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Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back

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The life and times of Han Solo, according to the new Star Wars canon

What movies, comics, cartoons, and tie-in novels tell us about the legendary smuggler

Corbis via Getty Images
Dave Gonzales is a journalist, podcaster, and author of MCU: The Reign Of Marvel Studios, releasing Oct.10, 2023.

George Lucas couldn’t have known that Han Solo’s golden dice would keep me up at night.

A prop imbued with emotion in The Last Jedi, the dice were used in the game of “Corillian Spike” Sabacc in which Han won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian — or that’s what the Lucasfilm’s The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary established as canon. This week’s Solo: A Star Wars Story rewrites that history. I won’t tell you how, but I will tell you that it drives me a little nutty in the process. I’m sorry, but I like to know what’s true and what isn’t about my favorite characters.

Which raises the question: Forty-one years after his introduction, what is canon in the life of Han Solo?

After acquiring LucasFilm in 2012, Disney dropped most of the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” books, comics, and toy lore into the dianoga’s trash compactor, with plans to reboot the universe’s history through movies and new tie-in material. The official canon currently includes novels, novels and YA lit published by Del Rey, comic books published by Marvel Comics, video games published by Electronic Arts, and various animated entries like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels (which aired on television) and Star Wars: Forces of Destiny (a collection of shorts focusing on female Star Wars characters which aired on TV and online). The universe is growing, again.

Chronologically, Han Solo’s new, Lucasfilm-approved timeline begins with Solo: A Star Wars Story. (While the Falcon makes a canonical appearance in Revenge of the Sith, it would have been piloted by a yet-to-be-disclosed character.) As it stands, there’s nothing cementing the true origins of Han; we pick up with his twenty-something self in Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and blast off towards the original trilogy, with the The Force Awakens far off on the timeline.

But what happens to our favorite space smuggler as he ventures across the rewritten Expanded Universe? What does this legendary character’s legacy look like now? This is the story of Han Solo, a smuggler who’s been just about everywhere and seen just about everything.

han and chewbacca in solo: a star wars story Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm

Han Solo’s slow, canonical beginnings

In the final moments of Solo: A Star Wars Story, when Chewbacca and Han finally have the Falcon, it’s hinted that there are plenty more adventures worth spinning out as movies, reading material, and short-form storytelling before his appearance in Star Wars (henceforth referred to by it’s official title A New Hope, but everyone knows it is still just Star Wars). The few fans of the late-’90s Han Solo Trilogy by author A.C. Crispin shouldn’t be totally dismayed; that version of the EU is dead, but Solo contains echoes of the dismissed canon: there’s a Garris Shrike-like father figure, and while Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra isn’t Solo’s novel romantic interest Bria Tharen, the wisdom both female leads bestow upon our hero is similar. Still, the Han Solo Trilogy has been replaced by a wide open expanse for new stories... that is, until the point where Han grows up and Disney and Lucasfilm’s canon catches up with him.

Star Wars Adventures - Han Solo and The Hollow Moon of Khorya
Star Wars Adventures
Marvel Comics

The first post-Solo canon story unfolds in Star Wars Adventures, Marvel Comics’ anthology book aimed at younger comic book readers. Sometime after the events of the prequel movie, but before their first appearance in A New Hope, lies “The Hollow Moon of Khorya,” in which Han and Chewbacca stumble across a world that kills machinery with organic EMPs. Close behind them are Zuckuss and 4-LOM, two of the bounty hunters we later see as part of Vader’s team in The Empire Strikes Back, who are following up on Jabba’s legendary bounty. Not the most glamorous beginning of a revamped timeline, but this is a fresh-faced Star Wars universe.

Han’s next canonical step is the junior novel Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo and Chewbacca Adventure. At the end of A New Hope, everyone in the Empire who knew of the Han’s rap sheet perished in the explosion of the Death Star (convenient!), which means Han and Chewie are still considered neutrals by the Imperials. So Leia sends the two reluctant rebels to rescue an Alliance recon asset, a man named Caluan Ematt, who actually shows up on screen as part of Leia’s Resistance in The Force Awakens and in The Last Jedi at the Battle of Crait. Han and Chewie obviously succeed since Ematt lives to see the First Order, but what the story is lacking in tension it makes up for by devising another entertaining escape for the pilots and the Falcon.

