I hadn't thought about this photo in a long time until it showed up on the Star Wars Facebook page just recently. The game was to provide a caption and I felt uniquely qualified to do so, as the photo had fascinated me for years.
So what is it about this particular image? It's innocuous enough. Now. But I would argue that to a 10-year old boy in 1977, this publicity shot of from the original Star Wars movie was so much more. Keep in mind this was long before The Empire Strikes Back was even imagined. Long before hundreds of books, comic books, video games, animated series and more expanded the Star Wars universe to, well, universal proportions. Long before George Lucas's merchandising empire would give you so much Star Wars swag you scarcely knew what to buy first... and after a while just gave up trying.
For a 10-year old, this shot of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo contained unimagined possibilities because it depicted something which (at least to my childish mind) had happened after the events in the movie. I mean, this scene wasn't in Star Wars. The movie ends with Luke and Han getting their medals to the cheering roar of the assembled Rebel Alliance. But for a kid who wanted more, this photo provided a scrap of hope. After all, if there was some moment where the princess stopped to admire Han's medal then maybe there could be more movies? And books? And toys galore!
My mind seized on this image and ever since I've spun tales around it:
I imagined the heroes of Yavin having only this one moment to bask in their accomplishment before they had to evacuate to avoid the Imperial armada which was undoubtedly on its way to avenge the destruction of the Death Star.
I wondered if anyone at the awards ceremony wondered why the Wookie didn't get a medal and Wedge Antilles wasn't anywhere to be seen at all?
I marveled at how Princess Leia could smile through it all when her parents, her planet, her history had been vaporized just hours before.
And in retrospect, I found it telling that Leia was paying more attention to Han than to Luke. Was the princess horny for Han? Is that was explains the mercenary captain's rather awkward laugh? Or why Luke seems less than thrilled by the attention he's receiving? Poor farm boy. It'd be years before he realized what kind of bullet he dodged there.
Years later, I was pleasantly surprised when my creative writing professor at the University of Arizona assigned us an exercise in which we had to write a short story based solely on an innocuous photo. No, I didn't use this one but it did underscore for me how you can find a story in almost anything. A photo, stray thought, a snippet of overheard conversation in a crowded restaurant...
As it turned out, Luke, Leia and Han didn't need my help to continue on. They all went on to occupy a very prestigious place in American pop culture. But for a while, until all that other stuff happened and they became legends, it was a photo which kept them alive to me.