Origin of a Star Wars hero

Star Wars audiences first meet Han Solo in a desert cantina on the planet Tatooine when the venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) book passage on the Millennium Falcon to deliver the stolen Death Star plans stored in the droid R2-D2 to Princess Leia's father, Viceroy Organa.

Somewhat unusually for the time, Star Wars was a pioneer of the spin-off and a series of novels were published in 1979 and 1980 to capitalise on the astonishing commercial success of the first Star Wars film.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo, a character that would help define his career.

The first of those novels to feature Solo, Han Solo at Stars' End, begins piecing together a character back story which established Solo as one of the most loved characters in the Star Wars franchise.

In that story, Solo and Chewbacca must trade their help in finding a missing outlaw technician for help in getting the Falcon's paperwork waiver so it can operate in the Corporate Sector. It features a couple of droids – Bollux and Blue Max – and a clue scrawled on the Falcon's iconic holographic chess table which leads them to Stars' End.

Encased in carbonite in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.

A second novel, Han Solo's Revenge, sees Solo and Chewbacca in business with the Corporate Sector Authority, hoping to break a slave ring And a third, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, Solo and Chewbacca are recruited to join a treasure-seeking expedition in the Tion Hegemony.

Though the treasure hunt does not end as they expect, it does conclude with Solo and Chewbacca on their way to meet with the feared gangster Jabba the Hutt, with plans to borrow money from him and make an attempt on the Kessel spice run, a journey which would become writ large in the history of Star Wars.

That trip – in which Solo encountered an Imperial blockade and ditched his cargo – would make Solo and Hutt implacable enemies and, even as Solo rose in the ranks of the rebellion in the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, Hutt was on his tail. Solo was eventually captured by the bounty hunter Boba Fett and, frozen in carbonite, given to Hutt as a trophy.

Solo's back story was also substantially expanded on in The Star Wars Holiday Special, a truly awful made-for-television follow-up to 1977's Star Wars, in which Solo and Chewbacca return to the Wookie home world Kashyyyk for Life Day, where we meet Chewbacca's wife Malla, son Lumpy and father Itchy. (Those terrible names were later changed to Mallatobuck, Lumpawaroo and Attichitcuk).

Perhaps the strangest thing about Han Solo is that in the initial Star Wars story concept he was neither human, nor a smuggler.

In the first draft of Star Wars, Han Solo was in fact a green-skinned alien, Ureallian, who was a member of the Jedi-Bendu and a friend of (the older) General Skywalker. In a later draft he was a bearded space-pirate and in the film's third draft he was human from the planet Corellia and, more or less, the character we met in 1977's Star Wars.

Even more brilliantly, a raft of actors were considered for the role, including Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bill Murray, Burt Reynolds and Nick Nolte. Harrison Ford won the role after director George Lucas asked him to read with actresses auditioning for Princess Leia and liked his version of Solo so much he decided Ford was a keeper.

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