I first saw A New Hope when I was four years old, and although I loved it, my thought process about it admittedly didn’t go much beyond ROBOTS SPACE EXPLOSIONS COOL! By the time The Empire Strikes Back was released, I was an oh-so-sophisticated second grader who was beginning to recognize the importance of human relationships, and so I cried a little when Han got frozen in carbonite. (This was a much more reasonable reaction than that of my friend who was with me, who cried when C-3PO got blown up. So embarrassing.)
For the next three years, as a nation obsessed over whether Darth Vader really was Luke’s father, I obsessed over what was going to happen to Han. And what I really meant by that was, what was going to happen to Han and Leia? Because by then I was officially obsessed with the relationship between the princess and the smuggler.
There are a lot of things I love about Star Wars, but Han and Leia’s romance is the main thing that has kept me a passionate fan for 30 years. Why do they capture my imagination so? There are the obvious reasons: the witty banter, the contrast between royalty and rogue, epic love in the midst of war, the fact that they’re both really good-looking (I never said I wasn’t shallow). But the older I get, the more I appreciate the finer nuances of their relationship, that can often get lost in the crackle of their repartee.
They’re equals. A lot of fictional (and, let's face it, non-fictional) couples seem to get caught up in power dynamics. Not these two. Sure, when they first meet there's some squabbling about who takes orders from whom, but there’s never any real question that they’re on equal footing. Each respects the other's talents and counts on those talents to be brought to bear when necessary. The simplest expression of their equality is in the fact that they take turns saving each other, but it's there in more subtle ways, too -- sometimes just in the way they look at each other before making decisions.
They like each other just the way they are. Okay, they both could be a little nicer -- but we all know they’re just using scorn as a way to hide their true feelings. The truth is that even the things they find annoying about each other are part of why they like each other in the first place. Finding someone who accepts you for who you are, warts and all, is what we all want, isn't it? Han and Leia are capable of deeply frustrating each other...but deep down they wouldn't want it any other way. And yet...
The person who needs to grow up is the one who does the growing up. In fiction we see all too many examples of women changing themselves to get a guy, or putting up with questionable behavior for the sake of True Love. In the Star Wars saga, Han's the one who needs to grow up a little and become a part of something greater than himself, and he does. And what's really important is that Leia doesn’t ask him to change; he does anyway, and it's largely her dedication, spirit, and love that lead him to it.
They're more similar than either of them would like to admit. Fiercely loyal, brave, adventurous, confident, stubborn, outspoken, impatient, resourceful. It's convenient to hastily label them "opposites," but they're more alike than they are different, in my opinion. But as a bonus...
They compliment each other through their differences. He could stand to be more thoughtful; she could stand to be more visceral. Luckily for them, they manage to bring these qualities out in each other. Together it makes them better people -- and an unstoppable team.
I've written this post based on Han and Leia as we see them in the movies, but of course their relationship has grown and become ever more layered in the Expanded Universe. If you're a Han/Leia fan new to Star Wars fiction who wants some recommendations, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @jenheddle for suggestions!