In Star Wars lore, Han Solo is an important character, created by Star Wars writer, George Lucas for the 1977 film Star Wars, later called Episode IV. Harrison Ford plays Han Solo, and the role garnered Ford incredible popularity, essentially giving him superstar status and launching his film career. Han’s role is an essential aspect of the three Star Wars films in which he appears, as he becomes, almost unwittingly, increasingly involved in the rebel efforts to overthrow the Galactic Empire.
The audience first meets Han Solo when he is hired by Obi Wan Kenobi to take Kenobi and Luke Skywalker to Alderaan on a mission to deliver stolen plans of the Death Star to Princess Leia. We quickly learn that Han is evading capture by several bounty hunters, and that he has worked as a smuggler in the past. He’s especially interested in avoiding anyone who works for Jabba the Hut, a sluglike underworld figure who has been attempting to exact retribution on Han for dropping a load of smuggled goods when he flew too close to an Imperial ship. Han is eager to get out of Tatooine, where Jabba resides so he can make some money to repay him, and agrees to take Kenobi and Skywalker on his ship the Millennium Falcon.
Han Solo is a brilliant foil to the young hero, Luke Skywalker. He represents Luke’s opposite in many ways. He’s arrogant, jaded, has no belief in spiritual concepts, and is primarily motivated by acquiring money. When Skywalker and Solo must rescue Princess Leia, Solo and Leia spend much of the first film verbally sparring with each other. Leia despises Han’s very overstated goal of only working for profit. The first film hints at a possible romantic alliance between Luke and Leia, later discarded by Lucas in films V and VI because the two are actually twin siblings. Instead, Leia and Han become romantically involved in the The Empire Strikes Back with every indication that an eventual marriage will take place between them by the end of the trilogy.
Aside from plot devices that Lucas later conceives, the turning point of apathy toward Han in Leia’s mind is that Han can’t resist becoming involved in the rebel alliance, despite his stated rogue ways and “all for profit” attitude. Ultimately, though he begins as a jaded rather world-weary character, he ends Star Wars as a hero, albeit a reluctant one, who is instrumental in helping Luke to destroy the Death Star.
Since Star Wars and its sequels have been compared to the hero’s journey, it’s valuable to understand the mythological importance of Solo in the Star Wars legend. Han is as much a hero as Luke, but his journey takes place on the physical plane. He’s there to gradually transform into a moral character who ultimately gets the girl, and he’s comparable to characters like Sir Gawain in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Grail Legend Parzival. Luke’s hero quest is largely spiritual, a transformation of self, and the path of the shaman. Han Solo ultimately respects Luke for this path, but knows he’s far too anchored to the earth to take the same route.
There’s considerable controversy about the Han Solo character since Lucas revised and reedited the first Star Wars trilogy. Lucas chose to redo the scene where Han shoots the bounty hunter, Greedo, in the beginning of the film. In the original version, though Greedo is depicted as reaching for his gun, Han shoots Greedo first, before Greedo gets a chance to point the gun at him. Lucas edited this to have Greedo aim at Han, shoot and miss him. Many diehard fans of the films believe this changes the essence of Han’s character. He is definitely a shoot first and ask questions later type of guy.
Since this editing, Lucas changed the film so that both Greedo and Han shoot at the same time, but this still is unsatisfactory for many. Han knows his life is in danger since Jabba has placed a bounty on his head, which plenty of unsavory characters would like to collect. In the early stages of the film, there’d be little to no way that Han Solo would wait for an invitation to shoot someone who is clearly there to kill him. The phrase, “Han Shot First,” has become something of a cultural phenomenon in the 2000s, and is printed on t-shirts and bumper stickers. Further Joss Whedon describes his smuggler character Captain Malcolm Reynolds, from the series Firefly and the film Serenity as similar to the "shoot first" version of Han Solo.