Stop Rewriting Our Past

The problem with rewriting the moral undergirding of a culture is the transition period.  More specifically, it is the transitional period of which the rewriters are part of that is most problematic.  How to explain adequately that there has been a massive change, and that people were a part of things before the change as well as after the change?  That they were more or less happy with things in the past but now are compelled to say that those things were bad and wrong.  How to reconcile how things – and we – used to be, with how things and ourselves are now perceived to be?  There is a strong temptation to defensiveness, an attempt to filter history in such a way as to show that the ideas and themes that are championed today were actually there all along if we just had eyes to see them, or people to tell us that this is what was really happening.  What results is a type of historical revision, and the awkward part is that there are people around who know that this is a load of mule muffins.

Case in point, Lando Calrissian.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with Star Wars as part of your cultural fabric, Lando is the dashing rogue turned hero who appears in The Empire Strikes Back, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams.  I never understood why he didn’t get more of a prominent place in the franchise, but I guess if you wait long enough and sell off the rights to the franchise, eventually someone will come around to exploring those overlooked characters more.  And so it is that Calrissian will have a role in the new Han Solo spin-off movie, although played by a different and younger actor.

Fair enough.

Except that the original Calrissian is, at least in the eyes of some, being rewritten into something he never was – a hero/icon/whatever for the LGBT community.  And the guy trying to do the rewriting is a venerated veteran of the Star Wars community – Lawrence Kasdan.  In a recent interview Kasdan claims that Lando is a pan-sexual, someone who is not limited to sexual preferences and practices regarding “biological sex, gender, or gender identity”.  Kasdan claims that not only the new portrayal of Lando but also Williams’ original portrayal lead us towards this conclusion.  Kasdan is not speaking authoritatively – he doesn’t get to arbitrarily dictate the canon of Star Wars, but he carries a lot of weight.

The problem is, regardless of how the new movie portrays Lando, there’s nothing in the original character’s portrayal in 1980 that would lead us to this conclusion at all.  By revisiting a character and redefining him now according to popular ideas, there is the assumption that we can cast these ideas back to the original character.

Except you can’t.

I remember Lando.  I remember thinking he was dashing and handsome and charming – all characteristics that came into full play only with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).  Lando and Han (Harrison Ford) were friends, and friends with a long and complicated past to be sure, but there was nothing flirty in their interactions.  The closest you could get to anything like this would be the fact that they hug shortly after reuniting in Bespin.

But that scene clearly is not romantic or erotic in any way.  It’s clear that both of them are somewhat wary of the other, and Han more so of Lando than visa versa.  If you want to get theological, Lando’s hug is a form of Judas kiss, attempting to put Solo at ease while perhaps identifying him to the guards watching who may eventually have to ensure that he does not escape.  There are many nuances which can only be appreciated after the film is over.  But there’s no mistaking this for any sort of sexualized behavior.

But that’s what it has to be in order to be appreciated properly by today’s standards.  So Lando will be rewritten to be sexually ambiguous, which in the process will throw Han’s sexuality into question as well.  What gets undermined is two strong, masculine, heterosexual characters.  What gets undermined is the concept of manly friendship, friendship that can be close and intimate without being sexualized (PLEASE read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous book The Four Loves for a wondrous exposition on the necessity and beauty of such masculine friendship!).  What gets undermined are the role models of previous generations, because now there is guilt associated with cheering them on in their heterosexual appreciation and tug of war over a beautiful woman, a woman also strong enough in her own right to hold her own and seek to maintain a certain element of aloofness and control in the midst of a situation she realizes at a gut level is suspicious.

All of that can be pitched because what we really want to sell today is sexuality and sexuality as unrestricted and self-defined as we feel like it.  In the long run, that sales pitch will become more and more effective as those who lived through the transition – and can thus speak out against the historical revision through first-person experience – die off (or, as has already happened, get cowed into silence by a militant and vocal vanguard for the new order).

I’m not dead yet.  And I haven’t forgotten.  And whatever Kasdan’s personal issues are, and regardless of how the new movie may attempt to redefine the character, Lando will remain for me that original charming and clearly heterosexual man he appeared to be – and which nearly everyone who saw those original movies both wanted him and assumed him to be.  There wasn’t anything wrong with that.  There still isn’t.  Quit trying to rewrite my history – our history – into something else.

 

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