Warning: this post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Like, SERIOUSLY MAJOR. Here be spoilers! You have been warned!
Jenn Northington: Sarah! Welcome to Panels. You are a romance expert (or at least, I have declared you one due to your many excellent novels). You have seen The Force Awakens and I understand you have some feelings about Han and Leia, which I would love to talk to you about. But first! Let’s get our context out of the way. Overall history with the Star Wars franchise, and your overall thoughts on the new movie?
Sarah Maclean: So, my overall history with the Star Wars franchise is … imperfect. I have an older brother who was obsessed with the original three, so of course I watched them when I was a kid in the mid 80s, but had no real emotional connection with them, aside from I-love-you-I-know. I’ve never seen the prequels. I don’t regret that, as someone tried to explain the plots to me and they sound like C-SPAN in space (no offense to C-SPAN).
Here’s a fun thing, though. In college, my friend Lori had never seen them, so we cued up the trilogy and watched it on a snowy weekend, and got one of our other friends to wander in and randomly ask, “Is this the one where Han dies?” to faux-spoil Lori. It was glorious. And also, prescient.
All this is to say that I wasn’t sure I would understand The Force Awakens. And I really wasn’t sure I would care about it. But I am not kidding when I say that I have not had that much fun at a movie in a long time. I had moments of real joy. Some of it was as a storyteller who writes in a long genre tradition of similar storytellers — it’s so obvious that JJ Abrams was a HUGE fan of the original movies, and he just wanted to do them justice (P.S., he must have peed his pants when he got this job). Some of it as a child of the 80s — that moment when the Millennium Falcon shows up, I got chills. Some of it as a mother of a daughter: The moments when Finn tries to save Rey and she’s like, “I got this, dummy.” If V grows up to want to be like Rey, that’ll be fine with me. It was so fun.
Except for one part. Except for the part with the romance.
Jenn: Ok, let’s get into it. Tell me about your Han/Leia feels.
Sarah: There are so many, Jenn. There are so so many.
Required Disclaimer: I really, really did love this movie. I am, however, handicapped by the fact that I am a romance novelist and so I look at every single movie through that lens. So, when I say I have Han & Leia feels, it’s because I just want them to kiss and be in love and live happily ever after, which was the promise *I* got at the end of Return of the Jedi when they totally made out in the woods with none but the Ewoks to witness it. Which somehow wasn’t weird at all. You may have received a different promise. But mine involved smooching forever and ever amen.
Now that that’s over and you’ve all made a tacit agreement not to loathe me (I have a child. I can’t get murdered, you guys), let me tell you about why this romance is the worst.
Remember how I said “I love you.” “I know” was like, seminal for me? Now I realize, that’s the whole of Han. Yes. I know the story about Harrison Ford and forgetting the line and whatever. At first blush, he’s the original romance hero (before love knocks him to his knees). He’s a space pirate, for heaven’s sake. He makes a living on the run, knows all sorts of unsavory people, and is known as the greatest reluctant hero of our time.
Except, he’s not really heroic. He’s dragged kicking and screaming through heroics. Practically the only thing he ever does that’s heroic is not shoot first in that bar (see what I did there?). Let’s be clear. Han fights for himself first, and then everyone else. EVEN LEIA.
And here’s where I start to get mad.
To be a real romantic hero, he has to change. He can change however he likes, but it helps if it’s because of love. But the reality is this: He never changes. He leaves her and only returns because he is kind of shamed into it. Because he knows he did wrong. He’s ashamed of himself. And he knows he can’t really live up to his ONE JOB, which is being Leia’s partner in all this horrible stuff. And then … JENN. AND THEN … when he finally returns and they finally talk about losing their child, he says what is possibly the worst thing ever. “He just had too much Vader in him.”
And that was it. I lost all hope in his heroicism. He basically says to his wife, whom he is supposed to love, that the reason why their kid is evil-incarnate (or, at least, trying to be evil-incarnate), is because of her. After all. Han’s no Jedi. Han has nothing to do with Vader. Basically, this is the Star Wars equivalent of looking at your spouse as your toddler paints the the wall of the bathroom with poop and saying, “He obviously gets that from you.”
I… What. General Leia should’ve had him fed to the tauntauns or something.
