The Expanded Universe Explains series has had an interesting evolution over the last few years; originally it was a compendium of lots of actual questions posed by my friend Pearlann; once the reboot happened I then moved on to detailing stray movie references that had been told and retold in Legends multiple times (and thus, were especially in need of a reboot). That strategy eventually led me to one of the biggest messes of all—the theft of the Death Star plans.
Perhaps not all that coincidentally, that low-hanging fruit became the seed (ha, fruit pun) of the first Star Wars spinoff film—Rogue One. As such, interest in that particular piece has remained quite steady over the last eighteen months as more and more people become curious about the story. That recently led me to the conclusion that the next spinoff film, its premise also rife in Legends, was a worthwhile topic for an EU Explains, and so here we are.
24. What is Han Solo’s pre-A New Hope backstory?
Well, for starters, there’s a whole bunch of it—two entire novel trilogies, plus any number of scattered bits and pieces. If you really want to get the full young-Han-Solo experience, you’re in luck, as both the Han Solo Adventures, a self-contained trilogy by EU VIP Brian Daley, and the much more recent (and expansive) Han Solo Trilogy by Ann C. Crispin are among the best of the Legends material out there (while managing to be very, very different kinds of stories), and unlike a lot of my recent topics here, they’re pretty damn good at consistency—Crispin’s trilogy covers effectively Han’s entire life pre-ANH, meaning that at one point Han basically takes a leave of absence from his own book and the plot continues without him while the events of Daley’s trilogy are taking place.
Point being, consider them both highly recommended. I’m going to cover the big points here but there’s much more than I could effectively synopsize in one article; Wookieepedia’s account of this period is about 4,500 words.
Our tale begins with the Trader’s Luck, retired Old Republic troopship turned crime base captained by one Garris Shrike. Shrike began his career more reputably as a bounty hunter, but found that his tendency to pop off and execute his targets was hurting his bottom line, so as one does in these situations, he turned instead to snatching orphans from the streets of Corellia and training them to be teeny-tiny grifters.
One such orphan was a two-year-old Han Solo—only two! Shrike plucked him off the streets with the twin lures of a cool-ass spaceship and a mystery to uncover: Shrike knew his name. What else he knew, if anything, Shrike kept close to his vest to secure Han’s cooperation over the years. From his time on the Trader’s Luck Han learned how to pickpocket and run various scams, and eventually discovered his natural lucky streak and skill as a pilot. In between criminal activities (and beatings) Shrike would also enter Han into swoop races, the winnings of which he of course kept for himself. One such race involved a young fella named Dengar, who was terribly injured in a crash for which he would forever blame Han, because “he’s a bounty hunter” just wasn’t a good enough reason for his role in The Empire Strikes Back.
Han’s one friend, and healthy parental figure, was the Wookiee ship’s cook Dewlanna. It was she who eventually told Han his last name, which was more than Shrike had been willing to give up—now, right here you might be thinking, why trust that Shrike knew what he was talking about to begin with? Maybe he just pulled “Solo” out of his ass? Well, that last name was enough of a lead for Han to do some digging and eventually track down the Sal-Solo family on Corellia, to whom he promptly ran away. The mother and son turned out to be his aunt and cousin, and Han was pretty sure of this because the son, Thrackan, despite being several years older, was the spitting image of Han himself. Like, seriously—depictions of Thrackan as an older man are basically Harrison Ford with a beard, meaning that he was Star Wars’ very own exemplar of the Evil Twin trope. Oh, wait, did I mention he was evil? Yeah, he was a giant dickhole.
Anyway, the story goes that Thrackan’s mother Tiion had a twin brother Jonash who was abducted by pirates at a very young age and was never seen again, making him the only real candidate for Han’s father as far as Thrackan knew. Han later claims Jaina, his and Leia’s daughter, is named after his mother, but it’s unclear where he learned that name. What I find interesting here is the notion that both Leia and Han have a history of twins in their families, making it, I assume, a little more plausible that their children would have also been twins.
Thrackan eventually sells Han out to Shrike (like I said, dickhole), who reclaims Han and returns him to his illicit ways. Some time later, Han finally escapes the Trader’s Luck for good with Dewlanna’s help, meaning of course she’s killed by Shrike when he takes a blaster bolt meant for Han. This is now ten years before ANH, making Han roughly nineteen.
Han stowed away aboard an automated freighter that for some reason had heat and oxygen (correction: while the freighter was indeed built to accommodate live crew, Han had a spacesuit on during his escape; thanks to Michael in the comments for reminding me) and ferried him to the planet Ylesia. Ylesia was a Hutt spice world administrated by the t’landa Til, a cousin species of the Hutts that make them look downright normal in comparison. The Til had a great thing going thanks to a natural “mating call” ability that produced a euphoric sensation in other species; they labeled this the Exultation and built up a cult around it, compelling beings to work as spice processors in exchange for a periodic fix. Han was pretty chill about this at first and worked for a time as a freighter pilot for the Til alongside his Togorian copilot—basically “what if Chewbacca was a cat?“—until he eventually falls for Bria Tharen, one of the cultists. Together, this lovable bunch of misfits expose the sham of the Exultation and mess everything up, fleeing the planet and inadvertently causing the death of Zavval, Ylesia’s Hutt overseer (this will be important in a minute).
Han and Bria make their way to Coruscant, where Han prepares to apply for the Imperial Academy, because the Empire’s got to be better than the Hutts, right? He’s accepted but not before two final hits—first, Bria, still consumed by her addiction to the Exultation, leaves him a Dear Han letter and takes off so she can deal with her shit without weighing him down. Shortly afterward, he’s finally tracked down by Garris Shrike (Han’d been using one of his Trader’s Luck-era aliases, Vykk Draygo, all this time because he’s still a young idiot). Shrike was hunting him in part due to a bounty placed by Zavval the Hutt’s relatives. The book was almost over, though, so after a brief standoff Shrike is killed by a competing bounty hunter Han then defeats. He has his retinal patterns changed and applies to the Academy under his now-clean real name, and Cadet Solo is born.
