“What If”, But For Real—Let’s Recontextualize the OT

sanacoverWay back at the beginning of June, issue #6 of Jason Aaron’s Star Wars comic series ended with a bombshell: the apparent bounty hunter tracking Han and Leia for three issues or so finally caught up with them, only to claim that she was Sana Solo, Han’s wife.

By the time you read these words, Star Wars #8 will have been released, and we may well know the truth of Sana’s claim (though probably not). But back in June, this made for a big news story; the comics are canon now, after all, so if Han has a wife in them, then he’s got a wife in A New Hope! Isn’t that a big deal?

Well, yes and no. For starters, there are all sorts of possibilities here. Even if Sana’s not just stark-raving mad (or, y’know, lying), she could in fact be his ex-wife, or they could still be legally married but estranged—and said estrangement could be for reasons that make Han look like a million credits and make Sana look like the devil, or vice-versa. As of this writing, we just don’t know.

But if it’s even sort of true, it is a big deal, right? An ex-wife would be a big new chunk of Han’s backstory; one that would cast his character in the original trilogy, and certainly his relationship with Leia, in a new light. For a lot of people, this realization came with an edge of moralistic tut-tutting—as if there was no version of Sana’s story that wouldn’t make Han look like a bastard. But for me, it just underlines how little we really know—post-reboot—about who the Big Three are as three-dimensional people; what their lives were like before the films, what prejudices they have and what traumas and joys they’ve experienced.

For an enlightened idealist, Leia’s “walking carpet” line seems a little racist, doesn’t it? Is that out of character, or it possible some Wookiee criminal recently killed a loved one, and she’s still on edge around them despite knowing better? Is Luke whining about picking up those power converters just because he’s whiney, or did he ruin a set Gavin Darklighter lent him, and he knows old Huff is going to beat the crap out of Gavin if they’re not replaced? And that’s just Luke and Leia, the relatively sheltered portion of the Big Three—Han’s got around ten years on them, and he’s more worldly (galactic?) by far; god only knows what he got up to before meeting Luke in Mos Eisley. An ex-wife could be the least of it.

When a fictional character with very little coverage of their early life acts in a way that seems out of character, often what we’re really sensing is that their actions are devoid of context—that could still be bad writing, sure, or it could be intentional and in service of a later reveal. But it’s always safe to assume there’s more to a given Star Wars character than the movies are interested in communicating to us. So in honor of Sana Solo, whoever the hell she is, I’d like to take you on a journey through some what-if scenarios I’ve dreamed up, so that you might consider how—or if—they would affect the characters you believe you already know.

Lando isn’t really Lando

Upon learning that Lando was the administrator of Cloud City, Han’s first assumption, rightly or wrongly, is that he “conned somebody out of it.” For all the time spent on Lando’s gambling, “con man” is Lando’s true career—card games make for compelling drama, but with Lando, lando3the game is only the tip of the iceberg that is his actual plan. This is something the current Lando miniseries by Charles Soule got right from the very first scene, so it’s only fitting that that miniseries led me to this conclusion.

The cover of the third issue, seen here, depicts Lando falling to his doom amidst the striking imagery of the Imperial Guard in a way that, for many of us, called to mind the opening credits of the TV series Mad Men. Don Draper, the series’ protagonist—spoiler alert, I guess—is eventually revealed to have been born Dick Whitman; “Don Draper” is a dead man he knew in the Korean War whose identity he assumed upon his return, so that he might leave his troubled upbringing behind him. Dick didn’t just change his name, he became Don Draper—a cool, cunning ladies’ man who could talk his way into and out of any situation. Sound familiar?

In Lando’s honor, I’ll put my cards on the table here: of all the ideas I’m going to put forward today, this is the only one that I really believe. Lando is my favorite character in the OT, and as many times as we saw him reinvent himself in Legends (even his first appearance on Cloud City is presented as a reinvention), it only adds to my appreciation of him to think that “Lando Calrissian” himself is a reinvention, crafted to overcome humble beginnings, or—maybe more likely—to escape an identity that had brought some degree of hell down on itself. And speaking of which, bonus idea for the deep EU fans out there: what if Lando’s real name was “Barpotomous Drebble”?

