Standing on a cliff overlooking one of Savareen’s oceans, Han Solo aims a blaster at Tobias Beckett, his mentor-turned-adversary. It was Beckett who gave Solo the opportunity to flee the frontlines of the Imperial army and join his crew. As they worked together, traveling from Mimban and Vandor to Kessel and now Savareen, Beckett bestowed his vast knowledge of a scoundrel’s life on the young Corellian, offering insights into how to survive and thrive in the galaxy’s dark underworld. Now, on this sandy, wind-swept cliff the two square-off: Beckett attempting to flee with the coaxium the crew stole and Solo attempting to stop him.
Engaging in conversation, Solo explains to his “buddy” that he came as quickly as he could. Beckett in-turn goads the young man, explaining that Qi’ra, Solo’s childhood friend and romantic interest who joined them in stealing the coaxium, is a “survivor” and out to protect herself, not Han. To this, Solo tells Beckett that his problem is that he believes everyone is like him, but Beckett admits to Han that “you’re nothing like me.” It is at this point that Beckett slowly puts his finger on the trigger of the gun he holds in his hand. Distracting Han, Beckett emphatically states that “I hope you’re still paying attention because now I’m gonna tell you the most important…”
…a blaster shot echoes across the landscape and Beckett, in stunned silence, falls to the ground, a hole sizzled in his chest. Running over to him, Han grabs Tobias and holds him upright. Shocked and breathing hard, Beckett compliments Solo, admitting “…that was a smart move, kid, for once. I woulda killed ya.” Moments later, Tobias Beckett dies.
While Solo: A Star Wars Story was met with mixed reviews and a disappointing box office return, I will admit that I enjoyed the film even though I had some reservations before seeing it. Frankly, I did not believe that a Han Solo origin story was necessary, especially on the big screen, and I feared that offering too much about Solo’s past would dilute the iconic character whom Harrison Ford brought to life. Yet, after seeing the movie, I found myself impressed by a number of aspects of the film, especially those aspects which offered insight into the character we met in the Original Trilogy. This is not to say I agreed with every way Han Solo is depicted in the film, but it is to say that I appreciate many of the ways Solo: A Star Wars Story adds fascinating and obvious (and at times subtle) background to Han’s thoughts/actions in the original Star Wars films in general, and A New Hope in particular.
One such point in Solo: A Star Wars Story which does this is the scene I described above where Han Solo shooting Tobias Beckett on the Savareen cliff. That Han shot first, before Beckett could draw his own weapon, is absolutely brilliant, a clear indication that Solo really has been listening to Beckett’s advice throughout the course of the film. And tragically, for Tobias Beckett, it is his advice to Han – to always be on guard, to trust no one, to be a survivor, etc. – which turns out to be his downfall. Plus, to add to this tragic twist of fate for the scoundrel, it is the DL-44 blaster which Beckett assembled and gifted to Solo which the Corellian uses to kill his former mentor.
Alone, this scene does a fantastic job of showing that throughout the course of the movie, Han has grown considerably in his understanding of living a scoundrel’s life. He has internalized the wisdom Beckett offered, recognizing the need for constant vigilance and realizing that the decision to shoot first is the surest way to save his own skin in a dire situation. In this regard, what is equally brilliant about this scene is how it parallels and informs the infamous scene in A New Hope where the bounty hunter Greedo confronts Han Solo.
Han Shot First
The smuggler, Han Solo, whom we have just met for the first time moments before, attempts to leave the Mos Eisley Cantina but is immediately stopped by the Rodian bounty hunter and is forced, at gunpoint, to sit back down. Doing so, he and Greedo engage in a back-and-forth over Han’s debt to the gangster Jabba the Hutt, with the Rodian explaining that Jabba has “put a price on your head so large every bounty hunter in the galaxy will be looking for you…” Han, for his part, does his best to talk himself out of the predicament, even suggesting he already has the money owed to the Hutt. But this is really his attempt to stall for time and, as he and Greedo talk, he slowly removes the DL-44 blaster from his holster. Taunting the smuggler by saying Jabba may only take his ship, Han adamantly declares that Jabba will take the ship “over my dead body.” With this, Greedo admits that he has “been looking forward to this [killing Han] for a long time.”
