Star Wars fans range from casual to deep nerd. One of the most annoying categories of fans are those I call Brownvests, based on the browncoat soldiers of the Independent Planets in “Firefly” and Han Solo’s iconic vest in Star Wars.
The Brownvest isn’t just anyone who likes both Star Wars and “Firefly.” A Brownvest is a Star Wars fan who doesn’t really like Star Wars, they just like Han Solo — a small part of Star Wars who has little to do with what makes Star Wars great.
“Firefly” is basically Han Solo the TV show. Except that in almost every way Mal is a better character than Han. He has pathos, character development, story arcs, etc. The only advantage Han has over Mal is Harrison Ford. Nathan Fillian is wonderful but he’s no Ford. There’s only one Harrison Ford. Han Solo is great because Harrison Ford has so much gravitas that he can fill up character gaps. Oh and also Chewbacca. No buddy (sic) beats Chewie.
The truth is Han isn’t much of a character on paper. He is completely replaceable within the Star Wars story. In the original film he’s basically a taxi driver who cowardly shows up in the final seconds to save the day. Without Harrison Ford he just wouldn’t be that interesting.
Kurt Russell was one of the main runners up for casting Han back in the mid 70s. Russell is a very underrated actor. He’s done some truly great work over the years. But if he were Han it just wouldn’t have been as good. I mean it would’ve been fine. Star Wars still probably would’ve become the cultural phenomenon we know today. But Han Solo’s starring role within it would be greatly diminished.
This is what makes the Brownvests so unbearable. All the things that make Star Wars great don’t matter that much to them. The Jedi, the force, lightsabers, the Skywalkers, epic space battles, etc. These things are just dressing to them. Really they’re in love with a 40-year-old space pirate who is only interesting, because he was played by the most charismatic actor of his generation.
Sadly, I think Ben Shapiro is a Brownvest. “They ruined my childhood in the Force Awakens,” he said recently while discussing Star Wars with Jonah Goldberg. “Turning Han Solo into a loser divorced dad with bad kids, you go to hell. Han Solo was the coolest guy and he had the happy ending with Princess Leia.”
Universal Spoiler Alert: outside of the Dread Pirate Roberts, pirates don’t have happy endings. Pirates and outlaws are either brutally killed in the end or they keep running from the law. They don’t settle down and raise families. They don’t live happily ever after.
The truth is Han Solo should have died in “Return of the Jedi” sacrificing himself for the Rebellion. Allegedly Lucas took that out of Kasdan’s original script. Han doesn’t fit into a post Empire world. He’s a pirate! Thieves and cutthroats are only heroes in a world with illegitimate tyrannical governments.
This is what makes Mal a romantic figure in Firefly. His story is the exact opposite of Han’s. He fought for the losing side in a war for independence. He was a true believer in a lost cause. So his pirate activities are a continuation of his war against galactic Unification. But as far as we knew Han was always just a pirate who simply gets caught up in a rebellion.
He’s no revolutionary. He’s just along for the ride. There simply is no place for someone like that in a post rebel world. In order for him to find his place in that world he would have to allow himself to be tamed. And that’s not Han Solo.
And this is why 2018’s Solo is such an unappreciated gift, especially to the Brownvests. “Controversy” aside (the timing of the release was especially ill-advised) this is one of the better Star Wars films overall. Most importantly because its a lot of fun and that has always been the main element Harrison Ford’s Han contributed to Star Wars. But it also does something that none of the other films have done: begin to make sense of Han Solo. And that’s actually a pretty big deal, especially I would hope for Brownvests.
Some Spoilers here. They’ve basically taken what little we actually know about Han’s actual character (that is his virtues and vices) from the classic films and created an elegant origin. Many people would classify Han as the Rogue with a heart of gold. But really his heart is soft, not Golden. And because he knows it’s soft, he lives the kind of life that will allow him to protect it.
When Rhett Butler makes his heroic turn in “Gone with the Wind,” it’s because of honor — something the audience doesn’t think he possesses up to that point. He’s a war profiteer, refusing to fight for the South because he knows they’re going to lose. But after saving Scarlet from burning Atlanta he decides its time to don the gray. He tells Scarlet, “I’ve always had a weakness for lost causes once they’re really lost.” This is ultimately why he loves Scarlet so much — a passionate, stubborn, foolish woman is the ultimate lost cause for a man.
That sounds soft hearted right? Except that the astute viewer can see the change happening to Rhett while they’re escaping. He watches the soldiers leaving in shambles. One of the young ones dramatically falls over into the dust. He knows he can’t really call himself a man if he continues to profit off all this death and destruction. So he finally joins the lost cause. He could’ve gone away with Scarlet, the woman he clearly loves. But he gives up what’s most precious to him for the sake of manly honor, to join his brothers in arms. That’s also why he marries Scarlet. He thinks he can make them honorable people.
But why does Han go back to the Battle of Yavin 4? Not because of honor or because it’s right. No he does it for the most cliché reason ever: to get the girl. Literally the exact opposite of Rhett. It would take too long to defend this thesis here, but it’s the motivating factor in everything Han does for the rest of the films. It’s always about Leia.
And Solo explains why. Han is a failed romantic idealist. All he wanted out of life was to be with Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke. They were going to escape their Dickensian life on Corelia and live free among the stars. But clearly that’s not how it worked out.
Alden Ehrenreich was actually a really good choice for this. It took guts to take on this iconic role and he really went for it. He brings a less cynical, less sexy take. And his bright eyed earnestness created an expectation of character growth because Han just isn’t like that. And by the film’s end he’s still not the roguish Mercenary hiding his soft underbelly that Luke and Old Ben find in Mos Eisley but he’s on his way.
His Han Solo is very boyish, which is the right choice for a film like this. We’ve already seen Han Solo the man, but every man was once a boy. And part of leaving boyhood behind is getting your heart broken. Not necessarily by a girl, often just by life. But whatever it is that breaks the boy often comes to define the man.
If they decide to make a sequel to Solo (it’s clearly set up for one but the box office returns have not been great) we will almost certainly see Qi’Ra die. In fact Han will probably be forced to kill her. Either way this is what will solidify his character forever. This will be why Han goes back to Yavin 4. He goes back to save Leia from the Death Star because he couldn’t save Qi’Ra.