"...what trials, tribulations, and sufferings forged him into that person?"
Some characters are sacred. They go beyond the screen or the page and evolve into living, breathing entities—becoming heroes in our world, just as they did in theirs.
As fans, we need to understand our heroes. There is a desire to go beyond simply seeing their story on-screen and memorizing their dialogue--to actually understand their thought process, their hopes, and their motivations.
Admittedly, this is easier for some than others. While the galaxy far, far away offers a plethora of characters to analyze (and overanalyze), there is one rather unlikely hero who is particularly difficult to grasp.
How do we reconcile the many sides of the smuggler with the heart of gold? The cavalier attitude with the caring nature? The unshakable swagger with the moments of failure? The undeniable charm with the scruffy exterior?
How does the man who ran away from the Battle of Yavin show up in the nick of time to give Luke a shot at the Death Star, and how can the man who shot Greedo in Mos Eisley be the same one who confronted the evil in his son with open arms?
How can we possibly wrap our minds around such a complex, multifaceted character?
I'm speaking, of course, about Han Solo.
The key to understanding any character lies not in how they appear at a certain point in time, but rather what trials, tribulations, and sufferings forged him or her into that person along the way. While the Original Trilogy did a wonderful job of presenting who Han Solo was, it did very little to tell us why. Luckily, over the years, the Expanded Universe has stepped up to fill in that gap.
While any of several series are successful at fleshing out Han Solo, one in particular stands out for weaving a vibrant backstory for the character: The Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin. Comprised of three books (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn), this Legends series tells the story of Han from his childhood on Corellia all the way until he's sitting in a very familiar cantina next to a very familiar, hairy co-pilot.
In The Paradise Snare, readers meet Han as a young orphan who has fallen in with the harsh Garris Shrike and his crew aboard the Trader's Luck. Han earns his keep as a swoop pilot, but desperately wishes that he could escape from the violent tutelage of Shrike.
With the help of Dewlanna—a Wookie cook and stand-in mother figure aboard the ship—Han manages to strike out on his own. Looking for work as a pilot, he quickly finds himself employed by Teroenza, the High Priest of a religious colony on the planet Ylesia. It doesn't take long for Han to discover the secret behind the devious priesthood's operation, but before he can save the pilgrims in the colony, he must first find a way to convince them that they need to be saved at all.
Where this book particularly succeeds is in enlightening the reader as to what created the lonely, skeptical side of Han. Being a slapdash, headstrong, even idealistic young man, Han learns many lessons throughout this story that begin to inform the character that we meet in the films.
This book also provides a wonderful depth to some of Han's comments in A New Hope, such as when he says "I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything." Clearly, Han’s time on Ylesia with the priesthood taught him to be dubious when confronted with the seemingly mystical.
All in all, The Paradise Snare is the perfect launching pad into discovering the history of Han Solo.
The Hutt Gambit opens with Han defecting from the Imperial Navy after becoming acquainted with the Empire's true, cruel nature. After saving Chewbacca from Imperial slavers, he finds himself unable to shake the Wookie due to an alleged "life debt." As a new, somewhat forced partnership, the duo starts trying to build their reputation as smugglers, and in that line of work, it doesn't take long for them to fall in with the Hutts.
However, as the warring Hutt clans start to notice the natural skill of their new pilot, they begin luring him deeper into their schemes. Meanwhile, the Empire is looking to shut down the Hutts’ operations, as well as capture the recent Imperial Navy defector, Solo. This leads to an all-out assault on the Hutts’ headquarters and Han's new home on Nar Shaddaa (the so-called "smuggler's moon"), where it’s up to Han to assemble a group of ragtag smugglers to stop the Empire, save his home, and—ultimately—to survive.
The Hutt Gambit beautifully illustrates the beginning of one of the most infamous Star Wars partnerships, while also delving into how a greenhorn, start-up smuggler makes a name for himself throughout the galaxy. With several characters from the Original Trilogy making an appearance, this book enriches countless interactions seen in the films by providing more context to the history between characters. Ultimately, the middle chapter of this trilogy moves us even closer to the Han that we eventually meet in A New Hope.
Rebel Dawn presents Han as a successful, established smuggler, especially since the acquisition of his new ship, the Millennium Falcon, in a high-stakes sabacc tournament. But Han soon gets pulled into aiding the Rebel Alliance when an old flame from Ylesia shows up to request his help.
In typical Solo fashion, it doesn't take long for things to take a turn for the worse, and after finding themselves betrayed, robbed, and completely broke, Han and Chewie take up a dangerous job transporting spice through the infamous Kessel Run to make up for their lost time and money. However, their situation continues to deteriorate when Imperials get involved. Suddenly, Han finds himself desperate, hopelessly in debt, and stuck with a massive bounty on his head courtesy of Jabba the Hutt. A strange old man and a young farm boy requesting passage on his ship just might be his last chance to set things straight…
Not only does Rebel Dawn apprise the reader of exactly how Han was first introduced to the Rebellion, but it also provides insight into the more intimate nature of the character. Having been repaid for his vulnerability with a broken heart, readers can actually feel Han beginning to build walls of sarcasm and detachment to protect himself in the future. These very same walls are apparent in A New Hope, especially when Han first meets Princess Leia—the woman who would eventually tear them down.
Rebel Dawn not only gives readers a true first-look at the Original Trilogy Han, but also provides a detailed backstory as to why a certain green alien is looking to put a blaster bolt in Solo in the Mos Eisley cantina.
When audiences watched Han Solo stride out onto the catwalk inside Starkiller Base, many knew he was going to meet his fate—possibly even Han himself. While it hurt to have one of our heroes ripped away so soon after getting him back, it also renewed our appreciation for the character and everything he had contributed to the story up to that point.
The realization that the future of Star Wars wouldn't contain the wit and bravery of our favorite smuggler left many feeling as if something would always be missing.
Luckily for us, Disney is all too aware of the allure of Han Solo, and is already taking steps to ensure fans that they aren't dismissing the character. In a few short months, Solo: A Star Wars Story will be hitting theaters to treat fans to Han's backstory on the silver screen, putting our favorite smuggler into the spotlight like never before! And there are still giant gaps to fill in the Star Wars chronology where Han was instrumentally involved, as demonstrated by Daniel José Older's forthcoming novel, Last Shot.
But in the meantime, for fans who can't wait to get another dose of their favorite scruffy-looking nerfherder, they need look no further than A.C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy.
Perhaps Luke summed up Han's nature best in The Last Jedi when he simply stated, "Han was...Han about it." Even with so few words, fans knew exactly what he meant.
Maybe we'll never fully understand what makes Han Solo tick. Maybe the story behind that lopsided grin will always remain partially untold. But maybe that mystery is part of what makes him so intriguing in the first place.
For those Han Solo fans who can't resist the challenge of gaining a better understanding of the cocky, courageous, charismatic kid from Corellia…these are your first steps.