Essayist Ashley Cardiff makes an astute observation about Star Wars in her new book Night Terrors. In an essay titled “Nightmares,” she points out how, as children, we go from loving Luke Skywalker to loving Han Solo. Cardiff writes:
“But right about 10 or so, I started thinking Han Solo was the more charming and interesting of the two. This is because Luke represents chastity and virtue while Han Solo represents cock.”
Yes! We love Han Solo because he is sexy, but we think Han’s pervasive appeal might be even more interesting than that. The real reason Han Solo is so well loved is because he’s a very realistic character, way more realistic in fact than anyone else in all the films. Here’s why.
He’s Broke/In Debt
Star Wars may not depict a world in which people read or write, but they do still have to have jobs and make money. Luke’s family has to get by selling moisture to… somebody, while Dexter Jexter runs a diner where people still pay way too much for gross food. The point is, Star Wars isn’t a utopian, Captain Picard, money-doesn’t-exist world. No. People still have jobs. And Han is the classic person who got caught up in the system. He’s got a lot of old debts, not because he’s a bad person, but because he is a person. Sure, he’s technically a criminal, but as any good anthropologist will tell you, a lot of that comes out of class and upbringing. We’re not saying Jabba is like a credit card company, or student loans, or the IRS, but his hold over Han represents an unreasonable debt that’s hard to handle.
He’s Sort of Embarrassed by His Cooler Friends
If Han were one of your real friends, he’d be the guy who gets a little too drunk at the bar, and also probably can’t pay his tab. He’s also going to be the funniest person there and the one guy you always want to go out with, night after night. This is a strange paradox of certain friends. Han Solo claims he doesn’t trust Lando Calrissan, but “he is my friend.” Oddly, this is exactly how all of Han’s friends see him—he’s kind of a flake, but he means well, and after a while of hanging out with his cooler friends, they shame him into acting like a grownup. Han projects this onto other people like Lando by hurling around the world “respectable” as an insult. When you’ve never quite escaped from your immature phase, everyone who is acting like an adult is a phony to you. Is Han Solo like Holden Caulfield in space? Maybe a bit.
His Ability to Play it Cool Disappears When He’s in a Real Relationship
We’ve all been there. You first meet someone and you start to flirt with them. You are on fire! Full of so many quirky, witty things to say, expressing your affection in roundabout, clever turns of phrases (“I’m a nice man,” or “I know”). Through all this excellent flirty hard work, the object of your affections melts, and then you are totally dating. But what happens after that? Well, sometimes you lose your cool. Your ability to be fast and flirty with a good remark is gone, because well, you’re just so in love. This is exactly what happens to Han in Return of the Jedi. He turns into a whiny boyfriend who is constantly wondering, “Why isn’t she talking to me?” or “Is she mad at me?” and the whole time is thinking, “I love her soooo much!” This is good, nice and normal. But it’s certainly not “cool.” But hey, who said love was “cool?”
He is the Most Un-P.C. Guy in the Whole Saga
Sure, he’s got a Wookiee for a best friend, but Han Solo clearly has some prejudices that he wears on his sleeves. He’s flat-out abusive to C-3PO, for one—yeah, the Golden One can be irritating, but so can Han’s recklessness, so he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on there. While Leia and Luke treat 3PO like another person, working to calm him when he gets too worked up, Han just yells at Chewie to hook him up to the ship like a recharging smartphone. He dumps on people for their stature—“Short help’s better than no help at all, Chewie.” He steps on the tail of Jabba the Hutt, then leaves with the parting shot of “You’re a wonderful human being.” (We know that scene was originally done with a human actor, but the line comes off differently in the final CGI-ed cut.) He’s not particularly nice to older people either, given the extreme attitude he takes up whenever Obi-Wan opens his mouth. Han’s that young guy who is convinced that he’s got all the answers; the Force is a sham, Ewoks are primitive idiots, droids are only good for their computing capacity. And when things go against his personal version of the galaxy, he gets a bit tetchy.
He Doesn’t Have the Confidence to Realize That His Skills Are Valuable, A.K.A. He Could Get A Better Job
Han Solo is a star pilot, capable of keeping his beloved Falcon together with duct tape and bubble gum. He brags about his credentials a whole bunch, but when the going gets rough he nearly backs out on the Rebellion and his new friends. Why would he do that when he’s so skilled? Because Han doesn’t actually think his expertise is worth much. If he did, he’d have a better job by the time Luke and Obi-Wan showed up in the Mos Eisley Cantina. You know the type—those friends who could be the next great generation of entrepreneurs if they’d just admit that they had skills other people need. “You could be an incredible personal shopper!” you tell them. And they say, “No, shopping’s not actually a real ability, hon.” That person who bakes the most incredible cookies you’ve ever tasted, but refuses to sell them. Well, Han makes award-winning cranberry oatmeal cookies, but he refuses to believe anyone wants them. And of course, his time with the Rebellion changes him; once he realizes that they do find him valuable as a pilot and a fighter and a leader, he starts to grow up bit by bit.
So there you have it! Han Solo is by far the most realistic person in Star Wars, and maybe that’s the true reason why he gets all the love from fans—we see bits of ourselves in him. We take one look at that guy and go, hey! If he can marry the princess and become a respected resistance fighter, maybe all that time I spend plugging away at my guitar until four in the morning? My student debts? My paranoia over my new relationship? Maybe these are all just steps on my road to heroism.
Ryan Britt wants to make it clear that you like him because he’s a scoundrel—there aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.
Emmet Asher-Perrin doesn’t know where you get your delusions, laserbrain.