Rivalries are way more fun than romances. And what better rivalry to look at than the story of the smuggler and the farmboy?
I love these two together. You can start with comparisons, although there’s not many — they’re both orphans, both pilots, both loyal. There are more contrasts, though. Han, seven years Luke’s senior, grew up essentially on his own, and by ANH had wandered the galaxy enough to know a few things. Pickpocket, pilot, Imperial cadet, Imperial officer, Imperial castoff, smuggler: Han has really done it all. He’s also pretty much dated it all — spice addicts, freedom fighters, anti-imperial agents, magicians, smugglers — and his only constants are his ship and his Wookiee. Luke on the other hand, browbeaten as he may have been, had a normal and peaceful enough upbringing on a quiet farm with parental figures in the form of his uncle and aunt. He learned mechanics, tinkering, flying, and had typical small-town experiences and problems. Han knows he has the greater experience, but Luke has more heart, and really the rivalry is apparent from the first moment. Luke wants to walk out because Han demands 10,000 for passage for 2 and 2 droids to Alderaan (a distance of some 12,000 parsecs, a half a galaxy away), and Han immediately challenges his ability to fly.
Luke consistently attempts to take control of the situation, and Han always challenges in return, but Han does go along with him. Luke, however, never grasps the sort of world Han comes from, and feels monumental betrayal when Han claims his money and prepares to leave the alliance. Han, conscience struck to return just in time, gets decorated along with Luke, but he’ll face the consequences later of letting others talk him out of appeasing the crime lord he owed loyalty to first.
What happened over the next three years, we can only guess, though by ESB their friendship is not only clearly strong, it is the driving force of the film: it sends Han into the nighttime frozen hell of Hoth looking for his friend, it sends Luke away from his apparent destiny with Yoda to see his friends saved, it ends the film as they mount a rescue for their fallen fellow. In many ways, Empire and Jedi are ultimate buddy flicks. But the rivalry hasn’t gone anywhere — as Han keeps score of how many times he’s saved Luke’s bacon, as Han smugly cuts in to Luke and Leia’s conversation, as Luke basks in the revenge kiss from Leia.
They are just great to watch together. One of the best things is just to watch the other’s face where you normally watch the one: eye rolls, little smiles from Luke, eyebrows and grimaces from Han . . .
So, Han and Luke have my favorite rivalry. They learn a lot from each other — Luke picks up on the value of cynicism and Han learns heart — but they’re never going to stop sniping at each other. During the celebration scene at the end of ROTJ, you see Luke and Han reunite after the battle, and Luke grabs his arms and kind of gives him a stern look before they hug, and Han then takes Leia in his arms. They’re already as good as brothers. Make it official!