“I bet you have,” Han replies and without hesitation shoots Greedo, the bounty hunter’s body slumping forward onto the table.
To me, it seems rather obvious that the standoff between Solo and Beckett in Solo: A Star Wars Story was crafted with the Cantina scene in mind. The parallels are clear, even if the context for both confrontations are different and Han Solo’s role in both situations are flipped. Consider the following:
Greedo confronts Han at gunpoint in the Cantina; Solo confronts Beckett at gunpoint on the cliff.
Greedo holds his blaster in his right hand; Solo holds his blaster in his right hand.
Han stalls for time, forcing Greedo to maintain eye-contact, while making a move for the holstered blaster on his right hip; Beckett stalls for time, forcing Solo to maintain eye-contact, while moving his finger onto the trigger of the blaster he holds by his right hip.
Han shoots first, killing Greedo; Solo shoots first, killing Beckett.
On the surface, the scene on the Savareen cliff is meant to mirror the Cantina scene. However, if we dig down a little, one recognizes that the standoff between Solo and Beckett can inform Han’s confrontation with Greedo. We can now read a new layer into the Cantina scene and assume that Han knows he has been in this type of situation before, albeit in reverse. Staring at Greedo across the table, Han must recognize that just as he shot and killed Beckett years before, Greedo will do the same unless he acts to save himself. And surely Han knows he has an advantage which his former mentor did not: his own blaster is out of view, below the table he and Greedo sit at. Beckett’s blaster, though, was out in the open, and Han could keep his eye on it even as he listened to Tobias. This was why Han shot first, killing the man before Beckett could act. Later, in the Cantina, Han does exactly the same, carefully drawing his DL-44, not allowing Greedo to notice his movements, taking aim and firing the first shot, ending the Rodian’s life.
Ultimately, it is this parallel, that Han shot first, which is what truly makes these scenes work in tandem. I am certainly aware, of course, that the Cantina scene has been changed over the years, with one edit having Greedo shot first and Han second, and more recently another showing Han and Greedo firing at the exact same time. Frankly, I just ignore these edits and dismiss them outright. The original version of the Cantina scene is all that matters to me, nay it is the only version that makes sense to me because it affirms that he is a man who is in control of his own destiny, a man who will always act first and foremost with his own interests and self-preservation in mind. And frankly, I am confident that the original version of the Cantina scene was all that mattered to the writer(s)/director of Solo: A Star Wars Story as well because, as he stood on the Savareen cliff, Han Solo was also in complete control and, when the moment for action arrived, it was Han, and not Beckett, who shot first.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Han Solo lately. No, not the Han Solo movie, but the man we first meet in A New Hope. From his first appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han Solo is established as a cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, self-involved, loner whose only priority in life is himself. After all, from a purely symbolical angle, there is a reason his last name is “Solo” and it is hardly coincidental that a bounty hunter named “Greedo” confronts the Captain. Time and again throughout A New Hope, these qualities are reinforced, Solo’s words and actions proving that his instinct for self-preservation can only be superseded by the desire for a little extra money. As we know, the only reason Solo agrees to help free Princess Leia from the clutches of the Empire is because she is rich.
I could, of course, go on and list every moment Captain Solo acts self-involved and greedy in A New Hope but I really don’t need to. You’ve all watched the film enough to know that, at his core, Han Solo embodies all of these qualities. But what makes these qualities stand out even more is the backdrop of A New Hope, the overarching story about a small band of Rebels struggling to free the galaxy from tyranny and oppression. From the very start of the movie, we know what these Rebels are up against: a massive, technologically powerful Empire that will stop at nothing to maintain complete control over the galaxy. The juxtaposition between Rebellion and Empire is clear and obvious as A New Hope unfolds, and is made all the more poignant when we see the size of the Empire’s Death Star battle station and its planet destroying capability.
