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The Tragedy of Han Solo

Solo: A Sad Story

When we first meet Han Solo he is posted up in the corner of a dark cantina, haggling for smuggling services and shooting people under a table. He’s sarcastic, selfish, and dangerous. Oh yeah, and he’s hot. Like really, really hot. But as the movie progresses, and he gets further entangled with Luke and Leia, his true colors start to show. Despite all of his posturing about looking out for himself, he simply can’t help but do the right thing. The charismatic outlaw opens up and shows that, at his core, he is a good man.

This essential element of his character leads him time and time again to pain and heartbreak, making him the most tragic character in the galaxy.

Solo: A Star Wars Story expands on this idea as we follow a younger and softer Han through his formative years. He has an idea of the type of person he needs to be to get by, but he hasn’t quite gotten rid of his youthful optimism. He surrounds himself with people that work into this idealized version of himself. In Qi’Ra, he sees a partner representing somebody he can build a life of freedom with. In Tobias Beckett, Han sees a mentor who he wants to grow up to be like. But to everybody around him, it’s obvious Han is just a little too pure for the life he’s building. He trusts the person he loves too much, and she abandons him. Beckett tries to kill Han to save himself, which forces Han to shoot him. Despite this betrayal, Han stays by the man as he dies. This moment reveals the complexities the character has developed over the course of the movie. Every part of Han wants to be the bad guy, but he could never quite pull himself away from his own goodness. By the end of Solo, Han has learned just how unforgiving the galaxy can be and becomes the man he’s talked about being for the whole movie, at the cost of his mentor and his childhood sweetheart. 

This recontextualizing, of his arc from A New Hope, adds a layer of melancholy to everybody’s favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder. It’s not that he learns how to do the right thing, it’s that he opens himself up to it again after being scarred by tragedy. Over the course of the original trilogy, we see Han find purpose with the rebellion, fall for the true love of his life, and seemingly give up on his life as a scoundrel. The Galactic War ends. Luke decides to restart the Jedi Order. Han and Leia settle down and have a son. Han isn’t exactly suited to family life, his years as a smuggler have made him restless, and his mind wanders back to running around the galaxy getting into trouble. Many relationships forged in war have a hard time adjusting to peace, Han and Leia’s is no exception. But ultimately, they are driven apart by the loss of their son to the darkside, mirroring many real-life relationships that crumble after the death of a child. Han, not knowing how to deal with the tragedy, packs up and leaves, hoping to forget all of the pain he’s gone through and go back to the only thing he knows how to be good at. 

When Han is reintroduced in The Force Awakens, he is back in the criminal underworld hauling dangerous animals for a living. To a certain degree, he has the life he thought he wanted. He is finally a famous smuggler; people know his name. But once he crosses paths with Rey and Finn, his life starts to catch up with him. Han’s arc in TFA is defined by facing his past. When the Guavian Death Gang finds him, they say “There’s no one left in the galaxy for you to swindle.” There’s a sense that it’s time for Han to face the music. Finn and Rey make him think back on things he has tried to forget. We see years of heartache flash across his face at the mention of Luke Skywalker – with the exception of Chewie, Han has lost every person he’s ever been close to. And so, he closes off, hoping to help the kids out and then run away from it all again. But when he sees Leia, everything snaps back into perspective. All his life he has been running from the person he really is because it makes him vulnerable. He decides he can’t run anymore, and this decision puts him on a collision course to face his lost son. Ben Solo sees his father as his last tie to the light and hopes that killing him will finally allow him to let go of the past and his own innate goodness. Their parallel arcs mean the father and son see each other as gateways, one to the light and the other to the dark. Both are condemned by their compassion. Han has been burned for doing the right thing his entire life, but when he sees his son cloaked in darkness standing over an endless pit, he knows he must go to him. Because even if he is walking towards certain death, it’s the right thing to do. 

Han’s dying deed is truest to himself he’s ever been. Even after the fatal blow has been dealt, Han reaches out to his son as if to tell him that it’s ok, that he loves him in spite of everything. The true tragedy of Han Solo is that he’s a good man. He has finally accepted that, but it cost him his life. Ben is torn in two by the act and it may be the foundation that brings him to his redemption. Ben, like his father, has a long hard road to walk to figure out who he is. In just over a week, the world will find out just how much of his father he has in him. 

Start the discussion by clicking on the link to our Discourse forum below or select “forum” via the menu bar above. May the Force be with you!

Patrick Mulligan
“The greatest teacher, failure is.” — Yoda

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