Han Solo and why we love flawed, selfish, and cynical heroes


The rogue Stars Wars pilot now has his very own prequel, but he’s not the only flawed movie hero we love to love.

When Han Solo introduced himself to America, he sat in the shadows in Mos Eisley’s seediest bar. In a place that Obi Wan Kenobi called a “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” the pilot (played by Harrison Ford) looked right at home. He’s a smuggler and cynic, a guy whose definition of idealism ends with the letter “I”. And when a bounty hunter sidles up to the guy pointing a gun and demanding cash for his client, we all know exactly who shoots first.

But for all of his talk and swagger, we knew — like Princess Leia did — that there was more to him than money. Underneath all the wisecracks and sneers lurked a real hero with a heart of gold.

Now Han Solo is back with a new skin (actor Alden Ehrenreich), a new story, and a shiny new movie — Solo: A Star Wars Story, to be released May 25. But the swagger’s still there: The coolest cat in the Star Wars universe is back for his prequel, bringing with him all the charisma and complexity that made him Empire Magazine’s third-greatest movie character.

Why is Han Solo so popular? I think he taps into a certain spiritual undercurrent that represents us all. We’re fallen people, selfish and cynical, and only halfway aware of our own flaws. But we long to be better. We yearn to find a higher calling, a purpose in life that goes beyond ourselves.

Solo is hardly alone in his scruffy appeal, and he’s in no way the first. America’s love affair with flawed heroes and loveable rogues goes way back. Take a look at some seminal characters from American cinema that we love to love … in spite of their flaws.

Rick Blaine, Casablanca (1942)

Warner Brothers | Fair Use

Nazis. Everyone hates those guys. But hey, they have to drink beer like everyone else, and who serves it to them in Casablanca? Why, Rick does, at his eponymous club. The grizzled American (Humphrey Bogart) had his idealism kicked to the curb a long time ago … until his old flame, Ilsa, walks into his club and back into his life. It’s not long before Rick feels an unexpected surge of goodness in his cynical old heart — first leading patrons in a rousing rendition of “La Marseillaise” and eventually helping Ilsa and her new beau, Victor Lazlo, escape the closing Nazi net.

“I’m no good at being noble,” Rick says, “but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

You can almost picture Han Solo drawling that line himself.

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