The Ever-Changing Han Solo

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Star Wars: Before and After The Force Awakens
The Ever-Changing Han Solo
shazbazzar

For over two weeks, The Force Awakens has been rewriting history at the box office as ticket sales have catapulted Star Wars back to the front of the pack as it shatters records on its way to reclaiming the title of “Highest Grossing Movie” in our modern age.  But the bigger story is how J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have rewritten history through Han Solo: the Rebel Alliance General, smuggler, and war hero.

After the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm (for the explicit purpose of obtaining all rights to Star Wars), they clearly stated and widely publicized that the Expanded Universe was officially considered non-canon.  This announcement was met with mixed responses from fans of the saga as many who had invested time, money, and quite a bit of emotion in the books expressed disappointment, frustration, and even resentment at the news.  Other fans of the EU understood the need for this clarification, since the storytellers of Episodes 7, 8, & 9 would need the freedom to conclude the Skywalker saga without being restricted by hundreds of stories about Han, Luke, and Leia and their adventures after Return of the Jedi.  In effect, Disney would be rewriting the history many of us had accepted and appreciated for decades.  But that isn’t the biggest rewrite, either.

Star Wars artist Spencer Brinkerhoff III displays his opinion of the cantina showdown.  There's no smoking gun on Greedo's side.
Star Wars artist Spencer Brinkerhoff III displays his opinion of the cantina showdown. There’s no smoking gun on Greedo’s side.

Rewriting the History of the Special Editions
Longtime fans of Star Wars still speak about the biggest controversial change in the movies — sometimes tongue-in-cheek — with the pop-culturally familiar refrain, “Han Shot First!”  When Lucas rereleased Star Wars: A New Hope nineteen years ago, the fanbase erupted in nearly unanimous rejection of the alteration of the cantina scene in which Han shoots Greedo to save his own life.  Lucas, in an attempt to soften the character of Han Solo, allowed the bounty hunter to not only get the drop on the smuggler, but to actually get a shot off against the heroic scoundrel before Han fried him with his own blaster.  This not only left Han as a “relatively shallow character” [click for more on this opinion], but affected his character’s arc throughout the rest of the trilogy [click here to read how].  When J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Force Awakens, they resurrected the original perspective and progression of the pirate pilot by bringing his story to a fitting conclusion.

When we first encounter Han Solo in the The Force Awakens, he enters his beloved Falcon alongside his furry companion, summing up more than three words should be able to convey, saying, “Chewie, we’re home.”  These words which famously thrilled the thousands of fans present at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim became even more exciting (if that is possible) when heard in context.  The Millennium Falcon had been “stolen” from Han at some undisclosed point during the past thirty years.  He and his copilot had scoured system after system in an attempt to find their beloved ship to no avail.  It was Rey’s reluctant choice to boost the freighter while fleeing the First Order that brought the Falcon back to Han.

At this point, we discover that Han and Chewie have returned to their former life among the denizens of the galaxy, smuggling cargo for unsavory characters like the Guavian Death Gang, Kanjiklub, and an unseen King Prana.  Later, we learn that Han returned to his privateer roots when his son Ben was seduced by the mysterious Snoke to follow the Dark Side.  This devastating blow fractured the Solo/Organa home, as Leia returned to her life of service to lead the Resistance and Han returned to what he did best: living life on his own (Chewbacca excepted).

Solo Returns
Once again living up to his namesake, Han Solo had returned to the life of a loner.  His apparent failure as a father (in his own mind, at least) seemingly had forced him to return to the life he had known before meeting Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi in Mos Eisley so long ago.  Perhaps he thought he was better alone than with a group.  Maybe he simply (and selfishly) wanted to forget whatever wrongs he had committed as a father.  Regardless of the reason, Han Solo once again became the rogue we first met in 1977 who evidently preferred carrying cargo over transporting passengers and who was adept at staying alive regardless of how many blasters were trained on him.  (I, for one, can remember at least one incident when he couldn’t talk his way out of trouble.)

Han Solo and ReyAlthough he initially intends to drop Rey and Finn off at the earliest opportunity, his appreciation for Rey develops as he discovers she had safely piloted the Falcon off-planet in the midst of an attack, realizes her mechanical savviness with outdated tech, and recognizes that she has a special attachment to his ship that rivals his own.  While avoiding a reunion/confrontation with Leia, he offers to take on his newfound friend as a second mate on the Falcon, a similar offer he had made to Luke after their daring escape from the Death Star.  Again, Han was being drawn out of a life on his own because of his reluctant relationship with passengers on his ship.

Eventually, Han returns to the Resistance, helping Finn finish Poe’s mission to bring the plans map R2-D2 BB-8 was carrying to Leia.  The estranged couple is reunited, Han volunteers to lead the attack on Starkiller Base, and promises Leia to bring their son home without uttering a word.  Because of his friends, Han again begins to turn from loner to leader.

On the frigid Starkiller Base, after Han and Finn successfully deactivate the shields, Han confronts Kylo Ren, seeking to fulfill his wife’s request and trying to restore his son to the Light.  As we are all painfully aware, Ben Solo not only refuses to return, but slays his father in the process, evidently making “his journey towards the Dark Side complete.”