Leia wasn’t a Rebel

Obi-Wan’s primary mission on Tatooine, as we recently observed in Star Wars #7, was not to train Luke to be a wise Jedi Knight, or a badass Star Warrior—it was to keep him safe. To what extent he may have tried the former is unclear, but we absolutely know that Owen wouldn’t have any of it. Owen knew that once Luke got even a taste of that kind of life, there’d be no going back—as Beru observed, he had too much of his father in him.

So why do we assume Bail Organa felt any different? Bail knew Anakin, and the details of his downfall, far better than Owen did, and bringing Leia into his family meant raising her right under Palpatine’s and Vader’s noses. On top of which, for all Bail’s personal rebellious leanings, Alderaan is a pacifistic society—and was likely becoming radically so while Leia was growing up. Hardly the place to raise a Star Warrior of your own.

Of course, Bail knew Padmé as well, and likely saw her idealism in Leia alongside Anakin’s brashness. He may well have groomed her to replace him in the Senate as a way to channel that energy into something (relatively) safe and superficially innocent, while he conducted the genuine rebel activities himself. This actually falls somewhat under one of my oft-stated pet peeves about post-OT Star Wars, what I could call the “Greedo Phenomenon”: what we first see someone doing in the OT becomes their (or their species’) defining characteristic. Greedo was a bounty hunter, so Rodian culture revolved, in the EU at least, around hunting. We’re first introduced to Leia on a rebel mission, so we just take for granted that she was doing this kind of stuff all the time.

leia1-combat

But doesn’t it seem a little reckless of Bail to allow that? I can picture a scenario where those mercy missions Vader mentions were actual mercy missions—harmless, above-board stuff that kept Leia busy and out of danger. Some might see a tinge of sexism to this; daddy doing the hard work while forbidding Leia from getting her hands dirty. But it’s certainly what Owen was doing with Luke, and it’s not exactly illogical considering what a disaster it would’ve been if Palpatine ever suspected who Leia really was—which, of course, Leia herself had no understanding of. Taking this one step further, I can see a substantial rift forming between Bail and Leia over the years. So much so that perhaps she caught wind of the theft of the Death Star plans, and wanting to prove her worth for once, surprised Bail with a stun blast and ran off to retrieve them herself, not suspecting that she’d never see him again. Much has been said over the years of Leia’s seemingly subdued reaction to the destruction of Alderaan; while a tragedy that size is certainly hard to grasp in any context, maybe the truth is that she was preoccupied by the realization that her last conversation with her father had been a vicious argument.

One side note here, just because I’m sure someone will bring this up: I can’t recall offhand anything from the Princess Leia comics or the excerpt of Leia’s internal monologue from The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy that directly contradicts this interpretation (and as seen above, one comic scene very much supports it), but that may well be the case. In either event, just keep in mind that this is a thought experiment, not an assertion of actual canon.

Luke is asexual

This one, well, kind of speaks for itself. One of the longest-running hot-button topics in Star Wars fandom is Luke’s love life, or lack thereof: first it was he and Han competing for Leia’s affections, then it was Mara and Callista (and Dani, and Tanith, and Gaeriel, and Jem, and Akanah…) competing for his—and now that the prequel trilogy and the reboot are behind us, the debate is whether Luke should be free to pursue romantic relationships at all. But almost never do people consider that he might just not want one.

Consider a few things: even if one chooses to believe, as I do, that there’s no prejudice whatsoever in the GFFA regarding the full spectrum of sexual orientations, it remains true that Luke grew up on a sparsely-populated planet, a significant percentage of whose population wasn’t even human. Many asexuals in the real world never even consider the notion that they’re ace (as it’s known colloquially) until young adulthood because they’re so immersed in the norms and biases of reality. Even without those biases, with the opposite-sex couple Owen and Beru as the sun and moon of Luke’s existence, it’s possible he grew up just assuming he was heterosexual, and didn’t encounter enough attractive women (or men, for that matter) to really test the hypothesis.

lukeleiasmilesThen he’s whisked off into this great adventure that he’s longed for his whole life. He rescues a “beautiful” princess (asexuals are generally able to recognize objective beauty in other people, just without connecting that to sexual desire) with whom he feels an inexplicable connection, and without any prior romantic feelings to compare it to, he mistakes this experience for a crush. It’s notable that not only does Leia kiss him in their two overtly romantic moments, but Nakari Kelen, his one other canon romantic interest (for now), is decidedly the assertive one in her pursuit of Luke, who just sort of goes along for the ride in his “aw shucks” kind of way.

