Your life, courtesy of Star Wars

 
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Daniel-Cheung—Unsplash

Are you a science fiction fan? The mere mention of the genre might send a shiver down your spine, conjuring visions of two-dimensional characters with ray-guns where their brains should be. Alternatively, you might be the sort of person who gave serious consideration to whether or not they could get away with naming their daughter Katniss. Wherever you land on the spectrum, though, it’s fair to say that the Star Wars has a hero waiting for you. Its creators have assembled a pantheon of good guys, in every hue and shade, from the reformed villain to villainous reformers. Yet when you set aside the hairstyles, and off-load the droids, you discover storylines not terribly different from your own.

Star Wars has transcended the limits of a mere movie franchise to become a cultural icon. It is the second-highest-grossing media franchise of all time.[1] George Lucas, the father of this phenomenon, makes no secret of the secret to his success. As a young man, Lucas had been significantly influenced by Columbia University-trained mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell is the author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, a book which mapped the common story-pattern that provides the foundation for all of the world’s great religious and ethical stories. Lucas would become great friends with Campbell and refer to him as his “Yoda” when it came to storytelling.[2]

Campbell’s “hero’s journey” structure has been reflected in ten Star Wars storylines to date, explaining why they have achieved such universal appeal amongst people who have neither language nor culture in common. Some audience members celebrate the classic adventures of the farm-boy-made-good, Luke Skywalker. Others are drawn to the more complex appeal of the abandoned Rey, living off a junk heap while she waits for her parents. With each film release, we see still more hero-types emerge. It’s all part of an attempt by Star Wars storytellers to help you find yourself in that galaxy far, far away. Take Solo: A Star Wars Story, as an example. Yes, it bombed at the box office earlier this year, but if you’re prepared to give it another chance it’s now out on DVD.

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Han Solo is the much-loved rogue of the Star Wars universe. His obvious faults—pride, foolhardiness, over-confidence—cloak a hero with a heart of gold. Rolling Stone magazine named this smug swashbuckler as number one on its 50 Best Star Wars Characters of All Time, and the original trilogy’s most vital asset:

“The Correllian smuggler’s own conflicts make him the saga’s most complex character. Starry-eyed Luke instantly embraces the Force and the urgent drama of the Rebellion. Han takes some convincing, just as we do.”[3]

And Solo: A Star Wars Story reveals that’s not all we have in common with Han.

Han may have arrived in the Star Wars franchise as a cynical flyboy who is, “… just in it for the money!” Yet his prequel, Solo, shows Han shared our more optimistic youth. The young Han, played by Alden Ehrenreich, grew up as an indentured thief in the Correllian shipyards. Despite the deprivation, though, he manages to retain a positive outlook. “I’m going to be a pilot,” he tells an Imperial Recruiter. “Best in the galaxy!” Turning Han’s usual catchphrase on its head, he tells Chewbacca, “I have a good feeling about this!”

Also like us, Han sets about adding a list of “true companions” to his life. Campbell’s heroic story template sees these as more than just friends, but the family who will see us through anything. Solo introduces us to Chewbacca, the towering Wookie who will become his friendly co-pilot and contrast for life. We also witness the entrance of Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a smuggler who is a flamboyant reflection of Han’s own high-stakes character. And then comes Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s first love-interest, for whom he will risk everything. She’s also the character who understands him best:

Qi’ra: I might be the only person who knows what you really are.

Han: And what’s that?

Qi’ra: A good person.

Yet another point of reflection on our personal journey, is the day Han realises his purpose in life. The young Solo knows he is a skilled driver and flier, but it takes his introduction to the seedy underbelly of the galaxy to help him find his place. When he finally meets the Millennium Falcon—a ship so significant in his life, it qualifies as both friend and home—the transition to rogue is complete. Outwardly, he will become a smuggler, but inwardly he has embraced his independence. He chooses to exist outside of the system, and because of that Han will always side with those who choose to do the same.

