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Hando: A brief history of Star Wars fanfic and a universe’s beloved, queer ’ship

In 1997, almost a decade before the founding of Archive of Our Own, one of the longest-running, dedicated fan fiction sites, Laura Shapiro and Hal, who goes by their online pseudonym, started working on an erotic tale about Han Solo and Lando Calrissian.

Longtime friends, both online and offline, Shapiro and Hal bonded in part because of their shared love for erotically reimagining their favorite characters. Together, they spun now-legendary prose:

He leaned forward and pressed the gentlest kiss against Han’s lips.

”You owe me thirty thousand credits,” he whispered dangerously.

Han’s eyes fluttered open and he beamed a delightful, grateful grin at Lando.

”You’re here! I missed you.”

Shapiro and Hal are not a rarity in the Star Wars community, or any vibrant fandom. People regularly develop close friendships and relationships with the authors of their favorite fan fiction (shortened to “fic” within the community), drawn together by their untamed adoration for characters and their conjured worlds. For some, that may be Harry Potter and the expanded Potter universe. For others, it’s Inuyasha or Naruto.

Star Wars is one of the most popular franchises for fic; the recognizable characters and established tone act as a cocoon for writers until they can burst forth with strong voices, ready to give back to the community they found a home in. Right now, Star Wars disciples are readying themselves on the eve of Solo: A Star Wars Story’s release for the next wave of dirty, sweet, ridiculous, tear-jerking, hopeful and angst-ridden fics.

The movie’s release guarantees an onslaught of Han Solo/Lando Calrissian “slashfics,” a term referring to forming gay relationships within a universe. The two characters share a chemistry that fangirls and boys will write about late into the night for months to come. Before we find these stories (then bookmark a couple in an Incognito browser), it’s essential to understand the history behind Star Wars’ most anticipated ’ship.


Lando Calrissian and Han Solo in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Lucasfilm/Disney

Who owns Star Wars?

Star Wars fan fiction began in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the creation of zines, self-published paperbacks in which fic writers and artists could tell vivid, illustrated stories about Star Wars’ most popular — and strangest — characters. Some of the writing even found its way to even bigger science-fiction magazines. Star Wars fans took their work seriously, and campaigned for others to take is seriously as well.

Lucasfilm did. As documented on Fanlore, the editors of Scuttlebutt #6, a well-circulated adzine, ran a statement in their April-May 1978 issue regarding fan works that included Star Wars characters.

The Star Wars Corp. wants to keep track of what SW zines are coming out. They are not out to hassel [sic], sue, etc., anybody, they just want to convince 20th Century Fox legal department that there are more than five SW fans who are interested in publishing zines. If you are planning a zine, they would like to know about it. (For those of you who have already published zines, I was told in a telephone call—Craig Miller [then the fan liaison for Lucasfilm] stated that he was ‘certain that nothing would happen.’

Though Craig Miller reportedly suggested that the studio was “looking the other way” when fic, he would later argue that the stories violated copyright laws, and Lucasfilm could shut down people distributing fan works that used the studio’s characters. The threat loomed over the zine culture.


Star Wars Fan Club letter to fanzine editor

Fanlore

In August 1981, Lucasfilm sent statements via the Official Star Wars Fan Club to zine editors asking them to not publish stories or art that depicted Star Wars’ characters in pornographic situations. This wasn’t a deterrent. Even as the company tweaked the official guidelines, zines continued to grow and circulate, mixing PG-rated content with R-rated content, the wholesome with the unapologetically raunchy. Elusive Lover, a Star Wars zine that ran from 1996 through 2001 under the eye of editor Cara J. Loup, focused without worry on the gay relationships between major characters. The fourth issue notched its way into fic history with a story about Han and Lando, one of the earliest published stories chronicling the duo’s ‘ship.

Few of these stories exist for reading today, which might have assuaged Lucasfilm, if not for the dawning of another era: the internet. As Star Wars grew into the empire it is today, so did its online fandom. Forums sprung up, email lists circulated, FanFiction.net made its debut in 1998, and like that, Laura Shapiro and Hal’s “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Soldier?” became a pivotal, unauthorized Star Wars text on an ever-expanding digital safe space.

