We've all heard of "taking a level in badass", where a supposedly week and wide-eyed character becomes impossibly cool over the course of a story. Will we see this kind of thing happening in Star Wars: Episode 7? Well, let's ask the guy who mastered it. Luke Skywalker!
The Luke Skywalker/Han Solo dynamic is at once a very useful writing tool, and a great hindrance for progressing a story. This writing trend seems to occur when a creator wants two figures in their story. One younger and naive; less cool, but more integral to the plot. The other, rugged and cynical; instantly more appealing, yet having to take an auxiliary role. Luke and Han from Star Wars are the perfect example of this.
The problem with this dynamic is that, when the story really needs to matter, and your protagonist needs to come into his own, there's already someone there upstaging him. We had this problem in Pirates of the Caribbean, where caring about Will Turner was pointless if you were at all interested in Jack Sparrow. The best example of this is Metal Gear Solid 2, where Hideo Kojima made the annoying and generally weak character of Raiden central over obvious fan favourite, Solid Snake. In games to follow, Kojima tried so hard to win fans over to Raiden, going so far as to make him a cyborg ninja, but nothing worked. We were always going to like Snake better.
What's strange about the Luke Skywalker/Han Solo dynamic is that the two examples that started the problem are the only ones to overcome it. Luke Skywalker is the only character to overtake his cooler counterpart, and [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) may soon confirm that.
Luke in A New Hope
In Episode 4, Luke is the most typical example of this trope. He's an ambitious young kid who appears heroic through the sheer boringness of his prior life. Of course, he's in the shadow of the infinitely cooler Han Solo, and any actual admiration is directed at Harrison Ford. If A New Hope was the only film in the Star Wars series, saying Luke was your favourite would get you laughed out of the theatre! As The Force Awakens approaches, that may not be the case!
Luke in Empire Strikes Back
Luke becomes more interesting in this film exactly due to his lack of badassery. He's dealing with concepts way out of his depth, like living up to the Jedi heritage and being number one on the Empire's most wanted list. Empire Strikes Back excels by presenting Luke's own inability to deal with his own new found powers and duties, and it ends up screwing him over. We all know how, so I won't delve into it. Let's just say he deserves a hand after what he's been through.
Luke in Return of the Jedi
This is the moment where most series would screw this trope up. When Luke enters Jabba's palace, demanding the return of his friends, the villains should be intimidated and we should be in awe. What's amazing is that this actually works, for Luke has gone through a kind of rebirth. After suffering a disfigurement at the hands of Darth Vader, he appears world weary and full of understanding. Mark Hamill's unfortunate car crash injuries also appear more apparent through the lighting in this film. Sadly, it's hard to watch without feeling like it influences the character a little.
What's more is that Han Solo is barely a competitor in Return of the Jedi. He's a bumbling blind guy in the first half of the film and just a bumbling guy in the second. I don't know how George Lucas did it, but he sucked out all of Han Solo's effortless cool in one movie, making space for Luke.
Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode 7
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker at least doesn't have the same hurdles to get over as Han Solo. Han's appeal is based on vibrant and youthful rebellion, which only diminishes over time. Luke's is based on growth and change, which makes Episode 7 perfect for his character.
From the few details we've been drip fed about Luke's character in The Force Awakens, including his voice over in the most recent trailer, Luke may turn out to be a similar figure to Obi-Wan, with a wealth of wisdom and unspoken power. This kind of characterisation fits Luke, for it was forces such as Yoda, Darth Vader, and oh... the actual force, that shaped him. It would also be incredible in Episode 7 to see him let loose and truly exhibit what an aged Jedi in a post original trilogy world can do.
Hopefully, The Force Awakens won't just devolve into a fight for the audience's favour between Luke and Han. The focus should be on the new characters, but the question still remains, who will be the star of the show when December rolls around?