That relationship ends *cough* abruptly, and Luke’s interest in Leia resurfaces, though he never seems to act on it—over three years, mind you—any further than the kiss they shared in ANH, and what’s more, something increasingly seems to be happening between Han and Leia, and Luke never seems especially bothered by it. Maybe deep down he’s even relieved. His preoccupation with Leia was never romantic or sexual, it was a mystery he needed to solve. And by Return of the Jedi, he’s solved it—just in time to turn his attention to rebuilding the Jedi Order and growing a sweet-ass beard.

Again, do I personally believe this is the case? Not especially. But not only does it de-squickify the more awkward Luke/Leia moments by placing them in a different context (there’s that word again), it gives one of the most underrepresented sexual minorites a major hero of their own at the center of a franchise that doesn’t have the greatest track record with sexual minorities. Not everyone—not even all asexuals—would embrace an overt confirmation to this effect for a character whose creator probably (maybe) didn’t intend it, but as I was saying recently, Luke was conceived as a “blank slate” character, meaning that unless the sequel trilogy or some future novel does give Luke a serious and long-term romantic relationship, there’s not a whole hell of a lot about Luke’s personality that prohibits one from believing this if they so desire.

(Author’s note: for the sake of clarity, I should acknowledge that “asexual” and “aromantic”—a lack of romantic interest, rather than sexual interest—are two different characteristics that can occur simultaneously but don’t always. The premise I’m operating with here is that Luke embodies both, but I don’t mean to dismiss the possibility of either on its own. – Mike)

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For all the time we’ve spent with the OT characters, we never really got to know much about their inner lives. Things happened to them, and they evolved somewhat, but the EU’s effectiveness at making them into complex, three-dimensional people was intermittent to say the least. Now that it’s all been swept away and they’re back to being movie stars all over again (fingers crossed, Lando), the franchise has a great shot at a do-over. My bias is not toward one version of history or another, it’s toward complexity; toward whatever makes them feel most alive and interesting in ways that have never occurred to me before. So, is Han really married? It doesn’t really make any difference to me. But I hope it’s a very long story.

9 comments

  1. Eric Brown says:

    This is a fascinating article – but it also brings up a question of timing. Let’s say Episode VII started filming in 1984… that’s 31 years ago (and 40 years after ANH started filming), and the expectations of society then are vastly different than they are now. Consider the social issues that are in the fore now but weren’t even popularly discussed in the mainstream in the mid 80s.

    You didn’t really have any discussion about women in the military – and “walking carpet” wouldn’t have raised eyebrows (and asking if it were racist would have rolled many more than it does today). The way society as a whole would view a bunch of celibate religious men is somewhat different.

    So basically, two generations have passed, with all the cultural assumptions that have shifted. And that’s going to be something that will impact how the new canon and backstory plays out.

  2. Bria says:

    Huh. Interesting theories. I think that, like you, I could see the Lando one more easily.

    I’m also just going to point out that there’s a difference between asexual and aromantic and while they sometimes go together, they don’t always.

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      Yeah, I agree; I had a little difficulty framing that distinction because it’s Star Wars—no one in the films ever really displays clear sexual interest at all.

  3. Bria says:

    I can see where you’re coming from but they’re still two different things and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

  4. Megan says:

    I’m glad that you included asexual Luke here. Despite not being sure I subscribe to the theory myself – at best the canon supports it only by omission, and, like you said, the sexless nature of the franchise muddies the waters – it’s a powerful idea.

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      Thanks! If there’s one thing I’ve learned online it’s that it’s very hard to talk about sexuality in a way that’s 100% inclusive of all its complexities—which actually reinforces the overall point of the piece.

  5. […] little we really know about these characters we thought we knew all this time, a sentiment covered brilliantly at Eleven-ThirtyEight (as they are want to […]

  6. […] week, Mike Cooper of Eleven-Thirty Eight wrote a column about recontextualizing the Original Trilogy. In general, I like his premise — a “what […]

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