From the trailers and promotional materials released for The Force Awakens we know that the new kids aren’t going it completely alone. There’s a familiar old face on hand to help set them on their path; someone completing a character arc that seems perfect in its conception.
The saga may have been about the Skywalkers, but there’s another character whose life was forever changed by the events of the Original Trilogy. This is about Han Solo, and his very own hero’s journey to The Force Awakens.
“She’s fast enough for you, old man.”
Mos Eisley cantina. Luke’s first foray into the world beyond moisture farming, and the youngster quickly finds himself out of his depth. In the lexicon of Joseph Campbell this dive bar of scum and villainy marks the first threshold on Luke’s quest, and the point at which he can leave the ordinary world behind.
In Campbell’s monomyth the threshold is guarded by the first challenges that the hero must face, and for Luke these guardians take three forms. Luke’s mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi uses force to eviscerate Ponda Baba and Dr Evazan; however, the old man has to use guile in order to pass the final guardian: Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Falcon.
Solo is cynical, disagreeable, and in way over his head with a certain Hutt lord. As soon as he dispatches Greedo we realise that this a guy who takes care of himself and doesn’t care about dirtying his hands to do it. It’s inevitable that he clashes with Kenobi over the existence of the Force and he presents an alternative viewpoint that helps to makes Luke’s overall story that much stronger. Now, several decades later, it seems that the famous scene in the Millennium Falcon is now a seminal marker in Han’s development.
It’s once the heroes are drawn into the Death Star that Solo’s attitude starts to change. As he and Chewbacca become an enforced part of the rescue mission he transforms fully from threshold guardian and shadow into a valuable, if reluctant, ally. What follows next is the beginning of Solo’s own personal hero’s journey, and it starts in the Death Star control room.
Han’s reluctance to rescue the Princess is his own ‘refusal of the call’, the stage at beginning of the monomyth in which the would-be hero declines taking the action he needs in order to start his journey. Luke may find a way to appeal to Han’s selfishness, but his reluctance is still present.
Over the course of their adventure Luke earns Han’s respect, whilst, most significantly, Leia takes his interest in other ways. Whilst it appears like this has meant nothing as he and Chewie pack to leave, his transformation is continuing underneath.
It doesn’t take long to surface. The Millennium Falcon’s triumphant return at the battle of Yavin marks the point at which Solo steps firmly into the new world.
“Never tell me the odds!”
Han Solo is a respected member of the Rebel Alliance by the time of the Battle of Hoth, but he’s also deeply conflicted. His yearning to leave the Rebellion, pay off his debts and become his own man once more is overridden by his desire to protect Leia, and it’s this choice that sets light to their romance. In the monomyth the hero learns new skills and experiences valuable lessons, and for Han Solo that means learning to love someone other than himself.
The conflict remains though, and it seems like it’s still Han’s intention to leave once Leia is safely reunited with the Rebel fleet. However, by the time that Darth Vader and Boba Fett reveal themselves on Cloud City the choice is long since out of his hands.
The carbon freeze marks Han’s nadir. All of the conflict that has raged within him is summed up beautifully within that one iconic line, before he’s ripped from the new world and straight back into the clutches of his past.
“Where did you dig up that old fossil?”
As Solo rests in perfect hibernation it’s a good point to compare his character arc with that of another mentor: Obi-Wan Kenobi.
When we first meet Kenobi he is already a skilled Jedi, but he is also completely indoctrinated by the Jedi Order. He openly disagrees with Qui-Gon’s rebellious streak, serves the Jedi Council faithfully throughout the Clone Wars and does what he can to mitigate the damage of Order 66, even when running away was a viable option. Even after the Jedi are all but extinct he still guides Luke by the old ways, even to the point of encouraging Skywalker to kill his own father.
Through the Prequel Trilogy we see that Kenobi remains constant, stable, and on an unalterable path to becoming the mentor we meet in A New Hope. Whilst he grows in stature as a warrior throughout the saga his cause remains the same.
“Thanks for coming after me.”
Hung on the wall as Jabba the Hutt’s macabre decoration, Han Solo has no way of saving himself at the start of Return of the Jedi. This is where his time spent in the new world and working towards something greater than himself comes back to help him.
The whole crew come together to rescue Han from Jabba, and it’s this unity that means so much to him. After a lifetime of relying on himself he realises that he’s finally found the love, acceptance and friendship he needs to shake off his past once and for all. He emerges from his chrysalis free of conflict and ready to start anew as a leader of the Rebel Alliance.
However, in order to for his journey to be complete he still needs to meet one final challenge. Just as Luke must face Vader again, Solo has to secure the love of the Princess.
It’s unfortunate that he’s a passive participant in that resolution, with Luke and Leia’s true relationship instead forming a part of the larger Skywalker tale. It’s an otherwise powerful character arc though. Over the course of the Original Trilogy Han has developed from a selfish and independent rogue to a leader in the galactic fight for freedom. Perhaps most importantly for the future, he has also become part of a family.
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
It’s this arc that makes the idea of Han as a mentor in The Force Awakens so rich. Whilst Kenobi lived a life devoted to a single school of thought Han has shifted from one point of view to another. His beliefs were challenged by the events of the saga, and with his assertion to Rey and Finn that the Force is real we can see that Han Solo has come full circle.
Of course, we don’t know for sure yet what happens in The Force Awakens and so this may all be moot in a few short weeks. If this speculation is on target though, then it’s going to be a damn fine place to catch up with Captain Solo after all these years.
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