by Andrew Arnett

George Lucas has ambivalent feelings about the new J. J. Abrams directed Star Wars movie, saying that watching it will be like a divorced father attending his child’s wedding. “My ex will be there, my new wife will be there, but I’m going to have to take a very deep breath and be a good person and sit through it,” Lucas told the Washington Post.

If George Lucas is the father of Star Wars, which he is, then Han Solo is his problem child.

Han Solo is the rogue son, a charming rake no less, but one that is always getting into trouble with the law, shooting first in cantinas, involving himself with the dark underbelly of drug smuggling. That’s right, Han Solo was a drug smuggler.

Not discussed often round the Solo dinner table, nor for that matter at press junkets for The Force Awakens, this is nonetheless part of the Star Wars “canon,” making up the backstory to this enigmatic Star Wars character.

To be specific, Han Solo was a smuggler of the fictional drug spice, while in the employ of the crime boss Jabba the Hutt, based on the desert planet Tatooine.

His success as drug smuggler would lead him to boast “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? . . . It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” The Kessel Run refers to a hyperspace route for running the drug spice from the spice mines of Kessel.

According to Wookieepedia, spice could yield a “brief yet pleasurable telepathic boost and heightened mental state.” However, excessive use could “degenerate the nerves in the brain resulting in loss of sight, twitching, nervousness and paranoia.”

In Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), C-3P0 laments that he and R2 will be sent to the “spice mines of Kessel,” and Uncle Owen told Luke that his father was a navigator on a spice freighter. Aside from fleeting references, there is little elaboration upon this elusive “spice.”

And yet in early drafts of Star Wars, spice was more central to the plot. For instance, instead of transporting plans for the Death Star, the princess is carrying “two hundred pounds of the greatly treasured aura spice.”

Lucas has felt the need to alter Han Solo, even to the point of making changes to scenes in already released movies, most notably one where Han shoots and kills bounty hunter Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

In the original Star Wars (1977), Solo shoots first, whereas in the 1997 Special Edition re-release of “Star Wars,” the scene has been altered to show Greedo shooting first. This has set off a firestorm of controversy, starting a “Han Shot First” movement amongst purists who want the original version restored.

Asked why he would go through the trouble, Lucas told the Washington Post “Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ When you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people (first) — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.”

Eventually, Han would be marginalized to the point of being entirely written out of the prequels.

If Lucas has a problem with Solo, maybe it’s because he does not fit neatly into a good vs. bad dichotomy. Solo occupies a grey area of morality, a neutral zone, which encompasses both light and dark aspects. He has worked for the Empire and crime bosses, he is an opportunist, but he also helps the Rebels defeat the Empire.

In effect, Han Solo is the Everyman, skeptical of the force. He is the quintessential anti-hero, which makes him the most relatable person in the Star Wars universe, and a key to the success of the franchise.

The trilogy of prequels filmed by Lucas suffered from a lack of Han Solo. Disney understood this dynamic and wisely positioned Han Solo front and center in the new movie and the promotional run-up to its December 18 release.

Dune concept art by Mark Molner

Han Solo, being a smuggler of spice, is a link to the science fiction universe of Dune, created in 1965 by Frank Herbert. It is in the novel Dune where we first encounter spice, or “the spice melange.”

Central to the Dune series of novels, the spice is a psychoactive entheogen that can unlock prescience, expand awareness, initiate clairvoyance and bestow a longer life span.

Most significantly, spice was needed as catalyst for piloting interstellar travel. As explained in Children of Dune, “Without melange, the Spacing Guild’s heighliners could not move. Melange precipitated the navigation trance by which a translight pathway could be ‘seen’ before it was traveled.”

The similarities between Dune and Star Wars only begin with spice. The two worlds mirror each other in remarkable ways. Jabba the Hutt is an alien slug like creature, about 15 feet long, with human facial features. Bearing a striking resemblance, Leto II, God Emperor of Dune, is a 15 foot long alien slug like creature with a human face.

The Jedi Order train in mind control to attain supernatural powers, and the Bene Gesserit of Dune also train the mind to attain supernatural powers. Using “the voice,” like the “Jedi mind trick,” they have the ability to control the actions of others. In Star Wars, the villain turns out to be the hero’s father. In Dune, the villain turns out to be the hero’s grandfather.

Dune’s influence upon Star Wars becomes even more pronounced when we reference Alexandro Jodorowsky’s storyboard for his proposed filming of Dune. Created by Jodorowsky in collaboration with artists including Moebius, H. R. Giger and Chris Foss, the storyboard was shopped around Hollywood studios in 1975 but was summarily dismissed because of its length and scope of ambition.

Nonetheless, its footprints can be seen in SF classics like Alien, Terminator, Total Recall, and Star Wars, as Hollywood appropriated the Dune production team. Even Dune’s Dan O’Bannon was tapped by Lucas to work on Star Wars (1977).

This article by Andrew Arnett was originally published December 17, 2015 @ Konbini.