INTERVIEW: "Han Solo" Races Toward Self-Discovery in Liu's "Star Wars" Miniseries

"Star Wars" arrived in 1977, lighting imaginations on fire and changing the movie landscape forever. It also introduced a character who quickly became one of the most legendary and influential characters in pop culture in the form of Han Solo. The Millennium Falcon's captain had a sarcastic wit, roguish charm and a furry best friend in his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca. As a hero, Solo struggled to reconcile his sense of pragmatism with his sense of decency, something that made him easy to identify with and root for.

That struggle contained many pivotal moments, and this June writer Marjorie Liu and artist Mark Brooks will take readers back to a crucial time in Han's journey from scoundrel to hero in Marvel Comics' five-issue "Han Solo" miniseries. The title character will be forced to choose between his mission to find an Imperial spy embedded in the ranks of the Rebel Alliance and the chance to win a legendary intergalactic race.


CBR News spoke with Liu about her affection for one of the all-time great characters in modern storytelling, the importance of his bond with Chewbacca and the new characters and obstacles Han Solo will run afoul of as he literally races toward his destiny.

CBR News: At what point in Han Solo's life does your story begin? What are some of the things he's wrestling with at this particular time?

Marjorie Liu: The story takes place between "Star Wars" and "Empire Strikes Back." So Han doesn't think of himself as a hero. He's just a regular guy, in some ways a blue collar type who lives paycheck to paycheck. Of all the "Star Wars" characters he's the most real in the sense that he has money problems, and he's just trying to get through the day. He doesn't care about things like politics.

He's trying to run a business with his best friend and doesn't want any trouble. Han Solo has enough trouble without getting involved in all this stuff with the Empire and the Rebellion. He doesn't need that. And yet, in "Star Wars," he makes a choice -- and suddenly finds himself in the middle of this life or death struggle. A struggle where he matters, where he can make a difference. And despite himself, he likes that. He likes being a hero. You see that really clearly at the end of the first "Star Wars" film. He's standing up there with a medal around his neck, looking out, and there's pride on his face. He feels like he accomplished something.

The problem is that now he's been exposed to something larger; a life that's bigger, more exciting, and more dangerous than anything he's had to deal with before. Then reality sets in, and at the end of the day he still feels like just a smuggler. What does he have to offer the Rebels? Or anyone? So it's easier just to go back and pretend that none of this matters, that none of it really happened. He can't quite return to his old life though. Han comes through his experience changed, even if he doesn't want to be changed. He was fine with his old life and wants to return to it -- and it's really frustrating to him that it doesn't satisfy him anymore.

So his sense of decency is wrestling with his sense of pragmatism, which to me always seemed like that was a core struggle for Han. It often got him into trouble. Until he met the Rebels he kept that part of his personalty in check and tried not to get involved in things.

Right, being a good person is not without its risks. What's the saying? No good deed goes unpunished. And I think in the business that he's in being an altruist doesn't always pay off.

You're right though. He is decent. He does have this moral code. So when he has a chance to activate and fully embrace it, that absolutely awakens something inside him.

You've written a number of iconic Marvel characters, but like almost everyone in our generation I imagine "Star Wars" holds a special place in your heart. What's it like being offered a "Star Wars" book, and one featuring Han Solo specifically?

I was speechless. My mom went to go see "Star Wars" when she was pregnant with me, so "Star Wars" has been with me and my family since I was in the womb. I grew up on it. I was always watching it. I was obsessed with it. I was always day dreaming that I was a Jedi, or even better, a female version of Han Solo.

So Han Solo isn't just an iconic character for me. He's a character that has been part of my imagination for my entire life. I think the archetype of the Han Solo character became the blueprint for the way I imagine and idealize the perfect hero. [Laughs]

To say I was excited would be an understatement, but then reality set in. Let me tell you [Laughs] writing Han Solo when you've been imagining him for your entire life -- those are two very different things.

I imagine there's a lot of, "I shouldn't overthink this."

Right, I've been telling myself that for the last couple months, "Don't overthink it. Don't worry about it. Just write it, and get it out there." Sometimes that's easier said than done, though.

Writing Han of course also means you get to write Chewbacca, and their friendship is an incredibly influential one in pop culture. Why do you think that is? What is it about Han and Chewie's friendship that resonates with people?

That's a really good question. Chewbacca has a moral code that he doesn't even bother trying to bury. You may not understand a word he's saying in any of the films, but you know what Chewie is about. That's always 100 percent clear.

Chewbacca is a warrior with a powerful streak of decency, and he's not shy about calling out Han when he's making a questionable decision. Han doesn't have to listen, but I think that if Chewbacca wasn't around that Han would have ended up in a very different and probably darker place. I think that having a friend that is more decent than you are, and sometimes braver than you are, is a good influence. It keeps you on the straight and narrow -- even if that straight and narrow can be very rocky.

Thinking about the friendships Han and Chewie inspired, one clear example comes to mind, especially since you're working on a Marvel comic -- Rocket Raccoon and Groot.

