Han Solo and Pathos in the Star Wars Films

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Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

It’s About Family:

I don’t have people. I’m alone.

Han Solo

In the introductory text crawl for Solo: A Star Wars Story it suggests that a primary motivating force for Han Solo is to fly among the stars. This is true – to an extent. Han is thrilled to be a pilot. The sense of freedom at having a ship and the totality of the galaxy to traverse is no doubt an intoxicating lure to a former indentured child thief.

However, being a pilot and experiencing the freedom it brings is not an end in and of itself to Han Solo. For him, a man with no people, his struggle is one of finding and creating belonging. It was the forced separation from his first love Qi’ra that spurred him to enlist in the Galactic Empire. While he likely exalted at learning to become a pilot, the thought of being reunited with Qi’ra and reforming their bond was ever at the forefront of his thoughts.

Throughout the whole of Solo, Han rejects ways of living that would result in being isolated. When he reflects on Beckett’s nihilistic attitude toward trusting others, he doesn’t chastise him from a place of lofty morality; he merely remarks at the loneliness that such an ethos brings. For Han, to remain wholly alone would be no doubt similar to remaining in servitude on Corellia. A dead-end.

That he fights for familial connections is not exclusive to the stand alone film Solo. At the end of A New Hope, after having already collected his payment for rescuing Princess Leia, ostensibly fulfilling his only stated goal, Han returns at the pivotal moment to help save Luke and destroy the Death Star. Why did he do this?

Surely, Han held no love for the Galactic Empire. Having once been a member of its ranks he undoubtedly knew of their injustices and naked aggression. But since deserting the Empire, and up until that vital moment, he proved quite ambivalent towards any zealous anti-Imperialist sentiment. The goal of toppling the Empire was nebulous to him as he didn’t have any familial stake in its destruction. Up until the final moment. Up until the newly formed bonds of friendship (and possibly love) called back to his person. In that final moment the strike against the Galactic Empire had the element of intimate connection for Han.

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In The Empire Strikes Back the struggle against the Empire and the struggle to protect the burgeoning love affair with Princess Leia are one and the same. In Return of the Jedi, Han has surely matured enough to be committed to an away mission on the forest moon of Endor without needing to directly volunteer his beloved friends. By then their struggle and his have become one. However, unlike Luke, for whom the toppling of the Empire brings about his status as last remaining Jedi, or Leia for whom it means the righteous course correction from totalitarianism, for Han the gains are that of the chance to begin a family.

Finally, in The Force Awakens we experience an older, wizened, and humbled Han Solo. A man for whom the legends have become truth. A man set adrift in space by the catastrophic severing of familial ties. Neither fully person or persona this aged smuggler placed himself – and his ever stalwart Wookiee companion – into a form of metaphorical island isolation.

As viewers we need only pay close attention to what – and how– he speaks of Luke’s disappearance to understand how it is of utmost personal pain. The hidden significance in the tale of an apprentice gone rogue. The sense of abandonment at Luke’s having simply walked away from everything. The familial history communicated in those few sentences carries a wellspring of emotion.

It’s true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it.

That’s Pathos.