Hando: A Star Wars Story

Laura Shapiro started writing fan fiction at the age of 14. Her first work was a Rocky Horror Picture Show prequel, though she says her fan fiction career only really began in the mid-1990s with the emergence of a an essential show: The X-Files. Shapiro told Polygon that her rediscovery of fan fiction “on the nascent web in 1994” helped to remind her why she was interested in the community to begin with all those years ago.

“What I loved was finding a community of women who were as invested in the erotic and romantic lives of fictional characters as I was, and especially how eroticism could be a prism through which you could view a character, to reveal all their different colors in a new way,” Shapiro said.

Hal shares a similar story. They began writing fan fiction in 1997 thanks to The X-Files, too, and always felt a strong desire to write about the “rarer pairs,” their way of describing ‘ships that are less intended by the creators or obvious to the viewer. Hal said part of the reason they got involved writing fan fiction in the first place is because they “wanted to participate in the community and that’s what people did.”

“I’ve almost always been focused on rarer pairs; they’re just more interesting to explore. I’ve been writing since then,” they said, “so over 20 years now.”

A friendship and fan fiction-writing partnership gave way to Shapiro and Hal writing “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Soldier?, a 3,000-word fic that imagined Han Solo and Lando as partners, with a surprise cameo from Boba Fett. The story is exemplary fan fiction, based in just enough canonical reality that it’s easy to imagine where the characters are and what they’re doing while still adding the exact right amount of diversion to turn the characters’ situation into a fun, sexual affair. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, ridiculous and raunchy, wonderful and wonky.

”They’re late.”

So he was worried. “They’ll be here.” They had better be here.

”Who said they wouldn’t? I’m just bored, hanging around in space.”

There was silence for a moment and Lando stacked his chips.

”What’ll we do if they don’t show?”

Lando frowned. “They’ll show. And if they don’t, how hard could it be to sell a hundred kilograms of stardust? You need the money right this second?”

Han grinned. “Just to pay you.” Putting his feet back down, he riffled the cards over and over. “Why do they call it stardust anyhow? Isn’t it made from beetles?”

”Some plant. Only on Terephon. Almost extinct from over-harvesting.”

”Well, aren’t you the cute little botanist? Tell you what, before it’s all gone forever, let’s you and me try some.” Han pulled a small bag out of his pocket. “I hear it’s amazing.”

Damn. Why hadn’t he predicted this and planned for it? “Where did you get that?”

”I took a sample. Relax, Lando. After all, we don’t want to hand over an inferior product.”

”We’re just supposed to smuggle this stuff, not test it.” Han, why do I even put up with you?

Hal came up with “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Soldier?, according to Shapiro, who admitted to not being as big of a Star Wars fan.

“I remember getting excited about Han/Lando because Lando is such a cipher of a character, giving us lots of room to play,” Shapiro said. “And it’s clear from the films that there is a rich, deep relationship backstory there. Plus, the inevitable attraction of playing with rogues. I was invested in their sexual relationship, but I never would have thought to bring in Boba Fett. That— and the humor offsetting the erotic tension — that’s all Hal.”

Though FanFiction.net was launched and growing, and Usenet, one of the internet’s original forums, was incredibly active, Hal and Shapiro collaborated on the story through more basic means: email, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and in real life.

“We talked through the events in chat and took turns passing the draft back and forth in email,” Hal said. “But I do remember writing some of the later parts together in chat, after Han was already, um, high. AO3 [Archive of Our Own] didn’t exist at the time! Fanfiction.net was only a year old, I believe, and we didn’t put it up there either. We published the story on email lists, fandom archives and personal archives.”