This turn of events unites Finn, Rey, and Chewbacca in an all-out battle against Kylo Ren, culminating in the destruction of Starkiller Base, devastating injuries to Ren and Finn, and ultimately the discovery of the location of Luke Skywalker.  Han Solo, the loner, becomes the catalyst that brings everything and everyone together by the end of the movie.  The proof is in the word that is oft-repeated due to the actions of Han Solo: “friend”.  Finn requests that Leia helps him rescue his “friend” Rey.  Han mentions that his “friend” (Chewbacca) has a bag full of detonators.  Threepio is reunited with his “friend” Artoo.  Rey bids farewell to her injured “friend” Finn before leaving to find Han Solo’s long-lost friend, Luke Skywalker.

How The Force Awakens Rewrites Han Solo Right
Han Solo Endor Bunker
Han is again the smuggler, but not simply a smuggler.  He’s in trouble with the people he’s been dealing with — just like his troubles with Jabba the Hutt.  He’s a good pilot, he’s great with a blaster, and he can woo just about anyone with his words, but he’s not exactly a military leader or great strategist.  He’s a cynic by experience, not necessarily by rational thought.  His charm may even have more to do with his crooked grin than his own prowess.  He’s the perfectly lovable scoundrel.  In The Force Awakens, he’s true to the character we all loved in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Furthermore, it’s a well-documented fact that Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Empire Strikes Back in a way that made Han Solo’s death possible thirty-five years ago.  To the joy of fans throughout the galaxy, he was redeemed from such a meaningless end when he returned in Return of the Jedi.  This time, Kasdan (along with Abrams) effectively kills off our favorite smuggler in a way that enables the saga to reach a fulfilling conclusion.

Han Solo’s death is the rebirth of his son as Kylo Ren.  Throughout The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is a double-minded man, being drawn to the Light while devoted to the Dark.  He yearns to be freed from the temptations of the Light, and when he thrusts his saber through his father in the gut-wrenching scene within Starkiller Base, all light in him becomes darkness as the same moment the sun’s light is extinguished above them.  By doing this, Kylo Ren becomes a more brutal force to be dealt with in the next two installments of the saga.

Han Solo’s death is the reunion of the team that defeated the Empire.  Although Han will be sadly missed in the next two episodes, Luke, Leia, Artoo, Threepio, and Chewbacca are all reunited to fight the First Order with the same vim and vigor of the original trilogy.  When Luke reveals himself at the end of The Force Awakens, his eyes reflect the pain we all felt at the death of our lovable smuggler and hero.  We are all on board for the upcoming battle against the forces of evil with our familiar friends.

Han Solo’s death is the reunion of family.  Leia loses her husband, but finds her brother.  Rey leaves her waiting behind, only to find her long-lost family (am I really grasping at straws here?).  Perhaps even Ben Solo will repent and return home before it’s all over.

Well, that last one is a bit much for me to accept at this point.  Personally, I’d rather see Rey put him down alongside Chewbacca.

The bottom line is this: The Force Awakens hinges on Han Solo being Han Solo.  And for that, we can all gratefully say, “Chewie, we’re home.”

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  • Zarm

    The problem is (tying into the bigger problems I have with this movie’s ending) that the statement “This turn of events unites Finn, Rey, and Chewbacca in an all-out battle against Kylo Ren, culminating in the destruction of Starkiller Base, devastating injuries to Ren and Finn, and ultimately the discovery of the location of Luke Skywalker. Han Solo, the loner, becomes the catalyst that brings everything and everyone together by the end of the movie.”

    As near as I can tell, the discovery of Luke is absolutely incidental; R2 wakes up for reasons unrelated to Han. Starkiller Base is attacked regardless of Han (though his earlier actions contributed to its success). Everyone was already reunited against Ren (just hadn’t had any successful engagements against him). In short… Han’s death was pointless, save in Ren’s journey to the dark side. It accomplished nothing; everything else was already underway. It led to nothing- save perhaps the villain getting darker. It achieved nothing; it meant nothing. Near as I can tell, it was a pointless act of cruelty because Han listened to some VERY bad advice from his wife when he’d originally intended to steer clear of his dangerous son.

    In other words, while I agree with the rest of the article, and wish these statements are true… no, Han’s death contributed nothing but a needless and poorly-counterbalanced gut-blow in the movie; it had no legacy or meaning within the universe, except to potentially strengthen evil*, and it had no bearing on any of the good things that followed… none of which were presented with sufficient triumph or energy to counteract this major, depressing downer of an ending that (for me) colored what up to that point was a fantastic and enjoyable Star Wars experience.

    There is nothing fulfilling. This does not reunite anyone. (R2 waking up was apparently unrelated, already set in motion by the presence of the map fragment). The point about Ren may be correct- but that only means that our favorite smuggler has been women-in-a-refrigerator-ed; killed off to advance the character arc of a new baddie. He was a king, but he was thrown away like a pawn to support a larger gambit… and the events that went on around him went on completely independently of his fate. The OT cast would have been just as reunited, Luke just as found, if Han had still been alive when Po destroyed the base, or R2 woke up.

    TFA does indeed hinge on Han being Han, and for that I am grateful; but it was capped off with an utter misstep of a pointless death that serves no one but Ren in the story… a stakes-raising emotional moment that, frankly, after all that had preceded it, wasn’t needed. I don’t want to see the death of Han; but if it had to happen, it could have been meaningful, or it could have been properly incorporated into the movie, counterbalanced with a heroic, celebratory climax. It could have been everything you say it was. Instead, it was sadistic, brutal, meaningless, and sent the end of the movie into an unbalanced, depressing tailspin.

    *Though something more could be made out of it in future