Look, yes, I think about Star Wars a lot. Too much even! But, often, it’s better than thinking about other things. The other night I’m at my local New York City watering hole and the bar happens to be playing The Empire Strikes Back, a movie I’ve already seen way too many times. But it’s interesting because, now, I’m watching with the subtitles on. And it’s a different experience when you’re reading the dialogue as opposed to hearing it. And, for whatever reason, this time, I kept focusing on every time Han Solo was referred to as “Captain Solo.” More specifically, by the time of the events of The Empire Strikes Back, is Han Solo referred to as Captain because he’s a captain in the Rebel Alliance, or because he’s the Captain of the Millennium Falcon?
For some reason, I thought this would be a pretty straightforward answer. That night I put up a poll and, surprisingly, it was pretty divided.
Now, before we get into this, the question is asked in the spirit of “what the movie intended at the time.” So subsequent recent canon (like the Marvel Star Wars comics, which I do read) does not play a factor at all. All we have is what we know from the events of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.
So, the question is, was Han Solo an official member of the Rebel Alliance in The Empire Strikes Back?
It’s funny, but Han Solo’s full name isn’t mentioned all that often in the Original Trilogy. I’m not going to rewatch them all to find this out (so, yes, this time, please correct me if I’m wrong) but the name “Han Solo” is only mentioned one time over the course of three movies: When Han introduces himself to Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi in the cantina on Tatooine. This is why it’s always so weird in The Force Awakens when everyone keeps using his full name. Like when Snoke says, “Haaaaan Sooooooolo.” Or when C-3PO interrupts with, “Han Solo.” No one ever called him this during the Original Trilogy. When Darth Vader referred to Han, it was always “Captain Solo.” Boba Fett also called him “Captain Solo.” Which, in a weird way, is formal and nice.
Honestly, I’ve gone back and forth on the question at hand a few times, and I’ve decided he’s referred to as “Captain Solo” because he’s the Captain of the Millennium Falcon. The reason I find this a little weird is because that title is pretty fancy for someone who just happens to own a starship. But, sometimes people are like this. (I can’t help but think of Rob Riggle’s Captain Jack on The Office. Look, he owned a party boat, he’s the Captain, so you will call him “Captain.”) And Han does introduce himself as, “Han Solo, Captain of the Millennium Falcon.” So it’s pretty clear he’d like that to be his title.
By the time of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is, obviously, an officer in the Rebel Alliance. He has the rank of Commander, which, if Han were also in the Rebel Alliance, would be pretty weird since Luke outranks him. Given both their heroics in Star Wars, it’s a pretty safe assumption Luke and Han would be given the same rank. Could you imagine any scenario when young Luke says to Han, “I hate to pull rank, Captain.”
Also, Han never wears anything close to resembling a Rebel Alliance uniform. I always wondered what the other Rebel soldiers thought about Han Solo. “Wait, who is this guy walking around in the cool jacket? Why don’t I get to wear my casual clothes? Why is this guy barking orders at me? Why did he tell me he’d see me in hell when all I did was give him sensible advice?”
Another clue is when Han tells General Rieekan he has to leave to pay off Jabba the Hutt. Rieekan says, “You’re a good fighter, Solo. I hate to lose you.” This seems like a time Rieekan would refer to Han as “Captain” if Han were a member of the Alliance. Also, Rieekan would probably add, “That would be considered AWOL, Captain.” But, instead, Rieekan just kind of accepts that Han is leaving and goes about his day.
Plus, it fits the character that he’s not fully committed to the Rebels yet. He knows the right thing to do is to stay, so he does, for a while. Though, his official role fascinates me. There had to be a meeting, “Now, you all remember Han, he helped blow up the Death Star. He’s not joining us in an official capacity, but he’s going to help out for a bit and help make key decisions. Please make him feel welcome.” Honestly, I bet most of the Rebels thought Han was a dick. This is also backed up on Cloud City, when Leia says to Han, “Then you’re as good as gone.” This isn’t someone who is going to go pay off his debts and come back. He’s never been fully committed to the Rebel Alliance at this point and now it’s time to move on.
This is why in Return of the Jedi it’s shocking when Han accepts the rank of General. It shows his growth as a character that he’s now fully committing to the Rebels. This loses its luster a bit if it’s just a promotion. “Congratulations on your promotion, Han. This also comes with a tidy bump in salary.” (It’s also why retconning all this is a mistake.) Also, the Rebels seem to hand out the title of general pretty willy nilly. Lando caused everyone a lot of headaches in Empire and even he got to be a general. If I were Luke, I’d be pretty cross about all this.
(Going back to The Force Awakens, I bet this all presented a problem for everyone. I bet they knew “Han Solo” sounded weird, but they couldn’t use Captain Solo anymore because it would be confusing since, last we saw him, Han was a general. Anyway, again, I appreciate Darth Vader’s use of formal titles.)
I’m open to discussion about this, but right now I’m firmly on the side of “Han was a gun for hire in Empire, then decided to leave when the heat got too much.” And, again, I bet most of the Rebel soldiers were pretty happy to hear he was leaving.
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