In between the rescue of Caluan Ematt and the next big leap in Han Solo’s story is Marvel’s Star Wars #1, a quick diversion that sees Chewbacca and Solo split up so that Chewie can gets his own five-issue standalone comic (Marvel’s Chewbacca). His mission: deliver a smaller bandolier to a member of his family back on Kashyyyk. He gets waylaid when he crashes his ship on an Imperial occupied planet, but reunites with Han for Star Wars: Han Solo (another Marvel five-issue, character-specific series).

Written by Marjorie Liu, Han Solo finds Solo and the Wookiee on another secret mission for the Rebel Alliance, but they get tied up in a dangerous spaceship race, the Dragon Void Run. “Han’s been dreaming 
of entering this thing for his entire life,” Liu told Entertainment Weekly. “He finally gets
 the chance, except there’s a catch: Leia thinks there are spies in the Rebellion, and she doesn’t dare send anyone else to retrieve these vital informants who are on various planets in the system.”

Han struggles with winning the race and solidifying his title as the top pilot in the galaxy and completing his mission for the Rebellion — it’s his Fast and the Furious. The book doesn’t introduce any characters from later on in Han Solo’s life, but it does serve as something of a pivot point for Solo’s involvement with the Rebellion.

Becoming the empire’s most wanted

As he commits to Leia, Luke, and the Rebellion, Han starts to only pop up in the comic books (despite a number of published novels chronicling this early time period from the perspective of the Rebellion, like the YA novel Lost Stars, and a few stories involving Luke Skywalker’s pre-Dagobah search for Jedi knowledge). The eponymous Star Wars comic book line, launched in 2015, picked up after the events of A New Hope and moved towards the events of The Empire Strikes Back, weaving in and out of crossover events and shorter story arcs. The first arc involves the Rebel Alliance’s assault on an Imperial Weapons factory on Cymoon 1 in the Corillian Industrial Cluster, and part of the Rebel infiltration plan involves Han Solo acting as an agent of Jabba the Hutt. Although the scam works, with the Rebels stopping the Empire from manufacturing weapons on the planet, Han Solo officially becomes one of the Empire’s most wanted criminals right along with Leia and the X-Wing pilot who shot down the Death Star (at this point in the canon, no one knows it’s Luke Skywalker).

After fleeing Vader and Cymoon 1, the Millennium Falcon needed some expensive parts, and Leia needed Han around, so the Princess told the for-hire rogue that he could work off the expenses of the Falcon’s repairs by helping her scout for a planet to host a new Rebel Base. Of course, TIE fighters find the two high-value targets, forcing Han to fly Leia to one of his secret hideouts on a planet in the Monsua Nebula. Under the storm of the Nebula above, the planet is actually pleasant and Solo has a previous stash of goods there, including some Corellian Wine. I’m sure there’s a smooth jizz 8-track around, too.

But at Han’s version of Make-out Point, another ship descends through the nebula to the hidden planet. We’re introduced to Sana Solo … Han Solo’s wife.

This major twist in Star Wars #6 isn’t 100% true. It turns out that Han and Sana Starros were hitched in a sham wedding as part of a smuggling job and Han snuck away from his female partner without giving her the share she was promised. This naturally made Sana very mad, and she almost turns Leia and Han over to the Imperials.

