Guest Review: 2016 Han Solo Graphic Novel
Because I refuse to give up hope, I was very excited last year when I learned Han would have his own comic volume/graphic novel, like Leia had. First of all, because he deserves it, and second because of the potential Han/Leia interaction that might be included in it. Okay, maybe that was the main reason. I hope the rest of you are interested in this, because overall I really liked… well, everything. The art and the story, but mostly, how they treated Han individually and his relationship with Leia pre-ESB. Below is why.
*SPOILER ALERT* This review contains spoilers, written and graphic. If you wish to take a chance and find everything out by yourself, skip it. But if you want to have something to base your decision on, I think the comic will still be enjoyable when/if you decide to read it.
The story is set not long after ANH. Han has “taken a step back” from the Rebellion: he and Chewie are on their own looking for smuggling jobs so he can pay off Jabba. From this I infer that he ended up not taking the rebels’ money for rescuing Leia. It’s also implied that he didn’t just take off, but actually told the rebels where he was going and why, and there was the understanding that he would come back afterwards:
Han: I told you I needed time to take care of what I owe Jabba.
Leia: We've given you enough time. If you couldn't earn what you needed by now, then you're not as good a smuggler as you say you are.
I’ve jumped forward here, but this was to say that the comic doesn’t imply that Han was done with the Rebellion. The story, in fact, starts with Han nursing a drink in a sort of bar, scouting for a good run. The problem is, he’s rejected plenty of jobs so far because something doesn’t feel right. Even for the job he’s being offered right now, he has an excuse; the alien offering it says Han is “getting picky”, “lost his nerve” and is “getting cold feet”. Han knows he’s being unreasonable and that he should start taking these jobs before they start going low on fuel and credits, but he can’t pin down what is it that feels wrong, and why.
While he’s in the middle of these reflections, he notices someone he remembers seeing on the last planet he was at, which he says isn’t a good thing, so he runs---and is intercepted by a blaster on his head. Both the man pointing at him and humanoid he recognized say they have been following him and that they have business to discuss. They lead Han somewhere Chewie is already at, but it seems like Chewie knows these guys. In response to Han’s questions, a holovid of Leia plays, saying she needs his help.
They tell him they need the Falcon, but not Han, to what Han obviously doesn’t react too well. And I get that: it’s not a racing car; it’s his home and his source of income. Why would he let some people he doesn’t know take it from him? These two rebels confront him saying that, unlike him, they are loyal to the Rebellion and nothing else. Han defends himself by saying he could have left during the battle of Yavin, but he came back, so to him that’s loyalty. In the end, because he isn’t taking any job after all, he agrees to go back to the rebel fleet to hear Leia himself. The “thought boxes” through this comic are priceless: they show as much character exploration as you can see in good fanfiction, so that’s obviously something I loved. As we see him getting there and meeting Leia, we get this:
I only joined the Rebellion to make a quick buck. After I'd paid off my mark I kept thinking Chewie and I would get in the Falcon and keep going. But I didn't. Maybe I'm as dumb as she says I look. Or maybe something's changed.
We have some expected arguing here, with good reason:
They meet with the Head of Security and Intelligence for the Rebellion who doesn’t shy away from insulting Han despite never having met him. He refers to Han as if he’s causing trouble for not just giving up his ship for this classified mission he, a non-declared rebel, is being left out of. How unreasonable! Leia vouches for him saying that they don’t have time, that they need the ship, and that she knows Han can do it. She’s not very flattering to him, but I think it fits the timeline. They finally tell him about the mission: there’s a network of spies in Imperial systems that have very important information, but they are being murdered and only three are left, so they need to pick them up before it’s too late. Here’s the trick, though: they need to use a ship and pilot who aren’t officially part of the Rebellion because there’s a mole, and they need a good cover as to why this ship is in those systems (this is sort of confusing--if they need someone “external”, why were they insisting they only needed the ship, not Han? Who else was going to fly it?) The cover is flying the Dragon Void Run, a galaxy-wide famous, dangerous race: they would rendezvous with the spies in the three planets the race passes by while pretending to be competing.
