The more I listen to the kind of Star Wars “fan” who mercilessly bashes I-III and the people who love them, the more I see a common thread. Not all such folks fall into this category, mind you, but a fair number of them seem to act as if they view the Saga in a specific way. What way is that? Well, if asked for a synopsis of IV-VI, something tells me they would say something along the lines of:
“Han Solo jets around space with the Millennium Falcon, falls in love with Princess Leia, and reluctantly helps the Rebel Alliance battle the Galactic Empire with his roguish charm and wit. In the process, he takes on such baddies as Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and most dangerously Darth Vader (who incidentally is the father of Han’s friend Luke). There’s also lightsabers and The Force.”
|"C'mon, who could say no to this face?"|
Okay, so that’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but not as much as you might think. To hear a lot of the haterbase tell it, Han Solo is the undisputed star of Star Wars, with Boba Fett of all people as equal to or greater than Vader in the villain department. It’s why they say such things like, oh, “Star Wars is a Western” or “Star Wars Isn’t Cute.” It’s why so many Expanded Universe stories feature similar character types; if it’s not Han or Boba, it’s them with the serial numbers filed off. It’s why the Special Edition edit that inspires the most horrible reactions involves a two-second shootout. It’s why when Mel Brooks made his classic spoof Spaceballs he melded the Han and Luke parodies into the single character of Lone Starr.
Time for a reality check: Han Solo is not the main character of Star Wars.
First of all, as I mentioned here, while Star Wars certainly draws from Westerns and that influence is slightly more prevalent in IV-VI precisely because of Han, it’s just one of many different genres that Star Wars plays with and not even one of the main elements. Star Wars is mostly a mixture of Jidai-Geki samurai films (and where the term Jedi originated) and Buck Rogers space adventure serials, with an undercurrent of mythic fantasy.
Also, Han Solo is not the main character of Star Wars.
Second of all, to those who say Star Wars isn’t cute, all of the Saga’s non-human characters want a word with you.
|"Kenny, I think someone just said we weren't cute. Kick in his shins."|
Oh, and did I mention that Han Solo is not the main character of Star Wars?
I suppose one could make the argument that Star Wars is an ensemble piece, and I could very much get behind that interpretation. However, even if that were the case Han would be A main character, certainly not THE main character. Of course, this section of fandom seems near-obsessed with finding a protagonist given some the inane criticism that has been put forth, in which case Anakin Skywalker is clearly the main character of the Saga in hindsight, with Luke as the main protagonist viewpoint in IV-VI and Obi-Wan as the main viewpoint in I-III (and for those who will inevitably bring up Phantom Menace, the most ensemble-like of the films, both Obi-Wan and Anakin – and to an extent Padmé - could count as stealth protagonists with Qui-Gon Jinn being the main focus for much of the story). In this reading, Han is merely a supporting character, on the same level as R2-D2 and C-3PO, as well as his copilot Chewbacca.
|"I'm all right, pal...I'm all right..."|
That’s not to undercut his importance to the story; much of what Luke achieves throughout IV-VI would have failed without Han’s assist. Nor do I mean to dissuade anyone from choosing Han as a favorite character; we’re all drawn to different characters, and I’ve usually found supporting characters to be more interesting in works of fiction anyway. The difference here is, while I certainly would love to see more of Yoda, Jar Jar, and the Droids amongst others, I would never argue that they were the main characters. Well, maybe R2-D2, but at least with R2 one could argue precedent, thin as it may be. Han clearly is and always has been a Lancer. If Star Wars is a Fantasy, he’s the wisecracking thief that befriends the party. He’s not the Hero, but under the Hero’s influence he can learn to be heroic.
As for Boba Fett, well I’ve spoken ad nausium regarding what I think of him, so I’ll refrain from boring you all again. Suffice to say that he is not the main villain of Star Wars (and once more, neither is Vader). He’s little more than a faceless goon given legendary status. However, I think one of the reasons why he’s so elevated is because he’s the perfect villain for a character such as Han.
|"Now that I've beaten my arch-nemesis, it's drinks and dancing girls until the day I die."|
And I kind of have a similar take for the two as well. For my part, I never really cared for Han as a kid. I didn’t care about anything he did or anything that happened to him. As I got older I gained an appreciation of the character and his arc, but remained largely indifferent. Now, with the focus on Han from the haterbase, I admit I get kind of sick of hearing about him.
