Solo, the latest Star Wars spin-off film, blasts into theaters later this month, finally offering fans the chance to learn the origins of everyone’s favorite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder. That Han became the first character in the galaxy far, far away to get his own film didn’t surprise anyone; he’s easily the most popular character in the Star Wars universe. But there’s another reason that Han was the inevitable choice for the unique honor of a spinoff: Pirates of the Caribbean.
Disney made a mint on the Pirates franchise despite reportedly greenlighting the films as a tax write-off. The unexpected blockbusters elaborated on the pirate genre, mixing Errol Flynn vibes with a confusing mythology, and a crew of unexpected creatures. In short, Disney has already done a dry run on the Han Solo standalone. They know what they’re doing. They’re making Pirates of the Caribbean: Boring Conversation Anyway…. Solo calls himself a smuggler, but he’s always been pirate at heart.
First off, let’s just look at the character of Han Solo and how well he fits with the buccaneer archetype. Like any great pirate, Han isn’t interested in following rules or taking orders. He has a natural disdain for authority and will happily hornswoggle some unsuspecting dum-dum any chance he can. He succeeds and fails on his own terms and would rather risk walking the plank — this literally happens — than be a stooge. Even when Han finally gives up his lone wolf status, he’s still unpredictable. He has a fraught relationship with authority (read: Leia).
It’s not hard to imagine Han and Captain Jack Sparrow, the modern swashbucklers, becoming fast friends, the betraying each other, then parlaying, then shooting each other, then drinking too much in a cantina. That Disney crossover will never happen (no matter how broke Johnny Depp might be), but it would be amazing.
And speaking of ships, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Han is clearly a pirate because, like any self-respecting freebooter, he’s absolutely obsessed with his ship, which he won during a card game — the classic scoundrel way to acquire transport. Han’s well-documented devotion to the infamous Millenium Falcon borders on obsessive because it’s more than a ship to him; it a symbol of the wild and free life he’s chosen for himself. At his core, Han is simply another captain whose one true love is his ship. His ship just so happens to fly in space instead of sailing the ocean blue.
Han’s pro-pirate case is also strengthened by an understanding of the history of these swashbuckling ne’er-do-wellers he is so obviously modeled after. For those whose knowledge of pirates is mostly formed by the Disneyland ride and the Dread Pirate Roberts, the golden age of piracy ranged from the mid-seventeenth century to around the 1820s, during the height of the British Empire. And while we all like to imagine a bunch of one-eyed scalawags sailing the seven seas in search of gold and rum, the real reason most people became pirates was a lot more practical: They were sailors who wanted to escape the notoriously shitty conditions of the Royal British Navy.
What we currently know of Han’s origins suggests a similar narrative to your average pirate. While Luke dreamed of leaving his dinky home planet behind to become a part of something greater than himself, Han’s career trajectory was a whole lot more practical. He was not down for joining the Empire but he wasn’t all that interested in fighting against them either; Han couldn’t be bothered with the greater good or higher ideals. He was just looking to make a quick buck and so he used the skills (roguish charm and a quick draw) and resources (the fastest ship in the goddam galaxy) he had and entered the profitable but dangerous world of smuggling, the space equivalent of piracy.
Like any Star Wars film, expectations for Solo are sky high. You know that’s the case because people are already saying it sucks without having actually seen it. If the movie does turn out to be a success, don’t just think of it as the latest in a long line of Star Wars success (well, three), but as a great pirate movie about a great space pirate fighting an Armada of evil English people bent on economic dominance.