star wars comics - sana starros solo
Sana Starros (Solo)
Marvel Comics

But Leia, always the quick-thinker, convinces Starros to join the duo on a trip to rescue Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca on the “Smuggler’s Moon” of Nar Shadda — if for no other reason than Han Solo owed her money and she wasn’t going to let him out of her sight. After freeing Chewie, who was bait in a trap for Solo set by the bounty hunter Dengar, they learn that Luke has been taken prisoner by Grakkus the Hutt, a Hutt who uses mechanical insect legs to move his bulk. Grakkus also collected Jedi artifacts from around the galaxy, including a collection of lightsabers. If you want to see Han Solo complaining about using a lightsaber, but kicking some butt with one nonetheless, Star Wars #12 is the issue for you. If you want to see Han Solo herd some nerfs to pay off his gambling debts, you can skip to Star Wars #17. Between those two events is an awesome Darth Vader crossover event and an introduction to Expanded Universe character Doctor Aphra, but Han is ultimately sidelined with a gambling subplot.

Around this time, the Star Wars comics take a break from multi-issues arcs to do some canon-fortifying one-shots, with Han showing up in a major way in Star Wars #35. Mon Mothma tasks Han with transferring Grakkus the Hutt to the new Rebellion prison in the catacombs of a planet called Akiva (the planet ends up being central to the not-Han plot of the canon-approved novel Star Wars: Aftermath) . The Alliance wants to interrogate him so they can find and reappropriate his secret weapons cache. Han isn’t psyched about letting a Hutt on the Falcon but manages to outsmart the slug and obtain the location of the weapons by tricking Grakkus into thinking he had taken control of the ship. Solo comes up with a better plan than Mon Mothma and outsmarts a Hutt all in one issue.

Han Solo heads to Hoth

The next Star Wars comic arc takes the main trio of Luke, Leia, and Han to what is left of the planet of Jedha, the place where Saw Guerrera’s Partisan faction of Rebels were blown up mid-way through Star Wars: Rogue One. Jedha may be a dying planet, its ecosystem destroyed by a partial Death Star blast, but the comic finds the Empire mining the corpse of the planet for Kyber crystals in order to build a second Death Star. Leia goes to the planet hoping to recruit what’s left of Guerrera’s Partisans who have stayed behind to fight the Empire. They are as resistant to join the Rebel Alliance as Saw was in Rogue One, until the Empire dispatches a continent-class strip mining ship the size of a New England state. Everyone teams up to take it down. Luke and Leia go on side-missions to sabotage the strip-miner, so Han has to command the Rebel forces that are left, and his arc becomes accepting the title of Captain and making the tough decisions. After he orders a group of Rebels to pilot the strip miner into a huge chasm, the smuggler comes swooping in on the Falcon to save them at the last minute. Classic Han.

The Rebels get off Jedha after destroying the strip-mining ship and chasing the Imperial mining operation away. With those new resources and Grakkus’ confiscated weapons, the Rebel Alliance is slowly becoming the attacking fleet we finally get to see in Return of the Jedi. Today, the Star Wars comics are ongoing, still filling in the gap between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back, but that’s where we are as of Star Wars #43, published in February 2018.

Han Solo on Hoth in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Image: 20th Century Fox

This finally brings us to Hoth. On top of everything we know from Empire, Han Solo makes an appearance in a Star Wars: Forces of Destiny comic where he, Leia, and Hera Syndulla (the Twi’lek female lead of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series) patrol the Hoth base while riding tauntauns. In the novel Battlefront: Twilight Company, Han also pops up to share a drink with a soldier from Twilight Company stationed on the ice planet. Neither of those minor excursions are as consequential to Han Solo as the events of The Empire Strikes Back, which combines all the bravado of his between-movie smuggling exploits into a sushi roll of character development. For the first time, the Rebels are forced to rely on Han Solo’s connections, which brings them to Cloud City in the Anoat sector, and Han’s betrayal at the hands of Lando Calrissian. The bounty hunter Boba Fett gladly collects the carbonite block Vader makes Han into immediately after the relationship between him and Leia is wonderfully cinematically revealed.

Han Solo’s stay in a block of carbonite makes him unable to appear in any Expanded Universe material until Return of the Jedi, but once he’s thawed out and makes it onto Endor at the climax of the movie, it’s apparently up to him to feed the Ewoks something that isn’t Stormtroopers, as depicted in an animated Forces of Destiny short.

