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I love Han Solo but I think he is an inconsistent character. I think he should be evaluated more closely and more critically. He is one of my favorite characters of all time, not the most perfect character of all time. There is nothing cooler than a guy that owns the Millennium Falcon, Luke Skywalker looks up to him, he has Princess Leia for a girlfriend, and Chewbacca as a life-partner. That said, he is far from the most consistent character ever written. Han Solo’s coolness often affects our ability to discuss his strengths and weaknesses. New Star Wars characters, especially those created after 1983, are scrutinized deeply, with Han Solo remaining frozen in cabonite, unscathed by any criticism at all.
For starters, The Empire Strikes Back is barely a logical sequel to A New Hope. In fact, I almost feel like A New Hope is a prequel to the start of that saga in a lot of ways (something we often hear about The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones as well). In the late 1970’s, the idea for Star Wars was to branch out with tons of new Star Wars movies to be made (sometimes as many as 12, but usually 9). This made The Empire Strikes Back feel like the real starting point for the rest of the saga’s story. In that development came revisions to Han Solo which differ greatly from his A New Hope persona, independent of his character’s growth in A New Hope.
In reading the early drafts of 1974 The Star Wars (soon to be a major comic series!) onward it appears George Lucas couldn’t figure out if he was a pirate or a cowboy. When I read the early scripts, my impression is that Han Solo was supposed to be a pirate but on screen, Harrison Ford played Solo like a cowboy. In my analysis of the script, I think that’s probably spot on for the most part. So we have a dichotomy here that is not really so much on purpose in terms of genre and archetype. Instead what we have in A New Hope is the product of the writer and the actor creating something new and slightly unintended. Obviously Solo’s cowboy costume backups some different intentions, and I surmise that Ford’s costume dictated more of Solo’s mannerisms than Lucas’ script.
It is for this reason I do not think Greedo shooting first is important to Han Solo’s character progression. Han killing Greedo is important if he is supposed to be the cowboy. But Han was always an amalgamation of cowboy and pirate. Han killing Greedo is not important if he is supposed to be a pirate. By The Empire Strikes Back Han has lost the vest for a jacket and the cowboy motif is totally erased. So one could argue that having Han shoot second is actually more consistent with Han Solo’s character over the entire saga as a survivor.
I don’t believe George Lucas got what he intended with Ford in A New Hope, as I said before. That’s not to say he was unhappy with his work, presumably he was very happy with it, but I think Lucas may have wanted the character to play out differently than he had in the 1977 debut. Lucas revised Solo to meet his current story’s needs, making him neither cowboy nor pirate in The Empire Strikes Back. Instead they modeled him after a riverboat/gambler type from the Antebellum South. This idea was more apparent in earlier drafts when Lando was written as a white male, who was very similar to what Han Solo became in Episode V. Solo’s a pirate, a cowboy, and then they throw all that out and re-brand him for The Empire Strikes Back. The gunslinger is totally dead by Episode V.
There are problems with what we see on screen as well. Sure, it might have been explained in the comics, or a novel. I feel things on screen should standalone without explanation from supplementary materials. Why hasn’t Han paid off Jabba? He had the money! The films never explained that to us. We have no idea what happened to that money and it is never referenced on screen. So when he says he has to pay off Jabba, it honestly comes off like he just hasn’t gotten around to it. It isn’t that he’s going back to his old ways, relapsing to the selfish man he was before he saved Luke’s butt at the Death Star. This was clearly a problem for them in the revision process of the character and it is way too glossed over. If a detail like this occurred today, we would have never heard the end of it. Frankly for all the criticism of new the Star Wars films, I think fans of IV-VI need to look harder at a lot of the ambiguity in IV-VI.
