Why Han Solo is the Most Important Character in Star Wars
After Rogue One gave us a fresh-faced cast of new heroes (then bumped them off one by one like a goddamn Agatha Christie novel), we're getting the first Star Wars spinoff to focus on an Original Trilogy character. And it's not a Skywalker like Luke, Leia, or one of the many bastard children Darth Vader presumably sired throughout the galaxy, but rather lovable scoundrel Han Solo. Yup, thanks to some dumb cartoon font, Lucasfilm is somehow able to sell the origin story of a straight-up drug runner to kids all over the world.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is here to teach us all about how Han first hooked up with Chewbacca, met Lando Calrissian, and won the Millennium Falcon -- then seemingly spent the next decade slathering its pristine white interiors with buckets of Wookiee feces.
But why Han? It's not just this spinoff; Han Solo has somehow become the defining character of a series unofficially dubbed "The Skywalker Saga." When George Lucas first conceived of a sequel trilogy, he envisioned an older Luke as the "Obi-Wan-type character," which seems like kind of a no-brainer. But when The Force Awakens rolled around, the filmmakers shuffled Han into the Obi-Wan slot. He takes a young hero under his wing, inappropriately drags them to a filthy dive bar, and eventually dies while the hero watches in horror.
Of course, a lot of why we love Han is in Harrison Ford's performance. There's an actor so charming that he made audiences root for a character who clearly murdered his wife and then tried to blame it on a nameless amputee. But seeing as this new movie doesn't star (and will likely never even be seen by) Ford, there must be something else going on.
Looking back, we can actually map out how Han usurped Luke Skywalker as the dominant force of the series. And it gets a little biblical. Back in A New Hope, Luke was an overtly Jesus-y figure. Come on, a kid raised in the desert with mysterious parentage who realizes he has magic powers? Had '70s Mark Hamill been able to grow facial hair, they could have shown this thing in church.
When we meet Han, he's a morally conflicted character. He can be charming and kind, but also doesn't blink an eye when it comes to gunning down amphibious hitmen. Even his costume, the black vest over a white shirt, subtly conveys that his hardened exterior is masking a gentle soul beneath.
While Han redeems himself by the end of the movie, A New Hope remains Luke's adventure. That all changes in The Empire Strikes Back, with Han playing out the story arc we would have expected for Luke. We see early on that Han and Luke still find themselves in a testosterone vs. midi-chlorian rivalry for Leia's affection.
In fighting over Leia, they are in essence fighting to be the story's hero, because Leia symbolically is the story of Star Wars. After all, it was her message that got this whole ball rolling, meaning that the men competing for her attention are actually competing to continue that hero's journey.
Once Luke abandons Leia to hang out with a wrinkled frog man on a smelly swamp planet, she's left with Han, who assumes Luke's role in the story. And we know this because, well, things start to get Jesus-y again.
Empire is chock-full of religious imagery, from the Millennium Falcon hiding out inside a giant space slug, which recalls the Old Testament story of Jonah in the whale ...
... to Cloud City, which is pretty much Space Heaven. And Lobot clearly represents St. Peter.
It's at Cloud City that Han really starts to take over from Luke as the messianic figure of the story. To begin with, he is betrayed by a friend, not unlike Judas, if Judas had a cool cape.
This leads to Han being tortured by a non-Roman Empire ...
... and metaphorically crucified in carbonite:
Fulfilling the whole savior arc, Han is then resurrected in Return Of The Jedi.
After this, Han doesn't have a hell of a lot to do. He's completed the messiah arc and won Leia's affection, leaving virtually no room for character growth. Conversely, Luke becomes a more interesting character. Like a preteen who found their parents' Cure records, Luke is suddenly dressing all in black, suggesting a potential to flip to the Dark Side.
It's almost as if Han and Luke have switched roles. Han is now the unwavering hero, and Luke's characterization is shaded in with moral complexity. Since getting with Leia is a symbolic representation of becoming the definitive hero of the franchise, the end of Jedi essentially finds a loophole to this problem. Even though she loves Han romantically, Luke is revealed to be Leia's long-lost twin brother, thus allowing for two dudes to save the Galaxy by her side. Plus Lando's there. And C-3PO. And we'd be remiss to not bring up the fact that Lobot is still out there in the Galaxy somewhere.
In the aftermath of the Original Trilogy, it's Han who has been deified, not Luke. We see this in the sequels. Han shows up and gets to be the same old fun-loving pirate you remember from childhood. When Luke finally appears, he's an asshole who's abandoned both the Force and personal hygiene. It's a glaring contrast, but when you break it all down, Star Wars has always been the story of Han Solo stealing the spotlight from Luke Skywalker, so it kind of makes sense.
As Solo hits theaters, we shouldn't be surprised that this character is the one getting an expanded cinematic backstory. He's the Jesus of Star Wars, so think of it as the movie equivalent of Disney ringing your doorbell and shoving a pamphlet in your face.
Be at least a little like Han Solo and get yourself a LEGO Millennium Falcon.
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