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Good stories require good characters. Great stories require great relationships. Take The Lord of the Rings for example. The fate of Middle Earth depends on the characters and their choices, but what do we talk about most after the story is over? The incredible friendships formed in the crucible of the unexpected journey. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Denethor and those cherry tomatoes—all bonds that the audience gets to watch form and strengthen.
While every friendship—from our favourite fictional pairings to our own relationships—looks different, true friendships all have something in common. What is this crucial ingredient, you ask? Read on.
The Star Wars universe has no shortage of memorable friendships. C-3PO and R2D2 toe the line between best friends and a feuding married couple. Obi-Wan and Anakin behave like bantering brothers. But the one friendship brought up the most is probably between Han and Chewbacca.
Han and Chewie bring up a popular dynamic used in the Star Wars canon—the life debt. Chewbacca is a Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk and their culture is built upon a strong reliance on honour. If someone saves a Wookie’s life, that Wookie is honour-bound to pledge their life in service to their saviour. Wookies take this vow incredibly seriously, and to disregard a life debt is to disregard their entire culture.
Han was an imperial pilot when he met Chewie, and refused an order from his commander to kill him, later rescuing the Wookie from slavery and sacrificing his career in the military. Chewbacca then becomes Han’s co-pilot and owes him a life debt. But it’s clear that they’ve become something more than obligated partners in a business transaction—they’ve become best friends. They’ve put their lives on the line for one another countless times, forming a bond that runs deeper than any Wookie law.
Not every fictional universe has a carefully thought out mythology to a life debt, but this same type of bond between friends exists everywhere. John Watson doesn’t owe Sherlock Holmes his life out of some religious sense of honour, but he still follows the detective into any situation without hesitation, usually at his own peril. Pumba doesn’t save Timon from a rampaging hippopotamus (well, not that we know of), but the inseparable pals still have each other’s backs through lion attacks and rounds of Hakuna Matata.
We know true friendships aren’t just about the good times. Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity, doesn’t make friends easily, but when someone earns his trust, it runs deep. When he and Wash are held hostage and tortured, Mal starts to list all sorts of things that he would do with Wash’s wife if they get out alive. Understandably, this gets Wash pretty worked up. We learn later that Mal was keeping Wash conscious by keeping his mind off the excruciating pain. Best friends aren’t just there for the sarcastic banter or the musical number; they’re there for when you’re strung up and electrocuted too.
Sometimes a real best friend has to be the “bad guy” and tell someone something they don’t want to hear. How many times did Hermione pull Harry’s and Ron’s butts out of the fire? If not for her obsessive desire for magical knowledge, her wisdom and forethought, the boy who lived would have been killed more than once in the first book alone.
Hermione not only shows what an awesome friend she is by forcing important but uncomfortable conversations and knowing when to shout, “I’m not an owl!” to inform Harry that he should get over petty squabbles, she gives up everything to help Harry stop Voldemort. Remember that time that Hermione wiped her parents’ every memory of her to keep them safe? Yeah, neither do they.
And let’s not forget Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, who grow from rivals into spacefaring buddies over the original television series. In Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn, when all looks hopeless, Spock busts into the warp core and fixes it to save the ship, knowingly giving up his life in the process. Obviously he didn’t do this solely for Kirk’s benefit, but do you think he would have been so willing to sacrifice his life if he hated the captain? No, which is why the next movie (aptly named The Search for Spock) had Kirk crossing the galaxy to find a way to bring him back.
People need friends. We’re not wired to live entirely cut off from a community. Some friends fade in and out of your life, others play pivotal roles for season, and a rare few shape you into the person you are. And the crucial ingredient to those amazing friendships? You guessed it: sacrifice.
Sometimes all this means is giving up your time to do what a friend wants instead of what you want. Sometimes it means being the bad guy by being honest. Sometimes it means leaving your career to become the smuggling captain of the Millenium Falcon with your furry co-pilot.