6 real Han Solo EU storylines too wacky for the movies

The standalone Han Solo movie (provisionally titled Han Solo: The Motion Picture) is filming right now as we speak, and it, um… could be going better? Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie) were recently fired for “deep fundamental philosophical differences” after already having filmed a bunch of the movie. Their shoes are being filled with bankable mediocrity by Oscar-winning dullard Ron Howard. Also running afoul of Lucasfilm honchos are editor Chris Dickens, who has also been fired, and Young Han himself, Alden Ehrenreich—whom they would probably fire if they could, but at this point in production they had to settle for giving acting lessons to instead.

Which is surprising, because you’d think he could just coast on his amazing resemblance to Harrison Ford.

Things have gotten so bad, we’re hearing whispers of the most feared word in the modern movie buff’s vocabulary: “reshoots”.

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You know what, though, guys? No matter how off-the-rails Dawn of Solo seems to be at this point, I’m not all that worried about it. Why? Because there have already been plenty of Lucas-approved attempts at pre-New Hope Han Solo stories, courtesy of the weirdo novelists who created what used to be known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

As a young nerdlet, having only the original trilogy to enjoy, and possessed of a righteously geeky hunger for backstory, I devoured these tales. Recently, I decided to take advantage of a trans-Atlantic flight to revisit them. I can tell you right now: in terms of tonal inconsistency, dumb plotlines, out-of-character moments, and simple bizarreness, Han Solo in: The Soloing has a pretty low bar to clear. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Aliens who enslave people with their sex noises

Han’s early life, as depicted in The Paradise Snare (the first book in the Han Solo Trilogy) is a hodgepodge of Dickens clichés: orphan, raised in a life of crime by a petty thief/con man, with long-lost extended family that’s both super-rich and super-insane. His story doesn’t begin in earnest until he finally escapes his gang and takes a job as a pilot on a religious retreat on the planet Ylesia, run by a species called the t’landa Til, who are evolutionary cousins of the Hutts and look like this:

“Oh, fuck no.” —Charles Darwin

Han quickly discovers that the Ylesian operation is a cult where pilgrims prove their devotion by doing dangerous unpaid labor in factories that produce “spice” (the Star Wars catchall term for drugs). How do the t’landa Til keep the slaves in line?

…[A]fter nearly fifteen minutes of chanting, Teroenza and all the priests stepped forward. “You have worked well,” the High Priest pronounced. “Prepare for the blessing of Exultation!”…

All of the priests raised their arms. Han watched as the loose, wrinkled skin that hung below their throats inflated with air and began to pulse. A low, throbbing hum–or was it a vibration?–gradually filled the air.

Han’s eyes widened as he felt something invade his mind and body… It rolled across him in a great wave. Emotional warmth, physical pleasure, it was all of that and more. Han staggered back off the permacrete, until he was brought up short by the trunk of one of the forest giants…

So this is why these poor dupes stay, once they find out they’re expected to work in the spice factories, Han thought, feeling a surge of bitter resentment on behalf of the pilgrims. They slave all day, then they hike up here and get a jolt of feel-good vibrations that makes even the best spice pale by comparison.

(The Paradise Snare, pp. 70-71)

Han gains his employers’ trust by saving a shipment from pirates, and finally works up the nerve to ask what the Exultation really is:

“How do you guys do that thing you do with the pilgrims each night at the devotion? What they call the Exultation? It sure packs a wallop, whatever it is.”

…Teroenza stood up. “The Exultation is a refinement of an ability we males of the t’landa Til use to attract the females of our species during the mating season. We create a frequency resonance within the recipient’s brain that stimulates the pleasure centers. The humming vibration is produced by air flowing over the cilia in our neck pouches when we inflate them. Our females find it irresistible.”

(ibid., pp. 146)

To be clear: ugly rhinoceros creatures are getting humans addicted to their narcotic fuck moans in order to traffic them into slave labor in their illegal drug factories. And these novels are considered suitable reading for pre-teens.