Now, the part that really annoyed me:
Ouch! The next page shows us this dialogue:
Leia: You're not welcome here, you foulmouthed freen fleecer! Get off this ship! And don't ever come back!
Leia cradles her hand and looks regretfully as Han turns to leave. See, it was a ruse, and she clearly didn’t enjoy it, but I still think a slap would have been more appropriate, if not just a shouting match. I also don’t think Han would have gone for a kiss right off the bat during this time period, but maybe that’s just me.
Han flies off to the starting point of this race. There’s a sort of welcoming party and Han and Chewie stroll around while Han scoffs at all these pretentious pilots who think they’re the best but don’t look like they even touch their ships. A couple of these pretentious pilots figure out he’s a smuggler and laugh at him, saying he doesn’t have a chance, but a venerable old racer alien (Loo Re Anno) says that maybe he has heart and the loyalty of his crew, so that might be enough. Han tells Chewie he’s not nervous or afraid, and he doesn’t intend to just do the job he’s there to do, but show those pilots what he’s made of.
The Dragon Void Run’s first obstacle is literally designed to destroy as many ships as possible. The race’s commentator makes sure to say that Han has no chances of even surviving this, when it’s taken out some of the best pilots of the galaxy. Meanwhile, as Han and Chewie are looking for a way to beat the first obstacle, more thought boxes:
The way I look at life has always been simple. You can fight... you can run... or you can die. Dying ain't an option. Which means I've gotten real good at fighting and running. Seems like that's all I ever do.
I loved that because it’s part of the problem that was bothering Han in the beginning. He’s starting to question the way things have always been for him.
Never thought much about it. Until recently. When I started turning down good jobs. Just because of a bad feeling in my gut. But I didn't turn this down. It pays nothing. Probably will get me killed. And I've never felt more alive.
(is he talking about the race or the Rebellion?) Of course, Han figures out how to survive and passes the first obstacle, which earns him some cred with the commentator. They reach the first planet for refueling (and getting out the first rebel spy), but first, Han confronts a Pantoran who shot at his ship during the race. Loo Re Anno says Han can file a complaint to disqualify him, but Han says it’s not worth his time, but that the Pantoran better not shoot at him again. Loo Re Anno sees this as a positive attitude, because Han cares more about the race than getting revenge. Loo Re Anno has a lot of bright spheres surrounding her, and one of them follows Han, who is as amused by this as by the leg-hugging Ewok in RotJ. Suddenly, Imperials show up and put Han and all the pilots under arrest.
Meanwhile, Chewie collects the first spy. He attracts some attention for being Han’s copilot, and there’s some praise heard about Han. When a bounty hunter tries to attack Chewie to get to the rebel spy, everybody on the bar they’re at attack her, thinking she was sent by some fancy pilot who couldn’t stand to see a smuggler doing well in the race, which I thought was very funny.
Everyone is also outraged at the Imps, demanding they let go of the pilots. Han tells Loo Re Anno to keep those floating orbs away from him, but she says they’re not spying on him, they just seem to like Han. Han gets into some trouble after the Pantoran he was arguing with earlier gets punched, and Han in return kicks the Imp who did it---again, a good thing that highlights just how loyal and noble Han can be despite what everyone (and himself) thinks.
An officer tells Han they don’t mean to spill blood on camera, and indeed, the intervention is being broadcasted, and Leia is watching:
The Imperials’ excuse is that it’s a disruptive event, but Han knows that the mole had to be suspicious about Han’s involvement in the race and tipped them off. Han intervenes again when the Imps threaten to shoot at the floating balls of light, because they’re living things of some kind. More thoughts:
I didn't say yes to Leia because I thought it would be safe. I'll get out of this--or I won't. Same as always. But something's not right with me. For once, I'm worried about something besides myself.
The race… hosts? Founders? Whatever they are, make the Imps see that it wouldn’t be convenient for them to piss off the sponsors, who happen to own all the refueling stations in the area, so the pilots are released. Han gets back to the Falcon, where Chewie and Spy #1 are, and they resume the race. One of the balls of light is still with him. The informant says the mole has to be one of the other spies, because none of them knows the identity of the others, and they’re being killed because one of them has the masterlist with all the information the rebels need. So basically, one of the three people Han has to pick will be the killer.
