation alive by sharing the petition and using the hashtag #PutDrewInStarWars.
Kate: In your update you stated that you picture Lucasfilm discussing your petition, “like the Jedi Council, sitting in a circle, deliberating how best to proceed in a way that’s best for the galaxy.” If you could speak directly to Lucasfilm, what would you say?
Joshua: My letter was written directly to them, so really everything is laid out there. I guess I’d add, “I know Yoda values patience, but I’m ready to hear your thoughts on #PutDrewInStarWars.”