What if Han was one of us?
I thought I’d devote a little time to one of the elements that I believe makes for great storytelling in general and in particular great science fiction. I call it, the Han Solo theory.
The Han Solo theory explains why the original Star Wars movies (Star Wars, Empire and Jedi) are so much better than what I refer to as the runner-up films. And it’s not that I don’t like the runner-up films — if not for the first three, we wouldn’t have any idea how great the original films really are.
Please understand, I don’t want to just bitch about this. I write and produce a new podcast every week as well as work for my living. I don’t have time to spare for bitching. But what I do want to know is how can I make great stories. So the question becomes, why are the orginal movies, so much better than the runner ups?
Let’s rule out special effects. Of course the special effects in the new ones are better, but in 1977 Industrial Light and Magic blew everybody’s socks off. For their day(s), and for our purposes, both sets of films have equally brilliant special effects.
I’d also like to rule out the dialog. Yes the dialog in the runner-up movies is horrendous. (This is because the first three were co-written by Lawrence Kasdan. Where was he this time around?) At a dinner in his honor, George Lucas made a joke (at his own expense) that illustrated how bad his dialog really is. He said, “I started off as just awful, but after a lot of hard work I rose to become the king of Wooden dialog.”
Yes, his dialog sucks. But he’s a brilliant visual director. One who invented the characters, the Star Wars universe, and oversaw the design of the whole thing. He also revolutionized the way movies are merchandized, made a pile of money and gave several generations an overarching moral fable. That makes complaining about his dialog is like looking down a somebody how just won the Olympic Decathlon and saying, “Yeah, but you’re socks don’t match.”
Besides, snappy dialog can’t save a bad movie. “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum and I’m all out of bubble gum” is a pretty good action movie line – but it doesn’t save “They Live” from dragging.
No, my theory is that the original Star Wars movies are so much better than the runner ups because of Han Solo.
The difficulty with a sci-fi, fantasy or any other kind of story is bridging the distance between here and now and a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Han Solo does this. He bridges this gap because he says what we’re thinking. He is the one guy who isn’t a wide-eyed believer on a holy crusade. Consider, most of his lines could be uttered by someone on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
Honestly, if I corned you at a party and started telling you about a mystical flow of energy in the world that defined your destiny and permeated every aspect of your life and I called it yin and yang or even the Force you would think.
“Kid, I’ve flown from one side of the galaxy to the other. I seen a lotta strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny.”
And Han is cool because when he’s confronted with the freak, he speaks his mind. There’s a good chance you and I would just nod and smile and hope that someone would rescue us from a cocktail party conversation gone horribly, horribly wrong.
At every turn of the story Han either does what we would do or what we would like to do. (the ordinary unheroic masses who’s lives of quiet desperation are defined by mundane things like going to work and making ham sandwiches)
You see Han Solo is one of us. He’s in debt up to his eyeballs, he drives a beater car. Sure, he tries to put a good face on the Mellenium Falcon. Saying, “I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself”, bragging that it won some ‘Kessel Run’ race that nobody’s ever heard of — But if the Falcon is so awesome, how come it’s always breaking down?
And this kind of character is precisely what the new Star Wars movies lack. We care about the original three movies because we identify with Han Solo.
You see in a fantastic story good guy meets bad guy and they draw their light sabers and Start talking. Jabber, jabber jabber, mystical force magical that. When Han runs into Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back. He doesn’t say a word. He just tries to shoot him.
At then end of Star Wars, when everybody’s running off for the big battle against the Death Star – tremendous odds, chance to be a hero, jump in for the big win what’s our man Han do?
He bails. Saying, “What good is a reward if you’re not around to use it.”
That’s right. He’s got the money. He’s off to enjoy it. Deep down Han doesn’t give a damn for any cause or ism — he has simple motivations. He wants to survive, he want to get laid and he wants to get paid. Sure it’s their not noble causes, but they are motivations we can understand.
In the end, the only thing his risks his life for, is his friend. Which is also very clear. Now I’m not saying we don’t sympathize with Luke for losing his Aunt and Uncle.
Although if you ask me, they made it seem like Uncle Owen was a mean son-of-a-bitch that Luke would later sell down the river in a tell-all autobiography. Working Luke like a rented droid on that mostiure farmer rather than letting him run off to get killed with some foolish rebellion. Wait a minute, I’m starting to like the way this Uncle Owen character thinks.
But Han Solo, the character who bridges the distance between our reality and the reality of the story, makes the first three Star Wars movies so much better than the runner-ups.
In fact, if we hadn’t cared so much about the first three. The runner ups would never have been made.
And that’s the Han Solo theory. Han is one of us. Just a slob like one of us.