The Fool Who Follows Him

Han Solo becomes Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Before and After The Force Awakens
The Fool Who Follows Him

We all remember the witticism of old Obi-Wan in A New Hope when the Jedi Master berates the Force-denying smuggler with his pointed proverb: “Who is the more foolish: the fool or the one who follows him?”  Of course, Han follows Obi-Wan to the control room on the Death Star (though his snide remarks about “that old fossil” clearly show that he is attempting to distance himself from their default leader), then uses Kenobi’s instructions to argue against marching into the detention area to rescue the Princess.  In a classic bit of irony, the lonesome smuggler actually defends following the one he had only minutes ago called a fool.

As the heroes make their way to the Millennium Falcon, Han shows his appreciation for the old man once he realizes that Obi-Wan had successfully completed his mission of shutting down the tractor beam.  The relieved look on his face as they escape the Death Star speaks volumes.  But that’s not all.  Han had just witnessed the self-proclaimed Jedi selflessly sacrifice himself so he and his companions could deliver the plans to the Rebellion.  Maybe Han still thought Obi-Wan was a fool for trading his life for others, but Han hadn’t finished following him.

Becoming Obi-Wan
One of the first criticisms of The Force Awakens voiced immediately after the opening of the film was that it was “unoriginal” and a “remake” of the first Star Wars movie.   Undeniably, the newest addition to the saga not only builds on the installments that preceded it, but it also repeats elements of not only A New Hope, but also The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Regardless of whether this ranks positively or negatively in fans’ assessment of the movie, repetition of familiar aspects of previous episodes of the saga has always been a key component of Star Wars.  In fact, when movies have departed too far from the familiar, fans have cried out with consternation, declaring (often about the prequels) that the movies weren’t “Star Warsy” enough.

That being said, Han Solo’s role in The Force Awakens not only adds depth to his character (as formerly noted here), but it essentially performs the function of Obi-Wan’s character in A New Hope.  Han Solo not only follows the “fool” initially, He follows Kenobi’s example nearly forty years later on screen.

When Ben Kenobi encountered Luke on Tatooine, he asks the old hermit whether he knows of an Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Similarly, when Han Solo finds Finn and Rey in the belly of the Falcon, this next generation of heroes make a similar inquiry about his identity.  “You’re Han Solo?” Rey asks him.  His response?  “I used to be.”  Though not identical in dialogue, Han’s statement is eerily similar to Kenobi’s “Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time,” foreshadowing things to come.  Finn and Rey rapidly fire off their own speculations about the old man standing before them, wondering if he really is the Rebel, the smuggler, and the war hero they had heard about in stories.  “You knew my father?” mirrors Rey’s immediate recognition that Han knew Luke Skywalker.

And that is just the beginning of the similarities.

Obi-Wan uses the Force to influence the Stormtroopers at the roadblock to let them pass in Luke’s land speeder while Han defends his own prowess at talking his way out of trouble to his old friend and cHan Solo becomes Obi-Wan Kenobio-pilot Chewbacca.  Obi-Wan takes Luke to the Mos Eisley cantina to secure passage to Alderaan while Han takes Finn and Rey to Maz Kanata’s palace to find them a ride to D’Qar in an ironic twist of fate that allows Han to sit on the other side of the table than when he had first been contracted to smuggle the droids for 17,000 credits.  Perhaps the most notable similar incongruity is evident when Han reveals the truth about the Force to his passengers while Rey occupies the same seat where Han had confidently referred to the Force as a “hokey religion” that could in no way control his destiny.

Destiny, of course, is a recurring theme throughout the Star Wars saga from multiple interpretations of an ancient prophecy to a son’s inevitable siding with his father to a possible explanation of how Han has now become the very fool he derided so many years previously.  Had Han merely been a player on the stage, directed by the Force he had so vehemently denied to become an active apologist for its existence?  Or is Han simply becoming like the old man he had once called a fool — the old man whose name he had bestowed on his own son?  A son who sensed Han’s presence on the base just like Darth Vader had sensed his old master on the Death Star.

Which really cuts to the heart of the matter.

