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Here's Everything We Used to Know About Han Solo's Early Years

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm and Bantam Books. Rebel Dawn cover art by Drew Struzan.
Images: Disney/Lucasfilm and Bantam Books. Rebel Dawn cover art by Drew Struzan.

This week, we finally got our first look at Solo: A Star Wars Story, an exploration of how a young smuggler became one of the galaxy’s finest pilots, and a future rebel hero. But it’s far from the first time Star Wars material has attempted to explore the past of Corellia’s most famous son. Here’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, according to the old Expanded Universe.

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The childhood of the Expanded Universe’s Han Solo will have at least a little in common with what we’ll see in Solo: A Star Wars Story—a life in petty crime that starts young. In the EU, Han was orphaned at a very early age and left to fend for himself on the streets of Corellia, where he was picked up by a seedy criminal named Garris Shrike. Shrike, Corellia’s own Dickensian Fagin, oversaw unscrupulous operations out of a ship called the Trader’s Luck, using kids like Han to run scams. Thievery and conning weren’t the only skills Han would learn under Shrike’s tutelage—the Trader’s Luck’s cook, Dewlanna, would teach Han the Wookiee language and raise him like her own son.

Image: Han’s childhood on Corellia. Star Wars #100 art by Cynthia Martin, Art Nichols, and Sam de la Rosa.
Image: Han’s childhood on Corellia. Star Wars #100 art by Cynthia Martin, Art Nichols, and Sam de la Rosa.
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As one of Shrike’s accomplices, Han went on thieving adventures throughout the local star systems, learning to find his way in a rough galaxy through experience rather than through any extensive education. Shrike would also keep Han’s past a secret from the young boy—hiding his surname for years so the child wouldn’t know he was a member of Corellia’s esteemed Solo family, a bloodline that descended from the planet’s ancient kings (yes, Han Solo was technically royalty... it was a dumb plotline that barely came up after it first got introduced).

Also, because this was the Expanded Universe, this was the time period in which Han would first encounter characters like Dengar—then a swoop bike racer who was horrifically injured during a race with Han, leading to him to swear vengeance on Han and become the bounty hunter seen in Empire Strikes Back—and yes, Boba Fett, albeit indirectly. Eventually, Han grew out of being under the wing of Shrike’s criminal operations and made plans to leave the Trader’s Luck. But when Shrike tried to stop his most valuable con artist from leaving, Dewlanna intervened, sacrificing herself so Han could escape... before asking on her deathbed that he repay her sacrifice some day by helping out one of her people. Hmm, awful convenient, that.

Image: A young Han after fleeing the Trader’s Luck. The Paradise Snare cover art by Drew Struzan.
Image: A young Han after fleeing the Trader’s Luck. The Paradise Snare cover art by Drew Struzan.

Anyway, Han eventually made his way to the planet Ylesia, and under an assumed name—Vykk Draygo—started a career in piloting cargo ships. He eventually met, and fell in love with, a woman named Bria Tharen, who inspired Han to follow his dreams of being an ace pilot and enlist in the Imperial Navy on Coruscant. After getting his identity overhauled to hide both his past on Corellia and as Dragyo, Han barely passed his entrance exams and was accepted into the Imperial Flight Academy on Carida... but not before Bria left him and Shrike caught up with him. Shrike, one of the few people aware of Han’s double life, was eventually killed by a bounty hunter that Han would later kill himself, ensuring that no one would know who he was before he entered Imperial service.

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Han’s time at the academy was tumultuous. He was irked by the Empire’s constricting regulations and its anti-alien sentiements, and he didn’t excel at the academic aspects of his education, instead relying on excellent scores in his pilot training to keep him going. Eventually, he graduated with a Lieutenant’s commission, but his career in the Empire would be short-lived. Five years before the events of A New Hope, Han, serving under the command of an officer named Nyklas, spared the lone survivor of a deal gone wrong between Nyklas and some Trandoshan slavers for a cargo of Wookiee slaves, disobeying a direct order in the process. Although Nyklas was furious with Han, he decided that keeping the Wookiee—a young warrior named Chewbacca—alive would be more beneficial.

