People send me emails asking when Wymore and I are just going to kiss. Wymore loves me, of course. And of course, I know.
So I saved Han for last because I've been on this journey with Han since I was a small child. Vader was always my favorite, but when we played as kids, all the other kids wanted to be Luke. I wanted to be Han. Han Solo was cool, and he was skilled, and he was funny. I wanted to grow up to be Han. That's why I always shoot first. Be warned, Wymore.
So let's look at Han. Everyone's talking about the end of Han's story, but I think most people are missing the end of his arc, which coincides with Finn's to a great extent. This isn't surprising because saving the cat is what Finn's arch is all about and saving the cat was Han's epic moment at the end of Episode IV.
We meet Han in a "wretched hive of scum and villainy." We're set up from the beginning to expect the people with meet in the cantina are bad news, and this is backed up by the bartender's prejudice vs. droids (the first time we see that in Star Wars) and the assault and "disarming" of Walrusman. (Yes, all my Star Wars names come from the '70s Kenner action figure line.) Han is charming, a braggart, and a bit confrontational, but Kenobi singles him out of all the people in the cantina. Why?
I don't think it would be far to go to say that the Force is guiding him, but Kenobi doesn't seem very impressed with Han either. However, I would point out that Kenobi doesn't find Han in the cantina. Kenobi finds Chewie. Han is the hero in the making, but Chewie is something more important. Chewie is Han's moral center.
Of course, then we have the scene with Greedo and Han shooting first. (BTW, notice that Greedo waits for Chewie to leave before confronting Han? That's because Greedo has a working sapient brain.)
Of course, we know Han had to have a bit of a heart because he rescued Chewie from slavery at some point before this, but I'm not sure when that idea was first introduced. It looks like it was assembled over time, Brian Daley introduced the concept of the Wookiee Life Debt in the Han Solo Adventures and someone else the slavers in The Wookiee Storybook, but they might not have been combined until the Han Solo Trilogy. So we'll take the Life Debt as writ, but for the sake of Han's starting point, we'll look at the movies. They are our entrance into this story.
Let's talk a moment about Han shooting Greedo. The reason, I think, so many people object to the changes Lucas made in the Special Edition is that this scene shows Han's real starting place. While it's probably self-defense, and he might get off the hook in a trial, it's still a form a murder. Han doesn't have a choice, but he got himself into the position where he has to kill people to buy himself another day. This instance isn't exactly his fault, but him being in this situation in the first place? That's all on him. Han Solo is at the end of a long fall in this scene. He's hit rock bottom.
We learn of Han's debt from Greedo, and it's backed up by the meeting with Jabba in the Special Edition (I believe that scene appeared in the Novelization and maybe the Storybook too, I remember being aware of it before the Special Editions released). These scenes set Han's starting state nicely. He's done shady things for shady people, and now he's in trouble. I will point out that despite shooting first shenanigans, this all sets up the fact that Han has little moral compass at the beginning (or he has the compass but never checks it). If they wanted us to believe Han was a good guy from the beginning, they wouldn't have been stacking financial pressures on his shoulders to justify him rescuing Leia. A good person wouldn't need a huge and terrifying crime lord making him to the right thing.
Then we have a thrilling escape to show Han as a competent pilot and smuggler, just so that we don't think he's a total bozo. This is followed by the scene with Luke practicing against the remote, where we discover that Han doesn't believe in the Force.
I want to address something here. I've heard a lot of people complaining about things becoming legends after 20 years. Let's look at that honestly a moment. Twenty years ago was 1996. The new age movement was on the decline, but many people were still fully committed to it at the time. Now, we look back at it, and most people think its silly. I have a heard time finding a solid new age believer anymore (outside my family at least). And that was a movement that everyone in the 90s had probably encountered directly. The Jedi were an order of hundreds in a galaxy of quadrillions or quintillions of sapients (the Star Wars universe seems sparsely populated). The odds of a person meeting anyone who had ever even met a Jedi were astronomical. The odds of meeting a charlatan much better. Maybe even likely. It's no wonder that 20 years later everyone's reaction would be, "Wow, those folks were pretty gullible back then, huh?"
So they get captured, but again, Han's smuggling chops get them through. Our heroes find out about the princess. Han refuses to help until Luke dangles the idea of a reward. Now Han can't resist. His need for money is crippling. They rescue the princess.
Han, for the most part, is a complete scoundrel throughout, but we do get one glimpse of his true self when he charges the stormtroopers to save the party. What we do when we have time to think shows us who our experience has made us. What we do when we have to react on instinct shows who we are, deep down. This is an important scene, because while we want Han to come through in the end, we haven't been given a single bit of evidence he could.
