(Starting in the ninth paragraph of this piece, there are major Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to see the movie, you may not want to read this.)
“Well, I understand, you know, you love Luke, that’s okay.”
These are the words of Harrison Ford after he read the script for Return of the Jedi (as remembered by Jedi’s late director, Richard Marquand, in J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Return of the Jedi). Ford’s not wrong: After being a central part of The Empire Strikes Back with Han Solo’s romance with Leia front and center, here he was, pushed to the sidelines (along with Carrie Fisher’s Leia) so Jedi could focus on Luke Skywalker’s story. Notably, in between Empire and Jedi, Ford was the star of the blockbuster Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Yeah, I’d probably resent Han Solo, too, as Harrison Ford did for the next 30 years.
When you watch the original trilogy, it’s kind of funny how unimportant Solo is in the galaxy. He’s certainly important to the stories of both the original Star Wars and Empire. And he’s important to the gangsters to whom he owes money. But in the terms of Jedi and Sith and galaxy dominance, he’s a nobody. When Darth Vader needed to test the carbon freezing chamber on Bespin, he basically says, “Oh, yeah, test it on that Solo guy. Who cares if he dies? He’s nobody.” When Boba Fett protests (because, yes, money is involved), Vader rolls his eyes (in theory) and tells Fett, “Look, I’ll cover the costs if Solo is killed. Whatever!”
I always got the sense that George Lucas secretly hated Han Solo – that Han’s popularity was an accident that Lucas never saw coming and he’s annoyed by it all. Remember, Han Solo was supposed to be a dumb-looking green alien.
Then Lucas didn’t want Harrison Ford because Lucas, at the time, didn’t like working with actors more than once and Ford had a role in American Graffiti. Finally Lucas relented and Solo became a human played by Ford, a good actor who thought Star Wars was kind of dumb. Which, of course, made the character of Solo interesting and extremely popular. Solo doesn’t appear in a lot of the early marketing material for Star Wars (including the poster) and then in Jedi, he’s almost written out. Then Lucas tweaks some of Solo’s characteristics to make him less appealing as a flawed movie character, like not shooting Greedo in cold blood. Then, in the prequels, Lucas went out of his way to have no character that could ever be confused with Solo. I think, in Lucas’ perfect world, Han Solo would still be that green alien. Han would still belong to Lucas, not Ford.