Han after the Battle of Endor

Marvel’s limited series Shattered Empire comic picks up the morning after the big Ewok party at the end of Return of the Jedi. General Solo leads an attack on an Imperial Outpost on the other side of Endor and manages to capture a bunch of data. His pilot on the mission is Rebel Alliance Lieutenant Shara Bey — who eventually gives birth to Poe Dameron. According to the novel Aftermath: Life Debt, Han and Leia were married during their time on Endor in a small ceremony, and Han installed a galley in the Millennium Falcon so it would be more habitable for a Princess.

Back in the Shattered Empire comics, the data recovered by Han Solo and a team of Rebels known as the Pathfinders lead to an Imperial Security Bureau black site on the Outer Rim planet Trayton. The General and the Pathfinders raid the base and discover the details of the late Emperor Palpatine’s “Operation Cinder,” a campaign of terror triggered by Palpatine’s passing.

This plot plays out over several Expanded Universe media, including Star Wars: Battlefront II, the novels, and comics. The Emperor planned to destroy the population of several planets as a way of burning down his enemies and any information he didn’t want recovered by any future Republic or iteration of the Empire. For instance, Imperial remnants attack Naboo after the Battle of Endor to wipe out Sheev Palpatine’s homeworld. Despite obtaining data about Operation Cinder, Han Solo actually has other things on his mind after Endor and the events of Shattered Empire: It was time to fulfill a promise to Chewbacca.

Repaying a life debt

In Star Wars: Battlefront II, Han Solo — sporting a beard, Captain America in Avengers: Infinity War style — rolls into Maz Kanata’s castle looking for intelligence about Kashyyyk, which is still under Imperial rule. Escaping a fire fight with the Inferno Squad (the game’s protagonists), he then decides to liberate the Wookiee planet.

han solo with beard battlefront 2 Electronic Arts

Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novel trilogy doesn’t specifically follow Han Solo, but does track his actions from Battlefront II to Kashyyyk to the fall of the Empire and the birth of his son. Han gave up his rank in the New Republic and turned his attention to liberating the Wookiees, but it turned out the intelligence he gathered was false. The Imperial presence on Kashyyyk was not going to be lower than usual for a brief window of time — this was just a trap set by the Empire to capture Han, Chewie, and their compatriots. The Empire only manages to capture Chewbacca, but Leia loses a hologram message from Han as he comes under Imperial attack again, leaving her to fear the worst.

In Aftermath: Life Debt, Leia hires a crew captained by New Republic fighter pilot Norra Wexley (mother of Temmin “Snap” Wexley, who is a kid in the Aftermath novels but grows into Heroes actor Greg Grunberg for The Force Awakens) to go rescue Chewie and find Han. Like every Han Solo adventure in the Star Wars universe, this involves several heists. First, the crew finds Han looking for design blueprints for the Ashmead’s Lock prison ship that crash landed on Kashyyyk before the short story collection Rise of the Empire. The downed ship had been re-designed into a prison facility, and Han needs to go there to free Chewbacca. But it’s a trap! The prisoners of Ashmead’s Lock are implanted with inhibitor chips as part of a terrorist plot against the New Republic by Imperial Admiral Gallus Rax, who was controlling what was left of the Empire at the time. Han doesn’t really care: He and Chewbacca stay on Kashyyyk to liberate the rest of the planet, while Leia’s crew deactivates the chips and saves the day.

During the Kashyyyk incursion, Han instructs Chewbacca to stay and help his homeworld recover after so many years of subjugation, as he and a very pregnant Leia travel to the New Republic capital of Chandrila (Mon Mothma’s homeworld) to prepare for the arrival of their child. Unfortunately, this is just before Aftermath: Empire’s End, and the drama hasn’t died down yet. What happens next is that Han and Leia acquire a domestic droid, T-2LC (“Elsie”) to help them while Leia focuses on the ongoing political turmoil in the New Republic. What was left of the Empire had amassed over the planet of Jakku, and Mon Mothma hadn’t voted to send the New Republic fleet to finally end the star war. A listening device planted in T-2LC leads Han Solo to investigate two criminal syndicates: Red Key Raiders and the Black Sun. His crew is able to trace the criminals back to the offending Senator, and the problem is solved after much hostage taking and blaster fighting.

