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When Luke announces to Leia for the first time that they are siblings and the obvious emotions that come with learning their secret heritage and Luke leaves her and goes off to confront Vader, Han Solo comes along to check if she's alright.

Leia, instead of being honest and open with Han whom she loves, decides to keep the news a secret. As per this script:

HAN
Hey, what's goin' on?

(Leia attempts to stifle her sobs and wipes her eyes.)

LEIA
Nothing. I - just want to be alone for a little while.

HAN (angry)
Nothing? Come on, tell me. What's goin' on?

She looks up at him, struggling to control herself.

LEIA
I...I can't tell you.

HAN (loses his temper)
Did you tell Luke? Is that who you could tell?

LEIA
I...

HAN
Ahhh...

(He starts to walk away, exasperated, then stops and walks back to her.)

HAN
I'm sorry.

LEIA
Hold me.

I get that the frustration of having to keep a secret from someone you care about would be immense and troubling for her which the scene makes clear but as to my question: why did Leia not want to tell Han about this secret? And then, at the conclusion of the Battle of Endor, she finally tells him the truth about Luke and her anyway.

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    From a storytelling perspective, it sets up the "You love him, don't you" and "I won't stand in the way between you", with her response of "He's my brother" and then finish with Han's goofy expression as he absorbs that information. – Michael Richardson Nov 4 at 16:48
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    Remember there's two pieces of news she's hiding here: (1) that she's Luke's sister, and (2) that she's Darth Vader's daughter. – workerjoe Nov 4 at 16:54
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    And......she passionately kissed Luke in front of Han on Hoth.........after insulting him.......just saying. – MissouriSpartan Nov 4 at 18:19
  • I mean if you think about it..........that actually works out that she's being emotional. After the shock of knowing the facts she has just realized and what went on between her, Han, and Luke. Especially the incident on Hoth and how she had been all haughty towards Han at first back then.............that might have been a harsh lesson in humility for her along with the emotional shock of realizing she's been fighting the Empire alongside her brother she never knew she had all these years. – MissouriSpartan Nov 4 at 22:46
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    I don't care if it's an "old" movie, spoilers in the title should not be there. – Almo Nov 5 at 18:59
46

She is still processing the fact that her life has just been turned upside down and considering that both she, Gen. Solo and the rest of the gang are on the eve of a potentially war ending infiltration mission she is probably strong enough to compartmentalise all of this while the situation is still far from being concluded. To suddenly bombard Han with all of this (knowing that his first reaction may be to try and stop Luke from surrendering) is a distraction that they really do not need at this stage of the game.

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    Not only is she reeling from discovering she has had a brother all this time, Luke found out that his father was Vader back in the second movie. Luke was devastated when he found out about Vader, and now poor Leia is getting both those pieces of information at the same time with Han barging in and demanding answers. I'd be a mess, too! – Michael W. Nov 4 at 16:23
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    Also, perhaps she's saving herself from another response which could be emotionally hurtful to Leia. ...perhaps Han, again, knows. – BruceWayne Nov 4 at 20:12
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    "I am the daughter of the evil bad guy. Oh, and Luke is the son. But we are not traitors!" – Yakk Nov 4 at 20:13
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    @Yakk "And by brother and father are both hell-bent on turning or possibly killing each other." – zovits supports GoFundMonica Nov 5 at 9:01
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This is a rather basic dramatic plot element: a trivial misunderstanding between lovers reveals their pride or strength of character and risks shattering their happiness. You will find it frequently, from kids' films like Shrek to romcoms to serious dramas. In Star Wars the misunderstanding is thankfully not milked for all it's worth. It's a Space Opera after all, not a contender for best drama.

It provides a way to build up tension between the two lovers and thereby creates suspense. It also creates a bond with the viewers since they are entrusted with privileged information. Viewers also witness a test of character and a bond deeper than mere sexual attraction: Han demonstrates that he is not a mere petty adventurer, that he has the confidence and required emotional sophistication to provide support and friendship when needed. It increases the viewers' affection for Han and respect for Leia's strength of character.

Any actual relevance to the logical development of the storyline is probably secondary. After all, if the Empire is nearing absolute control of the Universe, is this silly misunderstanding important?

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    You're describing why the plot point is potentially impactful, but the OP is asking why it makes sense in the first place. A "basic dramatic plot element" needs to fit with the characters' personalities and situations if it's going to land properly. – Sneftel Nov 4 at 14:57
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    @Sneftel My point is it doesn't necessarily make sense. The writers could have made the story up either way, but the plot element is useful because it builds tension and promotes sympathy for the characters. It is paralogical, to borrow from our current political reality, Trumpian. – Buck Thorn Nov 4 at 15:14
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    I'll clarify: the OP is (as far as I can tell) asking why it was not unrealistic for the characters to act in that way. I agree that it was the more dramatically interesting choice if it was realistic given the situation, but if someone does something dramatic but unrealistic, that's not going to accomplish the drama. The idiot ball comes to mind. – Sneftel Nov 4 at 15:42
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    BuckThorn Ya, I think Slap-Slap-Kiss might be right. It mentions how it marks a change in relationship, which in itself is also telling about whom they are, as you suggest, and does create a kind of romantic 'will they or won't they' suspense. I do wonder though if there is yet another trope that's about throwing a monkey wrench into a blossoming romance? – Darth Locke Nov 4 at 19:33
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    @Jared Sorry, lame answer then :-\ I couldn't help it though, the point of your question is good, and I gave a reflexive answer. I'll post a separate in-universe answer. – Buck Thorn Nov 4 at 21:18
16

In-universe answer:

There are many possible reasons why Leia might be reticent.