2. Han and Chewie star in a magic show

In The Hutt Gambit, Han hooks up with a magician named Xaverri, whose touring schedule takes her all across the galaxy. At one point, Han, in Boba Fett’s cross-hairs and needing to lay low, takes a job as—what else?—Xaverri’s assistant.

[Han]…enjoyed his work as Xaverri’s stage assistant. It had been fun, helping to create the illusions, finding out how it was really done, and taking a bow before cheering crowds, night after night. Even Chewbacca had gotten to enjoy the public attention, and Xaverri had worked up several tricks that gave Chewie a chance to show off his Wookiee strength.

The hardest thing for Han had been getting used to the skintight, spangled stage costume he’d had to wear. He’d felt horribly self-conscious the first few times he’d gone onstage wearing it. But eventually he’d gotten used to it, and even learned to enjoy the hoots and whistles from some of the female audience members when he’d make his entrance.

(The Hutt Gambit, pp. 170)

Let’s set aside for the moment that showing your face to thousands of strangers per night is literally the very worst way to hide from a bounty hunter. I would really love to meet the author who sizes up a character like Han Solo—a hardened, amoral, hyper-masculine gunslinger pastiche, right down to his Django pants—and thinks, “You know what this guy really likes? Magic! And costumes!”

3. Han and Chewie get jobs as movie theater operators and accidentally start a cargo cult

At the beginning of Han Solo’s Revenge, Han and Chewie are down on their luck on the backwater planet Kamar and in need of a way to make some quick cash. Han, ever the entrepreneur, decides to use a spare holoprojector to set up an open-air movie theater for the primitive local Kamarians. Though he only has one movie to show (the travel documentary Varn, World of Water), he does brisk business with the Kamarians, who have never seen any movies before.

Events take a decidedly screwball turn when Han, figuring the Kamarians will appreciate another feature,  finally gets another movie from his pal Sonniod, a rom-com musical called Love is Waiting:

Before the hero had even gotten through the first of his lyrics, discord among the Kamarians was drowning out the music…[Han] raised the volume a little, hoping the crowd would settle down, puzzling over what had them so agitated.

A stone sailed out of the darkness and bounced off the holoprojector with a crash.

…”Oh my,” said Sonniod in a very small voice… “Quick, where’s the other holo, the travelogue?”

…”Back onboard the Falcon, why? What are you talking about?”

“Don’t you stop and analyze things, ever? You’ve been showing them holos of a world with more water than they’d ever dreamed existed, filled with cultures and life forms that they’ve never even fantasized about. You haven’t set up a holotheater, you idiot; you’ve started a religion!”

(Han Solo’s Revenge, pp. 12)

And with that, Han, Chewie, and Sonniod are chased off-planet by an angry mob. All that’s missing is the strains of “Yakety Sax”.

4. Two Hutts fight to the death; Jabba murders the loser’s baby

The Han Solo Trilogy has a frustrating way of branching off into storylines that have nothing to do with Han Solo. One such plotline involves a power struggle between two powerful Hutt clans, named Besadii and Desilijic. In Rebel Dawn, the leader of the Besadii clan, Durga, finds out that the Desilijic clan conspired to poison his parent Aruk, and challenges Desilijic’s leader Jiliac to a fight to the death under the “Old Law”:

Bellowing like two prehistoric leviathans, the two Hutts slammed at each other, sometimes hitting, often missing. They hurled themselves into each other’s chests, wrestling with their undersized arms, as they sent their tails slamming into everything nearby.

(Rebel Dawn, pp. 199)

The author is clearly trying to evoke a sense of titanic grandeur in their combat, but it’s undercut by what we know of how Hutts look and move. Picturing two formless, barely-mobile lard-sacks angrily rolling on each other is just inherently ridiculous. It’s the same reason that I can’t help but laugh during that scene in Planet Earth where the elephant seals fight, no matter how epic the music and editing insist it is.

Pictured: very serious business.

