Growing up, Han Solo was my hero. I never had any sports heroes or, other than my dad, local ones. For me, those on the silver screen were the way to go. And there was no one better than Han Solo. He had a cool spaceship. His best friend was a tall, hairy toddler who could rip people's arms off. And he was a badass. (Just for clarification: I'm talking New Hope/Empire Han Solo. Not Return. I don't know who that guy wearing the Han Solo suit was in Return of the Jedi but he sure as hell wasn't the same guy.).
For many years, Han served me well. He was a good sounding board to bounce problems off. Got a bully? What would Han do (shooting him under the table not being an option)? Know a kid was cheating on a test? What would Han do? Any morality questions that a young boy could face down, Han was there to guide me. He was a big guy in a black vest looking over my shoulder saying, "The coasts all clear, kid!"
But as I got older, I started to run into problems that Han as my moral guide couldn’t quite handle. As we get older, our choices, our problems, and our concept of morality get more complicated. So, therefore, should our moral guide. But Han wasn't cutting it. It wasn't Han himself... but his writer(s). We never really got a lot about Han. Why was he a smuggler? Why was his best friend a Wookie (and not, per se, a human)? What was his moral center (Empire shows us that it's more than just greed – there's no payoff for sticking around to get Leia)? What drove Han Solo to be Han Solo? The movies just don't give that to us.
And, for many years, I was at a lack of a moral guide.
I watched Firefly for the first time when it came out on DVD. I, like many others, sneezed and missed it while it was on TV. When it was released on DVD, a friend of mine badgered me (no pun intended) until I sat down and watched the pilot. To say that I was blown away would be to understate the importance of becoming a Browncoat at that moment. Over the next couple of days, I devoured the rest of the set, sometimes watching episodes over and over. I began to scour websites to find more information on the show, back stories, creation mythologies (I love when creators tell us where the ideas come from), and original scripts. I needed to read what Whedon, Espenson, Minear, and others had originally written. I wanted their words.
Because I had found my new moral guide: Captain Mal Reynolds. Captain Tightpants.
Now, at first glance, he might seem like an odd choice. There are better choices: Shepherd Book, Simon... hell, even Wash seems a better-suited person for a moral guide. But, like before, I didn't make a conscious choice – it just happened. It happened right at the end of the episode "The Train Job." This is the part that had me:
Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You bring it back to him. Tell him the job didn't work out. We're not thieves. But we are thieves. Point is, we're not takin' what's his. Now we'll stay out of his way as best we can from here on in. You explain that's best for everyone, okay?
That right there. Of course, it was awesome when he kicked Crow into the intake engine... but that speech had me. Take it apart and you get so much of who Mal is in that one monologue. Mal can see the error in his ways (stealing from the authoritarian government? No problem. Stealing from people dying of a disease? Wrong.), he's an honest thief, and he has an understanding of how the world works. Mal is a world-
weary man who is trying to take care of his crew and his ship. He may state that he doesn’t have a moral compass but he does. His actions show it time and time again. He is Mal Reynolds, true and true.
Many might see Mal an update on Han Solo but, to me, Mal Reynolds goes beyond that. In every episode and in the feature film, Serenity, Mal is his own man who makes his own decisions based on his own moral code. The interesting thing is that Mal's morality isn't something that he's been building on his whole life. No, before the war, he
had religion-based morality. He had faith. But after his own people turned on him, he lost that faith and had to build something new: Serenity. His ship became his wings and his crew became his family. His moral compass became keeping his ship and his family free and alive.
As a father, it's clearly something I can relate to.
Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
Those aren't bad words to live by.