It was my oldest grandson’s birthday party and it was a Star Wars themed event so my youngest daughter who is the mother of the young man put heart and soul into giving him the party of a lifetime. She personally decorated the house for this party with creations she mostly made from scratch and it was quite spectacular. To match her efforts she wanted all of us to dress up so the first time that I can ever remember I put together a costume of my favorite Star Wars character—Han Solo, and had a lot of fun doing it. In the process I learned some things that are worth sharing. One thing that became obvious to me as I acquired all the Han Solo costume pieces needed to get everything together for this party was how similar it was to the kind of equipment needed for Cowboy Fast Draw and that while wearing it, I felt more like a western character than a science fiction icon—which Han Solo has always been.
Naturally through small talk I have been asked why I like Star Wars so much and my reply is usually because it’s the best western that movie makers can produce these days. As much as George Lucas wanted tell a story about a hippie idea of eastern religion defeating western greed through the “force of others” his creation of Han Solo really is the key to the entire Star Wars universe. The character so wonderfully played by Harrison Ford is an Ayn Rand kind of superstar who advances the story wonderfully, and gives everything resonance. George Lucas always intended Luke Skywalker to be the hero of the movies, but it was Han Solo that really took over the story as the central and most popular character. I knew all this before I put together as authentic of a costume as I could, but wearing it complete with the gun belt instantly knew where I was. The gun belt was the key, it felt as good as my rig for Cowboy Fast Draw and remanded me that it’s not lightsabers and talk about The Force, but Star Wars is more about “having a good blaster at your side” than anything. Lucas may have intended for Han Solo to be redeemed by the end of A New Hope into the kind of unselfish character that hippies were wanting to portray in 1970’s San Francisco—but the love that the director had of fast cars and Saturday Morning Republic serials featuring cowboys won the day and it was those influences that turned Star Wars into a simple science fiction drama and placed it into the realm of something truly special. Star Wars is the best western movie made in the modern era—and by that I mean the last 40 years.
I don’t think George Lucas meant to make Han Solo such a powerful character but as the story evolved it was the old smuggler and that capitalist sector of characters from bounty hunters down to crime lords who took over as the featured plot lines that most captured the imaginations of fans. People didn’t want to grow up so much to become Jedi in the temple fighting the Sith—they wanted to be the smuggler and hot-shot pilot flying the Millennium Falcon and solely saving the galaxy. In his best moments Han Solo is not a team player but is someone always used to being in charge and finds a way to be successful even when the odds were terribly stacked against him. When they tried to water Han Solo down into a group think character, he loses much of his power and I think this was something that mystified George Lucas a lot over the evolution of that character. George Lucas the hippie who knew mostly dope smokers and San Francisco radicals found it an unintended consequence. But the little boy who grew up watching serialized westerns and swashbuckling action adventure movies found in Han Solo a trusted voice from the past—and wisely Lucas went with it out of the needs of his new company Lucasfilm to pay all the bills of his various projects—even though it bothered him that Luke wasn’t the star of the movie as it was always intended.
I bought 21 pizzas from Pizza Hut for this party to be served on a table in front of Jabba the Hutt. It was a cute idea that my daughter had to tie the two things together so when the pizza delivery guy arrived he found himself pulled into the Star Wars universe by default, and he was having a good time. While I was paying the guy and walking him back to his truck we talked about Star Wars and why the new Han Solo movie and now Episode 9 had lost their directors. In fact, since Lucasfilm announced their slate of 6 new Star Wars movies four directors for those projects have bitten the dust and either been fired, or have quit. The trade media for Hollywood really hasn’t understood why but this is where the rebel George Lucas always shinned brightest. In spite of his liberal tendencies, Lucas at heart was a small business guy whose father owned a stationery store in Modesto, California. Naturally, Lucas hated the studio system because of their static approach to filmmaking. And it was that part of him who shinned through Han Solo—the do whatever he wants, guy—which made Star Wars so special and Ayn Randish. These modern kids raised in the studio system may have loved Star Wars growing up, but that doesn’t mean they “get it” when it comes to putting what they love up on-screen. Kathy Kennedy who runs Lucasfilm now apprenticed under George Lucas for most of her adult life and she has an understanding of what makes Star Wars work even if it’s difficult to put into words. She knew instinctively why her new film directors weren’t having success in developing their Star Wars stories—for instance reports from the new Han Solo movie set which is coming out in May of 2018 were that the directors were turning the story more into an Ace Ventura comedy instead of a western set in space. So Kathy brought in Ron Howard who has been around long enough to know at least how to mimic what George Lucas had stumbled upon so many years before. The pizza guy agreed with me, Star Wars to work had to pay tribute to its western-like background—without it the storylines flounder and fail—much like many people felt the prequel films did. I personally liked them because I like politics, but without the swashbuckling element of the matinee idols of the 1950s, Star Wars is pretty boring. I know that, obviously Kathy Kennedy understands that much—but more importantly, the Pizza Hutt delivery guy understood it.
The exchange of values has always been something I could share with my kids through Star Wars and obviously that is getting passed on down to a new generation. As the kids dressed up there were a lot of Kylo Ren costumes, and even some of the adults wore Kylo Ren t-shirts. Little do they know that by the time we get to Episode 9 that Han Solo’s now infamous son will turn back to good and help Rey restore goodness to the imaginative galaxy set a long time ago, far, far away. Kylo Ren will turn out to be a good guy—which I think is a very good thing. Again, it goes back to Han Solo again, without him and his redemptive qualities, Star Wars falls apart as something special in our human culture. For me its fun to be able to share these values on a platform that allows for at least the discussion and Star Wars does that better than anything else out there presently. That wasn’t always the case, back when George Lucas was growing up, there were a lot of things like Star Wars out there that communicated value effectively and our culture reflected it. These days, not the case—values have been cast aside by movie directors trying to make movies about socialism, which people don’t like, instead of capitalist westerns which people do, and they are often mystified as to why people like the Pizza Hutt delivery guy don’t like their product. (Hey, I gave the pizza delivery guy a huge tip for his capitalist appreciations and enthusiasm. He understood.) Wearing the authentic Han Solo costume for me told the whole story—it took what I had only thought of before and applied it to reality. Han Solo was a gunfighter and that is a concept specifically unique to American culture and was the heart of every good western. That is what makes Star Wars work, and why it is such a good device to teach morality stories about good versus evil. It is those values which I’m glad I can share with these new generations which was on full display at my grandson’s birthday party. It was a lot of fun to be a part of.