Anyway, the battle ends with a spot of incongruous gore:

It took five hard blows to drive Jiliac into unconsciousness. Die! He thought, walloping sodden flesh. “Die!” he bellowed. “DIE!”

He wasn’t sure when she died, actually. At some point Durga became aware he was pounding mindlessly on what was now a bloody, crushed ruin of flesh and brain matter. Jiliac’s eyes were smashed holes, and her slimy tongue lolled from her mouth.

1. 199

Enter Jilliac’s nephew, Jabba. With typical Hutt sentimentality, he confesses that he’s just fine with his aunt getting killed, because ever since becoming a mother, Jiliac’s been just plain horrible at running the clan. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Jiliac has a baby, who’s been in a pouch in her body the whole time they’ve been fighting:

Without warning, Jiliac moved.

Startled Jabba jerked upright, incredulous. She’s coming back to life! She’ll be angry! No! His hearts thudded wildly in shock. What could be happening?

…The massive corpse moved again, and then Jiliac’s baby slithered out of her abdominal pouch. Jabba relaxed. I should have realized, he thought, embarrassed by his momentary superstitious fear.

The little grub-like creature scooted forward, waving its little stubs, gurgling mindlessly.

Jabba stared at it malevolently. He knew he would be confirmed leader of Desilijic no matter what, by why leave any loose ends?

Slowly, purposefully, he slithered toward his aunt’s helpless offspring…

(pp. 204)

Well, that happened. If you were shocked at the tonal discord of the mass child-murder in Revenge of the Sith, you shouldn’t have been—there’s precedent.

5. Chewie makes a hang-glider from a carcass

At some point in Han Solo’s Revenge, Chewie and Han split up. Han designates himself as the official Haver of Sexy Exciting Adventures, while faithful Chewie waits with the Millennium Falcon, parked in the wilderness, with orders to wait and surveil. When he goes on an errand to plant a scanning device on high ground, the local wildlife gets the better of him, as the swooping predations of huge pterosaur creatures cause a stampede of buffalo-like creatures.

Chewie’s temporarily safe on his crest, but he can’t get back to the Falcon; meanwhile, the stampede is moving to overtake him at the same time the pterosaurs (called “soarers”) decide he looks tasty. He kills a couple of soarers, but he only has so much ammo. He’s got to make it back down to the ship somehow and soon, lest he be trampled or eaten or both.

What follows is something half MacGyver and half Cronenberg:

He had, he believed, the tools and materials he required; time was another question entirely.

He threw the downed soarer’s carcass over onto its back without trouble…He jammed the bent mounting plate up under its chin, ignoring the ruin of its gaping skull, and fixed it there with a retainer from his tool roll, turning its screw down as tightly as he could without crushing the bone…

He spread two of the tripod’s legs, extending them to maximum length, and laying them out over each wing. He curled the leading edge of the wings over the tripod legs and wrapped them two full turns at the tips…He had only eight clamps in his carryall pouch; four each wing had better be enough.

(Han Solo’s Revenge, pp. 137)

Yes, author Brian Daley goes on to describe this act of corpse desecration at startling length, and with an engineer’s eye for mechanical details:

…Taking one of the bracing members he had brought, he thrust it up directly through the soarer’s body next to the sternum, to stand a meter and a half out its back, and made it fast to the longitudinal axis. Then he fit the longest brace he had across the juncture, securing it to the other two tripod legs as a lateral axis. He didn’t fret over the various vile substances now leaking out of the soarer; that decreased the weight, which could only help.

(pp. 138)

After nearly a thousand stomach-churning words on the topic, Chewie finally manages to cobble together a working hang glider from the pterosaur’s corpse which he uses to get back to the Falcon.

Like this, but played at least 90% serious.

