Ok, big question today. Han vs. Luke, who do you got?
I ask because recently I read this article by Tiffany Reizs who asked the same question in terms of who is the better hero. She reported being team-Luke as a kid, but switched over to team-Han as an adult. I thought that was so interesting because I had the exact opposite response.
As a kid, I was all about Han. He was the classic anti-hero. The scoundrel. The character who improves as he takes on more burdens. He also had the girl, the sweet space-ship, and the furry friend. He was handsome, capable, and smart; a pilot, mechanic, smuggler, soldier, and generally someone who knew how to get stuff done.
In contrast, Luke seemed like such a strange choice for the hero of Star Wars. He was whinny. He was a little too perfect. And in the end, what was his reward for all that good behavior? A dead mentor, a dead father, and a hands-off sister. Just as his world opens up as he studies to become a Jedi, it collapses again when he loses everything and is left with few options besides the life of a monk in the manner of Obi-Wan. Han arguably got the better deal.
But I re-watched Star Wars recently, as I do every few years, and I was surprised by how differently I responded to the two male leads.
Everything Han did seemed a lot less cute and lot more obnoxious. For the first time ever, I wondered what Leia saw in him. I don't know if it's just because I've gotten older and the bad-boy persona is a lot less attractive to me now, but when you have to deal with all the responsibilities and compromises that come with being an independent adult, it's a lot more obvious that Han is an undesirable mate.
Meanwhile, Luke was someone I felt like I was getting to know for the first time. Without the distraction of Han, the story felt new again. Now it was all about Luke's struggle with the light and dark sides of the force, as I think George Lucas originally intended.
Starting with Luke's training with Yoda, we learn that there's something really dark and horrible inside of him that has the potential to take over. That cave scene? As a kid, I never completely understood that it was Luke's face inside Darth Vader's mask and what that meant.
Then, in Return of the Jedi, when Luke force-chokes the guards at Jabba's palace, it shows again that he's not completely good, nor is he all that different from his father. He straddles an edge. Even as he purports to be on the side of good, I think Luke confuses being on the side of the Rebels with being a force of good. In fact, those are two entirely separate things. It's just as possible he could do terrible things in the name of good. Isn't that exactly what his father thought he was doing when he was Luke's age?
Light and darkness, how much more interesting is that struggle than Han choosing to support the rebels and settle down with a princess? Han never has to fight between whether he wants to be good or evil. He hangs out in that grey area, which is interesting, but lower stakes. For Luke, it's winner take all for his soul. That darkness, when you bother to notice it's always been there, helps balance out a lot of what on the surface comes across as too goody-goody.
Anyway, disagree with me all you want, it's purely an opinion. But I wonder how much growing up effects our understanding of stories we thought we knew so well. I mean, word for word well, and yet, here I am, completely changing my appreciation for Luke Skywalker.
Did your opinions of Star Wars change over time? Did you switch teams?
When I was a kid, my brother and I went to a home day-care. Our babysitter had two sons, so her house was filled with video games and action figures for us to play with. It was pretty much a young nerd's paradise. Lots of Batman, Ninja Turtles, and X-men stuff (this was the early 90's), and of course the ubiquitous Star Wars.
I remember sitting on the floor, watching one of the boys play Street Fighter or something, and strewn in the mess around us was the ripped off back of a Boba Fett action figure box. On this scrap of cardboard was this vague and mysterious description of Boba Fett, which said something about his Madalorian armor and his ties to the Clone Wars. I distinctly remember reading that description, re-reading it again, looking for some kind of clue that I had missed to make sense of his backstory.
Who was this Boba Fett guy? Of course, I recognized him from the movies, but honestly I hadn't given him much thought up to that point. Why was his armor special? What did he do in the Clone Wars? And what were the Clone Wars anyway? I sort of recalled Leia mentioning them in her hologram speech to Obi-wan in the movie, but it struck me then, sitting on the floor of my baby-sitter's basement, that there was this whole previous story to Star Wars, an exposition that was unknown to us except in little pieces and fragments. It blew my mind. Star Wars was more than just a few movies. It was an epic and we'd only (at that point) seen a few chapters.
I was reminded of this thought while listening to The Weekly Planet podcast. In celebration of their hundredth episode, the hosts caved to fan requests to discuss the Star Wars prequels and all the reasons why they don't work (one of my favorite topics). The biggest failure, they cited again and again was the prequels' bizarre need to explain events that take place in the original trilogy; right down to the smallest, stupidest details.
