Han, Luke, Leia, and Reckless Friendship

Five years ago today, I completed my Master’s in English, for which I focused on the subject of romance.  What better way to mark the occasion than by discussing the romance theme in relation to my favourite film trilogy?


“Why do I love the Star Wars trilogy so much?” is a question I spent almost twenty-five years asking myself.  Then, I re-watched the movies, and I was struck by one factor that may be very significant: the way Han, Luke, and Leia’s relationship is a friendship that is also a Romance.

By “Romance”, I don’t mean in the modern sense of the word, though that kind of romance does play a role in two of the characters’ relationship.  I mean it in the older sense I described in “The History of Romance”.  The word “Romance” originally meant a kind of heroic tale, and those tales often had a lot to say about the nature of Love and how lovers behave.  I believe that, regardless of whether a relationship is “romantic” or “platonic” in the modern sense, if people act like the lovers of a medieval Romance, then their relationship can itself be considered a “Romance”.

One of the defining features of Love in medieval Romances is that it is authoritarian: if Love tells you to do something, then you have to do it, no matter how stupid, unpleasant, or dangerous it may seem.  Fortunately, Love is also comforting: it gives you courage to take on stupid, unpleasant, or dangerous tasks.  Both these qualities are expressed in a trope that is common in medieval Romance, and also in the Star Wars movies: the rescue.

By my count there are six major rescues and rescue attempts between the Star Wars leads in the original trilogy:

  1. Luke (enthusiastically) and Han (reluctantly) rescue Leia from the Death Star in the middle of A New Hope.
  2. Han comes back and saves Luke from being shot down in the Battle of Yavin at the end of A New Hope.
  3. Han rescues Luke from freezing to death on the surface of Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.
  4. Luke attempts to save Han and Leia from Cloud City in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back.
  5. Leia tells Chewie to turn the Millennium Falcon around and rescue Luke from Cloud City at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.
  6. Luke and Leia (and Chewie, and Lando, and… everyone, really) team up to save Han from Jabba the Hutt’s palace at the beginning of Return of the Jedi.

All of these rescues could be described as reckless, even stupid: Han forgoes paying off his debts to a dangerous crime lord; Luke walks into the trap set for him by the Empire; Leia flies back towards the city she has just barely escaped.  But, like the lovers in a heroic tale, Han, Luke, and Leia do not worry about the prudence of their actions or the risks to themselves.  For them, friendship, affection, and love are irresistible forces that impel them to act.  Their own needs become irrelevant when faced with the needs of each other, a theme encapsulated in an exchange from The Empire Strikes Back.  Just before Han leaves Echo Base to look for Luke, someone warns him that “The temperature [outside is] dropping too rapidly”.  Han’s reply?  “That’s right, and my friend’s out in it.”  Han doesn’t care about the danger to himself; he only cares about the danger to Luke.  His own sense of self-preservation is completely eclipsed by his love for his friend.

I’m not saying this trope is necessarily a good thing.  Romance, in itself, is not good or bad, and it can just as easily lead to bad actions as to good ones.  But there is something appealing about the idea that love can inspire heroism and self-sacrifice.  That it can drive people to save and protect each other from terrible dangers.  That it can take control of our actions and make us bold, courageous, and reckless.

Of course, this kind of recklessness isn’t unique to the Star Wars movies; it’s actually a fairly standard trope of the sci-fi/fantasy/adventure genre.  Lizzie braves the Goblin Market to try and save her sister, Laura.  Sam braves a tower of orcs to rescue his friend, Frodo.  Work partners Mulder and Scully save each other’s lives at least once a season.  And maybe that’s why I’ve always gravitated towards the sci-fi/fantasy/adventure genre: because it makes room for big, reckless expressions of love, even in platonic relationships.

3 thoughts on “Han, Luke, Leia, and Reckless Friendship

  1. VioletEmerald says:

    You conclude this piece with the idea that “there is something appealing about the idea that love can inspire heroism and self-sacrifice. That it can drive people to save and protect each other from terrible dangers. That it can take control of our actions and make us bold, courageous, and reckless.” And you’ve “always gravitated towards the sci-fi/fantasy/adventure genre: because it makes room for big, reckless expressions of love, even in platonic relationships.”

    I definitely see so much of this stuff in other genres too. I find the fantasy and sci-fi stuff to often confuse me plot wise, where even Star Wars i wasn’t invested in the rescues because I would get caught up feeling confused about who needed to be rescued from what and how they got there. I didn’t find the plots easy to follow at all. I just struggled to appreciate these characters’ love at all as so much of the plots didn’t make sense to me. Luke made some of the most sense to me throughout, his motivations and arc, but i didn’t even believe the love story between Leia and Han was a genuine love connection that was built, etc.

    Part of what i love about fiction of any kind is the heightened circumstances that happen in plot to make them noteworthy enough to get that detail into the story, and therefore the heightened emotions and special circumstances for expressions of love are frequent throughout so many works of fiction.

    Mulder and Scully are in a sci-fi show but I’d argue the majority of realistic naturalistic world based cop shows and crime dramas also have so many of the same elements down to the QPR that develops between anyone who engages in Life and Death type dangerous and intense situations together.

    Family themed TV shows often include the diagnosis and/or disclosure of an illness early on in the plot or other huge life altering events like death of a loved one or maybe an unplanned pregnancy as a catalyst for expressing love in ways that people often don’t day-to-day. Things like grief or trauma or fear make the circumstances have a lot of the sense of “danger”, albeit on a smaller scale, but opportunities where more subtle but extremely emotionally poignant and powerful expressions of love, often platonic, can still happen.