6. A nonsensical throwaway line from Star Wars is retconned into coherence

One of the biggest petty nerd-gripes in the entire Star Wars series occurs in Han’s very first scene, where he makes a very specific boast about his ship, delivered in a manner that makes you certain that everyone Han knows has heard it:

As far too many people have pointed out, a parsec is a unit of distance, equivalent to 3.26 light years, but the way this sentence is phrased makes it seems that Han (and George Lucas, by extension) thinks it’s a unit of time. Leave it to Ann C. Crispin, author of the Han Solo Trilogy, to go out of her way to establish a context in which Han’s tossed-off brag makes sense.

We’re introduced to the Kessel Run thusly:

As Roa explained it, the Kessel Run took ships traveling in realspace from the Kessel sector past and around the Maw, then through a rough, uninhabited sector of space known as “The Pit”.…Han knew that it would be possible to make the Run by looping wide around this entire perilous sector, but the cost – in fuel, in time, and in the extra distance that had to be traveled – made negotiating the obstacle course of the Maw worthwhile.

(The Hutt Gambit, pp. 90-91)

So it’s established that both time and distance matter when making the Kessel Run. A shorter distance means a run that’s cheaper, quicker, but exponentially riskier.

Later on in the series, while outrunning an Imperial patrol, Han accidentally sets a record for both:

In desperation, Han sent the Falcon closer to the black hole clusters than any sane person would ever go. Only the ship’s breakneck speed might save them.

The Millennium Falcon skimmed so close to the black holes in the Maw that only her terrible velocity kept her from being captured and sucked in…

As he sagged in his seat, Han noticed something. “Hey Chewie. Look!” He pointed at the instruments. “We set a record!”

Chewie commented bitterly that their speed record had come at the expense of his nerves. Han’s eyes narrowed. “Hey, this is weird,” he said. “It says we actually shortened the distance we traveled, not just the time. Less than twelve parsecs!”

(Rebel Dawn, pp. 269)

So now we understand that when Han said that the Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” he means “it’s so fast and powerful, it can haul my giant balls through a dangerous space maze via the shortest possible route”.

The way Crispin rationalizes the line is actually rather ingenious, but at the same time, completely unnecessary. That one detail doesn’t bear any kind of attention: was there really anybody who heard that line, understood what was wonky about it, and vexed themselves over what it could possibly mean? The obvious answer is that George Lucas is a hack whose primary world-building tool is throwing spacey words around. Quit over-thinking things.

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  • #5: Oh, yeah. I read Han Solo’s Revenge earlier this year, and I remember skimming over the stampede chapter pretty lightly. I’m glad I did.

  • Black Doug

    The only thing more ludicrous than making a hang glider from a dead pterodactyl is that at least two fantasy films–Cave Dwellers and Yor, Hunter from the Future–have done it since “Han Solo’s Revenge” was published.

    You should do a follow-up on the ridiculous Lando novels.

    • Tyler Peterson

      I remember one where he somehow owned a theme park called Hologram Fun World

      • Black Doug

        I have a weird relationship with the old Expanded Universe: I haven’t read a lot of the novels, but I’m a huge fan of the Essential Guides, and those chronicled a lot of the madness of the Han and Lando novels. Hologram Fun World was in the Young Jedi Knights novels IIRC.

        EDIT: Nope, actually it was the Jedi Prince series, although at one point they do go there in the YJK series because each novel always had Lando in a new get-rich-quick scheme.

  • GreenLuthor

    Hm. So “spice” is Star Wars’ catchall term for drugs… and Owen told Luke that Luke’s father was a navigator on a spice freighter…

    I kind of want to see that conversation:
    “What did my dad do for a living?”
    “Coke mule.”

    • Jonathan Campbell

      Owen: (“Fuck you, Anakin- now you’re kid thinks you’re a drug dealer”)

  • PhysUnknown

    I can see Han hiding out in a magic show. A strange costume, some stage make-up, and acting out-of-character would probably work. What I think might give them away is letting Chewie join in. I know Wookies are more prevalent in the EU, but I feel like he’d still stand out.

