Earlier this month, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. One of the 49 victims was Christopher Andrew Leinonen, and his best friend, comics journalist Joshua Yehl, has aimed for him to be remembered in a positive and very public way.
On Monday morning, Yehl launched a Change.org petition asking Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger to use Leinonen as the inspiration for the first-ever LGBT character in the Star Wars film franchise. As of publication in late Monday afternoon, the petition had 1,716 signatures, with 2,500 sought.
"I'm writing this letter to request that Drew's passing be honored by using him as inspiration for the first-ever LGBT Star Wars character to appear in a movie," Yehl, Editor of IGN Comics, wrote in the text accompanying the petition. "How this is done -- using his likeness, running his name through one of those Star Wars Name Generators, etc. -- is totally up to you. You are all masters of your craft, so I know that whatever you come up with will be marvelous. This character will not only honor Drew but all of the other victims at Pulse in Orlando, including his boyfriend Juan Ramon Guerrero, and every LGBT person to ever lose their life to hate."
Yehl also created a video to help spread the word:
In the video, Yehl described the shared Star Wars fandom that served as the foundation of his friendship with Leinonen. "He was my Star Wars buddy," Yehl said. "It's what we bonded over the most. That's why, on the way home from Drew's funeral, I got this big, crazy idea. What if Drew was used as the inspiration for the first-ever LGBT Star Wars character to appear in a movie? I know it's a long shot, but hey, never tell me the odds."
While there have been gay characters in the broader world of "Star Wars" fiction -- including last year's in-canon "Star Wars: Aftermath" novel -- as Yehl points out, there's yet to be a character identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in a Star Wars film. The interpretation that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" characters Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) might be gay picked up vocal support online following the film's release last December, but has never been officially confirmed -- though "Force Awakens" director J.J. Abrams has been quoted as saying that it would be "insanely narrow-minded" to not include LGBT characters in future "Star Wars" films.
Lucasfilm and Disney have not commented on Yehl's petition as of publication, but the effort has already attracted media attention, including coverage on Nerdist, HitFix and Observer.