With the arrival Friday of Solo: A Star Wars Story, I’ve decided it’s time to come clean: Han Solo is OK, but I’m a Luke Skywalker guy.
I had never really pondered the topic until the first TV commercial for Solo ran. I missed it, but I wasn’t disappointed. That was the first clue that I felt differently about this Star Wars movie than the others, and that’s an odd sensation for someone who gets so excited about these movies he usually takes a mild dose of Xanax before watching them the first time. What did it mean? Was I becoming a different person? Was it possible that I was — gasp! — maturing?
Fortunately, it was nothing so drastic, but while contemplating my lack of anticipation for Solo, I discovered something about myself and how my age, upbringing, and background affected the lens through which I saw, and still see, the galaxy far, far away.
I was born a year before the first film was released and grew up in the wake of its cultural shock waves. If my parents were to say my toy collection nearly bankrupted them, I wouldn’t be surprised. At various times, there were four different copies of the original trilogy in my possession — original VHS, special edition VHS, DVD, blu-ray. I saw The Phantom Menace three times in the theater. (No one is proud of everything he’s done in life.) The Force Awakens left me spellbound and The Last Jedi enthralled. Rogue One, aka Did You See What Darth Vader Did at the End?: A Star Wars Story, was amazing.
But Solo, the backstory of the swashbuckling smuggler and captain of the Millennium Falcon? I’m less than thrilled.
It wasn’t the production difficulties, including a change in directors, that dissuaded me. The rumor that Alden Ehrenreich — the new Han — needed an acting coach after producers saw his initial performance was not a deterrent. That the Millennium Falcon is clean and has a huge nose in Solo is not a problem.
It’s about Han. And also about how Han isn’t Luke.
Since I began exploring this, I’ve heard from plenty of people who are “a Han” and are puzzled by my assertion that I’m “a Luke.” Han fans identify with their hero and find it hard to contemplate another choice. And surely there are fans of Luke who see it the other way. So how did the whiny kid whose love interest turned out to be his sister become the idol I chose? Why not the maverick wisecracking scoundrel who flew the fastest ship in the galaxy?
It hinges on who I was when I first saw Star Wars: a small-for-my-age 6-year-old who followed the rules, got good grades, and believed most of the stuff he was taught about the world at his Central Jersey Catholic grade school. That kid saw Luke — the dreamer who became a Jedi knight, fought for good against evil, and believed his father could be redeemed — as the character to idolize.
He also saw Luke, correctly, as the main player in one of the great mythological tales of our day. George Lucas’ story overtly pushes and pulls Luke along the monomyth, or hero’s journey — the powerful, time-tested narrative framework — but Han’s transformation is more hidden. In fact, it’s literally harder to see: Han’s everyday clothes are the same in all three movies, aside from adding sleeves to his vest when he gets cold, but Luke’s outfits change along with his evolution from anonymous farmboy to warrior-monk-savior.
Han’s path to becoming a hero is subtle, and subtlety isn’t something 6-year-olds pick up on.
This dichotomy between Han and Luke augments the broad appeal of the original three films. In Han, Lucas made a character who had a practical outlook, didn’t believe in “hokey religions,” and appealed to the cynical and sardonic. Luke looked off to the horizon, was the soul of the trilogy, and spoke to the earnest. And who’s more earnest than a Catholic school first-grader? (Of course, they were most alluring to men and boys, leaving women and girls out of this part of the equation.)
Even now, Luke Skywalker is still a character whose thoughts echo my own. Not only did I grow up with him, he grew up with me. Like anyone else, growing older has washed away some of the naïveté of my youth. I’ve become wiser to the way the world really is and a little more jaded. This Catholic school kid hasn’t been inside a Catholic church for anything but weddings and funerals for almost 20 years. In The Last Jedi, the first time Luke spoke on screen since 1983, he has lived a long life, and his hopes and dreams have melted away, leaving behind harsh realities. He sees the truth about the failings of the Jedi and has cut himself off from the Force.
But that hopeful glimmer isn’t completely dead. In the end, Luke still believes that there is something good worth fighting for and that he can make a difference. I’m not walking back into my church anytime soon, but fighting for good is still in my bones.
I’ll see Solo, but mostly because my daughters want to watch it and a little bit because of Donald Glover’s “everything you’re heard about me is true” line as Lando Calrissian, from the second trailer. The film’s protagonist, though, isn’t the right fit for me.
If I had been in my 30s when Star Wars was released and viewed it through older eyes, maybe I would’ve identified with Han Solo. But I was a child, and when I looked at young Luke Skywalker, I saw what I wanted to become.
Nowadays, when I look at old Luke Skywalker, I nod in agreement.