    Also, is using a “soarer” to fashion a hand-glider all that bizarre for Star Wars? I mean, Han wraps Luke in a tauntaun and the Ewoks apparently eat human flesh (hey, whatever did happen to those stormtroopers bodies? You know, the ones whose helmets the Ewoks were playing like drums?). I guess it’s the amount of detail the author puts into it? Though, I mean, you have to give him credit for his devotion to realism…in a book about a giant space-faring man-bear killing pterosaurs…

    • Tyler Peterson

      The problem with your point about the tauntaun is that Han Solo’s Revenge came out in ’79, before Empire Strikes Back had even come out (the Han Solo Adventures were actually among the first licensed SW novels) so it’s not like Brian Daley said “OK, graphic animal slaughter is something this series does”. This was something he came up with entirely on his own.

      • PhysUnknown

        Wow, I had no idea. I’d just assumed that all of it was from the glut of EU stuff that came out in the mid-90s (or, at least, showed up on my radar around then). Crazy!

  • Kenneth Morgan

    Personally, I’m hoping that the Solo movie is pretty much in the style of the Daley novels. No prophecies or Chosen Ones. The Empire is there, but is in the background. No Jedi or Sith, beyond maybe a quick mention in passing. No lightsabers, or variations thereof. Basically, just a fast-paced adventure story with Han & Chewie, with the ultimate fate of the galaxy NOT hanging in the balance.
    And, in “Han Solo’s Revenge’, the holotheater sequence is actually very funny, and Chewie’s “hang glider” was actually pretty clever.

    • Tyler Peterson

      “And, in “Han Solo’s Revenge’, the holotheater sequence is actually very funny, and Chewie’s “hang glider” was actually pretty clever”
      Point taken in both cases; nevertheless, it’d be pretty hard to argue that either of these scenes would make it into an actual Star Wars movie, which is the direction I tried to take this article. The first one is pretty poor fit with the rest of the movies, tone-wise; and the second one is as well, plus gory as hell to boot.

      • Kenneth Morgan

        Well, they could do the holotheater bit as a pre-title adventure, a la Bond or Indy. Just a quick story to set up that Han & Chewie need cash, and off we go with the main plot.
        Oh, and re: the attempt to make the “parsecs” reference in the Kessel Run sound correct, it’s interesting to read the original screenplay. In that scene, after Han’s parsecs boast, there’s this line of stage direction: “Ben smiles at Han’s stupid attempt at obvious misinformation.” Basically, the original idea was that Han was handing Ben & Luke some impressive-sounding but nonsensical jargon to make the Falcon look better than it actually was to (Han thought) a couple of local rubes. I like that interpretation better.

        • Tyler Peterson

          I never knew that, but it’s awesome and it makes total sense. I just gained some respect for Lucas and lost some for Crispin.
          It’s symptomatic of something you run into a lot with people who professionally write ancillary material for big franchises (to say nothing of fanfic authors): the default assumption is that everything makes sense, on its face, in terms of the story. The original text is sacrosanct and if something seems wonky it’s up to you to jimmy something in that makes it make literal sense. It’s the fandom equivalent of a religious fundamentalist saying “well maybe God magicked all the animals on the Ark so they wouldn’t need food.”
          I remember when BSG was on, the fan community was feverishly throwing theories around as to why the Cylons’ spines used to glow when they got horny but they didn’t anymore; they did everything EXCEPT write to the show’s writers, who shrugged and said, “it was an idea we thought was cool, but we lost interest and dropped it.”
          It doesn’t get really irritating, though, until this impulse starts infecting the franchise itself, like how Star Trek had to come up with a canon explanation as to why Klingons got ridges in their foreheads between TOS and TNG, because apparently nobody could just accept that these were two different series with different budgets and different art direction. Anything would do to preserve the illusion that sci-fi writers are all-knowing nerd gods handing you their inerrant gospel, even if the explanation is more ridiculous than the original discrepancy.

          • Kenneth Morgan

            Sort of like how, for a while, some Whovians tied themselves into knots trying to explain Susan in any other way than, “The Doctor fathered a child who, in turn, also had a child.”