For example, in A New Hope, Luke wears a helmet with the blast shield down to practice his light saber moves and use of the force. It's a fun scene and it stands on its own. But in Attack of the Clones, the youngling Jedi are wearing helmets with blast shields down to practice their own force skills...Why would these Jedi in training be wearing fighter pilot helmets, or something that essentially looks like a pilot's helmet? Why do they have to be doing the exactly same thing as Luke did some thirty years later? Because, for whatever reason, Lucas thought that was an important detail to explain? Even then, it doesn't really make any sense.
This pattern repeats over and over again in the prequels - this tendency to over explain everything at the detriment of the mystery and mythology of the original Star Wars trilogy. What's the force? "It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." What a beautiful, simple explanation, one of my favorite speeches for how much information it conveys with so few words. I didn't need to have that ruined by midichlorian pseudoscience. Why couldn't the force just be a mystical thing that we don't entirely understand? Why is it bad to admit a little ignorance?
My ten-year-old self could more than make up her own backstory for Boba Fett. I didn't really need it over-complicated with his father, Jango Fett, who meant nothing to me. The copywriter who wrote that paragraph long description on the back of the action figure box had it right: here's some limited information about Boba Fett, do with it as you will and go wild kids.
This is a lesson that I need to apply to my own fiction. I think there's this common fear among writers that we won't be understood unless we explain everything, every detail. Sometimes, I find myself wondering how the world I'm building manufactures goods...but that's really boring and frankly, it just doesn't matter. Goods are made somehow. I have to stop worrying whether my fictional global economy makes sense. Or sometimes, I'll feel compelled to explain the exact tilt of a character's head; the way they lean against a wall, one knee over the other. Really, it doesn't matter. The reader has an imagination. Trust that they'll use it.
The same holds true for bigger issues like exposition and character backgrounds. I don't need to establish a multi-generational genealogy. I don't need to explain what wars happened fifty years ago. I can mention maybe some basic information and move on without further explanation, because the reader will either use their imagination, or have the intelligence to select what information is important to the story and what can be glossed over without any great loss.
I thought that was one of the biggest problems with The Hunger Games. I only read the first book, but that was more than enough. It just annoyed me the way Katniss kept explaining all this exposition, to herself, in her own head. I mean, who was she talking to? Me? Then where am I in this story? The Hunger Games would have been so much better if she described what she was actually witnessing, which would have been enough to suggest the brutal oppression and poverty without having to tell me everything that led up to it. Then I'd have more fun figuring out what events happened to create this world. Then I'm engaged in the world building and the mystery. Then I'm invested.
So kids, moral of the story, write like the back of the Boba Fett box. Leave your reader a little surprise, something a little strange, something that doesn't entirely make sense. Resist, resist, resist the urge to fill the first fifteen pages with detailed exposition (I'm looking at you Ready Player One). Strunk and White said, "Omit needless words." Let's add to that, "Omit needless story."
T and I are camping this weekend with the dog. We'll see how well she behaves in the tent at night. I think she's going to like camping though since we usually pack some sausages for dinner.
Meanwhile, enjoy these fun reads and links I rounded up on the interwebs this week and have a great weekend!
Ahh, Seattle Star Wars fans, I'm so jealous! You can visit the EMP museum to see an exhibit on the costumes of Star Wars. How did I not hear about this until now? Hope the next tour date is DC...(Smithsonian/Lucas Film)
Have you read the book? They're turning these sci-fi classics into movies and tv shows. I'm not in favor of a Hyperion movie, but yes-yes-yes to The Forever War. (Kirkus via @sfsignal)
How to avoid middle book syndrome. This is exactly why I could never finish The Lord of the Rings! (SF Signal)
Why do we need more women futurists? Or more broadly, why do we need more non-white, non-male futurists? (The Atlantic)
This fancut version of Dune is really cool, but I still think we should start a kickstarter campaign to get Jodorowsky's Dune made. (via SF Signal)
Incidentally, the Nerdist has a Dune book club going on right now. Dune is one of my favorite books and was so worth pushing through some of the slow bits at the beginning. (The Nerdist, via @sfsignal)
I thought these compiled #Fieldworkfail tweets were funny, but I wonder whether we're relegating science to entertainment these days. How are viral tweets and Neil deGrasse Tyson podcasts going to solve the energy crisis? What does#Ifuckinglovescience mean if you don't bother to vote for politicians that are in favor of funding basic science and research? It's an issue close to my heart (and my paycheck). (WaPo)
Great shout-out to Durham, NC from Buzzfeed! In that last ten years, Durham (home of Duke University) has been totally revitalized and is booming with fun activity and food. (Buzzfeed)
What happens when a woman sends her same book back to agents using a male pseudonym? Pretty much exactly what you'd expect. Implicit bias is real, people. (Jezebel, via @JanetUrsel)
Writer, editor, scientist.