By Colleen J. Shogan
The latest film installment of the Star Wars saga features the backstory of one of its most memorable and beloved characters, the rogue smuggler turned Rebel sympathizer Han Solo. Full disclosure, I’m an unapologetic Star Wars fan and I’ve always adored Han, with his smart-alecky retorts, cocksure demeanor, and nagging moral confusion.
“Solo” has received mixed reviews, largely due to missed opportunities. But for diehard fans, its best virtue is the uncovering of curious details about Han’s past. When considering these revelations, I realized Han Solo could teach us a lot about politics. Such nuggets are particularly instructive to elected officials, many of whom might compare the instability of contemporary American political life with the perfidy of Mos Eisley.
Here are three important lessons politicians could learn from Han Solo. And warning: This post contains spoilers about the recently released film “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
With Ingenuity, Enemies Can Become Friends. One of the best scenes in “Solo” is when Han meets Chewbacca, a Wookie who will become his co-pilot and constant companion. However, Han and Chewie don’t meet under the best circumstances. Young Han is an infantryman in the Imperial Army when he shoots his mouth off (no surprise there), leading to Han being thrown in a pit with a “Beast” who allegedly hasn’t eaten in a few days. The “Beast” turns out to be Chewie. Han quickly pivots and convinces Chewie that by working together, they can escape the Imperial Army and gain their freedom. Han Solo finds his future best friend in a most unusual place. They’re a motley duo, yet end up as lifelong buddies. In short, Han Solo looks past the “Beast” and finds a kindred spirit. Likewise, in politics, sometimes enemies can be transformed into useful friends and allies. With razor-thin margins in Congress these days, Members who are creative when searching for allies just might find help when they need it.
There’s No Honor Amongst Thieves (or Smugglers). “Solo” also fills out the personal history between Han and Lando Calrissian. (Editorial note: Donald Glover plays a perfect young Lando in the film. The performance is spot-on.) We know that Lando lost his ship, the Millennium Falcon, to Han in a card game. “Solo” provides additional context. Lando is the master of cheap tricks, and he bests Han as they spar early in the story. In the end, Han beats Lando at his own game and takes possession of the prized ship. Fast forward a decade or so when Han flees with Leia to Cloud City because Lando is the administrator of the operation. But as we know all too well, Lando double-crosses Han and his Rebel friends. The moral of this story is as old as the debate concerning the existence of justice amongst thieves in Plato’s Republic. Han is way too trusting, especially given Lando’s previously nefarious ways. Rather, Reagan’s “trust, but verify” seems like the more prudent course. The best predictor of future political behavior is past behavior, which Han might have pondered as Vader placed him in carbon freeze.
Han Shoots First. By far, the best part of “Solo” was the settling of a long-disputed detail of the Star Wars saga. In the original version of “A New Hope,” Han Solo is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo, who seeks to deliver Solo to gangster Jabba the Hutt. After it’s clear Greedo can’t be reasoned with, Han shoots him and walks out of the bar. In an apparent effort to soften Han’s image, George Lucas altered the sequence of events in an updated release of the film, adding Greedo’s attempt to shoot Han first. In “Solo,” we see Han in action when confronted by his back-stabbing mentor Tobias Beckett. Before he can lecture Han about the way the world really works, Han shoots him. The bottom line is that Han didn’t wait around for others to act. If left to their own devices, Greedo and Beckett would have certainly killed Han. Rather than reacting, Han initiated action. Without condoning violence, there’s an important underlying political principle to learn here. Successful politicians don’t let their adversaries define them. Instead, they create their own destinies, striving to act proactively rather than in self-defense. Would Han Solo survive the United States Senate? Yes, but only the 1977 version of our favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder would truly excel in American politics.
Colleen J. Shogan (@cshogan276) is a political scientist at the Library of Congress. She writes both fiction and non-fiction books about American politics. In an earlier life, she taught a summer course at the Phillips Academy on the mythology of Star Wars. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Library of Congress.