“What Shall We Do With a Drunken Soldier?” spread through the pre-2000s internet avenues, becoming one the most prominent Han/Lando fan fiction stories on the internet (and the earliest that Archive of Our Own has on its site). There may have been earlier stories now washed from the web; in 2012, FanFiction.net administrators purged more than 60,000 “mature” stories from the site. A message on the front page, reported by Huffington Post at the time, reads:

Please note we would like to clarify the content policy we have in place since 2002. FanFiction.Net follows the Fiction Rating system ranging from Fiction K to Fiction M. Although Fiction Ratings goes up to Fiction MA, FanFiction.Net since 2002 has not allowed Fiction MA rated content which can contain adult/explicit content on the site. FanFiction.Net only accepts content in the Fiction K through Fiction M range. Fiction M can contain adult language, themes and suggestions. Detailed descriptions of physical interaction of sexual or violent nature is considered Fiction MA and has not been allowed on the site since 2002.

There’s a good chance earlier Han/Lando slashfic existed on FanFiction.net, but was removed as part of the clean up effort. Hal told Polygon there was a “swell of online Star Wars fandom after Phantom Menace came out in 1999,” admitting to writing quite a bit of their own Star Wars fic at the time.

“I wrote quite a bit of Star Wars fic in that period, most of which was original trilogy,” Hal said. “Luke/Wedge was my main writing ’ship at that point and I still love them a lot. I don’t think I’m quite finished with them yet. I don’t remember exactly why Han/Lando came up; just chatting with Laura about Star Wars shipping generally, likely. Han and Lando have tons of chemistry, a hinted-at but unrevealed backstory, and they’re both incredibly charismatic. What’s not to slash?”

The past, present and future of Hando

”What Shall We Do With a Drunken Soldier?” has existed on the internet in some form or another for more than 20 years, a fact that resonates with both Shapiro and Hal. Today, the two writers, and close friends, have slightly different takes on their Han/Lando fic (with a healthy side of Boba Fett) still being a touchstone.

“It’s lovely,” Shapiro told Polygon. “I am delighted by feedback, of course, but just knowing people are still reading these stories makes me happy. I love the idea that I’m continuing to give pleasure to this community that gave me so much.”

Hal, on the other hand, appreciates the continued love from the community, but admits it’s a little embarrassing to go back and read fan fiction from 20 years ago.

“It’s gratifying but also embarrassing for the really old stuff,” Hal said. “A lot of my fic isn’t up there yet and I keep putting off archiving it because of the difference in quality between then and now. 20 years’ practice makes a big difference.”

Twenty years also allow for big changes. The fan fiction community is still active, and while Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net are still important, there’s more instantaneous fic spreading through Tumblr and Twitter than ever before. Communities moved from AIM and Usenet to Discord and Slack. The internet progressed and, with it, communities evolved. They found new websites to flock to, new characters to obsess over and new ways to communicate.

Suddenly the email lists of yesterday seemed archaic, and Tumblr followings became the only metric that mattered.

“There are aspects that will always be the same but in my experience, the move towards a central archive like AO3 and social platforms where it’s harder to have an in-depth conversation (Tumblr, Twitter), as well as generational changes and social media generally have caused a shift to a more consumer culture for fanworks,” Hal said. “On Usenet, mailing lists, and LiveJournal, the conversations and the fanworks happened in the same space and, for me, fanwork was about interacting with the community. Now, my fanwork is more about interacting with the canon — although I still interact with the community in social spaces.”

Essentially, the more popular fan fiction becomes, the more competitive the sphere gets.


Solo A Star Wars Story - L3-37, Han Solo, and Lando

L3-37 (left), Han Solo (middle) and Lando Calrissian aboard the Millennium Falcon in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Lucasfilm/Disney

“People are more likely to search for fic on AO3 by tags, filtering for the content they want, and they may not even note the name of the creator,” Hal said. “Creators need to think more about how to expose their work so people can find it (if they decide they care about that). Tagging on AO3 and social media, crafting short descriptions, figuring out the best time of day to post; it’s SEO for fanworks.”

The fan fiction community is intimidating. Authors who made their mark on a community years ago understand the lay of the land, but new authors are coming to sites like FanFiction.net and Archive of Our Own every single day. Anne Jamison, an English professor at the University of Utah and the foremost expert on fan fiction, credits Harry Potter for fan fiction’s mainstream appeal.

“There were so many people growing up reading and writing fanfic, and so many of those people grew up to become writers,” Jamison told Polygon. “It just became this critical mass. They didn’t see it as this shameful thing.”

