Never Tell Me the Odds: The Phrase that Captures the Essence of Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back is often proclaimed the best of all the Star Wars movies, and one of the best moments in that film is when Han Solo steers the Millennium Falcon into the asteroid field. A panicked C-3PO tries to dissuade him with a mathematical assessment of his stupidity, to which Han replies:
“Never tell me the odds.“
So cool. So badass. So much the swashbuckling rogue. There are several instances in Empire which might be called Han Solo’s defining moment, but this is definitely one of them.
Star Wars has made a habit of repeating memorable phrases across the franchise, but for some reason this classic quote, “never tell me the odds,” isn’t one of them. I’d argue, though, that the spirit behind it is one of the driving factors of the frequent heroism in that galaxy far, far away.
Defeating the Odds in Classic Style
Scoundrels in the age of Empire were the first to introduce Star Wars fans to the “never tell me the odds” attitude of life among the stars.
Han Solo and Lando Calrissian
It’s obvious from the origin story Solo where Han developed his blatant disregard for common sense. A human orphan growing up on the mean streets of Corellia, he survived by doing things his competitors, pursuers and opponents wouldn’t dare. By the time we find him in the original movie trilogy, he’s become so comfortable with crazy plans (and so successful) that he doesn’t think twice.
At least by The Force Awakens, Han has the good sense to keep his ideas to himself. Like when Leia asks him how he intends to get through the First Order planetary shield and he just says, “You don’t want to know.” Leia, wisely, decides to back off.
Lando Calrissian is another scoundrel who’s survived his share of scrapes. We never actually hear him say this famous quote, but wouldn’t it be awesome if we could? Just image Billy Dee’s smooth baritone as you say these words with a sly smile: “Never tell me the odds.”
I think he could use it as a pickup line.
Defeating the Odds, Old School
But our smuggling scoundrels weren’t the only ones to adopt the philosophy of “never tell me the odds.” Going back to the Clone Wars we can sure see where applying this policy paid off.
Anakin and Ahsoka
No discussion of “never tell me the odds” would be complete without comment on that most different of Jedi knights: Anakin Skywalker. If there was a chance to succeed by doing something risky, Anakin was always the first to jump in (often literally). Obi Wan strategized, Yoda meditated and Ki Adi Mundi made a point of saying misguided things (can we just agree that he sucked?). But Anakin quickly accounted for the variables, including factors he currently couldn’t know, then he’d make his decision and close with the enemy.
Reckless, yes. But effective… every time.
It may be no surprise, then, that Anakin’s padawan turned out the same. He took care to share all his experience with her, and in so doing provided a great service to the galaxy. There’s no canon record of it, but I can imagine an early conversation between these two.
“But Master, based on the enemy positions, you know full well that the odds are totally stacked against us. They’d be like…” (Ahsoka quickly examines data on her browser.)
“Snips, never tell me the odds.” (Anakin leaps into action.)
Ahsoka learned, though. She was never afraid to try new things, to add her crazy ideas to the mix and to show people how to judge a situation in new terms. Ahsoka became a great tactician, and she had her free-spirited master to thank.
Defeating the Odds Around the Galaxy
More than a few Star Wars heroes gave good account of themselves when they took what was a decidedly un-level playing field and managed to find a way to make a difference.
As her rag-tag group of rebels descended to Scarif, Jyn Erso made what is one of the most honest “inspirational” speeches ever. Looking her people in the eye, she basically said that they’d take the first chance, and if it succeeded they’d take the next. And the next, until they won or they were dead. Given just how crazy her plan was, her comments hit the right tone. If she’d then turned to K2S0 and said, “Never tell me the odds,” it would have been the cherry on top.
C-3PO gets a final chance to be danger bookie in The Last Jedi, as his human friends contemplate their latest crisis. Poe Dameron has to one-up Han Solo, though, by not even letting the droid finish his calculation before deciding to act. The movie makers might have chosen not to include the actual famous quote, but we know Poe was thinking it: “Never tell me the odds.”
Defeating the Odds by Knowing the Odds
All the characters we’ve seen so far were desperate and/or reckless. But there’s one last character we should examine: one who knew how to use the odds.
Grand Admiral Thrawn
Thrawn has his own awesome style. He says “please,” he welcomes comments from his subordinates and is content to not be the center of attention. And as he takes account of every variable, he never stops calculating the odds. He assesses the different states of a conflict, noting this sign and that sign to add to his analysis. He’s the ultimate data-miner, a user who forces even the fastest Imperial browser to give account of itself.
His foes have fled into an asteroid field? No problem for Thrawn. He found the Rebel base from a starting search of thousands of star systems – he’d have snuffed out the Millennium Falcon.
Whereas a rebel hero might comment, “Never tell me the odds,” Thrawn would take that famous quote and turn it on its head.
“No, Admiral,” he might comment as he moved close to the videos of his subordinates, “please tell me the odds.”
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