These are all problems with Han Solo’s transformations into Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind. By Solo’s third film, Return of the Jedi, he’s pretty much neither pirate, cowboy, or riverboat/gambler, he’s just standing there waiting for Leia to break up with her brother. The Gone With the Wind moment is tossed out and with that, the transformations we have seen become questionable and appear to have come about on a whim. But in reality, Han’s path was tossed out because Luke and Leia became siblings and Luke was not to get the girl (I’m hesitatnt Solo was ever supposed to die from Lucas’ perspective). Unlike Butler, Han does not reject the girl, he gets her in the end.
I think we can make Han Solo follow rigid rules of character progression, but still, if atonement is over two films, that’s messy, if not unnecessary. That “atonement” is only because he never got his “Frankly Princess Leia, I don’t give a damn” moment. I will not accept “I love you” and “I know” as that moment because that’s not what it was supposed to be in the design. That was thought up on set and far from the writer’s imaginations. Even with that tucked aside, it doesn’t really become an equivalency on screen to that classic movie moment.
I think Solo’s character is terribly disorganized when looked at holistically. He’s the product of countless revisions over many treatments and scripts by different writers at different times. The first reason for the flaws is that it was written one way then performed another. Then Lucas got his Gone with the Wind inspiration for the love triangle and decided that was the way to go for this larger story, which was never told. The Gone with the Wind motif didn’t make any sense because he had to make Luke and Leia siblings, so the actual Gone with the Wind idea isn’t really played out like it was meant to be over two films. He’s not given that dramatic send off at the end. He gets the girl as I stated before and you’ve no doubt seen hundreds of times in the comfort of your homes.
Solo’s place in Return of the Jedi is the product of Ford having danced around returning to the saga after better roles starting coming in with the success of the 1977 film and Lucasfilm having to coax him into returning to a character he was creatively dissatisfied with. Bythe time he was a sure bet to star in the films, the writing was well under way and such a story was already on course. Hence why Han Solo has no real solid thinking behind him in Return of the Jedi or the films that were to follow had the sequel trilogy come years earlier.
Han’s character undergoes four different character models, which barely have any logic to them when compared against one another. The logic works because of the plot but the character never became something based off a unified vision. He was shaped by the plot of all three films he was in. I’m sorry, I love Han Solo but to be critical of the writing and the work, he’s a inconsistent. . He’s the product of an inconsistent vision. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t get from A-Z, he does, but it isn’t as clean as it should have been or could have been had the trilogy been planned out from the start, instead of starting with a single film and then having two sequels which were eloquently titled a “trilogy.”
It never really occurred to me how absurd it is that Han Solo is leaving us in Empire because he hasn’t gotten around to paying his bills. I think Artoo could have done that for him to be honest. They don’t have Paypal in that Galaxy? I’m joking, but there’s some truth in that humor.
Something that comes to mind about Solo is that the original story for The Empire Strikes Back focused on Han Solo having had a falling out with his step father many years before. His step father possessed certain knowledge vital to the Rebel Alliance. Han doesn’t want to see this man after their falling out. So the rebels (Leia and Dodonna mainly) have to talk him into it. Han’s story was to be about atoning with the father, somewhat completing his character. Once that happened, he was going to be on the path to the straight life, leaving crime and gambling behind. He would have left the “wilderness” of the galaxy and returned to his family. Another interesting note is that his step-father became Lando.
When Lucas became Gone With the Wind story-minded, Lando came out of that archetype. He was originally to be white man that was essentially a copy of Han Solo, albeit successful and not hunted down by Jabba. I personally believe they were going to put Ford in Carbonite and if he was a complicated and unwilling to reprise the role, and the white proto-Lando would just replace him as the new older buddy. It probably sent a clear message to Ford that he could be written out if he played ball too hard. But I’m speculating.
This got a bit messy, but the history of Han Solo and his character is a messy one. I wouldn’t change what we got on screen for the world. But I also see that one of the most beloved characters of all time is not the perfect character we often think he is.
These ideas are important to keep in mind when we catch up with a 70 year old Han Solo in Episode VII. It is probably even more important if we get that rumored young Han Solo spin-off film in 2016.