Right, it's these strange, unexpected friendships that really resonate with people. Because at the end of the day everyone desires, dreams, and hopes to have one of those friendships that can stand the test of time and all of life's furies. We all want that friend you can depend on, no matter what -- and sometimes that person is someone who is your complete opposite in every way. That's the thing with "Star Wars" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" -- the visuals of these opposing friendships are really clear. Groot is a tree, and Rocket is a raccoon. [Laughs] Han Solo is a human, and Chewbacca is a Wookiee. You can't get more opposite than that.
The symbolism of these unique friendships -- which somehow overcome all these differences to become something really beautiful, strong, and unbreakable -- is super compelling.

I understand the adventure you're sending Han and Chewie on in your story involves a legendary intergalactic race?

Yes, the Dragon Void Run has been around for thousands of years. It's a very famous race in the galaxy, and only the most elite of the elite pilots, the ones with the top technology, compete in it. They have the best ships, the best sponsors, the best of everything. Then you have Han and the Millennium Falcon. [Laughs]

Han is always talking about how fast the Millennium Falcon is. Nobody can beat the Millennium Falcon, he says. So I've always thought of Han as speed junkie. He loves flying. He loves space, and he loves his ship. So if there was a famous intergalactic race, of course Han would have always dreamed of participating in it, just because. It would feed that competitive spirit in him and his need for speed -- as well his love of the stars.

And yet, Han never actually imagines he'd be able to participate in such a race -- it's completely beyond his means. He's a regular guy, a smuggler. So when the chance to race is handed to him by Leia -- dude, it's a dream come true -- but the type of dream you're almost afraid of looking too closely at, because it's so precious and rare. Thing is, the condition of him entering the Dragon Void is that he's not supposed to take the race too seriously. Winning the race is not his objective -- according to Leia. He's there on a mission for the Rebels.

But once Han is in it, though -- he's in, no matter what. Han always flies to win.

From what you're saying there's going to be plenty of adventure and intrigue, but racing stories often feature comedy as well. Does your story have some comedic elements?

There's a little bit of comedy. The dynamic between Han and Chewie has never been completely serious. So there are some light moments, but it's not a straight up Burt Reynolds "Cannonball Run"-style story. [Laughs]

You mentioned Leia was a part of your story. What's it like writing her and how big a role does she play in the book?

I wouldn't say her role is huge, but she's definitely there. Here presence is felt throughout the story. That, in and of itself, was another dream come true.

I love Princess Leia. I love Princess Leia. I love Princess Leia. [Laughs] It cannot be said enough. She's who I would love to be. When I'd fantasize about "Star Wars" I would be a female Han Solo character, but a female Han Solo character who is gutsy, tough, and a princess. Basically I was Leia.
There's a reason why she's this iconic character for millions of little girls. Her strength, conviction and power really speaks to us on a very deep level.

What about some of the other established "Star Wars" characters and concepts in your story. How big a presence does the Empire have in "Han Solo?"

The Empire shows up, but the main focus of this story is the race, Han's journey and the choices he has to make. Is he going to choose his own selfish interests over the Rebel Alliance? Or is he going to work toward this larger goal that will bring him closer to something bigger than himself? Or can he have both?

So the Empire shows up, but they're not really the conflict or the focus. This is Han's journey.

I understand you and artist Mark Brooks are having a lot of fun designing and creating a lot of new elements for the "Star Wars" universe including various sectors of space and the aliens that populate those areas.

Yes, Mark is fantastic. I can't say enough good things about him. He has immersed himself in this world with tremendous passion. His character designs have just been fantastic, and I tell you there's no better morning than when I wake up and there's a page from Mark in my inbox.

I've never seen anything like it; his Han Solo, his Chewbacca, the way he draws space, speed, and movement and all these different alien species. The level of detail he puts into his work is astounding. I admire him so much.

I need to sing the praises of Sonia Oback, as well. Wait. Until. You. See. Her. Colors. Those pages are fire.

From talking with other writers it seems like the other appeal of writing a "Star Wars" book is you're pretty much guaranteed to have an artist who loves the project just as much as you do. That's definitely the case here. I always thought Mark was a phenomenal artist, but the work I've seen from him on this is on an entirely new level.

Yes! He's brought the Star Wars universe to new life.

What's it like coming up with these new elements for Mark to design and add to the "Star Wars" universe?

It's fun. Part of it is that "Star Wars" is already so magnificently diverse in its aliens and its look pretty much anything will find a home within the universe. So it's given me a very free experience.

The covers of "Han Solo" will also look amazing because they're being done by Lee Bermejo.

[Laughs] I know! I'm a lucky girl!

Finally, from what you told me at the beginning I imagine this project has a special place in your heart having seen "The Force Awakens."

Oh man! I want to pretend that last scene didn't happen. [Laughs] I'm saying this half-jokingly, but in my mind and my heart Han Solo still lives.

Does knowing that Han's exploits come to an end, and specifically how they end, make this project even more special? Do you have a sense of wanting to enrich his life even more?

I feel like the story I'm telling is the barest scratch on the surface of the entire life of this character, because Han Solo has meant so much to so many different people. In the "Star Wars" universe he's a character who has lived a million different lives and gone on a million different adventures, and this is just one tiny one.

So it's been a real pleasure and honor just to give readers a taste of that remarkable life. [Laughs] I've had so much fun working on this book.

"Han Solo" #1 debuts June 15 from Marvel Comics.

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