So they get out. People try to shame Han into doing what's right, but he takes his money and leaves. It's not until Luke is really in trouble that Han flies back into the battle, kills Vader's wingman, and saves the day. (With accompanying lens flare).
I like to think that Chewie didn't say anything on their flight out. In my mind, he just sat in the copilot's chair, quietly watching Han as the smuggler became increasingly uncomfortable. Just a big, silent, furry pile of judgment.
In Empire, Han is a new man. The Empire Strike Back Han claims he's still a scoundrel, but we don't believe it. He's riding mounted Taun Taun patrols for the Rebellion. He has free access to the Command Center. He's on casual speaking terms with the General. It's obvious that Han is part of the Rebellion. He claims he isn't, but everyone just lets him have his personal fiction.
Of course, then Like goes missing, and Han goes out into weather everyone says a flat-out death sentence. Here we see a glimpse of the old Han, refusing to take orders and doing his own thing, but he's doing his own thing to save another, instead of himself. Then, when everything falls apart, he saves the princess too.
Now, this Han isn't a moral member of the Rebellion. We still have no real indication that he cares at all about fighting the Empire. All three times he's done what's right, he's done it to save a friend. If these friends weren't in the Rebellion, I think Han would be much happier. But they are, and Han doesn't even seem to begrudge it. It's just his life. His life has always kind of sucked.
BTW, this plays into my statements about Chewie being his conscience. Chewie doesn't care about causes nearly as much as people and interpersonal responsibilities. It isn't surprising that when Han learns morality, it looks a lot more like a Wookiee's Life Debt than it does a Human's noble cause.
Han doesn't even get a real chance to be noble at the end of Empire. Yes, he goes to his fate with dignity, but he doesn't have any decisions to make. As he says, they don't even ask him any questions during the torture. He is just betrayed by Lando and stuck. He does get to talk Chewie down, and in the retcons, extends Chewie's Life Debt to include Leia, because that's all he can do for his friends in his final moments. Leia tells him she loves him. He tells her he knows. And Han exits the movie.
In Jedi, we see what we think is the end of his journey. They rescue him from Jabba, and he still seems to be mostly the same old Han. He doesn't believe that Luke is a Jedi Knight, even when Luke is saving him. He still makes cracks about the dying, and he fumbles along, and he relies on the fact that fortune loves a fool.
But when they get to the end, and they are looking for volunteers to lead the ground team, It's Han who steps up. This time, his friends join him, not the other way around. And we hear he's a general. Finally, Han is the one who has taken up the cause, and it's everyone else's turn to be loyal to him.
Even when he thinks Luke and Leia are an item, he doesn't act the way we expect. He just steps aside, but instead of exploding into drama and false conflict like every other movie character we've seen. He just sort of waits there uncomfortably, hoping they'll tell him he's wrong. It's endearing, really. He even consoles Leia when he thinks she's having problems with the man she chose over him. He juslly t does the perfect thing every time.
At the end of Jedi, we think we have a satisfying conclusion to Han.
So at the beginning of Force Awakens, it looks like a big backslide. Han has left the Republic and gone back to being a smuggler. He's left his family and his wife's cause. He's even lost his ship. So it looks like we're getting a lazy reset.
And then we see the map, and he hears Luke's name, and we realize that things are far more complicated. The man that didn't admit to believing in the Jedi, even while a Jedi was saving him from Jabba, now gives this speech:
"I used to wonder that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo -- magical power holding together good, evil, the dark side and the light. 'Crazy thing is, it's true. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It's all true."
This isn't a reset to the beginning of Episode IV. This isn't the character we left at the end of VI. This is the character 30 years later. He's had more pain. More loss. His son turned against his best friend. His best friend abandoned the galaxy. He feels like his wife blames him (even though she doesn't). This is a man who's mostly broken and just doing what he's good at, but he has dropped the pretense. This man is too old and too damaged to pretend that he doesn't believe anymore. He does believe, and believing is a little worse because his son has fallen over those beliefs
Let's look at that. Ben Solo was to be a Jedi. He followed in the steps of Han's best friend. How proud do you think that made Han? He couldn't follow in Han's steps because Han is a reformed criminal. Ben started from a place of purity and privilege, so following in Han's footsteps means he has to fall. So he chose the person that Han dedicated his life to saving and protecting. He devotes his youth to studying the teachings of the man who saved and was saved by his father. For a guy like Han, there is no better end.