    Part of what i personally do love so much about medical dramas is how often the frequent risk and reality of death helps beloved characters distill philosophical truths about the meaning of life and what’s emotionally important to them.

    It’s true that the more extreme frequency of the risk of death of a main character adds to the compelling drama of a genre, but it also often kinda cheapens or at least desensitizes us to the risk of death. Genres that don’t play with death so much can make the much smaller things feel like so much higher of stakes. Can add deeply emotional stuff that often ties in intense stuff about all kinds of love…

    A teenager getting rejected from vs accepted to college, a friend feeling so betrayed they don’t want to call themselves someone’s friend anymore, the vulnerability of expressing romantic feelings for a person who doesn’t feel it back, the messiness of navigating infidelity and how extramarital affairs feel to each individual involved, the complexities of feeling a deep connection with both your adoptive and your biological family members and not wanting anyone’s feelings hurt as you navigate new bonds with biological family, and more of these common arcs are all things that can be made to play with readers/viewers emotions about love even. 😉

    But yeah i hear what you’re saying this just inspired me to make a tangent of my own in your comments section. I hope you don’t mind. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      Well, there goes that theory! XD Okay, really, it was more of a hypothesis. I’d just noticed that there are a lot of rescues (especially in platonic contexts) in sci-fi/fantasy/adventure stories. And I love sci-fi/fantasy/adventure stories, so it made sense to think those two things might be connected. I don’t associate big gestures of love as much with realistic genres, but perhaps that’s just confirmation bias: because I consume a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/adventure, I see a lot of big gestures in those genres. Because I consume less realistic fiction, I don’t see those gestures as often. It’s not about what’s actually there, but about what I’ve personally been exposed to.

      “…i didn’t even believe the love story between Leia and Han was a genuine love connection that was built, etc.”

      Oh, yeah. Han&Leia are, uh, they’re something. I don’t blame anyone for not getting emotionally invested in that relationship! But I do love the relationship they both have with Luke.

      “Mulder and Scully are in a sci-fi show but I’d argue the majority of realistic naturalistic world based cop shows and crime dramas also have so many of the same elements down to the QPR that develops between anyone who engages in Life and Death type dangerous and intense situations together.”

      You could be right. My memory of SVU isn’t that good, for example, but I can easily imagine Benson&Stabler engaging in a similar amount of protectiveness and rescuing.

      I will say (if you don’t mind me going on my own tangent 😉 ) that my thinking in this post was partly inspired by watching several movies with someone who’s quite into murder mysteries and spy films – two genres that tend to be quite cynical about interpersonal relationships. In particular, we watched a couple of John le Carré adaptations, and I was struck by the absence of close, trusting friendships. In fact, any time you did see two people in an apparently close relationship, it was invariably a set-up for one of them betraying the other or turning out to be a bad guy. This trope was so consistent that, when the protagonist of one movie went to hug his friend, my first thought was, “Oh, that must be a bad guy!”, because I couldn’t think of any reason to show two men hugging unless it was a set up for one of them to be a villain. (I was right, too!) The result was that I could never get invested in any of the relationships, which mean that a) I never felt as much sorrow as I should have when one character betrayed another, and b) I just found the whole thing kind of depressing.

      In contrast, strong, loving, trusting relationships are often at the heart of sci-fi/fantasy/adventure stories. And I can usually trust that people who appear to love each other will in fact remain loyal to each other. There’s no question of Han betraying Luke, Sam betraying Frodo, or Scully betraying Mulder; the characters can feel secure in their love relationships. And, to a great extent, it’s having these secure love relationships that allows the heroes to face and overcome the challenges they’re presented with.

      But, yeah, that’s really more an observation about how sci-fi/fantasy/adventure compares with mystery/espionage, not about other realistic genres.

      “Family themed TV shows often include the diagnosis and/or disclosure of an illness early on in the plot…”

      For sure. I find these stories don’t work as well for me, though, because they’re all about the dire situation, and we don’t always get a chance to see the characters’ relationship outside of it. I think, for me, that makes it harder to get invested. For, example, if The X-Files had opened with Scully’s cancer arc, it wouldn’t have done much for me; it’s only because Mulder&Scully already have an established friendship and working relationship that I care if something comes along to threaten it.

      “A teenager getting rejected from vs accepted to college, a friend feeling so betrayed they don’t want to call themselves someone’s friend anymore, the vulnerability of expressing romantic feelings for a person who doesn’t feel it back, the messiness of navigating infidelity and how extramarital affairs feel to each individual involved…”

      So, one thing I’ve noticed is that I tend not to connect as well with stories where the drama comes from inside the relationship. People dealing with external threats is fine, but at least some of the situations you mention seem to be about distrust and insecurity within the friendships, and that’s something I’m not as into. Again, I guess that’s because I prefer portrayals of secure, loving relationships. There’s very little “relationship drama” between Han, Luke, and Leia. I mean, there’s Han and Leia’s bickering and those five seconds where Han’s like, “Waah, Leia likes Luke more than me! 😦 “, until Leia’s all, “Dude, chill, he’s my brother!”, both of which I consider kind of obnoxious. But, apart from that, we don’t really see the characters questioning their relationship or each other’s feelings. All the threats to the friendship come from outside forces.

      Anyway, I guess I may be back to square one. I like sci-fi/fantasy/adventure. I don’t necessarily know why; I just know I do!

      Like

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