At age seven, I had no doubt about it. Han Solo was the coolest guy in the universe.
OK, Luke Skywalker was the one I wanted to be – I mean, Jedi powers and a lightsaber, right? But Han didn’t need them. He was the guy who could do anything. Fly through asteroid fields. Talk to Wookiees. Ride into savage blizzards just to save a friend. Heck, he even tried to gun down Darth Vader himself. Sure, it didn’t work, but the man knew an opportunity, right?
But even cool guys have their moments. And one of Han’s has stuck with me down the years.
If you’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back (so, most of you), you know exactly what I’m talking about. It was the film’s major running gag. Han and his friends are in a tight spot in the Millennium Falcon, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. Han’s gained a little distance, and is ready to jump to light speed and leave trouble behind … and the hyperdrive fails.
Once. Twice. Even a third time, with a friend at the controls.
“It’s not my fault!”
I may have never had to fast-talk space gangsters, or outshoot stormtroopers, or snatch a princess from the Death Star. But I could surely empathize with that one.
You try. You try. And you try again. And it seems like absolutely nothing happens.
My wife Heather is the master of this. Over the years, she’s endured more chronic illnesses than Jabba the Hutt has bounty hunters. Crohn’s disease. Ankylosing spondylitis. Multiple sclerosis. A host of situations and medications that send my spell-checker screaming for help, or at least extra vowels.
Once in a while, we beat one, like the endometriosis that finally submitted to surgery. And sometimes, we get long quiet spells where life is almost normal. But then there are the other nights.
The ones where the current medicines don’t work. And the alternatives are all on the “allergy list.”
The ones where the “MS fog” is too thick to read a book. Or where the pain and fatigue make even ordinary task into Olympian ones.
The ones where you’re doing everything the doctors have said, everything your friends have suggested, everything you can think of yourself – and nothing seems to change.
Oh, yes. We’ve been there.
Most of us have.
Not necessarily with chronic illness. But we’ve all had the situation that refused to yield. Professional frustration. Personal grief. A family situation that seems implacable. Whatever it is, it leaves you running in place, wondering if progress is possible. Wondering if progress even exists. As Shel Silverstein put it, in his dark take on The Little Engine That Could, “If the track is tough and the hill is rough, THINKING you can just ain’t enough!”
Funny enough, George Lucas himself had his own story there. He described his first six years in the film business as “hopeless.” His father had wanted him to go into office supplies instead, and for a little while, George may have been wondering if he was right.
“There are a lot of times where you sit and say ‘Why am I doing this? I’ll never make it,’” he said in an interview. “I’d borrowed money from my parents. I’d borrowed money from friends. It didn’t look like I was going to be able to pay anyone back.”
Then came American Graffiti. And a few years later, Star Wars – a film that almost everyone believed would bomb, including Lucas himself, until it spectacularly didn’t.
Stories change. Without warning.
Not without effort. Not without help – even Han needed a hand fixing the hyperdrive. And not with any guarantee.
But surprising things can happen if you give them the chance.
Heather and I have seen it. Not the magic “happy ever after” that leaves you with a gold medal, a space princess, and a three-picture deal. But victories that have let us grab back pieces of normality, and even become caregivers ourselves.
We dared to hope.
And hope, it turns out, can be a pretty impressive Force.