The Underrated Love Story Between Kaz and Neeku in Star Wars Animation
Since the end of Star Wars Resistance, barely did the Star Wars fanbase paid much attention to the burgeoning love between a young human man and a humanoid alien — the reptilian Kadas’sa’Nikto species to be exact. There hasn’t been a profound love story since Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla or Obi-Wan Kenobi and Satine Kryze in the Star Wars animated-verse. There came a point where Neeku Vozo declared to his human compatriot Kazuda Xiono, “You are more than my best friend.” I took a pause and waited. Then he finished it with a “You are my bestest buddy.”
Neeku and Kaz — or “Neekaz” — is not a high-profile fan ship by the likes of Chirrut and Baze and Poe Dameron and Finn, both of which inspired think-pieces in prominent outlets. Oh, I ran into my share of mutuals who drew their fanart of Neeku and Kaz on Twitter and Tumblr. And their respective voice actors, Christopher Sean and Josh Brener, even acknowledged the ship on the season one DVD commentary.
I did my share of fanfics. But their love is no phenomenon that inspired think-piece waves. Which is a shame because tracing their relationship in Resistance has been exhilarating. By the time the Colossus is launched into space and on the run in season two, Kaz and Neeku formulate a personal and professional sycophancy.
I note how potential female love interests for Kaz and Neeku respectively are drawn away in favor of Kaz and Neeku’s dynamic. Kaz displays an evident crush on Synara and does a romantic gesture by offering her lunch, but the same episode concludes on Kaz buying Neeku lunch — okay, Kaz meant to buy Neeku a new pet but he forgot that Neeku was that kind of carnivore.
In “The Engineer,” Neeku finds a female Nikto companion in the conflicted Neena (voiced by Brener’s real-life wife, Meghan Falcone). Even original drafts indicated that Neeku’s romantic overture for Nena would have been more explicit, with an official source saying Neeku would have been “smitten.” But by the end, Kaz is reinforced as Neeku’s true compatriot when he grows more attentive to Neeku’s sensitivity and needs. By the end of “The Engineer,” Kaz learns to ask Neeku more about himself rather than chatter about the Resistance and fills in the Nena-shaped hole in Neeku’s heart. The trope of the “male buddies finding platonic investment in each other when female love interests just can’t invest in romance with them” is common (it’s in Solo), but Kaz and Neeku’s relationship stands out because of the emotional intimacy.
Other than growing into a more guile fighter, Kaz’s arc includes appreciating Neeku in ways he underestimated. Neeku starts out as this annoying pal who gets Kaz into a scrape in the first episode. But as the series progresses, Neeku matures and so does Kaz’s perception of Neeku. Neeku just keeps surprising Kaz by simple acts of generosity in “The Children from Tehar.” Although Neeku is no rich fellow, he buys Kaz water. In the same episode, he buys a medical need for a child. Kaz takes pause on Neeku’s kindness as if in awe that one man could be so kind.
Their chemistry grows in “Station to Station” when they are paired for an undercover mission and Kaz is protective of Neeku, whether he’s covering for him or blasting stormtroopers. Kaz grows to trust Neeku’s capabilities — “I know Neeku won’t let things go out of hand.”
Do the Nikto and this human have a romantic charge that feels deliberate on the creator’s part? Not quite. But do they have such a connection that an outsider might read something other than platonic? Only if you’re a fan like me. An exchange in “The New Trooper” perked up some of the Neekazers. When cornered at a dead-end, Neeku emerges from the floor vent to rescue Kaz who then hollers the hyperbolic, “Neeku, I could kiss you!”
To which his green buddy gives a few-seconds contemplation and replies, “I’m sorry, Kaz, but I do not feel the same way.” It’s a 3-second gag. If I’m being charitable in terms of “Did Disney accidentally add queer representation?”, Neeku considers within the milliseconds that he did feel something romantically for Kaz and decided he did not. Or if it is distant from any queer intentionality (more likely in heteronormative hands), Neeku just wanted to let Kaz down gently.
Is this essay really about how Kaz and Neeku should have gotten together? No. But why do I bring them up? The same reason fans ship the likes of Chirrut and Baze, Poe Dameron and Finn, Rey and Rose, and various other queer non-canon ships. Those are meaningful symptoms of a base starved for LGBTQ+ representation in a powerful franchise. The Star Wars universe had a working relationship with queer relationships, with leading epresentation being regelated to the books (see Sinjir in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath) or the comics (Doctor Aphra). Resistance side characters, Flix and Orka, are a confirmed couple according to executive producer Justin Ridge, and their couplehood was insinuated onscreen before creator confirmation. Two buddies don’t just visit one of the other mothers because they are just “close friends.” Still, Flix and Orka are a conservatively portrayed same-sex couple and their couplehood coding could be fleshed out more.
But representation has the most stakes in the movies. Solo writer Jon Kasdan “confirming” Lando is pansexual created a fiasco because the final product didn’t bother to depict such onscreen (Lando loving a female-coded robot is still heteronormative and the film doesn’t seize any real opportunity for Lando to have a flirtatious charge with Han Solo). The two-second same-sex kiss between two unnamed background characters in Rise of Skywalker is the brand of back-patting “representation” that doesn’t register as impactful to the LGBTQ+ community.
Animated children’s program has made visible rainbow strides. Shows like Gravity Falls, The Loud House, The Dragon Prince that had queer couples as supporting players. But consequential precedences were set by Steven Universe, She-Ra and the Princesss of Power, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeast, all of which did wonders to forefront and centralize queer characters. Fighting for this representation in the vastly-reaching Star Wars movies has the most stakes, and the fight should additionally be brought to LucasFilm Animation.
Some opportunities for queer relationships stick out more than others. Neeku and Kaz would have been just one solid jumping point. Someone in the writer’s room has to go “hm, what if we try this instead?” Opportunities exist and could be as simple as Kaz having a one-sided crush on Poe Dameron, Captain Doza maybe having a long-lost loving husband (not to say the reveal of his canonical wife Venisa isn’t a cool subversion of a missing mom trope), Tam having something for Synara, and the possibilities go on.
Anyway, Neeku is someone that Kaz especially fights for. Maybe after fleeing and fighting the First Order for so long, maybe Neeku would reach a point where he would allow Kaz to kiss him. But even as Kaz and Neeku are left with a just-buddies relationship in the finale, witnessing their maturing love makes for an underrated love story in the galaxy far, far away.