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.
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 co-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.