Part of what made Han Solo such an intriguing character was that he’s an enigma we could solve. We did not know his background (when considering that the Expanded Universe is no longer canon [nor was it ever strictly so under George Lucas]), but we did know that he was the smuggler with a heart of gold. A scoundrel with a soul. A rebel without reason.
That is no longer true (at least not completely). Thanks Solo.
No, really, thanks. We now have a character arc for Han that is much deeper and more dynamic than ever before.
Let’s review. In A New Hope, Han is brash, arrogant, and self-centered. Or at least he’d like you to think such. But when the time came, Han stepped up and did the right thing. In Empire Strikes Back, the facade is maintained, or at least so it seems. Slowly but surely we see that facade washed away, showing the true, loyal man we all new Han to be; he saves Leia from Hoth, puts others before himself, and leads by example rather than word.
Solo just adds to this narrative. Han is, and always has been, an honorable man who cherishes loyalty and people more than he would like to admit. He sticks by Chewbacca from the very moment they meet, works for years to try and make it back to Corellia to find Qi’ra, and integrates himself into Beckett’s crew almost immediately.
There is, however, one important aspect of his character that this film blew into oblivion. Han is not, nor has he ever been, a womanizer. From the moment we meet the young scumrat, he is dedicated to Qi’ra. This young man would clearly have died to help Qi’ra live a better life (credit to Alden Ehrenreich for such a compelling performance at the moment the gate separates him from Qi’ra).
As the film jumps three years, we see a new Han Solo. A war weary, “I’ve seen a thing or two,” Han Solo. And what is his goal? Not money. Not fame. Not even a ship for himself. His goal is Qi’ra, the woman he loves. This recontextualizes Han, because when Qi’ra abandons him he puts up a wall that is nearly impossible to crack. Sana Starros makes him a little shaky, but it is not until Leia that the wall truly gets torn down.
This dynamic also changes the character in the original trilogy, particularly the Han Solo of Empire Strikes Back. For generations, the famous “I love you” “I know” moment has been interpreted as a cocksure Han Solo playing the tough guy. Now, however, it seems that Han is not trying to be tough. He’s being protective. Over himself and over his heart. The last time he fully gave his heart to a woman, she lied to his face before abandoning him.
When Leia rescues Han, it allows that young romantic to emerge once more. Han is able to be vulnerable with Leia and admit his love. Even with the events post-Return of the Jedi, Han is able to maintain this aspect of his character. He is clearly broken by the loss of Leia, but is able to admit so to her. That’s not the old Han Solo. That’s the young one.
As Qi’ra said, Han is “the good guy.” For years, though, he was unable to trust based on the scars of his past. Qi’ra lied to his face and abandoned him. Beckett betrayed him. The only person to reciprocate his loyalty in kind is Chewbacca. So why would he trust an old fool and a young farm boy? Why care about some princess beyond the paycheck?
Luke shows Han a different way. Almost immediately, he connects with Han, likely because Luke reminds Han a little of himself as a youngling. Luke is with him in the fire fight in the detention blocks, has his back in the chase with the TIE’s, and clearly wants Han to stick around for who he is as a person more than who he could be as a rebel. Luke, for the first time since Chewbacca, gives loyalty to him before Han gives loyalty to Luke.
In the past, Han’s story had been considered a tale of how a scoundrel becomes a hero. That is still partially true, but limits his character. Now, Han’s story is a story of how of how a broken optimist can find his true self again through the power of love and friendship.
That, folks, is a Star Wars story if there ever was one.