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Star Wars: Han Solo, The Character That Mattered
When the original Star Wars premiered to wide acclaim people were treated to an adventure into imagination, romance and a battle between good and evil. Literally a reimagining of the trek of humanity’s story for the last ten thousand years. The heroic arc of Luke Skywalker is recognizable to anyone who ever paid attention to Greco/Roman and medieval mythology. There are other heroic architypes that are explored as well like the man who had no grace, no faith. A man who discovers that he is capable of change and that faith he had no belief in. That hope and love are strengths not weakness: This character would be Han Solo.
When we meet Han Solo, he is trying to gather cash to pay a client named Jabba the Hut. Jabba is a renowned galactic criminal overlord. Think Al Capone with scales and a tail. Quite vile looking and an even uglier inner character. Solo takes on the charter to take Obi Wan Kenobi, young Skywalker and C3PO and R2D2 to the planet of Alderaan and he’s looking to use the cash earned to pay back Jabba and get the specter of having bounty hunters chase him all over the civilized parts of the galaxy off his back. He’s a bit of a conman, gambler, smuggler, even a pirate but there is something so attractive about his character that he actually elicits more sympathy than Luke Skywalker. His character arc is actually grounded in more reality. He is essentially the most human of all the characters.
Solo seems to be of one mind throughout most of the first film. He is accused by both Luke and Leia of being a materialistic jerk. He comes off that way. Solo is sarcastic, mouthy and cocky but we can’t take our eyes off of him because everybody watching knows he is about to make a leap of faith. What changes his mind? Sympathy for the rebels, likely as he is a pretty rebellious guy. But that cannot be all. What drives him to come to Skywalker’s aid during the Death Star battle sequence? This is where the story reaches back into time and pulls out some of those old themes of romance, love and emotion. A woman causes him to do what we as the audience hopes he does and what he did not seem to want to do. That woman is Princess Leia Organa.
When we see the two characters together a lot of it is arguing. Solo is trying to get her to come out her shell and she is terrified. Leia has never met a man like Han Solo. He’s not straight laced but he is as charming as they come. He lives on his own terms. The men around Leia are as idealistic as she is. She doesn’t see it that she’s helping the willful Han Solo to change. We wonder as we settle in to watch the Empire Strikes Back what made Han stay so long. He now has a price on his head because instead of racing back to Tattooine to pay off the grotesque that is Jabba the Hut he stayed to help the rebels. He and Luke are friends, and most likely he’s made other friends. He’s become whether he likes it or not invaluable to the survival of the Rebellion. He stays because of Leia. Every moment he is debating with her about whether he stays or leaves to fix his Jabba problem we as the audience can see that he’s crazy about her. She in turn though she’s frightened by her own emotions is in love with him to. It’s so obvious to everybody but her. The deleted scenes and expanded scenes between them in Empire have him accusing her of being as cold as Hoth. She’s built up this massive impenetrable wall around herself. But that wall starts to crumble the moment she’s faced with Solo’s determination to get her to let go of that fear. He’s the one person who gets her crazy and he knows that it’s because she cares as much about him as he does for her. He asks Luke in the first movie if a guy like him had a chance with a woman like Leia. The answer is yes.
He’s not a guarded man with her. He won’t spill his guts and look like a wimp but he gives her enough information to say between the sentences “Hey, I only stayed on as long as I did because of you, Princess”. The thing is she changed him though she cannot see it. It’s her passion for her cause, her care for the future of the galaxy that attracts him. She’s as tough minded as he is. Just as passionate as he is and yet when it counts she’s as calm as a pond. All of those qualities are what keeps Solo around. Her defensiveness when he's basically saying you know why I stayed this long is almost pathetic.Leia knows he's speaking truth and she's unable to deal with it. She takes the road easily taken because if she cracks she’s in emotional trouble and she cannot allow that to happen. But she sees his courage, his wiliness, and his skills as a pilot and his leadership abilities as assets. She also sees his compassion and earthiness as compelling and attractive to. He’s not just a good looking hotshot pilot Solo is a very complicated and somewhat mysterious man. She’s drawn to him as we the audience were and are. Their relationship is what many in the audience was hoping for. We saw Han Solo as a guy who just needed a chance to show the virtuous side of himself. It took a Leia to bring that out of him and when it happened he owned the movie.
Yes the character arc that counts is Solo's. From a guy living from scheme to scheme with his side kick, Chewbacca to become changed into a hero and the man he was meant to be.
What we see in The Force Awakens is kind of a kick in the guts. We are saddened to see him back to his old tricks. He’s lost everything he fought for. His wife, his son and maybe his daughter and his ship. When he’s confronted with the Guavian Death Gang leader, Bala Tik saying there was nowhere to hide and no one left to swindle we are distraught. This was not how we wanted Han Solo to end up. Our happy ending was taken from us. We learn of course his and Leia’s son, Ben has been seduced by the Dark Side of the Force and its new villain, Snoke. He blames himself and like his friend and Ben’s Jedi mentor, Luke Skywalker he leaves. He runs away. He as much as Luke exiled himself from the fight. He cannot bear to face his failure as a father and as a husband. When Maz Kanata tells him to go home he says Leia doesn’t want to see him. She says he’s been avoiding the fight too long, and when Rey asks what fight Maz explains the Force to her. Han goes into silence. He has become the wandering stranger and yet home and his love beckon. We all chant with Maz, HAN GO HOME!
We never get a chance to see how Leia fully reacts to his short lived return to her life, their home wherever that happens to be. We never get to see much of how awkward or not so awkward their reunion is. When Leia leaves the resistance ship, she knows without a doubt who is waiting for her and she’s smiling. There’s a lot unsaid between them. And that is what is sad about the movie. This was the man whose love for her and her love for him saved both of them and yet they are torn apart by the actions of a son they lost. But there’s still love there and when he holds her the audience can tell that neither can just walk away from that shared history. Perhaps part of the reason he ran away was he never wanted her to see him as a failure. But the audience realizes she does not see him that way when she says in essence they both failed. She sees Han as the man who drove her crazy and showed her that falling head over heels in love was a great thing to do. That sharing, and needing somebody who is a grown up adult man was a woman’s greatest triumph.
Han’s end is tragic. Those of us who went to the movie, walked away upset, and angry. We hoped that somehow the end would be one the character deserved. He deserved peace in his life and for a while we know he’d found that with Leia and their family. The heroic arc that Han takes as his journey has become the tragedy his life would most likely would have been sooner had he not taken that charter to Alderaan, helped rescue the woman he gave up his old wild ways for and found the heroic virtues he had inside. In essence there’s a reality to his story that other Star Wars characters did not have. Han was never the idealist, he was the reality.
Luke Skywalker is the heroic architype. . His weaknesses are not the same as Solo's. Han Solo had immediate needs that he set aside for something bigger than himself, even if that larger issue put his life in peril (Empire Strikes Back). Solo became bigger because of his realization that love and that’s what kept him grounded with the rebels was the force behind everything.
Han Solo’s story is about becoming an adult, and giving into love. To be needed and to need. To want what is best for the object of one’s affection. He was in essence the character that mattered.