Also published at AiPT!
This being an election year, you’ve probably heard quite recently the oft repeated adage, “If a man is not a liberal at nineteen, he has no heart. If he’s not a conservative by thirty, he has no brain.” Stripped of its politics, a similar sentiment could be better expressed by substituting Star Wars references: “If a man is not like Luke Skywalker at nineteen, he’ll never really live. If he’s not closer to Han Solo by thirty, he’s never really learned.” Luke and Han, after all, represent the whole life of an individual divided by its most basic yet fundamental division; Luke, particularly in the original film but even as late as Return of the Jedi, embodies the idealism (and naïvety) of youth. Han, on the other hand, represents the cynicism and world-weariness which must always accompany maturity. He’s a man of experience and expertise, from which comes his suaveness and self-assuredness. But such virtues are his vices. His self-reliance and selfishness are two sides of the same coin, as are his shrewdness and skepticism.
“I’ve flown from one end of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. No mystical energy field controls my destiny.”
Star Wars, though beloved now by adults, was originally intended for a younger audience. Bright-eyed boys were supposed to hear Han utter that line and think themselves so much smarter than this grumpy grown-up, because of course he’s wrong; they know that there is indeed a Force. I recall when I was a youngling I too saw more of Luke Skywalker in myself. Nowadays, closer in age to Harrison Ford circa 1977 than Mark Hamill, you’re more likely to find me drinking in a cantina than staring wistfully out at a binary sunset. It’s certainly because of this growing kinship with the Corellian rogue that I’ve so eagerly anticipated Solo’s solo series.
From the opening scroll it is clear that Lucasfilm and Liu are trying to capitalize on the two most popular aspects associated with the character: Han’s status as a scoundrel/smuggler, and his romantic tension with Princess Leia. This mandate called for a bit of contrivance, as the opening of Empire Strikes Back seemingly indicates that Han had spent the interim between the Battle of Yavin and the Battle of Hoth entirely in the employ of the Rebel Alliance, preventing his payment to Jabba and thus perpetuating the bounty on his head. Here, however, Han has parted ways with his fellow freedom fighters, presumable sometime after Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon, but clearly before Empire.
This leads to two disconnects with established continuity. They’re by no means major, but at the same time they’re exactly the kind of errors both Star Wars fans and comic book readers are notorious for noticing. The first is the entire premise behind Han taking up smuggling again. He’s trying to save up the credits necessary to repay Jabba for the jettisoned cargo (presumably still spice in the current continuity) which was mentioned in the original film. Yet at the very end of the same he’d received his reward for rescuing the Rebel princess, specifically stating he intended to pay off his debts with such, indicating the sum was sufficient to do so. Thus the only reason for him not to have repaid Jabba would have been his service to the Rebel Alliance.
Indeed, such is his entire character arc in the first film, as well as the first dozen or so issues of Marvel’s main Star Wars series. That despite his cynicism, despite his protests that “I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess,” both the rebel cause and Leia’s love become his primary purposes, over and against his natural motivation of monetary gain. That he’d abandon the fights on both fronts without cause is a real regression for the character, one which surely comes across as contrived, regardless of whether you’ve kept up with the comics or only seen the films.
Part of the problem is that Solo has a complete character arc from the start of Star Wars through to the end of Empire Strikes Back; any incidents interjected between those two can only be regressions, repetitions, or recapitulations of the preexisting story. Such is a challenge all Star Wars comics which feature the principle characters face. However, Han Solo #1 struggles with such more so than the marquee Star Wars series or the superb Darth Vader book (though even that is ending its run prematurely precisely because of this problem).
Just as Han’s virtues are also his vices, so too is this issues’ successes its failures. It does indeed capture the character of Han Solo: the mercenary mentality, the pining after princess Leia, the stubborn cynicism, the cocky confidence that somehow hasn’t gotten him killed (this last one is actually lampshaded as uncharacteristically absent at first, but fully present by the final pages). Yet as iconic as these particular aspects of the character may be, their presentation in this issue ignores the all-important fact that a fictional character is not a static set of attributes; a character is an arc, a progression from some personality traits to others.
Just as it would have been inappropriate for Solo to say in the original Star Wars, “It’s true, the Force, the Jedi, all of it; it’s all true,” while still proper to the character at another point, so too is Han’s abandonment of the rebellion and Leia during the period in which his Solo series takes place equally inappropriate. It’s full of fun and charm and wit, fleshes out the universe more fully, and is gorgeously illustrated, and yet always feels out of place, untrue to the characters. It’s a story I enjoyed in itself, but I question if it’s a story that should have been told.