Han Solo and Pathos in the Star Wars Films

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Two Solos – Person and Persona:

I might be the only person in the whole galaxy who knows what you really are…


No examination of Han Solo would be complete without delving (briefly) into the topic of his psychology. That the character has a split essence is a crucial contributing factor to his pathos. This dual characterization is not relegated singularly to the film Solo: A Star Wars Story, in some form of revisionist subversion, but rather informs who he is throughout the entirety of the Star Wars saga.

Noted Swiss psychoanalyst C. G. Jung helped to pioneer and define the terms by which we examine the human condition and it’s psyche. Among the various derivations of human consciousness that he helped to map and name, two will prove useful for our examination of Han Solo. The Self (named here for convenience as person) and the Persona. The Academy of Ideas provides a helpful video and transcription of these two Jungian ideas: of the Persona and the Self Jung states the following:

"Fundamentally the persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between the individual and society as to what a man should appear to be. He takes a name, earns a title, represents an office, he is this or that. In a certain sense all this is real, yet in relation to the essential individuality of the person concerned it is only a secondary reality, a product of compromise, in making which others often have a greater share than he. The persona is a semblance, a two-dimensional reality."

"…the self is our life’s goal, for it is the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality…"

Related Story. 7 Top Han Solo moments from the legends. light

The Han that we first meet in the cantina on Mos Eisley is a hardened, cynical, shoot-first outlaw. He’s flown from one end of the galaxy to the next and hasn’t been particularly impressed by what he’s seen. He’s a mercenary who cares little for others and least of all for grandiose and abstract concepts like a rebellion to free the galaxy. He’s a true denizen of the outer rim territories. He is the amalgamation of every real villain Han has had to deal with in order to survive the oppressive times in which he lives. He is the persona adopted by Han Solo.

However, it’s not long before that persona is shed to reveal the true self – or person– that is Han Solo. A man who has a clear and true sense of right and wrong, a man who cares deeply about his comrades, and a man who is ultimately searching for a family to which to belong.

In his thread offering factoids about the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Jon Kasdan makes this dichotomy explicit when comparing Han to the character of Beckett. In factoid thirty-one Kasdan states:

"We wanted Beckett [to]embody a moral cynicism that Han would, later in his life, outwardly project but never really posses."

Fans of the films need only load up the scene from A New Hope where Han comes swooping down in the Millennium Falcon to knock away Vader’s pursuit of Luke to see the person that Han is. From that point forward, and backwards, in the films we experience the character of Han along a continuum of person and persona.

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

We witness the persona of Han Solo when he tries to convince Qi’ra that he’s an outlaw. We face the persona in the cantina on Mos Eisley or when belittling the nascent training of Luke under Ben Kenobi. We tellingly glimpse it in The Empire Strikes Back when he antagonizes Princess Leia Organa born out of his romantic frustrations towards her.

We see him as person while distraught at the separation of himself from Qi’ra at the Coronet Spaceport. We see him as person at the final moments of the assault on the first Death Star. We see him as person as he comforts a dying Beckett whom he killed by his own hand. We witness his person upon the easy and open camaraderie developed with Chewbacca almost instantly. And finally, we see the total expression of his person upon the bridge deep in the bowels of the Starkiller Base as he tries to reconcile with his lost son Ben Solo.

That the total unification of person and persona comes at the moment of his death at the hands of his own son is deeply tragic. As viewers we experience the passing of this iconic character with a complex mix of emotions. Shock, awe, anger, and perhaps finally pity, compassion, and acceptance. We experience the final meeting of father and son as an expression of Pathos.