May the 4th is a cliche now, marketing ploy and novelty. Like 4/20 or Black Friday/Cyber Monday, it’s quasi-holiday, a pop culture event of little to no depth but endless breadth. I don’t write that to sound like I’m shitty on anybody. I’m not trying to pull that hipster move of discounting people’s enthusiasm for something because it’s gone from obscure to mainstream. Such a maneuver is pointless and needlessly hostile, and that’s not my thing.
I love the fact that there’s a Star Wars holiday. I love seeing fan art, reading fan fiction, seeing the clever gifs, finding out about the deals on merch, and, of course, watching the trilogy sans special features + The Force Awakens. I love it.
But I refuse to not say very plainly that most of the folk playing with or humoring themselves with #MayThe4thBeWithYou see it as a cute fetish or they pretend that Star Wars has always been an epic influence on their lives in that way that suddenly half of the Democratic Party have always been just like Sen. Bernie Sanders (the Green in me calls bullshit).
But May the 4th is a fun day and, again, there’s no reason to be shitty. So, in that spirit, I offer up my second piece (you can check out the first here) on the re-freshed Star Wars universe.
Han Solo was my dad.
When I was born in 1976 my father was 29, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and thus Han Solo was 34. The three men (my dad, Harrison Ford, and the fictional Han Solo) were peers. By the time I saw Star Wars as a conscious being (this would be Empire Strikes Back in the theatre, then Star Wars on early laser disc and VHS until Return of the Jedi as the first movie I was insufferable about wanting to go see), I equated Han Solo with my dad. He was my dad’s age and the most present male figure in my life. Han Solo taught me what it meant to be a man.
So, there’s no joke here. By the time I was eight I could recite nearly every line of the trilogy; I would act it out with my action figures; I would create nascent fan fiction with the toys; and I looked at Luke, Leia, and Han as my role models in perhaps the most immediate and intimate sense possible.
My father was in the military and always station far away from his family. My mother worked full-time to augment our family’s meagre income. These characters were, for a brief time, more real to me than my own mother and father. But I saw my mother in Leia and my father in Han and desperately wanted them to be my parents–not Han and Leia, but the merger of the four persons into two.
I learned how to be a man from Han Solo, so his death in The Force Awakens is more than casually significant. Although everyone saw it coming, the murder of Han Solo by his wayward son Kylo Ren was rage inducing. Watching that scene in The Force Awakens, my most significant criticism wasn’t the rather blunt foreshadowing but that Chewbacca’s explosion of sorrow and anger wasn’t the level it should have been. In Star Wars, the death of Ben Kenobi sent Luke into an almost suicidal state of attack and that was a man he had only really know for a few days.
But this distracts from issue I want to address. What is the legacy of my now dead father, Han Solo?
First and foremost, I despise Kylo Ren. I will be devoted to watching all of the subsequent Star Wars movies, just so that I can see this character get what’s coming to him. The spoilt child fills me with a disgust that I haven’t in a long time, a long time… He’s the asshole punk who shows up to date my little sister, the county kid who thinks he’s a city boy, the rich kid realizing he can’t have everything he wants to moment he wants it, and the guy that makes me embarrassed to be a man.
What did I take away from Han Solo? How did he teach me to be a man, teach me masculinity? Many and most kids of my generation when we saw Star Wars wanted to be a Han Solo even though we all knew in our hearts we were a Luke. Worldly, confident with swagger, a nerd for his ship, fiercely loyal to his bestfriend Chewy, handsome, rash yet still smart, and rough on the outside but more compassionate than he lets on. Han Solo had all the sharpened features of an adult that were lacking in Luke and, thus, us.
As A.J. O’Connell and Tamela J. Ritter have written, “I never wanted Han Solo. I wanted to be him.” Being Han Solo mattered. So first, I realized I needed to develop, at the very least, the facade of confidence in my decisions but most importantly in my actions. I would later realized just how grounded in an Aristotelian ethics this was. But to my point, Han Solo never second-guessed himself although he did regularly admit he was wrong. His body never doubted its action, he moved with a grace conveying his sense of self-worth imputing that value into the minds of others.
As an thin, awkward child with Harry Carry-esque glasses from grade one, being someone profoundly comfortable in their own skin was a paramount concern. I wasn’t athletic and didn’t want to be, but I could become acutely aware of the space around me and own that space. Gesture and movement, how you carry yourself or what we casually call body language, conveys the kind of person we are to others. I learned from Han Solo that you could project the man you wanted to be to others by how you moved, your facial expressions, and tone of voice.
Han Solo was inviolate. His strength was in just how self-contained and self-satisfied he was. This was also his tragic flaw. Throughout the trilogy, Han Solo’s personal arch is centered around letting people in, in accepting that one has to live for others just as much as for oneself. It is a maddening process perhaps best exemplified by Solo’s relationship with Leia. The second thing I learned from Han Solo was how and why to make room for others in your own life and how to be satisfied with your role in their life.
Solo attempts to woo Leia at first only because it’s something to do. He’s an arrogant prick who shamelessly tries to charm a woman an order of magnitude smarter and more committed than him. Leia rebuffing his advances doesn’t send Han into some misogynist spiral, rather he works to bring himself up to her level. It is slow going and quite honestly we lack the scenes to see how this happens. What we most get is the effects of Solo going this. The later half of Empire Strikes Back show Han dropping his guard, admitting Leia as not just an equal but a superior, and realizing that this attracts her. By the time we see Han and Leia in the evening at the Ewok village in Return of the Jedi and at the end of Jedi when he believes Leia to be in love with Luke, the Han Solo we see is one who has let another into his interior life and wants to be part of another’s.
Similarly, Han deepens his friendship with Luke and rebuilds his intimacy with Lando by being someone who doesn’t shut them out but lets them in and commits to being in their lives to the degree that they need and want him. When Luke separates from the others after rescuing Han from Jabba the Hutt in the opening of Return of the Jedi, we can hear in Han’s voice as well as in how Han continues on as part of the Rebellion how he’s accepted his place in the lives of his now friends. Han Solo is inviolate no longer; sodality has made him a better man.
Which is why when The Force Awakens introduces us to an aged Han Solo, we can see just how diminished he has become. The trauma of losing his son to the Dark side has sent him to a regressive spiral. He has broken with Leia, with his family and friends (with the exception of Chewy, who to me sounds jaded right up to the reunion with Leia). This the third and most recent thing I learned from Han Solo, there is always a path to redemption. Solo gets there by admitting his failings, his cowardice, and returning to his best self (i.e., the man he became through the trilogy and not the man he was before it).
The legacy of Han Solo is at least these three things. I know as I ruminate more and more will show themselves. My fictional father is gone, and I’m coming to terms with that. So on this May 4th as I watch the trilogy+1, I’ll be mulling this over as I enjoy the stories and speculate about where it’ll all go next.
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