“As a character, he was not so interesting to me.” – Harrison Ford on Han Solo
Harrison Ford was never supposed to play Han Solo in the Star Wars Saga. In fact, he was only on hand for a read-through because he was asked to do some carpentry work at American Zoetrope in San Francisco, where auditions were being held for the first film. Kurt Russell and Christopher Walken were among those who had already auditioned, but when Harrison Ford read for the part the process was over. George Lucas had his Han Solo.
On the screen, Ford is known for playing action heroes who fly by the seat of their pants. A perfect analogy is the comment he made to Rey (Skywalker) when she asked Han if it was possible to jump to light speed from inside a hangar bay.
“I never ask myself that question until after I’ve done it,” answered Solo, pulling the light speed throttle on the Millennium Falcon as he spoke.
Another classic Ford moment came during the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The entire cast had food poisoning from dinner the night before, so when it came time to grab a sword and engage in an epic Errol Flynn-esque fight scene, the ill Ford simply pulled out his gun and shot the guy he was supposed to fight. Director Steven Spielberg, obviously, kept the shot as Ford chose to do it.
Off the screen, however, Ford is a remarkably cerebral person, analyzing his characters and taking their development and motivations extremely seriously. It is for this reason that he famously lobbied for the death of Han Solo. He wanted Solo to die in The Empire Strikes Back, when Solo was frozen in carbonite; when that didn’t happen he lobbied for Solo’s death to be part of the Return of the Jedi story line; but he didn’t get his wish until years later in The Force Awakens.
Why kill off one of the world’s favorite action heroes? Ford simply didn’t find the character interesting, and felt that his usefulness was essentially over after the second Star Wars film. According to Ford, who has given quite a few interviews on the subject, Han simply lacked depth.
This is where I disagree. Han Solo was an extremely interesting character, one of the great archetypes of the hero’s journey genre of storytelling. Redemption is one of the greatest themes in all of history, whether that history be fiction of nonfiction. It is certainly the predominant theme of the Star Wars Saga, from Anakin Skywalker to Kylo Ren and yes, Han Solo. We want to see the good in people, and while it isn’t always easy in real life, our favorite stories almost always involve redemption.
There are two relatively similar accounts of Han Solo’s life leading up to the events of A New Hope. A C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy is absolutely delightful, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Star Wars. There is also the similar theatrical version, Solo, which was equally delightful. You can catch that on Disney+ if you haven’t already seen it dozens of times, like this writer. Essentially, Han grew up as a dirt poor orphan on Corellia, a rough system with violent gangs that’s also known for its fast ships (the Millenium Falcon is a Corellian YT Model freight [with special modifications by Han]) and ace pilots.
From these humble beginnings Han rises to be one of the great heroes of the Republic, an inspirational story if there ever was one. The hope, of course, is that the story might inspire kids who feel abandoned and useless to dream big and reach those dreams, while also inspiring sympathetic viewers to help those kids escape whatever destiny they’ve been dealt to achieve their dreams.
Han Solo is a hero, not the kind who was born with Force powers like his fellow hero, Luke Skywalker, but rather the kind who was faced with choices and chose the honorable path. In this way he is very much like his alter ego, Indiana Jones. Though from a very different background, Indy also chooses the honorable path, whether that means returning the Cross of Coronado to a museum or restoring life to a poor village by giving up personal fortune and glory.
We need these stories…we need Han Solo. We live in a world where selfish assholes want everything for themselves and really couldn’t care less about the poor or less fortunate. Kids don’t grow up wanting to be corporate CEOs or greedy, power-hungry politicians. They grow up wanting to be Han Solo. They grow up wanting to be Indiana Jones.
So, I’m sorry Harrison Ford. You are still my favorite actor of all time and nothing will ever change that. But you’re wrong about Han Solo. He is a powerful, deep figure and one of the greatest action heroes to ever grace the silver screen.
We need more heroes like him.