Image: Han frees Chewbacca in The Essential Guide to Warfare. Art by Chris Scalf
Image: Han frees Chewbacca in The Essential Guide to Warfare. Art by Chris Scalf
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Shortly after, Chewbacca was assigned to slave duties constructing Imperial buildings on Coruscant, with Han tasked with overseeing progress on Nyklas’ behalf. When the rebellious Wookiee tried to lash out at Nyklas, the officer prepared to kill him as punishment, only for Han to draw his own blaster and stun his commanding officer. For helping Chewbacca escape and for directly attacking Nyklas, Han was stripped of his rank and court-martialed from the Imperial Navy, once again leaving him to turn to a life of crime... just this time, with a large, hairy companion at his side.

In the short years between his exit from a military career and signing up to escort a wizened hermit and a young farmboy on a one-way trip to Alderaan, Han went on a pretty wild ride, most of it detailed in Ann C. Crispin’s trilogy of novels. He spent a brief time working as a magician’s accomplice, scamming Imperials in the process. He started working regularly for Jabba the Hutt, dealing with rival smugglers and hauling illicit cargo across the galaxy. He met Lando Calrissian, who not only saved Han’s life from Boba Fett, but became a fast friend—one who eventually lost his prize ship, the Millennium Falcon, to Han in a card tournament. (Han entered after losing his last ship in an entanglement with the Empire.) With the Falcon, Han and Chewie made a career for themselves in the smuggler’s trade, traveling all over the corporate sector of the galaxy.

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Illustration for article titled Heres Everything We iUsed/i to Know About Han Solos Early Years

Eventually, that brought Han and his Wookiee friend to the fateful circumstances of A New Hope. After Han was forced to dump a shipment of spice for Jabba to evade Imperial pursuers—and running the infamous Kessel Run in 12 parsecs in an attempt to recover it—the angry Hutt put a massive bounty on Han’s head. Han found himself eager to make cash, fast, in order to pay Jabba back, bringing himself to Mos Eisley on the hunt for potential jobs. There, Chewbacca would introduce him to Ben Kenobi, and, well... you know the rest at that point, don’t you?

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Like much of the rest of the new canon, Lucasfilm is clearly happy to cherry-pick bits of the Expanded Universe for Han Solo’s “new” childhood. Of course, his growing up on Corellia as a rough-and-tumble kid drawn into a life of crime and scroundrel-hood was probably going to be a given, but the movie’s first footage has definitely shown us that Han will still be entering the Imperial Academy for what seems to be a very short-lived military career. In the glimpses we’ve seen so far, Woody Harrelson’s Beckett looks like a much kinder mentor than Shrike was, and it also appears the movie will feature a certain infamous smuggler’s run, which looks to be set well before A New Hope.

It remains to be seen what else gets pulled over from the EU, but there’s still his introductions to Chewbacca, Lando, and the Millennium Falcon to go. Whatever ends up being in Solo, the life of one of Star Wars’ most mysterious and beloved heroes is going to get a lot less mysterious when the movie premieres on May 25.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

So Han’s from a royal family too, is he?

“The Rebel Alliance ... fighting for democracy, even though everybody who actually matters in it is either royalty or a Chosen One. Or both.”

Then there’s the whole ‘two degrees of separation’ thing, where every single possible character in the galaxy is somehow closely connected to every single possible other character, and there’s no such thing as a minor character, because even the guy lugging an ice-cream churn around Cloud City turns out to be a rebel operative linked to Chewbacca’s chiropodist by way of some alien that Anakin Skywalker once beheaded in a bar.

I realize that both these phenomena can be blamed on minor writers churning out tie-ins, but still.