This week, we’re returning to the Nerd Role Models series, where we examine popular characters from geek culture, break down just why people respond to them and – critically – look at just what you can learn from them. And considering that The Force Awakens has rekindled the love of Star Wars in nerds around the world, it’s a great time to return to the subject of Nerd Role Models with a look at the quintessentially charming scoundrel: Han Solo. We all may have loved watching Luke grow from wide-eyed farm-boy to bad-ass Jedi Master over the span of the original trilogy but the older we get the more wish we could be as cool as that scruffy-looking nerf-herder.
Much like Peter Venkman, it’s more or less impossible to talk about Han Solo without acknowledging just how much Harrison Ford is responsible for bringing the character to life. Much as with Indiana Jones, Ford’s easy charm (and unwillingness to put up with Lucas’ weaknesses as a writer) is a big part of what makes Han Solo, Solo.
So what is it about Han that makes him such an iconic character, and how can you learn to incorporate a little more rogueishness into your own life?
Han Solo and the Appeal of Jerks
The first thing that comes to mind with Han Solo is that he’s a scoundrel. He’s ten pounds of bad news in a five pound sack: a smuggler and drug-runner with a bounty on his head and a willingness to take on dangerous missions for dodgy religious fanatics without thinking twice. He’s a liar, a cheat, a braggart and a self-centered jack-ass who tends to shoot first and not bother asking questions.
And those are his good points.
No. For real. On paper, Han Solo is the sort of skeezy person most of us avoid at the bar unless we we’re trying to score weed before a party… but that’s also what makes us like him so much. The problem is – as with assholes, jerks and bad boys in the real world – we tend to conflate the behaviors and attitudes we find attractive with being a complete dick to people. While yes there is an appeal to a morally gray character, especially when compared to Luke’s immaturity and whininess, we don’t like Solo because he straight up murders people. If that’s all it took, then Moff Tarkin would be the run-away favorite. Similarly, we don’t find him appealing because he’s a self-centered jackhole who’s only interested in helping himself; that just tends to remind us of the weasily guy we know at work or school that we keep being forced to work with.
Instead, we need to take a look past the surface and the gloss and look at what makes Han Solo transcend beyond just another ass and into an iconic character… and nerd role model.
One of the first things that we notice about Han Solo is his cocksureness. He’s a small-time smuggler flying around in a pile of junk held together with baling wire and good intentions and he’s prone to ditching his cargo at the first sign of trouble… but he carries himself with the outsize confidence and swagger of someone who routinely outflies Star Destroyers and evades Imperial blockades.
Watch how he sits, how he stands, how he carries himself as he walks. He takes up space, sprawling about, even when he’s in the middle of a military base surrounded by people who will almost certainly shoot him on sight. He’s at ease wherever he is, confident that he can handle whatever the universe happens to throw at him.
That constant level of certainty is part of what draws us – and, I might add, Princess Leia – to him. Yeah, he’s so full of shit his eyes are brown, but he sells it so well that you buy it on the sheer strength of his charisma. Even when he’s doing things that are demonstrably insane, he doesn’t doubt himself for a second… at least not openly, anyway.
The thing is: it’s all fake. It’s a front, a put-up job. He’s not nearly as confident as he makes himself out to be; in fact, it’s pretty safe to say that most of the time he’s flying by the seat of his pants and praying to God that he’s going to stick the landing this time. That whole “made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs” bit? He’s throwing jargon at an old man and a farmboy in hopes of making the sale and hoping they don’t realize that he’s talking out his ass. ((For the three of you who haven’t heard about this, parsecs are units of distance, not time. So he’s functionally claiming to have violated the laws of physics by magically changing the distance between two points… ))
But the fact is that his bravado carries him along. His faking it is part of what helps him make it. He may be a hot-shot pilot… but because he’s trying to live up to his own persona, he pushes himself past his own limits and pulls of stunts and tricks that literally nobody else would manage. Of course, occasionally this can blow up in his face…
… and watching him trying to pull out of those “oh shit” moments is part of what makes us love him all the more.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Han Solo without Harrison Ford’s laconic charisma. So much of what makes Han Solo a lovable scoundrel instead of a creepy scumbag is that he knows when and how to turn on the charm in a way that feels warm and genuine… even when it’s coming from someone who’s idea of a fair exchange ends with him trying to con two separate gang lords.
