Han Solo has always had a pretty tough time as a dad. Even before Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and rebooted the canon so that none of his previously established post-Return of the Jedi adventures had ever happened, the former smuggler was breaking a sweat as a family man. If there’s one thing the Star Wars Expanded Universe, old and new, has always reinforced, it’s that being a dad is hard – especially when your kids are Force-sensitive.
While Han certainly struggled with Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin in the old canon Legends timeline – only one of his kids were still standing by the time Disney wiped the slate clean – things only got worse for him in The Force Awakens. Not only had Ben Solo turned to the dark side and become the murderous Kylo Ren, but Han’s life came to a surprising end when his son stabbed him with a lightsaber and threw him off a bridge, the scoundrel tumbling into the abyss of Starkiller Base.
It’s not surprising that one of the big chips on Kylo’s shoulder is his relationship (or lack thereof, according to the villain) with his father. As Kylo says in both TFA and The Last Jedi, Han and Leia were too busy with the New Republic to ever truly pay him any mind. While part of Kylo’s scorn for his parents certainly comes down to him being a contemptuous brat, there’s definitely some truth hidden beneath the villain’s rage. It’s hard being second or third on your parents’ list of priorities.
Han gave parenting a good go in Legends, but it’s arguable that the new Dad Solo is closer to reality. Let’s face it, Han’s not really a guy you’d ever peg as a good dad. His whole arc in the Original Trilogy is basically about him trying to figure out how to not be a shithead when things get difficult. When the Empire is about to blow up the Rebel base on Yavin, his first instinct is to run. When he’s faced with the choice of staying with the Rebellion or going back to smuggling, it’s only circumstance (the Imperial attack on Hoth) that keeps him from bouncing. In Return of the Jedi, when he suspects that Leia is in love with Luke, you can feel the guy already warming up Shuttle Tydirium. Han is Star Wars fandom’s problematic fave.
Yes, credit should be given to Han for ultimately not running in any of the situations listed above, but has he actually learned anything by the end of the trilogy? Based on a new book, titled Last Shot, by Daniel José Older, a tie-in novel to Solo: A Star Wars Story that explores three different eras in the scoundrel’s life (as well as several adventures with Lando Calrissian and Chewie), Han’s not changed all that much at all in the days since the Battle of Endor. In an excerpt released by StarWars.com, we meet a Han Solo who’s bored with New Republic meetings, hesitant about his new leadership role within the fledgling government, and who is really struggling with fatherhood – especially when it comes to actually enjoying it.
Throughout the short excerpt, Han looks on at his sleeping infant son with trepidation, hoping he won’t wake up after a long night of restlessness.
“Hngh . . .” Han Solo woke with a tiny foot in his face and an irritating droid voice in his ear. “What?” The tiny foot was attached to the tiny body of Ben Solo, mercifully sleeping for what seemed like the first time in days. Han’s eyes went wide. Would the boy wake?
When Ben is suddenly ripped out of sleep by the hologram of Mon Mothma, who has an urgent message for Leia, Han looks on at his son with bewilderment. Whether intended or not, Han doesn’t have a loving thought about Ben in the entire excerpt. Han’s brief thoughts about his son have more to do with his feelings of obligation – and how confusing and restricting those feelings are for the former Rebel hero – than an actual expression of love. In fact, the only observation he makes about his son is regarding Ben’s “dark” and “ancient eyes” – a thought that unsettles him for the obvious foreshadow-y reasons.
Coupled with his feelings about being “suckered into” a leadership role in the New Republic, it’s clear that Han is already thinking about running again:
He had a pile of boring meetings today, kicking off a week of planning and preparing for the inaugural meeting of the New Republic Pilots Commission, which Han had grudgingly accepted the leadership of—a mistake he was still trying to figure out how he’d been suckered into. Han hated planning. He also hated preparing. But what he really hated above everything else, besides maybe the Empire itself, was meetings. And now the Empire had been gone for more than two years, the remnants of their fleet blasted out of the sky over Jakku just as Ben was being born, in fact, and that cleared the way for meetings to take the number one slot on the Things Han Hates list.
It’s the things left unsaid in this passage that show Han slowly reverting to his old instincts. His thoughts on planning, which, in the context of the excerpt, could also refer to Han’s dismay about his life as a family man, which, for the time being, is set on a plotted course. Not to mention that he totally selfishly sees the end of the violent Galactic Civil War, in tandem with the birth of his son, as the spark for his boring life as a dad with a government job. Tough break for a guy used to adventuring through space and smooching royalty.
We know what happens next, of course. By the time Rey and Finn run into Han in The Force Awakens, he’s gone back to his old life as a smuggler, his failure as a dad the final straw for the family man. As far as we know, when Ben falls to the dark side, Han runs away “to deal with his feelings” instead of trying to actually save his son.
From The Force Awakens:
Han Solo: There’s nothing more we could have done. There’s too much Vader in him.
Leia: That’s why I wanted him to train with Luke. I just never should have sent him away. That’s when I lost him. That’s when I lost you both.
Han Solo: We both had to deal with it in our own way. I went back to the only thing I was ever any good at.
Leia eventually convinces Han to bring back their son – a fitting final act for the scoundrel, although not so much a progression in his character but the same infinite loop: when the smuggler is faced with a hard decision, does he run or does he fight? In this case, he dies fighting, but only after disappointing those he loves so many times before.
As poetic as his death might be (and perfect for Harrison Ford, who wanted to be killed off all the way back in The Empire Strikes Back), I don’t think Han deserved to die on Starkiller Base. Is Kylo right to describe Han as a deadbeat dad? Sure, and it’s even those daddy issues that make the villain a sympathetic character – at least until he’s faced with the same choice of owning his fuck ups and fails to do so. But it would’ve also been interesting to watch Han deal head-on with his failure as a father – and a husband – for another movie or perhaps the rest of the Sequel Trilogy, so that we could finally have the version of the hero we had built up in our heads from the first time we’d watched Star Wars. A hero who owned, faced, and fixed his mistakes.
The writers of the old EU were much kinder to the Rebel hero. Han loses two sons and does a better job of dealing with those losses. With the loss of Jacen Solo, he’s even gifted a granddaughter, the next in a line of many more Solos to come. But for the Han Solo of the Sequel Trilogy that long line of successors may never come to pass, buried with its flawed patriarch and his greatest failure.
Star Wars: Last Shot is out now. Solo hits theaters on May 25.