The Ballad of Han and Leia

Jurassic World, along with the slew of new Star Wars movies, have stirred up discussions on the Romantic Scoundrel. This archetype is not an easy one to pull off, as it takes a deft hand to keep a “scoundrel” from becoming a “bag of dicks”. All sorts of things can go wrong if the balance isn’t just right. For all of its flaws1, Han Solo is an amazing character, and he and Leia have a wonderfully functional relationship. So just what makes it tick?

Han Solo starts out as a shoot first type of rogue. He lives by a code, but not necessarily an ethical ones. Early on it’s incredibly telling when you look at whom he respects. Luke? Nope. He’s not insulting but clearly acts superior to Luke. And why shouldn’t he? Han is a multi-worldly man. He’s seen a lot, has been through a lot, and knows that Luke is a naive farm boy from a backwater(less) planet. Han feels neutral to him. Luke, as far as Han can tell, is not a player on his field. Obi-Wan, however, gets grudging approval. Why? Because this man, who clearly doesn’t need to brag about anything, can take care of himself. He handled himself with precision in a bar fight, and at the negation table knew his way around striking a deal. Luke, on the other hand, bubbled around at the bar and clearly didn’t know how to size up anyone, Han especially. So what are Han’s standards? How shrewd and useful people are, which are the traits that he prizes in himself. Han knows that in his circles these are the abilities that will not only keep him alive, but will also get him the best contracts and allow him to pull them off. He’s calculating and full of himself, but for pretty good reason.

Enter Leia. She reeks of protocol and pomp. To her, these are negotiating tactics. To Han, these are social niceties that will get you killed. It’s no wonder that the two of them clash. But it’s not fair to talk about a relationship from just one side. So what’s going on with Leia? She judges people based on how well they fit into her world. Luke is a passenger, Obi-Wan is a respected elder who knows how to conduct himself, and Han is a simmering ball of id and insubordination. She’s clearly supposed to be a foil to Han, but in actuality is just like him, except with an alternate set of social tools.

That simple twist is the genius behind what make the two of them great. In most “opposites attract” romance you have two characters butt heads, but in the end one of them learns a lesson from the other and changes. In this pairing that isn’t true. Han learns to take a little more responsibility, and Leia learns how to roll with a more chaotic political arena, but by and large they remain the same people they were in the beginning of the franchise. But they get together, you say. There has to be some change in character.

The change that happens is respect for each other’s codes. Each of them learns that the other has made just as valid a life for themselves as they have. They each need each others skills, no matter how loath they are to admit it at first. It’s actually played up with their book-end actions. Leia is introduced while attempting to smuggle data. Han finishes the first movie by following orders in a political war. They have a foot in each other’s worlds. Neither one of them has to change who they are, they just have to be able to accept other choices as valid.

And they do. Both Han and Leia eventually grow enough to say “I like to handle situations this way, but that’s not always going to work”. It’s a little nerve wracking when the two best characters start out a will they/won’t they romance when the woman is a stiff and the man is a life force. This is one of the trope-iest foundations for a super sexist relationship. But she doesn’t have to loosen up and he doesn’t have to reign it in. She’s not wrong for taking care of business like a professional because that’s what a professional needs to do! Instead, they both match each other and come out as equals, rather than one coming out on top and teaching their partner to be more like them. Instead of learning a single lesson, they exchange ideas. That’s actually the difference between him teaching her something about life (or vice versa) and actual partnering and growing. Let’s be honest here; when a man shows up to teach a professional woman to be less professional because it’s harshing everyone’s buzz, that guy is not a free spirit. He’s not a lovable rogue. He’s a bag of dicks. When Star Wars starts out, there is all the reason in the world to believe that Han solo is going to be one such dick bag. Thankfully he doesn’t come with a preachy lesson in loosening up while trying to get in her panties, and she never comes around to see that being a professional woman who’s good at politicking and negotiations should come second to making sure she doesn’t seem like a bitch.

That’s what makes Solo and Organa one of he best on screen couples ever. They start out as great people and get better because of each other. Han learns to game people (which is a lesson any smuggler should be happy to learn) and she learns how to go around the establishment to get things done (which is an intrinsic part of any rebellion). Far too often, onscreen romances end up being about one side of the relationship handing down a lesson, lifting up the other person. It’s rare to see two people partner up as equals in order to lift each other. Usually in a romance one person learns a life lesson. If it’s a romantic comedy, then the other person will get aggravated and then have a little fun while teaching that lesson. It’s weird that it’s a space-faring epic fantasy couple to have one of the most realistic onscreen romances.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Which I will probably go into at some point, in great detail.
Adam

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access is wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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