More than thirty years had passed since the “fool” had shut down the tractor beam and given his life so others could be saved, and Han has never forgotten it.  He remembers the battle between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan.  He had seen the red blade slice through the old man’s cloak.  Now he faces his own destiny — saving his son.  Saving Ben.  That haggard looking man sitting next to the kid in the cantina hadn’t been a fool after all.  He had believed in something greater than himself because he knew it was real.  Han knows it, too.  Loyal to the end, Han chooses to risk his life for his family.  He sees his son.  He draws more closely to him.  Willing to do “anything” to help his son, he sacrifices his life for the good of the galaxy and in hopes of bringing his son back to the light.  As the lost disciple struck out against his “foolish” master, the son strikes down the father.

“Who is the more foolish: the fool or the one who follows him?”

Ultimately, Han becomes more than Obi-Wan was.  The Jedi had been trained from his youth to trust in the Force.  The smuggler had learned about the Force after flying “from one side of this galaxy to the other” and seeing stranger things than he could chalk up to simple tricks and luck.  He had, in turn, imparted his knowledge of the Force and his wisdom to others before facing his own bitter end.

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  • Zarm

    I may have registered my dislike on a few of the points in this film (and hopefully, my absolute love of so many others also came through)- but for the life of me, I can’t understand anyone ever calling this film ‘unoriginal.’ I’m definitely in the crowd that feels the prequels weren’t ‘Star Warsy’ enough at many junctures*- but one of the things I loved about this film is exactly how Star Wars-y it was. And yes, there were repeated refrains- but only in the broadest strokes- and if you break down most franchises to the same level (say, the MCU- ‘Ant-Man is just like Captain America- a guy gets turned into a hero by an older scientist, then in the latter half fights a guy who’s a flawed copy of the same technology and wants to kill him!’), you could make the same complaint- because there are only so many basic story structures you can tell. But beyond the superficialities- the basic signposts of the genre and the hero’s journey, if you will- this film is absolutely original, and brilliant!

    *Barring the first and (albeit-flawed) third acts of Phantom Menace and the ending montage of ROTS; whatever I may debate about other parts of the film, those parts are PURE Star Wars- and incidentally, my favorite parts of the prequels.

    • Corina Borsuk

      I must respectfully disagree, Zarm. While I thought the look of TFA was much more Star Warsy than the PT, and I love the new trio (especially Rey and Finn), I felt that TFA missed the broader refrains it SHOULD have hit. The ending, especially, did not hit the emotional notes I expected. On the other hand, it was unoriginal in many aspects of how the Death Star team was portrayed. I felt Luke was too Obi-Wan like, and not in a good way. Han’s and Leia’s characters reverted to their OT selves.

      And, while The Fool Who Follows Him presents some thought-provoking analysis of Han’s possible new role in TFA, it fails to address the fact that if Han is the mentor figure, he’s a failed mentor. Unlike Qui-Gon in TPM or Obi-Wan in ANH Han’s death didn’t really motivate our heroine, Rey. In fact, it seemed to be Finn being in danger that motivated Rey in her fight against Kylo Ren. Most importantly, from a Star Wars perspective, Han can’t give advice from beyond the veil like Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan.

  • Dave Esselburn

    Respectfully, I disagree. On the surface Han is copying the role of Obi-Wan in ANH. But there’s a big difference. He’s not a Jedi. He imparts no insider knowledge of the Force and is not an actual mentor to Rey. The mentor/student relationship is the MOST important part of Star Wars. It starts the young hero on the journey. Qui-Gon Jinn is Obi-Wan’s master in TPM. He helped train him, and talked to him and Anakin about the nature of the Force in his role as a wise teacher. In ANH, Obi-Wan does the same. He begins Luke’s training, explains the nature of the Force and what the Jedi are. Han learned to believe in the existence of the Force through Luke and Leia (by the end of ROTJ) and his own son (post ROTJ), but that doesn’t make him an expert on the Force. He does not begin Rey’s training and his sacrifice is hollow because his relationship with the heroes (excluding Chewie) is about a day old. Obi-Wan had a close relationship with Qui-Gon. Luke had a close relationship with Obi-Wan. Their deaths are catalysts for their young students. Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul and promises to train Anakin. Luke trusts in Obi-Wan’s words and destroys the Death Star. So it feels very superficial to me, like most of the movie, to use Solo in that role. Sadly, they had a character at their disposal to use as a mentor for Rey….Ahsoka Tano, a former Jedi with ties to Anakin and Obi-Wan, who could have started Rey on her journey.