Here's the thing about Star Wars' favourite malcontent: saving the day is only something Han Solo does when he has to save his own arse.
Out today from the creative team of Marjorie Liu, Mark Brooks, Sonia Oback and Joe Caramagna, Han Solo #1 displays an affectionate understanding of the pilot of the Millennium Falcon. Han's a character cut from the classic rogue archetype, a devil-may-care, morally ambiguous hustler who's only a hero when he has absolutely no other way out of a rock and a hard place. His unlikely partnership with the idealists of the Rebellion creates one of the core tensions that makes the original Star Wars trilogy work. This guy runs contraband all over the galaxy yet sticks around with the scrappy insurgents trying to overthrow the gigantic oppressive power structure. What's in it for him to stay involved?
That question is the heart of the plot of Han Solo #1. The book opens with Solo being more cautious than usual, turning away lucrative gigs because his instincts tell him to.
He gets propositioned at gunpoint by two mysterious characters who say they need his ship and it turns out they're a little like him, rogues who help the cause of the Rebel Alliance.
But Han Solo isn't about to let just anyone pilot the Falcon and goes to say as much to Leia Organa. The sequence with the royal Rebel leader is the best thing in the book because it gets at the prickly attraction that will eventually pull the characters into a fateful romance.
In the midst of all their verbal sparring, Leia reveals that she needs Han on a top-secret mission to try and track down whatever's been killing Rebel espionage agents. The mission requires Han to enter The Dragon's Void, an ages-old death race where the contestants are the galaxy's most skilled pilots. Once he starts mingling with the other pilots, we see that, despite its more cynical bent, this milieu is yet another place where Solo doesn't belong.
Reading Han Solo #1 with the knowledge of what happens to the main character in The Force Awakens makes for a bittersweet experience. In this issue, the subtext is that his relationship with both Leia and the Rebels sparked the nagging feeling that had Han turning away those risky jobs. As his moral compass gets pulled in the direction of altruism, the lone-wolf vagabond (who, yes, has a Wookiee best friend) gets snared into a long-term commitment. Han Solo is a character who fights feelings — a sense of belonging, chief amongst them — that he knows he shouldn't. His son inherits that struggle, too, and uses it to lure his dad to his tragic death.
Places like the Mos Eisley cantina were Han Solo's natural habitat. After the Battle of Yavin, the what's-in-it-for-me impulse that's always guided him starts battling with the tingle of helping achieve a greater good. When contrasted with the saintly flavour of Luke Skywalker's Jedi destiny, Han Solo's ambiguity makes him one of the most appealing personas in the Star Wars mythos.
At the same time, it also seems preordained that this guy would probably never get a happy ending. He's just not built for it. Like the ship he loves, he's a hunk of junk that moves in ways that you wouldn't expect.