Han was exactly the kind of cadet you’d expect—excellent pilot, not so great with the rules and regulations. He progressed from the Naval Academy on Carida to the Austringer Flight School, befriending preexisting characters Mako Spince and Soontir Fel along the way, and graduates circa 5 BBY.
Han is posted to the Star Destroyer Flanchard under Captain Pter Nyklas, a dickhole his own self. After serving as a TIE pilot for all of seven months, Han received his first reprimand when the Flanchard intervened in an attempted rescue of Wookiee slaves. The rescue was successful, but the rescuer (three guesses) has been forced to remain behind. Nyklas ordered Han to execute Chewbacca on the spot, and Han refused. He got off pretty lightly for the moment, but the incident got under Nyklas’s skin. Soon after, during a rotation on Coruscant, Nyklas took every opportunity to beat and harass the now-enslaved Chewbacca in front of Han, and finally, Han snapped and shot Nyklas with a stun blast.
They fled, and Han was stripped of his rank—and eventually had a fresh bounty placed on him for treason—but in exchange he’d experienced a 100% surge in Wookiee sidekicks. According to his species’ custom, Chewbacca was now honor-bound to stay by Han’s side and protect him as long as he lived (just like Jar Jar!).
Thus began the much more recognizable portion of Han’s career; he got a little place on Nar Shaddaa, the Smuggler’s Moon, and began doing runs for the Hutts in his ship, the Bria (aww!). It was around this time that he met Lando, who had heard tales of his exploits and wanted Han to teach him how to fly. He also reconnected with Mako Spince, who had been expelled from the Academy and had set up shop on Nar Shaddaa as well, and started dating Salla Zend, who was, well, another smuggler. In addition to making a name for himself as a smuggler for hire (and continuing to fend off more and more bounty hunters re: that treason charge, which one imagines gave him a healthy sense of caution), Han was instrumental in defending Nar Shaddaa from a bold assault by the Empire. While Palpatine had secretly ordered the commanding officer to lose the battle as a death blow to the irksome Moff who’d orchestrated the operation, the battle was nevertheless an embarrassing defeat for the Empire that demonstrated to the galaxy what could be done when large groups of scoundrels banded together.
Having lost the Bria shortly after the battle, Han put everything he had into the entrance fee for the Cloud City Sabacc Tournament. Han defeated none other than Lando himself in the final round, who had wagered the title to any ship in his lot (he owned a starship lot), expecting the victor to pick one of the fancy-pants yachts. Unbeknownst to Lando, Han had fallen in love with the Millennium Falcon—Lando’s personal ship, which Han had been teaching him on—the moment he saw it, and with that, it was Han’s. We’re now about three years before ANH.
After all the action at Nar Shaddaa, Han decided it was time for one of his famous changes of scenery, and took off for the Corporate Sector, a small, contained region of space the Empire mostly left alone. Here he had a series of somewhat-less-smuggling-related adventures (and a series of new lady friends), facing off against the famed gunslinger Gallandro and working with the caterpillar historian Skynx (not to be confused with a Caterpillar Historian, which would probably be boring) to locate the lost treasures of Xim the Despot. Again, good stuff, but not super relevant to the rest of this—though he does go a lot of upgrade work on the Falcon in this period, with the help of a genius technician named Doc Vandangante, whose daughter he was fooling around with.
Han eventually returns to the galaxy proper and resumes working for Jabba. More boilerplate stuff happens for a couple years—zombies, telepathic bunnies, the usual. Then you know the story is nearing its climax, because Bria Tharen shows up again. Now recovered from her addiction and working for the Rebel Alliance, Bria wants the help of Han and his smuggler friends in one final raid and demolition of the Ylesia spice operation. Bria wants to shut it down for obvious reasons, the Rebels want the drug money because that’s how they rolled in those days, and even Jabba is cool with it because Ylesia is run by a competing Hutt clan. With the promise that all participants will split the profits from the recovered spice, Han and Bria team up once more, now with Lando and company along for the ride, and bring down the t’landa Til once and for all (fun side note: the Trader’s Luck was eventually sold to the Rebel Alliance, and participated in the battle as the Liberator). Anyway, Bria has spent the last decade learning not to fuck around, and she double-crosses Han’s smuggler group, keeping all the spice for the Rebellion. Lando’s not super happy about this.
They part ways once more, and soon after, Han is boarded by Imperials during a spice run to Kessel and is forced to dump his cargo—though on the plus side, he breaks a new record hightailing it out of there; maybe you’ve heard about it. Jabba makes it clear that Han now owes him for the spice by placing a bounty on him; not a serious amount, just enough to attract morons like Greedo and keep him on his toes. Meanwhile, Bria’s team is given a new mission: recover the Death Star plans and beam them to Leia Organa in the Tantive IV. They accomplish their mission, but none survive. This news reaches Boba Fett, and to fulfill a promise he had made to Bria (long story), he meets Han on Tatooine to inform him that she’s dead. The next day, he and Chewbacca head to Chalmun’s cantina in Mos Eisley looking for work.
- The Han Solo Trilogy:
- The Han Solo Adventures (the Corporate Sector, Xim the Despot)
- Han Solo at Stars’ End
- Han Solo’s Revenge
- Han Solo and the Lost Legacy
- Chewbacca miniseries (Nyklas)
- The Essential Guide to Warfare (more Nyklas)
- X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Blood and Honor (Soontir Fel)
- Payback: The Tale of Dengar (Dengar, obviously)