The Star Wars Original Trilogy doesn’t get enough credit for its use of The Force. Or, more specifically: its lack of its use of The Force. In the original Star Wars, a case can be made that The Force doesn’t even exist at all. Everything can be explained away. Nothing levitates and almost every use of the Force – from Luke’s training with a remote, to Luke blowing up the Death Star – can be looked at as “luck” (which Han Solo does both times). The closest the original movie comes to using actual magic is when Vader chokes Admiral Motti during a meeting on the Death Star. But even that could be explained as a combination of mind games and intimidation. (If Darth Vader started yelling at me during a work meeting I might have the same reaction, Force choke or not.)
Han Solo is the biggest skeptic. It’s only been 19 years since Jedi were running around everywhere doing magic tricks, yet Solo doesn’t believe the Force exists at all. This is a big reason Solo’s character works so well in the first two movies. He’s skeptical of all of this, just as a viewer should be. (Also, I think Han Solo plays into Gen X’s skepticism of pretty much everything. It’s a quality I possess and am often dumbfounded Millennials don’t share this. But this is probably also why Millennials like the Prequels more than we do. Anakin wears his heart on his sleeve. Han Solo thinks everyone is stupid.)
But a great thing the original movie does is not having a moment where Han Solo figures all this out and looks on with whimsical joy as something Force floats by him. At the end of Star Wars, we find out he does have a conscience but certainly doesn’t believe in The Force. That moment comes in The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s done in such a clever way, we don’t talk about it near enough.
But, first, let’s talk about my least favorite scene in all of the Prequel Trilogy. One of the things I dislike about the Prequel Trilogy is how The Force went from this “mysterious entity” to just a thing the Jedi use to speed up even minor inconveniences.
(Unrelated, I will admit since The Rise of Skywalker, my opinion of the Prequels has gone up in comparison. At least the Prequels have a point of view and a pretty good story. It’s just the execution of the story that’s the problem. But it’s not difficult to point at a few things in the Prequels and go, well, if that were done differently, and that, it would greatly improve the whole thing. With The Rise of Skywalker, where do you even begin? When the story itself is lousy, there’s no real fix.)
Anyway, the scene that bothers me to no end happens in Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan has just stowed away on Padmé’s starship on its way to Mustafar. He finds a small room or closet or whatever to hide inside of. Instead of just pushing the button to close the door, he uses The Force. C’mon. So over the course of six movies, the Force went from this sacred, mysterious thing to something Jedi use when they don’t feel like reaching for something. I mean, sure, that’s what I would use it for, but if I were a Jedi my story would be pretty boring and no one would make a movie about it. My point is, when you’re using the force just to close doors that don’t need urgent closing, maybe it’s time to dial back on how often your characters are using the Force?
Now, back to Han Solo. In The Empire Strikes Back, the first no doubt about it the Force is real” moment is when Luke’s lightsaber travels across the Wampa’s ice cave to his hand. We are over a full movie into this story before we see definitive proof of the Force. Of course, only the Wampa is around to see it, and Luke quickly murdered any witnesses. (Update: A few people are tweeting at me, “What about when Ben disappears in his fight with Vader on the Death Star?” First, there’s really no evidence Han actually saw that, or could clearly see Ben’s body was completely gone. Second, even if he could, Han probably just thought a lightsaber can disintegrate a person. Which, when Star Wars first came out, was an actual debate. When I first saw Star Wars as a little kid, I thought Vader was just really proud at what a great shot he got in. “What a swing! There’s nothing left!”)
Han Solo’s first interaction with The Force came on Cloud City during the dinner scene. (I’ve written about this scene before from Vader’s perspective and I still think it’s just the funniest thing. It’s so choreographed and elaborate! And you know as Lando was leading our heroes to dinner, Vader had to say, “Places, everyone!”) In one of my favorite moments of a Star Wars movie, Han sees Vader, doesn’t hesitate, and just starts shooting. (Contrast this with Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith, who has a whole meaningless conversation with Grievous before fighting, even though Obi-Wan briefly had the element of surprise.)
Seriously, this scene would never happen today. No catchphrase. No witty remark. Just Han Solo acting like the character actually would: fight or flight kicking in and he picked a fight. Vader deflects some blaster fire with his hand, then uses the Force to snag Han’s blaster right out of his hand. It’s played so well by Harrison Ford here, almost too well. Just a look of utter shock as the blaster is ripped out of his hand, then the bewilderment of a bunch of events all happening at once. Over the span of five seconds, Han realizes the Force is real, his buddy Lando just betrayed him (which, actually, I kind of understand when you take into account these war criminals just “showing up” unannounced, jeopardizing the people of the city he runs), and now they are prisoners of the Empire – as Darth Vader taunts him by making jokes about having dinner.
Compare this to the scene people do talk about a lot (and makes gifs of) in Return of the Jedi when Leia tells Han that Luke is her brother. Ford, famously not a big fan of this particular installment, makes a wacky face. (Though, I always kind of wish that scene were a bit longer as Leia tells Han, “Well, that’s the good news. There’s, unfortunately, a little more to this story.”
Look, I just love that Empire dinner scene. And it reminds me that when Star Wars movies work, they really work. After the original movie, we’d never envision a scene with Darth Vader and Han Solo at a dining table together in a weird, all-white room. Or if we could envision it, it would be corny. But there it is and so many things all happen at once and it’s played perfectly. What a scene! And if we are studying Solo’s arc, it’s a huge moment for him that, like I said, we just don’t talk about enough. For one moment, on Han’s face, we see him learn that “hokey religions” are indeed a match for a blaster at your side. (Oh, yes, that callback finally paid off in this scene, too.)
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