In Empire’s End, the New Republic votes to send its fleet to Jakku. Han and Leia appear in a touching scene where he comments that it’s odd the two aren’t there at the end of the war they helped start. Leia says they have a new adventure: a child. After the Empire is devastated at the Battle of Jakku, Mon Mothma and Mas Amedda (the blue guy with head spikes from the prequel series who, yes, remains a political figurehead of the Empire through the Emperor’s reign) sign the Galactic Concordance, bringing an end to the Civil War. Leia attends the ceremony and manages to keep secret that she is in labor. Ben is born the same day the war ends. He turns out to be a wonderful… oh.

Han in dad mode

The most recent Han Solo story to be released in the canon timeline is Daniel José Older’s novel Last Shot. Set two-to-three years after the Battle of Endor, Ben is still a kid, Leia is working for the New Republic senate, and Han is having serious doubts about being cut out for parenthood. He feels like Leia has a stronger connection to the boy because of their common Force-sensitivity, so he’s struggling when Lando Calrissian strolls in and punches him in the face.

Last Shot takes place over four different time periods and is mostly an exercise in bringing fan favorite non-Force characters together in one time-hopping story. Ten years before Ben was born, Han ran across an inventor named Fyzen Gor, who caused trouble for Lando in the New Republic era. Han and Lando team up with Chewie, Lando’s new girlfriend (it might be serious this time!) and some colorful new characters to take on this “new threat” which has to do with controlling droids.

star wars novel - last shot han and lando story Del Rey

The dual stories of the novel are actually sections featuring Lando and his co-pilot L3-37 set before the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and sections featuring Han, Chewie and Sana Starros that take place after Solo but before A New Hope (by this point in fandom, Sana Starros has long outgrown being a fake-out-wife to being her own rounded scoundrel). These sections intercut with the main action to show how both Lando and Han have changed (or, in some cases, remained stubbornly the same) in their age. One thing we do learn is that Han Solo does not think of himself as any sort of father figure.

Han’s emotional strain is explored further in the Princess Leia centric novel Star Wars: Bloodline. A political thriller set twenty-four years after the Battle of Endor, the book shows us what happens when Leia’s true parentage comes to light and is used against her to deepen the fissures in the New Republic (the early agitators in Bloodline eventually reveal themselves as working for The First Order). Leia is alone in her adventure because Ben has gone off to train with Luke and Han is managing a race circuit called the Five Sabers. In the years since Ben left, Leia dedicated herself to her work and Han, listless, worked with pilots and racers but rarely spent quality time with his wife. He flies into Leia’s side adventure at the end, making a surprise rescue when he’s supposed to be overseeing the fifth round of the Five Sabers races. In the end, Leia basically gets muscled out of the Senate because her father was Darth Vader, but manages to expose a criminal conspiracy by the shadowy First Order.

Then, there’s The Force Awakens. We can assume that sometime after Ben Solo learned that his grandfather was Darth Vader, he was seduced to the Dark Side by Supreme Leader Snoke and became Kylo Ren. This effectively ends the marriage between Han and Leia. He and Chewbacca go back to smuggling and, in the process of some bad decision-making, lose the Falcon. When the ship he loves pops back up on the radar, he discovers a young girl named Rey and an ex-Stormtrooper named Finn are onboard and they’re looking for a map to Luke Skywalker.

You know the rest. Han reunites with Leia, helps Rey and Finn infiltrate the First Order’s Starkiller Base, some spoiler things happen that fandom’s still trying to come to terms with, and that’s that. The end of Solo’s Star Wars story. For now.

Dave Gonzales is an entertainment writer and podcaster. Find him on Twitter @Da7e.


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