They’re about to enter the second obstacle course and Han has the chance to not go through it, because even if he’ll be disqualified for it, he’ll still be allowed to stop at the refueling planets… but he’s not going to do that. He flies for 12 hours through a debris field at a specific speed. Right when the engines start to lose power, the Pantoran gives the Falcon a lift in thanks for what he did earlier.
They stop at the second planet for refueling and Han leaves Chewie doing repairs while he sets off to find Spy #2. There are some cameras following him, and his little orb-friend destroys them (this story could be called “Han Solo and Friends”). Turns out Spy #2 is an old enemy of… Chewie. Some time ago, Chewie killed a baby Rathtar that was going to eat Han, that Han had been trying to steal, that Spy #2 needed to pay off some debts. Anyway, Han offers to be shot instead of Chewie. During these panels, we get some more Han thoughts:
I've spent most of my life in space. The only things I've ever understood are the stars. On a good, fast ship... anything is possible. Any choice, any opportunity. All I ever wanted was freedom. I ain't noble. Definitely not a hero. I got one priority, and only one. Me.
Riiiight, Han! But Loo Re Anno and some of the Twi’lek pilots who had laughed about Han intervene before anyone gets shot---turns out the ball of light went to fetch them when it saw Han in danger. Han tells everyone to back off, and once again defends one of the pilots even though they had been mean to him before. Loo Re Anno and Han talk about the Dragon Void Run. Han says winning it is “proof that you’re the best. No one can take that from you” and that if you win, you’ll be paid for the rest of your life. It’s a big deal. Loo Re Anno says it’s more than a race and talks about her people and Han asks her why is she telling him all this:
To which she says:
Are you not sticking your neck out, pilot Solo? Why are you here, if not to become something more?
I found this exchange very poetic and beautiful, and then Han says he’s sorry that she’s the last of her people. Han goes back to the ship, where things have calmed down, but he’s also sorry because that killed Rathtar made Spy #2 lose everything she had. Spy #2 also tells him that there’s been a change of plans and they need to wait for Spy #3 in that planet instead of the next, so that means Han can’t resume the race and he’ll be disqualified. That’s a bummer, but he’s doing it. Spy #1 doesn’t trust #2, though, and says they need to leave. The decision is made for him when Spy #3 and a bodyguard board, chased by Stormtroopers, so they have no choice but to take off. When Han doesn’t trust the new guests, one of them tells him they were sent by “Your Worshipfulness”. Now they’re being chased by TIEs, and there’s also the problem that there’s a killer aboard the Falcon, but they don’t know who it is. Han shows a lot of perceptiveness here by guessing there’s more to that bodyguard than it seems.
And now all the informants were picked up, he can leave the race and go back to the rebel fleet. Again, that’s not something Han wants to do, not just for the race, though, but because he wants to figure out who the mole is first. When he drops out of hyperspace for the third leg of the race, there’s a whole Imperial fleet waiting for them… and one of the spies is dead.
The Empire wants to board the ships. Han shoots at them. Loo Re Anno pulls a trick that makes some space monsters attack the Imperial ships and leave all the racers alone, so they’re now coming up to the last trial, which is a void they need to cross. One of the rebels is angry because now that they’re there, they can’t jump to hyperspace and they’ll be stranded unless they win first place, so the Empire will be able to get to them. Han ignores her, because he’s busy figuring out who the spy-killer was. I will leave this as a mystery, but I really like this panel:
I love that it makes a very explicit point that Han wasn’t throwing a fit about not wanting to let people borrow his ship, that it’s not just a ship, but something that matters to him. Think “homeless guy living in his car”. Of course it matters.