First, her feelings for Han may not have fully crystallized. Her relationship with Luke has been, well, very friendly. From Episode V:

INT. MILLENNIUM FALCON - SLEEPING QUARTERS

Luke rests on a cot, his injured arm wrapped in a protective cuff.
Leia gently wipes his face. The ship lurches again.

LEIA I'll be back.

She kisses him, then leaves the quarters.

But this is unlikely. Leia is a straight-shooter, and she has had a sisterly rapport with Luke (consider their first encounter on Episode IV).

So I favor a much better alternative. Being a Jedi is far from trivial. As Luke's experience shows, it requires more than fine-tuning telepathic skills to properly wield this power. And others can feel when you wield the force. Darth Vader and Luke have felt each others presence. Luke tells Leia of this:

LEIA Luke, tell me. What's troubling you?

LUKE Vader is here...now, on this moon.

LEIA (alarmed) How do you know?

LUKE I felt his presence. He's come for me. He can feel when I'm near. That's why I have to go. (facing her) As long as I stay, I'm endangering the group and our mission here. (beat) I have to face him.

Leia is distraught, confused.

But Vader has not felt Leia's presence:

EMPEROR I told you to remain on the command ship.

VADER A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor.

EMPEROR (no surprise) Yes, I know.

VADER (after a beat) My son is with them.

EMPEROR (very cool) Are you sure?

VADER I have felt him, my Master.

What's more, Luke explains to Leia her importance:

LUKE There's more. It won't be easy for you to hear it, but you must. If I don't make it back, you're the only hope for the Alliance.

Leia is very disturbed by this. She moves away, as if to deny it.

LEIA Luke, don't talk that way. You have a power I--I don't understand and could never have.

LUKE You're wrong, Leia. You have that power too. In time you'll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it...I have it...and...my sister has it.

Leia is unsure of the effect this information could have on her crew, including Han. It is no small feat to manage a rebellion being doggedly hunted down by the ruthless Empire. But there might be a better reason to keep quiet: she might become their last hope, and will have to keep hidden from the Empire while learning how to wield her Jedi powers.

  • +1. Good answer. Very canonical and less speculation, while providing a deep twist. – William R. Ebenezer Nov 5 at 12:59
2

Leia's identity is part of a lifelong secret, and she intuitively understands this

Luke (and the audience) know her identity is a great secret for her protection, as it is explained in the scene on Dagobah when Luke converses with the ghost of Kenobi.

BEN: Hmm. To protect you both from the Emperor, you were hidden from your father when you were born. The Emperor knew, as I did, if Anakin were to have any offspring, they would be a threat to him. That is the reason why your sister remains safely anonymous.

...

LUKE: But you can't let her get involved now, Ben. Vader will destroy her.

So Luke definitely knows to keep their relationship quiet. The question is-- how does Leia know? All he did was tell her that she was his sister; he did not tell her to keep it secret or why it would be necessary. So it is a good question.

The cynical explanation is that it is bad writing, and the screenwriter failed to differentiate between the audience's knowledge and Leia's.

A more charitable explanation can be discerned from Leia's immediate reaction to the astounding news:

LEIA: I know. Somehow...I've always known.

Leia

She immediately understands that she and Luke are involved in an epic, lifelong secret-- a secret that would be between only the two of them. And she keeps that secret steadfastly, until the end of the film when the Emperor is dead and the danger is gone.

1

She does not yet know whether it is safe to reveal this secret.

All that she knows at that time is that the Death Star II and much of the imperial fleet has been destroyed. That in itself is much of a relief for the rebellion.

However, she cannot assume this means that both Vader and the Emperor have been killed. Those pesky Sith have a way of surviving! In ANH, Leia saw Vader aboard the first Death Star (when she was a prisoner there), yet Vader survived its destruction.

Furthermore, as loyal as Han's intentions may be, he is a poor choice to keep a secret from Vader. In ESB, Leia saw Vader torture Han to get at Luke. Should Vader survive this time, he might capture and torture Han again, to get to Luke, and then Leia's secret would be revealed. (Leia can resist interrogation by using the force, but Han cannot.) Better to not tell Han at all until Vader and the Emperor are destroyed.

Until someone (Luke) can confirm that Vader and the Emperor have died, it is not safe to tell anyone her secret.

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Since you are asking about the movie version...

I have to say, while alsoa agreeing with other answers, that Leia was certainly also being mischievous and coy about the situation. IMHO the portrayal of Leia is very well done, she enjoys having the upper hand, playing both horses (both before and after she learned about her kinship with Luke). The moment you refer to, is a moment where Leia knows she can not keep the secret nor her true feelings hidden anymore.

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