This isn’t a tragic love story because he dies. This is a tragic love story because Leia would have been better off with just about anyone else as a husband instead of this narcissistic, self-loathing man-child who can’t get out of his head enough to realize that his wife and the mother of his child might need him at one of the worst times of her life, and that … oh, hey, the world is ending and it’s not about him. I mean. Please. Sure, he’ll fly into a giant Death Star with every intention of not coming back alive, but fancy explosions will never ever make me forget that when shit got real, like really, emotionally, no-holds-barred-real … Han beat the hell out of dodge. (Granted, all of this happens in the black hole of the Star Wars universe between RotJ and TFA, but I think this is all pretty accurate. Also, hey Disney, can we get this bit written down so I can see it and know I’m right?)
So. Much. Nope.
I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say: “BUT SARAH. HE DIES IN THE END. FOR HER.”
Sure. She asks him to bring Ben (I’ll call him Kylo Ren when he starts acting like he deserves that name) home. And he does his best, I guess? I don’t know. I mean. All told, it seems like sacrificing himself to his kid now that it all seems too late and it’s the only way to save the day is kind of an easy way out, rather than fighting for his family say, half-a-dozen years ago. But … then there wouldn’t have been The Force Awakens and that would make me sad. Because I honestly haven’t thought this much about a movie in … maybe forever.
I told you there were feels.
Jenn: So many feels! I actually would *never* say to you “He dies in the end for her,” because the way I see it, he’s not dying for her. To my mind, his death is portrayed as his last chance at redemption for himself. If the man cannot face his own son with the same bravery as facing a Death Star, then there really, truly, is no hope for him. But he does, and so — again, to my mind — he earns his place in the Hero pantheon.
The “Generally Heroic” pantheon, I should say, not the “Romance Hero” pantheon, because — well, you kind of said it already, and I really cannot disagree!
Sarah: You’re right, of course. As a general hero, he works. He’s entertaining as hell, clever and witty and remarkably brave and he dies in a lovely blaze of glory. I just want Leia to have happiness, too. I mean, she’s had so much UNHAPPINESS. Doesn’t she deserve it? And shouldn’t it be with Han? SHOULDN’T WE ALL HAVE LEIA’S HAPPINESS WITH HAN? (See my earlier point about the promise made with kissing and Ewoks.)
Jenn: But they are not the only romantic relationship in the movie; or at least, so the set-up would imply. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but a good portion of the internet is shipping Poe and Finn, and in the meantime Finn kept trying to hold Rey’s hand during moments of danger. Any guesses as to where the film is going with this? Where would YOU like to see it go?
Sarah: I honestly have no idea where we’re going. I went from thinking Finn & Rey were supposed to be a thing, to thinking Ben (see above about my feelings about Kylo Ren) was supposed to be a love interest for her, to thinking Rey is somehow Ben’s long-lost sister, to thinking that he’s supposed to be her love interest again.
I know there is a very strong contingent who ship Finn & Poe — but honestly, I need more time with Poe before I can get on board with that. He’s very nice to look at, and he seems to be kind to robots and generous with his leather jackets, but … I’m going to need some more basic information.
It will likely shock you that I have very serious Katniss feelings about Rey, honestly, in that I really don’t want her to be defined by her love interest (despite me desperately wanting serious smooching in this movie). So … maybe what I’m saying is that I’d like some more characters in here for smooching? Scratch ‘maybe’. I definitely want some more girls in here. For my daughter. I want some more cool girls. Like that one who flies the fighter ship in the ending battle. What’s her deal?
Jenn: There’s a thought: do you think we’re going to see romance around Kylo Ren? It wouldn’t be unusual in the Star Wars paradigm — Anakin Skywalker’s storyline revolves pretty heavily around his relationship with Padmé Amidala, Luke and Leia’s mother, as well as his relationship with his own mother. Obviously TFA is stressing the daddy issues, but Ren does have all that flowing hair and a bit of a tragic, broody anti-hero look about him.
Sarah: Oh, totally. I mean, when Rey tells him to take off his helmet and he does and his hair goes all woofy in the breeze (Inside a spaceship, so how? Who cares?) … I basically snuggled into my chair, like, ANTI-HEROES FOREVER and ate all the popcorn.
In truth, here’s my theory: Ben killed Han in a sort of Snape/Dumbledore situation, and ultimately will attempt to bring down the Dark Side from within, falling quietly, unabashedly, and (at first) unrequitedly in love with Rey. The question is, does he live? And do they live happily ever after? If I were writing it, of course. Ravaged and then saved by love. But I’m not writing it (which many of you will likely be grateful to hear). So I’ll just enjoy the ride.
But if it goes my way and Ben ditches Rey because feelings, that is 100% because he has too much Solo in him.