Assemble the Star Wars films end to end, though, and what follows is a more depressing collection of our life experiences. Han loses the first love of his life and suffers repeated betrayals and business failures. His near constant refrain becomes “It’s not my fault!” though his own determination to live a high-risk life is at least partly to blame. In the process, he earns the enmity of endless people. By the time he enters Tatooine’s Mos Eisley cantina in the original 1977 Star Wars movie, he is the sceptical, calculating captain of a battered freighter who is struggling under a deathly pile of debts. When Greedo confronts him, of course Han shoots first. Subsequent films show our hero finding some redemption in a good cause and managing to start a family. However, The Force Awakens reveals even that joy has been soured by the loss of a child and the separation that follows. Harrison Ford’s much older Han is wiser, but with many regrets to look back on.

As you look back on that assembled storyline, it’s clear to see that Han’s life has hinged on one critical meeting—what Campbell calls the “meeting with the mentor:”

“The first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”

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In Solo, Han crosses paths with Tobias Beckett, an ageing con-man played by Woody Harrelson. What captures the young Han’s eye is this scoundrel’s flashy fighting style and his seeming control over the chaos around him. The older man warns Han that if he comes with him, “You’re in this life for good.” His first gift to Solo is his signature blaster for the battle ahead, and his second is a piece of advice that proves distressingly true:

“Assume everyone will betray you. And you will never be disappointed.”

It’s not the first time Star Wars has used the “meeting of the mentor” trope to set a character on their life’s journey. Luke meets Obi Wan Kenobi and receives his father’s light sabre. On a darker note, Anakin meets Emperor Palpatine and ultimately receives Darth Vader’s helmet. Recalling those scenes, I can’t help but reflect on the powerful difference mentors make. We don’t have to try hard to accept their influence for good or evil; most of us have had mentors of our own. Personally, my life was profoundly shaped by an elderly gentleman who took the time to knock the rough edges off a clueless young producer. But then friends of mine have met Becketts of their own, whose seductive air of cool has set their feet on paths they lived to regret. Just like Han, we have to be careful of the mentors we choose, a truth the Bible is keenly concerned with:

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

And if that proverb isn’t warning enough, the Bible follows up with real-life examples. On the negative side of the ledger, the young king Rehoboam chooses inexperienced counsellors who appeal to his vanity—he loses his kingdom. Jezebel mentors King Ahab in wickedness and he loses his life. More alarming still, Judas lends an ear to Satan, betrays Jesus and loses his soul. However, the Bible also describes the best advisors.

Consider Paul, who calls young Timothy alongside, and leads him into a lifetime of ministry. Or Barnabas, who won’t give up on young Mark, and ultimately schools a Gospel writer. Then of course there’s Jesus, who takes the most unlikely disciples and sets their feet on the path to a lifetime of service. But my favourite has to be His encounter with the woman at the well. (Read the story in John 4.) Here is a Samaritan outcast who isn’t even looking for a mentor. Yet Jesus’ patience, insight and preparedness to cut through tradition and her resistance leads her to personal transformation. No wonder she finishes the encounter by telling her village:

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (verse 29).

Han Solo might have assured Luke Skywalker, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid,” but in this, he was sadly mistaken. What did Jesus leave the Samaritan woman with? Nothing less than the water of eternal life. And the best news: His offer to mentor your life is not a device designed to sell a cinema seat. It comes free of any ticket.

 

Mark Hadley is a film critic and cultural commentator.

 

[1] List of the highest-grossing media franchises, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_highest-grossing_media_franchises

[2] W. Baines, Why Star Wars Continues To Captivate Us, Beliefnet, http://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/movies/why-star-wars-continues-to-captivate-us

[3] Rolling Stone, 50 Best ‘Star Wars’ Characters of All Time, May 4, 2017, https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/lists/50-best-star-wars-characters-of-all-time