The first key to his easy charisma is the smile. That slow smile, culminating with a laugh is practically a Solo trademark. He doesn’t turn on the high-beams right off the bat, nor is he Cranky McBitchFace1. Instead he lets that smile build from a smirk to a full-on toothy grin. It’s that slow build, that momentary hesitation at first, that makes it feel as though that smile is specifically for us. Master that smile and you’ll have nailed a critical part of Han’s appeal.
Then there’s the rogueishness. IHan wouldn’t be Han Solo if it weren’t for the well-timed moments of inappropriateness, those occasional rough edges that differentiate Han’s mischievous charm from Lando Calrissian’s polished smoothness. Part of Han’s appeal – to us in general and to Princess Leia specifically – are those moments when he’s willing to push the boundaries just a little. Case in point: being in the middle of an award ceremony? Probably not the best time to flirt with the attractive woman who – incidentally – is also the leader of The Rebellion in an intergalactic civil war. But as far as Han’s concerned, it’s the perfect time to remind her that he knows she digs him.
Notice though that it’s a small, subtle moment. He’s not calling attention to it. He’s not making a production or acting like an idiot. It’s just a quick gesture – a “yeah, I know you think I’m hot” that is out of place, inappropriate… and almost hysterically funny in it’s timing. You know damn good and well Leia had to fight to not burst out laughing in that moment. It’s a little thing that’s so perfectly Han that it sums up his personality in a single gesture.
Of course, part of this means being very well socially calibrated. There’s being a bit of a scoundrel, then there’s inadvertently insulting royalty and someone at the top of the military hierarchy. But speaking of rogueishness…
Han and Leia’s relationship wouldn’t be the same without their banter. Like Bogart and Bacall before them, Han and Leia’s relationship is marked by the sort of antagonistic flirting and dueling banter that disguises the intense chemistry the two of them have for one another. Han isn’t someone to take anyone seriously or pay much attention to rank. Leia on the other hand is used to a certain level of deference from her position as royalty as well as a diplomat. Someone who’s as pushy and occasionally out and out rude as Han is outside of her experience and occasionally infuriating. Of course, part of what attracts Han to Leia is that she’s able to give as good as she gets. Yes, she’s pretty, but she’s got a brain too, along with more guts than a squadron of X-Wing pilots and a razor-sharp wit.
Of course, part of what makes the engagement so much fun is how he refuses to take it seriously. One of the keys to flirty banter isn’t just to slap back but to deflect and redirect into unexpected directions.
The other is to keep things at a certain level of teasing and to not let matters get to personal. He may refer to her as “Your Worshipfulness” or poke at her status as a political figure with cracks about not having time to discuss things in committee but he never outright insults her. He may get frustrated, even angry at times, but he never gets to the point of actually wounding her. After all, not only would that ruin the point of the game but he doesn’t want to hurt her. He’s teasing her, not trying to make her feel bad. Which is why it’s important to know when to let things drop and be serious.
Bantering may be a way of raising someone’s emotional temperature and sparking some serious sexual tension, but it’s also incredibly easy to go too far and ruin the moment. It’s better to shift gears a little and let the moment just be before reengaging. It’s those moments of honesty, even vulnerability, that make the return to the passion all the more intense.
The Heart of Gold
As with other bad boys, Han Solo ranks pretty highly on the dark triad, but at his core, he’s actually a pretty good guy. His story arc in Star Wars is a man fighting against his worse nature and ultimately giving in to being the hero he tries so hard not to be. And this is an example of why women love bad boys. It’s not because he’s dangerous, impulsive and violent, it’s because underneath it all, there’s a core that can’t help but shine through.
Even if he wishes it wouldn’t.
Yeah, he’s cold, arrogant and self-centered… right up until he lets you in. He will do the right thing eventually. He may grouse about it. He may complain. He may insist that you’re making a big mistake and he’s going to leave you behind and do his own thing, but when the chips are down, he will fight for you straight to the gates of hell.
It’s that last part – the stubborn loyalty, that grudging acceptance of doing the right thing (even if it’s for the wrong reason) – that makes his rough edges more acceptable or even appealing. He’s not anybody’s project to be fixed nor is he dangling the idea of his genuine side that only certain people get to see. He’s chaotic good, not chaotic nice.
He’s a rogue. He’s a scoundrel. He’s bad news. He’s kind of an asshole at times, but he’s your asshole and he’s shown – time and time again – that he’s a genuinely good guy. So take a little time and learn how to connect with your own inner scoundrel and find the princess who completes you.
- Unlike, y’know, Harrison Ford these days… [↩]