Posted May 22, 2018
We’re about to learn more about the origins of one of the most beloved movie characters in the history of any galaxy. Solo: A Star Wars Story opens on Memorial Day weekend.
Science fiction professor Lisa Yaszek (School of Literature, Media, and Communication) grew up reading all of Dean Foster’s books. That includes his novelization of A New Hope, where we first met Han Solo in 1977. We talked to Yaszek about why the character is so beloved and the role women played in helping to create him.
By now, we’ve all heard the stories. Han Solo was originally supposed to be a green alien. Or an alliance sympathizer since childhood. Or even a Jedi! But instead, we get the lovable space rogue. Where did that come from? According to legend, it was a bit happenstance. George Lucas decided he wanted the character to have the same swagger as his good friend Francis Ford Coppola. Later, he would explain it in terms of Hollywood myth, calling Solo a “James Dean-esque” figure.
The rogue space jock is one of science fiction’s oldest archetypes. And even though Harrison Ford made it famous on the big screen, the first ones were actually created by women, namely C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett. In the 1930s, C.L. Moore put Northwest Smith in a series of stories about humanity colonizing the solar system. Like Solo, Smith was a pilot and smuggler. Then in the 1940s, Leigh Brackett introduced another space pirate: Eric John Stark. Brackett would later work with Lucas on the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.
We love Han Solo as a rogue space jock because he’s larger than life in ways we all want to be — free to roam the universe with our best friends, free not to take sides in a fight, free to determine our own fate and have a ripping good time while we do it!
But he’s also appealing because those larger-than-life aspects are balanced by his humanity. Solo is smart, funny and fast. But he’s also vain, greedy, and makes dumb choices. He’s also basically a good person trying to find his way in a really big and complicated universe. In the end, he always chooses good over evil. We certainly like to dream that, in such situations, we would do the same.
Early science fiction often revolved around future-changing battles between the forces of good and evil; mad and heroic scientists grappling with creations that demanded recognition and remade the world in their own image; and of course, brave humans fighting — and befriending (sometimes even loving) — their alien counterparts.
Star Wars was a love letter to the early days of science fiction. And nowhere was that more obvious than in the character of Han Solo.
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