Harry Potter helped usher in a new generation of fan fiction writers, and were given more freedom than earlier communities, like Star Wars fans, who were trying to publish their work under the constant threat of Lucasfilm dropping a guillotine on their head. It was Tumblr, however, that Jamison credits-in-part to fan fiction’s newfound culture.

“Tumblr has changed fan fiction culture so much,” Jamison said. “It’s all together, it’s not just on an archive. If you’re not there when it happens, it’s not easy to just find stuff on Tumblr from the past. And because Tumblr has so much personal history attached to these authors, who are really putting themselves out there and being vulnerable, it’s difficult to write or talk about. The sort of interpersonal attacks have gotten really bad.”

While Jamison reacts to the Harry Potter fandom, Star Wars is no exception to the rule. One of the most popular ‘ships in the current Star Wars universe is Finn and Poe Dameron, but its own authors suffer attacks from homophobic critics. Other ‘ships, like Kylo Ren and Rey, received their own attacks from other people because of the abusive connotation the ’ship presents. ’Ship wars aren’t new to the fan fiction community, but they’ve certainly grown since Tumblr and other social media platforms made interacting with authors and community members easier, according to Jamison.

Shapiro and Hal aren’t immune to ’ship wars, either, or the attacks that often come from people who wholeheartedly disagree with a specific ‘ship. Shapiro said it’s hard not to view the discourse as overtly silly considering a large portion of the stories aren’t canonical. It’s fantasy.

“You’re talking to someone who survived the Ray Wars in Due South fandom,” Shapiro said. “I could tell you stories that would curl your hair! I think it’s hilarious and also rather sad that people can’t just let people enjoy what they enjoy. I am all for critiques and for social justice advocacy within fandom, and have gotten my rage on in that context from time to time, but arguing about who’s fucking whom? Why?”

Jamison, who spoke to people about Harry Potter ‘shipping, and the wars between different communities, admits it’s difficult to hear anecdotes about facing harassment from fans just because of stories they want to read or write.

“I literally went into a depression and I can’t believe people are so awful to each other,” Jamison said.

Sometimes, the best way to avoid the wars that spring from fan fiction — especially as Solo’s release dawns and people find inspiration for new stories — is to avoid those conversations and arguments altogether. That’s what Hal does.

“These days, especially, I don’t venture out much into Tumblr or Twitter tags (I’ve almost stopped using tumblr completely),” Hal said. “I just chat with people already in my circle or people who have actually engaged with me. I honestly don’t understand the shipwar mindset; why would I care who you ship? If I ship a pairing, it means I want to think about and write about them being together, that’s what makes me happy. I can’t pick who I’m going to ship, it’s like a crush, it just happens. But ‘ship’ also gets used to mean ‘support and/or find realistic.’

“People say, ‘Why don’t you ship the canon pairing?’ and I feel like there’s more negativity there; this assumption that if you ship a pairing, you’re implicitly approving it as desirable and healthy.”


Lando Calrissian smiling in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Disney

This is a conversation that people are gearing up for in preparation for Solo. There will undoubtedly be new stories written about Han Solo and Lando Calrissian’s attraction to one another. Stories will populate Archive of Our Own, FanFiction.net and, of course, Tumblr. Fans like Hal and Shapiro are excited to see where the new film takes fic.

Even those involved in the official film are having fun with their own fan fiction. Solo screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan announced that Lando Calrissian is pansexual, adding to age old comments made by actor Billy Dee Williams that suggested Han and Lando were secretly a couple. Add in actor Donald Glover giving fic writers even more to work with, and there’s no question that more, queer Lando Calrissian fan fiction is on the horizon.

“I already know Donald Glover will be beloved,” Shapiro said, adding that Glover’s portrayal of the character is “the main reason I’m excited to see the film.”

The question is whether Solo will be another Harry Potter, creating a new boom in fan fiction, fan art and fan works in general.

“There are a lot of people who are ready for a queer black man in space,” Jamison said. “People are really excited for this Lando. It’s probably going to inspire at least a few people.”

Until then, we’ll always have “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Soldier?”

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