Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I got my first taste of Star Wars at a cinema. I remember lines going around the theater and around the block to get in. My mother, correctly, saw that this movie was going to be one of those big cultural things that later we’d say we had been involved in, so we waited and waited, and when we got in to see it, my mind was blown. I was instantly hooked.
Now, there was a bit of a problem regarding the gender balance in the movie (I was just barely a teenager when the third one came out). Obviously, Leia was about the only woman in the entire series, but also obviously she was there largely to function as a reward for either Han or Luke. So if I, a girl, wanted to play Star Wars with the boys, then obviously I got elected to be Leia even if I wanted to be a Rebel leader. But if two girls wanted to play, then we had a real problem: who had to be Leia? Who got to be? It was a real pickle, and the fights over who got the role of Leia, by turns coveted and rejected, were almost more momentous than the fights we staged afterward once we’d figured it out.
But there was a bigger fight to be had, and every woman my age knows what it is: were you a Han girl, or a Luke girl?
Oh, we’d squabbled over which “Duke boy” we’d preferred, but since in my opinion they were largely identical in personality, that was more an aesthetic thing. My best friend at the time the third movie came out, a dyed-redhead named Suzette (no kidding), was fanatically in love with the blond Duke brother for no real reason I could discern other than he’d been nice to her once at a concert, and she thought Star Wars was kind of dumb–though she even knew about the question, and was a Luke girl. But to Star Wars fans, the difference between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker was so great that coming down on one side or the other of this divide indicated a lot of things about your personality. It was like preferring Coke or Pepsi back in the 80s: making a choice meant joining an entire way of life and mode of being. You knew a lot about a girl depending on which side she chose.
You can guess that I saw the Twilight squabbles over “Team Jacob” or “Team Edward” in a different context than younger folks might, and indeed I recognize it very easily as a retread of a very, very old argument. I wonder if straight women had similar divisions before Star Wars, and suspect they did. Maybe they argued about Cap Garland versus Almanzo Wilder or something.
You can also guess which side I came down on. Please, don’t pretend you don’t know. It wasn’t even a question. Of course I was a Han girl. Who could hear him stammering in the Death Star in his disastrous attempt to divert attention and not fall instantly into infatuation? If you’ve never seen it (and if you haven’t, then I’m very sorry for whatever poor life decisions you’ve made that brought you to this pass), all I can do is try to describe it: Han has just shot up a room full of bad guys and a monitor is crackling with concern. He tries to fake being a bad guy and replies to the voice on the monitor to try to divert suspicion, which doesn’t work too well. In frustration, he shoots the monitor and mutters, “Boring conversation anyway” and shouts to Luke to watch out, they’re about to get some company.
I can pinpoint that moment as the moment my little brain began working overtime, assimilating this quick-thinking yet imperfect man into categories that would, in a few years, become my working model for What I Wanted Out Of A Partner. Was it the best model there could be? No, of course not. Han’s quite imperfect in a lot of ways. He can’t communicate well, he’s had a rough life and is rather closed emotionally, and he solves problems with his blaster more often than he uses any other tool. But compared to the whiny, bland Midwestern-farm-boy ethos of Luke, Han looks like a fizzy rocket. And to a little girl raised on media that insisted that a choice had to be made, which is by no means an assessment I agree with today, my choice seemed crystal-clear.
The kiss they share in the second movie clinched it. “You like me because I’m a scoundrel,” he says, and the worst part is that he’s right. And maybe she needed a scoundrel. I imagined what her life must have been like, growing up as a princess, and how different Han must have been from all those men she’d known in her previous life, and it’s not hard to imagine her seeing something very new and exciting in the person she called a “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.” (His objection to these epithets was wholly over the term “scruffy.”)
And who could forget what he said when Leia finally told him she loved him? “I know.” That said it all. He did know. So, too, did Leia. And the reversal in the third movie where she said the same thing back just made them seem so right together. They’d flipped the formula on its ear and back again. I was shocked the first time I heard him say that. But I was absolutely delighted when she said it.
You know those two did not have a conventional love affair or a traditional sort of relationship–and that they wouldn’t have wanted one if they’d had the chance to have one. Luke was boring normal malehood; Han forged his own path and encouraged Leia to do likewise. She had spirit and deep convictions, which brought him forward as well. They worked well as a couple on a level and in a way that I’d never really imagined could work before then. You knew that even if they got married, they wouldn’t have a typical marriage at all–that whatever it was, it’d be something remarkable.
For that matter, the choice between Luke and Han was clear to a lot of little girls besides me, I’m guessing, because I’ve heard the original plan was for Leia to be awarded to Luke, since he’s sort of the big damn hero of this series; his sister was supposed to be someone else entirely. I hear that tested very poorly compared with awarding her to Han, though. Also there was this issue with the creator of the movies realizing that there wasn’t going to be another trilogy after all. So Leia became Luke’s sister and that kind of solved all their problems.
The lessons I drew from the original trilogy–about heroism, redemption, grace, bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, a quirky love that didn’t look much like how Disney movies and songs described love–would stick with me long after the movies had come and gone. I might not be enough of a fan to get my wedding rings with that saying on them, but I still have a huge affection for the original trilogy and its unforgettable characters–and the love affair that evolved throughout the series.