Right? ‘Cause everyone I know takes this (the first gif above, the one from Empire Strikes Back) as like a “LOL! Han is such a dick here and LOL!women so much more emotional than men’ – like this whole scene is about how he wouldn’t say I love you, and she would. Like, it never occurred to me to think that until I watched the film with someone else, who exclaimed “OMG! Such a BASTARD!’. And for a while I felt kinda duped for thinking it had been romantic when I saw it on my own, but, for real, check it:
Were you guys even watching the rest of the film? Han is consistently the more emotionally open about their relationship. A good portion of the early scenes on Hoth are about Han trying to get Leia to admit that she likes him, and being totally open about the fact that he likes her. But she’s all “Dude, I am a general and I have a fucking rebel moonbase to run and I’m a military leader what exactly do you think the troops would say if I were to suddenly turn round and be gooey over you?’ Like, Leia’s priorities have always been with her people and the greater good. She’s pissed off with Han in the first movie because it looks like he’s gonna run off and look after his own arse, but he comes back – a bit for Luke, but a lot for her. At the end of the day, Han puts his emotions first – look after yourself, look after your mates, follow your heart. The tough guy act is his defence against people seeing how much his emotions rule him – and it’s there in all his relationships, particularly his friendship with Chewbacca. Leia doesn’t do that, and she doesn’t have that luxury. When her ship is captured she sends a “help me’ message, but it’s not actually about helping her – she stands proudly before Lord Vader after she’s captured like absolutely no one else.
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She doesn’t expect to get rescued. She expects to be tortured, then die, knowing that her plea for her people and the crucial plans will escape where she could not. She’s selfless to a T and she fears admitting her feelings because they make her vulnerable. She can’t afford to put anyone else before her cause, and if she admits her love she just might have to do that. The Han/Leia emotional arc is all about him trying to pull her in to admit her feelings, and her trying to pull him along and see the bigger picture.
The point of this scene is not that she says “I love you’ and he doesn’t. The point is that he’s been consistently open about the fact that he loves her, and she hasn’t been willing to admit it. He’s not saying “LOL – I know you do but I’m going to leave you hanging about how I feel’. She says “I love you’, in front of Vader, of all people, and he reassures her that he knew all along. And she’s able to say “I love you’ then because she’s seen him tortured and not give in and she’s seen him willing to sacrifice himself in this way and she sees that her refusal to credit him with seeing the bigger picture has been unfair, so also her refusal to admit her love is equally unfair. And what he’s saying is not “Haha, I got you to say it!’ it’s “It’s OK, I always knew how you felt, it doesn’t matter’.