Roguish, witty and self-centered, we didn’t know what to make of Han Solo in that cantina. How Han’s introduction created the legend and the legacy that followed.
It’s fun to imagine 1977. At least, in terms of Star Wars. A time with no comics or merchandising tie-ins, no Youtubers justifying or demystifying the films. There wasn’t an appendage to the title that read: Episode IV: A New Hope. And, there certainly were no guys like me trying to pump every last drop of magic from the wand.
In other words, it was a time before The Star Wars Industrial Complex was fully entrenched.
Back then it was a simpler time – just Star Wars.
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Imagine the wonder of watching the scroll with John William’s score blasting you into space. Imagine seeing the gold-plated C3PO running away, his arms waving madly like a dainty princess, with his tin-can sidekick booping its way to the escape pods as an ominous shadow appears from gray smoke dressed like a cyberpunk samurai.
The film took us to new places with sounds and sights never before seen. Yet, it wasn’t until we entered Mos Eisly Cantina that we were truly far, far away, as old Ben explains “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” to our pristine, unknowing hero in Luke Skywalker.
The foreign music, aliens smoking hookahs, glowing eyes from the darkness and then the irony of all those strange beings staring at the droids in contempt. Violence is the customary currency in a place like this, lose an arm and you better be able to pull credits from your pocket with the other one if you want to drink here.
It’s there in the background, we meet Han Solo for the first time, dressed like a space sheriff who kept the boots and the vest but threw away the star. Handsome and roguish, his holster dangling just waiting for his gun to be slung, which was the perfect contrast to our shining white hero in Luke. His demeanor reflected a weary world traveler, a man who’s seen it all but, somehow, has a little charisma left in those old bones, as opposed to Luke who still looked at the world with wonderlust in his eyes and a naivete sense of duty.
It’s here Han starts his journey as the accidental hero. The greatest thing in meeting Han is that, if you’re watching the movies for the first time or don’t know the story, Han sets himself as the ultimate materialist – money moves the needle, even if that money is just to buy him a life line from Jabba The Hutt. It’s one of the reasons I had been against a Solo movie, not because it wouldn’t be good, but because not knowing his makeup made the leap from reprehensible scoundrel to ending the film with Han flashing a toothy grin and shiny medal more satisfying to his arc.
And as long as we’re looking at Han’s first scene, before George Lucas’ manic overmeddling, shooting Greedo (Han shot first people – end of story) enforces the characters sense of self, first and foremost. Han isn’t going to leave his life to chance in a fair fight, drawing his pistol beneath the table and flipping the coin to the innkeeper as quickly as he shot – without hesitation.
Watching Harrison Ford negotiate with old Ben, sarcastically quipping to Luke, “Who’s gonna fly it, kid, you?” and it’s hard to imagine Lucas’ had beer goggles for Kurt Russell or Christopher Walken, at the time. But Ford’s career exploded the same way Han Solo’s coolest guy in the galaxy swagger did, by just moving forward.
In meeting Han, did we have any idea he would be so vital to the Star Wars legacy? Now, there’s no doubt but the odds at the time, well, we know – Han Solo never gave a damn about the odds.