For my money, the first “Star Wars” movie is still the best.
Conventional wisdom among “Star Wars” fans says “The Empire Strikes Back” surpasses the original, but it’s missing one crucial ingredient: Leia, Luke and Han in the same room together. The three friends are only together briefly in “The Empire Strikes Back.” They spend a little more time as a group in “Return of the Jedi,” a somber reunion as Luke broods over the revelation that Darth Vader is his father.
But the best moments of “Star Wars” are those in which the three protagonists become great friends. Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han (Harrison Ford) bickering, Luke (Mark Hamill) struggling with his destiny, the three of them annoyed with each other and triumphant together in turns. The Death Star escape in “A New Hope” is a phenomenal sequence, and it’s the friendship between the three protagonists that forms the backbone of the rest of the series.
What makes “Star Wars” great isn’t the setting, the aliens, the ships or the space battles — it’s the three young rebels standing against the terrifying power of Darth Vader.
When fans excitedly tweeted about hearing Luke Skywalker’s voice again for the first time in 30 years at the release of Star Wars Celebration’s “The Last Jedi” trailer, I couldn’t help but find it sad. Yes, there’s something of a thrill in seeing Luke return to the screen — he was a character that was powerful and influential to me as a kid, like he was for millions.
But we’ll never see Luke together with Han and Leia ever again. The soul of “Star Wars,” the enduring friendship of three people who risked everything for each other again and again, can never be recaptured.
I should note that this separation is not because of the tragic and unexpected death of Carrie Fisher. Her iconic role is inspiring and meaningful to many, many people, and her loss as an artist, and entertainer, a writer and a figure is felt throughout the “Star Wars” community and well beyond it.
But for the purpose of this conversation, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of “The Force Awakens” — because while it’s possible that Luke and Leia could have a scene or two together in “The Last Jedi,” “The Force Awakens” has irreparably taken Han out of the equation. The film purposely separates the iconic heroes, undercutting important elements of their characters — only Leia has made it through the last 30 years in the form we remember her, it seems. And then it does away with Han Solo for its emotional climax.
That Han, Luke and Leia are scattered to the wind, the intervening 30 years having rocked them emotionally and apparently splintered their relationship is more than a plot point. It’s a fundamental undoing of a trilogy of character development. Han Solo overcame his selfishness to become an essential resistance leader — but only for the sake of his friends. Luke Skywalker basically planned to sacrifice his life not just to redeem his father, but in a desperate gambit to protect the others. And Leia, the rock for them all, was an unwavering and principled force for good who made both Han and Luke better, and who was strengthened by their support.
“Star Wars,” in no small way, is the three of them. They accomplish together what none of them could on their own.
“The Force Awakens,” and the new “Star Wars trilogy at large, wants to pass that same torch to a new group of heroes. There’s nothing wrong with that idea — in fact, “Star Wars” needs that. But to pass the torch, someone needs to be holding it.
“Star Wars” can now never again reunite the three people who made it more than just a series of movies to millions of people. Short of a previously-shot flashback scene in “The Last Jedi” or some gross use of CGI in “Episode IX,” it can never again revisit the bond that influenced so many people for so many years.
In time, maybe the new characters of “Star Wars” and their relationship to one another will be just as powerful. But it’s sad that something so meaningful as one of the most recognizable friendships in film history isn’t a part of this new chapter of “Star Wars.” “The Force Awakens” let the opportunity slip by, and we’ll never have it again.