This Star Wars article contains spoilers.
When it comes to quotable moments and catchphrases, the Star Wars universe is chock-full of ‘em. Darth Vader’s “I am your father,” Princess Leia Organa’s “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” Yoda’s “do, or do not, there is no try” — these and countless others can all be recalled by fans the world over at the drop of a stormtrooper’s helmet. Some, like “I have a bad feeling about this,” occur in every single film. It even pops up in The Last Jedi when, according to writer and director Rian Johnson, BB-8 exclaims it during the opening sequence.
Another memorable phrase that also reappears in both The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story is “punch it.” This is, of course, what Han Solo tells Chewbacca aboard the Millennium Falcon early in The Empire Strikes Back. With Darth Vader closing in on them, Solo, Chewie, Leia, and C-3PO flee the Rebels’ Hoth stronghold. They attempt to make the jump to lightspeed soon after, but it doesn’t work — nor does the hyperdrive near the end of the film, when Lando Calrissian says the same thing to the wookiee co-pilot..
In both instances, the utterance was used in times of crisis. Although it never pops up in Return of the Jedi, the Prequel Trilogy or The Force Awakens, the exclamation can be found in everything from the 2009 Star Trek reboot to the Bad Boys movies. More often than not, its repeated use in pop culture mirrors the perilous situations Han and Lando found themselves in. But everything changed when Johnson’s divisive The Last Jedi employed it twice during its opening skirmish between the Resistance and the First Order.
As Kayti Burt masterfully points out in her essay on The Last Jedi’s “toxic masculinity,” Johnson uses the “dashing pilot” archetype established by Han and adopted by Poe Dameron “to say something completely different about heroism, leadership, and — perhaps most importantly — masculinity.” Nowhere is this more clear than when comparing Poe’s telling BB-8 to “punch it” before launching a one-man assault on the First Order’s dreadnought to Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix’s shouting it just before the last jump ship escapes the doomed Resistance base.
The latter mirrors the sentiment behind the line’s two uses in The Empire Strikes Back, in that Kaydel and the remaining Resistance members are trying to escape a murderous adversary. It also serves as a premonition for Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s advice to her fellow survivors. “We’re the very last of the Resistance,” she says. “We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic. That spark, this Resistance, must survive.”
Poe later takes this lesson to heart in the movie’s final moments, but not before his own “punch it” and the daring plan it initiates do the exact opposite. Instead of helping the fleeing freedom fighters survive, he gets a bunch of pilots killed. Poe later tries to save face by calling them “heroes” when confronted by General Leia, but her clarification is gut-wrenchingly honest and apt: “Dead heroes.” Yes, not everyone is going to make it out alive when faced with such insurmountable odds, but that doesn’t give someone like Poe a license to sacrifice so many lives for what amounts to momentary relief.
Fast forward (or rewind?) to Solo, the tenth Star Wars film ever made and the second of the Disney-owned Lucasfilm’s standalone entries. From casting new, younger faces for many of the series’ most popular characters to digging into the Legends (the old Expanded Universe) canon for inspiration, the prequel offers plenty of fan service. Han’s play on the “bad feeling” gag, a rather surprising cameo, the actual “Kessel Run” — all of these and more were featured. Even Han’s “punch it” made an appearance though in a context slightly different from The Empire Strikes Back and wholly indifferent to The Last Jedi’s evolution of it.
When Han shouts the line to Chewie, they’re trying to escape a massive gravity well. How? By adding a drop of unrefined coaxium — the hyperdrive fuel they were tasked with stealing — to the Millennium Falcon’s fission reactor. The kick will presumably help the ship clear the black hole-like hazard, the Maw, and make the jump into hyperspace, thereby clearing the run.
Sure, this is a potentially deadly scenario much like Han and Lando’s situation in The Empire Strikes Back and Kaydel’s predicament in The Last Jedi. Unlike these, however, Solo’s crew isn’t trying to outrun and outlive an undeniably antagonistic force. Which makes sense for this film, as the forces of good and evil that typify the trilogies aren’t as clear cut in the early life of Leia’s “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.” Han is a scoundrel who shoots first, steals to get by and, while good at heart, in it for the money and related selfish reasons.
That’s not to say the young Han’s actions in this moment are the same as Poe’s. The former saves his party and, because of a brief moral turn soon after, the lives of many others. Meanwhile, the latter results in many “dead heroes” and a rebellious force in danger of losing all hope of continuance. The problem is, while Solo is meant to be a prequel, its post-The Last Jedi release inadvertently reverses what Johnson accomplished with his movie’s significant update to a seemingly unimportant line.