The next sentence of this blog contains the biggest spoiler for The Force Awakens, and if you have not seen that movie, but are reading a Star Wars blog post anyway, you have been warned.
Like many Star Wars fans, ever since witnessing Han Solo’s tragic demise in The Force Awakens, I have spent a fair amount reflecting on the galaxy’s favorite smuggler. I just had an epiphany concerning the scruffy looking nerfherder yesterday. I’ll share that in a second, but first, here is how I arrived at it. Marvel released issue one of its new mini-series Han Solo earlier this month. In that issue, Han Solo is restless. After the Battle of Yavin, Han has drifted back into smuggling, but he has become picky about taking jobs. He can’t quite name what the issue is, but it seems to be on the tip of his tongue.
As Han considers his reluctance to take on smuggling work, he is cornered by a couple of Rebel agents. They have a message from Princess Leia. What that message says is not important for this discussion. Han’s reaction to the message was. After seeing Leia’s image, he flew the Millennium Falcon straight to the Rebel Fleet to argue with her. In reading the first issue of this new series, I began to suspect that Han’s problem was that he was afraid that the smuggling work he kept turning down wasn’t worthy of the Rebellion. As much as he hated to admit it, he had begun to identify as a Rebel.
Han Solo always wanted to be his own man. He didn’t like getting bogged down by movements and crusades. His declarations that the only things that mattered to him were himself and money in A New Hope proved to be false by the end of that movie. Loyalty, after all, is one of his best character traits and flaws. He only extends his loyalty reluctantly. However, once he felt those pangs of loyalty for the Rebellion, it was extremely hard for him to set it aside.
The thing is, the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize that the Rebellion wasn’t his primary reason for holding back. The real reason was Leia. Han wasn’t thrilled with the proposition he got from the Rebel agents. He told them to take a hike. However, he flew across the galaxy to give Leia a piece of his mind. Then, he really came alive and jumped at the mission she had in mind after Leia defended him against General Cracken’s doubts. It was Leia that was holding him back. If he took those smuggling jobs, then he wouldn’t be available if Leia needed him. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, that bothered him. A lot. He wanted, dare I say needed, to believe Leia needed and wanted him in some aspect of her life.
This is when I had my epiphany: this same behavior motivated Han at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. Before rescuing Luke, Han told General Rieekan that he had to leave. His stated reason was that he had a bounty on his head, and he needed to get that cleared up. However, the very next thing he did was say an awkward farewell to Princess Leia after he noticed her eavesdropping on the conversation. It seems likely he made sure she was present when he broke the news to the General. Her reaction was not what he hoped for and disappointed, he stormed off. After Leia caught up to him, the pair then had a very memorable fight in the hallway about whether or not Leia had feelings for Han.
As epiphanies go, I feel like I should have understood this one a long time ago. In my defense, I’m not much of a shipper, and I saw The Empire Strikes Back as a kid, which was, ahem, decades ago during the original theatrical release of the film. I took it on face value that Han was leaving because of the bounty. That explanation was good enough for General Rieekan, and it was good enough for my six-year-old mind. And perhaps that was a reason, but I now don’t believe it was the only reason or even the primary reason. However, my original understanding anchored itself in my mind, and I just never let it go. I never had a reason too. Han’s later excitement in believing that Leia arranged for him to be stuck on Hoth now makes so much more sense.
This epiphany helped me understand Han a little better when it came to The Force Awakens as well. After Ben fell to the dark side of the Force and joined the First Order, Han retreated back to his scoundrel and smuggling ways. That struck me as odd when I first saw the movie. He had Leia after all. Furthermore, he had been important to the Rebellion in the fight against the Empire. Now, it makes much more sense. He believed that Leia wouldn’t want him around. Even though they were married, he thought he had lost her affection when Ben became Kylo Ren. He reminded her of Ben and their loss. Therefore, he retreated to his old life, one that predated the Princess from Alderaan.
This is one of the things I love about Star Wars. Every time I think I know all there is to know about these movies, I learn something new (at least new to me), that makes me see the movies in a whole new light. These movies have been with me nearly my entire life, and the fact that I can still learn something new about them keeps me coming back to them time after time. It’s a great part of fandom that something you have enjoyed for so long can still be “new” every once in a while.
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