In the original trilogy, Han Solo embodies the archetypal reluctant hero, as he transforms from a selfish, cynical individual to one who sacrifices for others. Unlike Vader’s journey from his murderous commitment to the Dark Side, we can more easily identify with Han’s redemptive arc as we seek to look beyond ourselves and live selflessly. But Solo changes the story. How? And what can we learn from Han’s new arc?
Solo: A Star Wars Story (spoilers follow) shows Han escape a youth of poverty, which would have crushed anyone’s spirits, but he remains uncharacteristically optimistic and altruistic, believing he will become the galaxy’s greatest pilot and rescue his love interest, Qi’ra, from the Corellian slums. He’s trusts others and even says, “I got a good feeling about this.”
Nevertheless, the film does not present Han as two-dimensional, as he has no qualms about fighting for the Empire, robbing a train, and killing people in the process. Experiencing betrayal even leads him to shoot first.
With the addition of Solo (and other new canon Star Wars media)1, the saga does not give us the simple tale of a selfish person turning to selflessness. Nor does Han start pure, fall, and find redemption. He starts with mixture, makes steps forward and back, learning to live and die for others, somewhat inconsistently.
To use Joseph Campbell’s terminology from The Hero of a Thousand Faces2, Solo focuses on Han’s “Call to Adventure”, specifically the adventure of serving others, and fleshes out his “Refusal of the Call”. Let us see what obstacles he must overcome to answer the call to live selflessly and then apply these lessons to ourselves.
The Self-Image of Han Solo
Why does Han choose smuggling (even spice, i.e. drugs in Star Wars) over joining the fledgling rebellion? In A New Hope, why does he initially refuse to help destroy the Death Star? In the subsequent Star Wars comics, why does he continually wrestle with his presence in the Rebel Alliance?
He wants to help others. Why does he resist? Simply put, he does not view himself as selfless.
Qi’ra: Who are you?
Han Solo: I’m an outlaw. What? I’m not kidding.
Qi’ra: Okay, Outlaw. You can tell yourself that. But I might be the only person in the galaxy who knows who you really are.
Han Solo: Yeah. What’s that?
Qi’ra: You are the good guy.
Han Solo: I am not the good guy. I’m definitely not the good guy. I’m a terrible person.
Because Han denies his selfless characteristics, he resists helping others. Because he considers himself an outlaw, he chooses a life a crime.
While this flaw resides in Han, Qi’ra embodies it. Han repeatedly calls her to come with him and escape Crimson Dawn. She says she is not the person he remembers as she’s done unthinkable acts. Because Qi’ra believes she’s beyond redemption, she remains imprisoned in a life she hates.
The Loyalty of Han Solo
One consistent trait in Han throughout his life is loyalty to individuals. For three years, he commits to rescuing Qi’ra from Corellia. In the graphic novel, Vader Down, when Leia obsesses with killing Vader over rescuing Luke, Han rebukes her for caring more about the mission than her friends.3 On Hoth, he risks his life to find Luke. Out of loyalty to Chewbacca, he quits his command in the New Republic shortly after the Battle of Endor to help free the Wookies.4 Lastly, he risks his life to offer a second chance to his son.
Han’s path to selflessness requires a face, and that’s ok. Abstract causes will not motivate everyone. Unfortunately for Han, he equates being “a good guy” with serving a cause. Had he acknowledged the merits of simply caring for others, he would have embraced a life of serving others much sooner.
The Habits of Han Solo
In my opinion, Solo should have been a tragedy in which he ends up dejected over Qi’ra’s final betrayal and refusal to join him, which would explain his cynical demeanor in the beginning of A New Hope. Nevertheless, he still gives unimaginable wealth to Enfys Nest and enthusiastically decides to go smuggling.
I can choose to (1) complain that the movie messed up or (2) assume he becomes cynical in the decade between the films. Put that way, the latter is obvious. Wouldn’t years working for a gangster, smuggling drugs and who knows what, lead a person to selfishness and cynicism? Of course.
In contrast, when he joins the Rebel Alliance, each adventure (as depicted in the Star Wars comics) solidifies his allegiance to his friends and also the cause. A person reaps what they sow. A lifestyle of selfish acts produce more selfishness, while selfless ones produce the opposite.
Be Yourself, but the Right Part of Yourself
While modern, Western culture (and especially movies) tells us to be ourselves, I’d remind us to be the right part of ourselves, the “image of God” part of ourselves. Avoiding the mistakes of Han and Qi’ra, we should not choose to believe the selfish parts, the guilty parts, make up our entire persona. Instead, focus on whatever helps you love others, and do that. Lastly, make habits that reinforce good character.
In Star Wars comic #35: “The Hutt Run”5, while smuggling a Hutt prisoner for the Rebellion, Han realizes he can still be himself while committed to the Alliance:
- New comic books, novels, and video games also contribute to Han’s more nuanced character arc found in Solo. ↩
- While focusing on Luke, George Lucas purposefully incorporated the elements of Campbell’s hero’s journey, but set it in space, combining timeless myth with cool spaceships. Does it get any better? ↩
- Vader Down occurs in between Episodes 4 and 5. ↩
- Star Wars Battlefront II references Han’s intention to liberate the Wookie homeworld, Kashyyyk, but the novel, Aftermath: Life Debt, fully depicts the event. ↩
- “The Hutt Run” occurs after Vader Down, but before Episode 5. ↩