However, I do understand why others seem to list him at or near the top of their favorites list; especially in the US, where we’ve always had kind of a thing for anti-heroes and heroic outlaws. In fact, this has grown in the last few decades into a sort of veneration of gangster culture. Too many people today are holding up as idols the “protagonists” of such films as The Godfather, Scarface, and Goodfellas. While fine films all, their biggest fans seem to fail to realize that they’re all cautionary tales, conveniently forgetting the endings where the main characters lose everything because of their despicable actions. In a similar vein, many who hold up Han as THE Hero usually play up the careless ruffian Han we met at the beginning (well, technically middle) of New Hope, forgetting that he had to grow up at least a little to earn his happy ending in Jedi. Hence why people get so offended when future edits no longer feature Han pre-emptively shooting Greedo, even though a more equalized shootout works better for a character with a heart of gold as Han was meant to be.
|"My conscience is clearer, but my neck really hurts..."|
It’s no wonder then that many of the most hardened Han fans are so hard on I-III; there’s no lovable pirate character. Sure, elements of his personality wind up manifesting in Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and even Jar Jar. But Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, for all their dry wit, are still too wise and responsible. Anakin, as he gets older, is more of a brooding James Dean type of outlaw than Han’s smart aleck. And Jar Jar for all his snarky rebelliousness and Solo-ish fashion sense is still, well, Jar Jar.
|"'Nuff said, meesa tinks."|
With this in mind, the thread of how the current fandom split came to be becomes a little clearer. Han lovers are disappointed in the films because they lack a solid analogue for their favorite character. Then, those who never liked Star Wars in the first place for technical reasons lure them in by taking the mickey out on some of the more lovably corny aspects of the Saga. Not realizing these elements were always there due to nostalgia filter, these fans suddenly have an excuse to not like the newer entries, and repeat the criticisms as fact. Finally, those that want to appear cool or in-the-know parrot everything until we see the huge divide that not even the later addition of Jango Fett could close. Again, that doesn’t explain everyone’s journey, but it’s common enough.
|"This is where the fun begins..."|
In fact, it also beautifully explains the beef against Anakin in particular. Other than Jar Jar, no element of I-III has been more maligned. But it’s really not that Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen are bad actors; Jake played the part well for a child actor and Hayden did a great job with the material. It’s not even that the character was written badly; Anakin’s arc is a tragic one, and his character progression is pretty logical, and his dialogue…well, it’s no sillier than anyone else’s in the Saga, Han included. So then why is it often seen as bad? Well, everyone I’ve heard talk about how Anakin “should have been” seems to want to make him more and more like Han Solo. This section of the fanbase was expecting Anakin to be Han – or worse – and because he wasn’t what they expected, logical as the story is, he was beaten down for it.
Can the lovable rogue evolve to be the main character? It’s certainly happened before, most recently with Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He started out as a supporting role, but due to Johnny Depp’s masterful characterization became more and more of the focus as the franchise moved on. Certainly Harrison Ford injected a lot of charisma into a character that could just as easily wound up as annoying. But where Jack Sparrow slowly became the lead, Han Solo stayed right where he belonged in the supporting role. Even in Empire Strikes Back, where he seems the de-facto team leader for the Falcon segments, he always struck me as playing more of a supporting role to Leia of all people. So while it certainly can happen, it obviously hasn’t in Star Wars. Unless of course you want to argue that Indiana Jones is essentially Han as the hero, and indeed they share a few similarities outside of their performer. But then people hated all over Crystal Skull for…giving them everything they wanted? I don’t know, I never got it, and I digress…
|"This is supposed to be about ME, after all..."|
So now we know that when someone makes the arrogant claim that “George Lucas has forgotten what makes Star Wars popular,” what they secretly mean is that they’re fans of Han Solo and they felt his absence too much for their liking in I-III. But one has to wonder, if Han Solo was the thing they liked about Star Wars to the point that the same thing without him is deemed unworthy, were they really fans of Star Wars in the first place, or merely of Harrison Ford? I’m going to shoot second on this and let you decide.
And I still don’t get Boba Fett.
**NOTE: The captions are an experiment. Just something to try and make the versions posted here a little different. What did everyone think? Did they get a chuckle or just detract from the article?**