Alright, folks. It’s time to talk about Bioware’s first canon queer character, Juhani. Is this partially an excuse to show you my favorite piece of fan art to come out of this series? Possibly. (The artist sells prints of this piece here and you might also want to check out their tumblr, where I first spotted this.)
In comparison to the wider variety of sexual representation we get in newer Bioware games, like the Dragon Age series, Juhani’s one short, somewhat restrained scene is frankly lackluster. It’s a brief confession with very little narrative build-up. It’s obviously frustrating that there’s little opportunity to flirt or create a romantic bond with Juhani before this scene, while there’s every opportunity in the world to be subjected to Carth’s obnoxious pick-up lines. What’s more, Juhani isn’t even a guaranteed companion. Making the wrong choices during the quest that introduces you to the character risks losing her as a potential member of your crew. The one queer romance of the whole game is sort of buried deep inside a non-essential character.
Nevertheless, she is a gift to the game and I love this beautiful Cathar. For me, it took some retrospection to see how intelligently her character’s arc was crafted. Although it we’re introduced to Juhani as her struggle with control seems to end, her developing emotions for Revan actually seem directly tied up with her relationship to the Force. This becomes clearer as we learn more about Juhani’s past.
Revan awakens Juhani to her Force sensitivity, pulling her up out of the oppression she’s been living in for so long. Her newfound powers allow her to escape her enslavement and the horrors of her massacred homeworld. In this way, before the game has even begun, Revan already functions as a force for freedom in Juhani’s life. However, Juhani lacks control over these powers and her emotions, directly harming her master, and Revan has to step in again to teach her control. As Revan unknowingly travels down her own path for redemption, she also has to convince Juhani that redemption is possible.
In the wake of this second chance, Juhani finds herself again facing uncontrollable emotions, this time for the new master-like figure in her life, who has acted as a mentor before and acts again as a mentor now. This time, the uncontrollable emotions are something to be afraid, because she has already seen the ways that strong emotions are corruptive. It makes sense, then, that she would be cautious and silent on the subject, since the last time she lost control, her master almost died at her hands. (Although she quotes jealousy as the reason for her rash actions on Dantooine, it is possible that the new emotions she feels for Revan aren’t unlike the emotions she felt for her old master. Juhani says she loved her master “in her own way.”) The lack of romantic build-up to the confession scene may then be explained as Juhani exercizing restraint, fearing the danger that comes from emotion. It also explains her restraint when finally admitting to her emotions, even apologizing for her inability to “deny what it is I feel.”
It’s a much more complex and interesting character development than we see in any of the other romances in the game. I wish the game had given this character and her internal struggle more attention and focus.
We might chalk up burying the queer romance, which is arguably the most fascinating one in the game, to its release date. Juhani sets a precedent for Bioware to create more queer characters who are even more open with their sexuality, and we’ve seen that in plenty of their games. Which is why I would just like to end this post with a small request from the ever-adapting, constantly-growing Old Republic Online game: Stop continuing to bury queer romances! We get all the heterosexuality we want for free, but queer romances have thus far only been spotted in the bonus content and expansions? My girl Juhani did not suffer for that shit. It’s time to pull characters like her out of the margins. Let them be gay.
(In the meantime, there’s some mods for changing the romance options in the game to allow anyone to romance Carth or Bastila, and an enhancement mod that changes up Juhani’s confession scene a bit.)