So, he was right about the killer, guy injects himself with a drug that knocks him out, and we have a Chewie and Han exchange. To something Chewie says, Han replies with, “Huh. You would like helping the Rebellion. You’re way more noble than me, pal. I’m just a nobody smuggler.” (cut to Han looking thoughtful/doubtful/challenging at his glowing orb friend) “And I like it… that… way…”
Once again, Han is shown as someone who---despite his apparent arrogance and self-confidence---sees himself as a guy with simple needs who’s just trying to get by. He’s no altruist, he’s not noble, but he’s not looking for fame and glory for himself, either. He knows he’s good at what he does (he has to be, because his life and livelihood depend on it), but he doesn’t see himself as something special. Staying with the Rebellion means entanglements and caring for other people, taking responsibility for people he might lose, so he can’t afford it. And so he tells himself that he has nothing to offer and no interest in it.
Han has another chat with Loo Re Anno as they fly. He asks what she’s planning on doing after the race, because she’s the last of her species and it’s said that this is her last race. The important bit of this conversation is that the alien tells Han she’s tired of being alone, that a long time ago she rejected all offers of friendship and community because she thought she was better off alone, and that when she realized her mistake, it was too late. That seems to resonate with Han, obviously.
They’re approaching the finish line and the Empire is on their tails. The power levels of the Falcon are low, so they need to reach it before they start being shot at. The finish line is a gate artifact that creates a wormhole that transports whoever crosses it first to the starting line. If they don’t, they’ll be stranded until someone (the Empire) gives them a lift. Han is beating all the pilots but tied with Loo Re Anno, until the Empire shoots at her ship. Han is ahead now and will win---but he knows that means Loo Re Anno will never “go home”, so he turns back and starts shooting Imperials, to the joy of all the rebels counting on getting the hell away from there. Loo Re Anno crosses the finish line. The rebels tell Han they need to kill themselves now because they can’t let the Empire get the information out of them. The mysterious gate, however, wasn’t just a portal to the starting line but to a different dimension where Loo Re Anno’s people had retired to, and after she crossed it, the portal opened to let these people come back one last time so they could shoot the Imps off the racers’ backs and let them all cross the finish line, in thanks for what Han had done for her. Because Loo Re Anno doesn’t reappear and all the other ships are allowed to cross the gate, they all technically win the race.
Han doesn’t stick around to find out: with a “Let’s go home”, he and Chewie leave to rejoin the rebels.
And we get back to… I think this is Yavin? It looks like Yavin, but nothing definite, so I’m going to say it’s not Yavin because it makes no sense they’re still there. But that’s not important, because it’s my favourite part of the comic and why I love it. Leia greets the remaining informants (the masterlist holder is revealed) while Han passes by and they share a look. Over the panels, some thought boxes:
You create walls. You manufacture rules. You live a small life, while lying to yourself that you're as open and free as the stars. You tell yourself the reason is survival. Good reason, right? But sometimes survival is about telling yourself lies... until you can't lie anymore. And then you have to make a choice about who you really are... Lies are easier, that's for sure.
Leia follows him outside and tells him he could have ruined everything and sacrificed people’s lives because of the race. He tells her not to thank him so much, but he’s not defensive, he’s just sort of calmly resigned. Leia goes on, telling him that he was reckless… but that he also won against all odds, and that she knew she could trust him to do the right thing. Han tells her not to get used to it because he’s not going to be around forever, and then we get the most beautiful closing scene in a comic, ever*:
*an impartial statement, as I haven’t read that many comicsIn conclusion: The plot of this story was a little fantastical, because even if Han and the Millennium Falcon still haven’t been identified by the Empire as related to the rebels, a race is too much of a high-profile cover, but it was still entertaining. The artwork is one of the best, really close to the actors. The winning part is the character analysis that is done through the story, giving us a glimpse into Han’s thoughts while showing us his actions that belie them. I think this is true to his OT character arc and it makes for a good bridge between ANH and ESB in showing why Han ultimately decided to stick with the rebels. As Disney canon has him become a racer post-RotJ, this story also serves to give us some reason behind that: he already got a taste of it, people have seen him, he probably has sponsors lined up. I really like the idea of racer Han, and I’ve expounded on it here. Regarding Han and Leia, while I’m not a fan of the punch, I think their arguing and clashing is in character, true both to this time period and to the story. So are their final, rewarding panels, when they’re softer and we see the start of them getting closer. I give it four stars because of the punch, but it’s one of my favourite comics and I really recommend it.