Luke Skywalker might still be hogging the spotlight, but Han Solo goes on a hero's journey of his own in The Empire Strikes Back. When we think about Han's growth from selfish smuggler to a selfless hero over the course of the first two Star Wars film, we can't help but beam with pride at our all-time favorite scruffy nerf-herder.
On the Road Again
At first, Han is itching to separate himself from the Rebel Alliance. To be fair, it's not like he wants to leave or anything—he just needs to deal with Jabba the Hutt, who put a price on his head after the events of A New Hope prevented him from fulfilling a job for the over-sized slug. Still, this couldn't come at a worse time, as the Empire is finally bearing down at the secret Rebel base on Hoth.
There's one thing that makes him hesitate, however: Leia. When the film opens, Han is desperately trying to get Leia to admit her feelings for him, which she steadfastly denies. That's the interplanetary friend zone. Check out this exchange, for example:
HAN: Come on, you want me to stay because of the way you feel about me.
LEIA: Yes. You're a great help to us. You're a natural leader.
Shade. Despite this rejection, Han shows how much he cares for Leia by refusing to leave until she evacuates, which eventually forces them to travel together on the Millennium Falcon after the Imperial forces invade the base.
The Nicest Scoundrel
What follows makes us remember why we (oh yeah, and Leia) fell in love with Han in the first place. He uses crafty means to evade the Empire, showing his whip-smart intelligence. He puts himself at risk to protect his fellow crew members. Then too, he's totally charming in that whole rogue-ish kind of way. In one exchange, Han highlights these sometimes-contradictory aspects of his personality:
HAN: You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.
LEIA: I happen to like nice men.
HAN: I am a nice man.
This goes into high relief after we meet Lando, a former smuggler and the Falcon's original owner. While on the surface it seems that Lando has become a much more reputable member of society than the rebellious, antagonistic Han, his decision to betray our heroes to the Empire puts a squash on that real quick. Despite his disheveled appearance, carefree quips, and brash attitude, Han is a good—although maybe not nice—man at his core.
The Smuggler of Our Hearts
In many ways, this is the culmination of an arc that began with A New Hope, in which a short-sighted, selfish smuggler gets caught up in a crazy series of events and inadvertently becomes a hero. What's more, the film ends with Han in a more dangerous position than ever before—frozen in carbonite and captured by Jabba the Hutt—his heroism met with grave revenge by evildoers.
At least now he's finally won the affection of Leia, whose final declaration of love he responds to with a simple "I know" (a line Harrison Ford improvised himself). This sets the stage for the next entry in the series, in which our remaining heroes desperately try to make things right and rescue the man who has rescued them so many times before.