Solo, speaking with Luke Skywalker, loads his reward while the Rebels prepare for battle. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
When the narrative-arc of A New Hope finally leads the audience to the Rebel’s hidden base – which the Empire has been searching for – setting up the battle that will determine the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo wants nothing to do with the Rebels or the mammoth task that awaits. But this is hardly a surprise, he had only ever been in it for the money. In fact, it is fitting that while the Rebels scramble around a hanger, preparing to fight for their survival and for the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo is standing in plain sight with the money he was promised. Approaching Solo, Luke Skywalker implores the smuggler to join the Rebel cause, to lend his skills as a pilot to the fight that is about to begin. Solo’s reply fits his character perfectly:”What good is a reward if you ain’t around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage. It’s more like, suicide.” In a sense, this single line encapsulates the greed and self-preservation of Han Solo, his need to take care of himself.Implored by the hero of the story to join the Rebels, Han Solo flatly rebukes Skywalker, proof that he values himself and his money more than the lives of others, even those he would call friends.
So, the climactic engagement begins, the Rebel allies fighting against all odds to destroy the Empire’s planet-busting battle station. As one would expect, the Rebels fail time and again to destroy the station, leading to the final “attack run” led by the young Skywalker. A wing-man killed, another abandoning the attack due to damage on his fighter, and his droid partner destroyed, Skywalker finds himself alone as he speeds down a Death Star trench to deliver his payload of torpedoes. Just as Skywalker is about to be destroyed by the villain, Darth Vader, a shot rings out that destroys one of Vader’s own wing-men, a shot fired by Han Solo who comes flying in from above. Solo’s sudden presence disorients Vader’s other wing-man, the pilot slamming into his leader and causing the Dark Lord of the Sith to careen off into space. The path cleared by Solo, the young Skywalker fires the heroic shot that, only moments later, causes the battle station to explode.
Han Solo comes to the rescue, guns a blazin’ as he excitedly announces his arrival.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
I have often thought about the fact that Solo – cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, selfish – arrives at just the right moment to help Skywalker defeat the Empire. Narratively it makes perfect sense, just the right amount of tension building until, out of nowhere, the suave smuggler – whom we thought had given up on the Rebels – swoops in to assist the film’s young hero. But what we don’t get in the story is the reason for Han Solo’s change of heart, his internal thoughts about why he puts himself at great risk – something so counter to his life philosophy – to help Luke and the Rebels. Then again, I think it better that Solo’s change of heart not be over-explained. In a way, it is far more powerful to imagine what Han might have been thinking, for each audience member to fill in the gaps for her/himself.
But what we should not lose sight of in our personal speculating is the reality that in choosing to help Luke and the Rebels, Han Solo acted selflessly. Putting aside his penchant for self-preservation and ignoring the reward he was given, Solo had the audacity to give his life to a cause greater than himself. In doing so, Han Solo became a hero.
And so, as I think about Han Solo, I cannot help but consider the lesson we can learn from his act of selflessness. After all, as a form of modern-day myth, it is not enough for Star Wars to just entertain us. Rather, as myth, it is necessary for Star Wars to show us how we must live as part of a community and world, as part of something greater than ourselves. And what Han Solo teaches us is exceedingly necessary, especially in our consumer-driven and selfie-obsessed culture. Just as Han has a change of heart – putting his riches and life aside for the sake of others – so too must we do the same in our daily lives when the opportunities arise. We can, each one of us, be a hero, going beyond ourselves to assist our local communities, our nations, and our world. It is not enough to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of life and only look out for ourselves. No, like Han we are called to use our individual skills and join the cause of destroying the “Death Stars” of our time: homelessness, poverty, hunger, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, warfare, genocide, nuclear proliferation, and more.