But Ben does follow in Han's footsteps. Just like Han fell from grace so many years ago, going from a respectable officer to a scoundrel, now his son falls, going from a respectable Jedi to the leader of the Knights of Ren. (I know it was more complicated than that for Han. I suspect that it is more complicated than that for Ben.)
Is it a wonder he assumes his wife blames him? Ben has become his father's son, but Ben doesn't have anyone to rescue him like Luke and Leia rescued Han through friendship and love. Ben is out of his reach, in a viper's nest. There's no chance of him finding that redemptive friendship. He is lost.
Han says there's too much Vader in him, but I think he's lying. I think Han believes Ben fell because there was too much Han in him.
So this is the Han Solo in the Force Awakens. Adrift. Shattered. Believing in the system that seems to have destroyed his son. He takes up the quest to find Luke, because what else does he have? He's lost.
Is it a wonder he immediately takes to Rey? Here is a lost and broken child who needs a father. Here is a chance to try again. If Ben followed his father's path, he had to fall. Rey, while moral, is already at rock bottom, but she hasn't lost her moral compass. Here is a daughter that isn't going to fall. If she follows in Han's footsteps, she just becomes the person Han wishes he still was. The path of fall and (and hopefully redemption) has ruined his son, but Rey's fall wasn't his fault. Only good can come of the relationship. In Rey, Han can live out his redemption again.
But Rey turns him down.
This is the Han that meets his son on the catwalk in the end. This is the Han, who is asked by Ben to help him do what comes next. Han looks hopeful when Ben offers him the lightsaber, but I don't think he's hopeful when he tells Ben he'll do anything to help. I think at that moment, he expects the worst because Han always expects the worst. I think that when Han gives Ben permission to kill him, he does so knowing those could be his last words.
And when Ben does, and Han reaches us and gently touches his face, it isn't because he's spending his last moment with his son. It's because he has looked into his son's eyes and seen that the boy really has become him. But more, he knows that at this moment, he son has hit rock bottom, and Han has sat there, in that cantina, and murdered a person preemptively so that he can live just one more day. Han knows that hitting rock bottom is the first step of redemption, and so he looks at his son, sees himself, and forgives it all. He forgives Ben, and through that he forgives himself.
But that wasn't the end of his arc. That was the epilog. Han didn't have any choices there, either, not really. It's just like Bespin. He'd already become the man he needed to be and is just watching it all play out, completely out of his control. Sure he could have said no to Ben, but that wouldn't have changed anything. That scene showed us our final image of Han, but it's Han's final image because his arc has already really been closed. That scene was Ben's. It's Han's dismissal from the story, but by that point there's nothing left to say about Han, so it's his turn to exit the story. Just like at Bespin. Unlike Bespin, though, this exit is for good.
The end of his arc comes a scene or two before.
Han comes full circle when Finn tricks him into launching a rescue mission for Rey. Here we see Episode IV all over again. Luke used Han's life-threatening debt to force Han into rescuing Leia. Finn tricked Han into rescuing Rey by giving him a new ground mission to destroy a new Death Star. Han didn't come on the mission to save Rey willingly.
And so while we have the scene earlier where the eternal skeptic has declared the Force true, now we have a scene with Phasma and Finn in the shield control room. Their mission is finished. It's time to leave. Finn, obviously in a panic, says:
"Solo, if this works, we're not going to have a lot of time to find Rey."
And we see the scene coming. Han wouldn't rescue Leia all those years ago, even when presented the ultimate male fantasy, the rescue of the beautiful princess. We know that this where Finn's lying, and deceit comes back to haunt him. Remember, Finn has been trying to save the cat this entire movie, and now he's facing his final hurdle, the living legend who he lied and tricked to get what he wants. This is when the old scoundrel is supposed to make the boy pay for doing the wrong thing. And what does Han say?
"Don't worry kid, we won't leave here without her."
He doesn't blink. He doesn't hesitate. It doesn't even seem to have occurred to him that they wouldn't rescue Rey. He's given his final choice between the man he is versus the man he was, and we see the real Han Solo.
Because Han doesn't realize that he had a choice. Han Solo thinks he never has a choice. Han Solo doesn't every really understand Han Solo.
That is the moment Han Solo has finished his arc. That is the reason he had to die. In that single line Han Solo, as a character, is complete.
Most people cry when he dies, and I probably did too. But I really cry when he turns to the frightened boy, and he shows him what it means to be a man. I cry because Han Solo think he needs to be redeemed, but he doesn't. Han Solo is now the beacon that shows the others the path back to the light.
And he'll never know it.