Thursday, 23 August 2012

Did Han know what a parsec was?

If you've seen the original Star Wars you may recall the (in)famous line where Han Solo boasts about the speed of the Millenium Falcon:
Han Solo: Han Solo. I'm captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you're lookin' for passage to the Alderaan system? 
Obi-Wan: Yes indeed, if it's a fast ship. 
Han Solo: Fast ship? You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? 
Obi-Wan: Should I have? 
Han Solo: It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I've outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now. She's fast enough for you old man.
Now, it doesn't take much of a physicist to tell you that a parsec is a measurement not of time, but of distance. A light year is a distance measured as the distance light can travel in one year. A parsec is approximately 3.26 light years (that's around 19 trillion miles). So is Han being dense?

Well, the Star Wars Expanded Universe writers concluded not, and developed an explanation where the Kessel Run is a smuggler's route from the mining planet of Kessel that skirts a cluster of black holes called the Maw. The faster the ship, the closer you can skirt to the Maw, and therefore the shorter the distance, hence parsecs. This explanation quickly became canonical and until recently I assumed it was correct.

Until I read Darths & Droids a few days ago. If you haven't seen it, it's an excellent webcomic that imagines a world where Star Wars exists as nothing more than a D&D-style game master's imagination, and the events of the movies are reinterpreted as the actions of a group of role-playing friends. According to the annotation on this one, in the original script, Obi-Wan was supposed to treat Han's claim with derision, as it showed he didn't know what he was talking about.
It really was just a heap of junk after all. Who knew? Source.
Apparently a minor change, but when you think about it, it makes a big difference to the character. He's always portrayed as a slightly reckless but fundamentally competent character, whilst the Falcon was not much to look at but was genuinely fast. Yet in the original script, Han started out as a bit of an idiot (although he's clearly supposed to have matured by the Empire Strikes Back), and perhaps the Falcon was really no more than a heap of junk without even speed as a redeeming feature.

Crazy stuff. I'm not going to lie, my world was temporarily rocked. It rather changes the interpretation put on it by just about every content creator since, simply because Alec Guinness didn't portray quite enough derision.

Is hope good or bad?

Recently I've watched both The Shawshank Redemption (for the first time) and The Hunger Games (again). They are, of course, two completely different films - the former is about Andy Dufresne who is sentenced, wrongly, to life imprisonment and his experiences inside and, ultimately his desire to be free; the latter about a society in which rural districts are kept in poverty by the ruling Capitol who use an annual televised death match contested by young 'tributes' from each district as a tool to punish the districts for their past rebellion and keep them in line.

However, watching them so close together, I was struck by one theme in particular that they have in common - hope.

It comes out very strongly towards the end of The Shawshank Redemption in a conversation between Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman):

Andy Dufresne: That's the beauty of music. They can't get that from you... Haven't you ever felt that way about music? 
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn't make much sense in here. 
Andy Dufresne: Here's where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don't forget. 
Red: Forget? 
Andy Dufresne: Forget that... there are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. That there's something inside... that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours. 
Red: What're you talking about? 
Andy Dufresne: Hope.
 Andy recognises the power of hope, but Red also points out the danger of hope in a later conversation, when Andy's hopes of acquittal have been crushed:
Red: Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. 
A similar sentiment is expressed by President Snow to the Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane, as events in this year's games are starting to provoke unrest in the outlying districts:
President Snow: Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained. 
Seneca Crane: [confused] So... 
President Snow: So, contain it! 
President Snow & Seneca Crane. Good facial hair, but it won't end well. Source.
All three men understand that the hope of a better future is a powerful thing to have inside of you. Andy sees it as a force that can make you strong against all opposition. Red, on the other hand, recognises the danger of uncertain hope - hope that does not come to fruition will ultimately crush you into a depression worse than anything experienced by those who just accept that their life isn't going to get any better. Snow identifies the power of that hope as a tool that can keep people in line - it is more powerful than fear, because it comes from within rather than being imposed from outside. But what is the nature of the hope that these men talk about? The final lines of The Shawshank Redemption are quite telling:
Red: [narrating] I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins fom Shawshank Sedemption
Red & Andy meet for the first time. Source.
It is an uncertain hope, a wish that things will turn out the way they want. In the end, Andy uses his hope as a drive to escape, fleecing the crooked warden in the process. His hope is fulfilled, but what if he had been caught at the end? What if he hadn't got away? I imagine the depression would have driven him to suicidal despair.

The apostle Paul recognises the futility of false hope:
32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
  - 1 Corinthians 15:32 (NIV) 
An uncertain hope is a dangerous thing, it can turn on you, destroy you. But that's not the kind of hope that Paul talks about:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. - Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) 
 The Christian does not have a vague, wishful hope of Heaven and future glory. No, the Christian's hope is sure and certain. We do not put our hope and trust in the things of this world to satisfy us, but rather, looking forward we know that God will resurrect the dead and give us new, imperishable bodies and bring us to Heaven. Why? Because Jesus has already accomplished the victory - the result is certain!

Conclusion? We have a hope inside us that is not weak, to control us, our vulnerable, to crush us, but it is strong and guaranteed - that is the Bible's definition of hope. It's not an indefinite 'I hope it doesn't rain today', it's a certain 'I know that I will be in Heaven forever'. This hope is why Paul can say:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
When all is said and done, whatever people may say, whatever may happen, however we may fail, we are secure in Christ, and He will surely bring us to glory. So take courage, and pray that God will help us to fully comprehend the implications of this.