I have to get anthropological for a second here, sorry. I just can’t help but notice this shift in Han’s character from old canon to new canon seems to reflect something deeper.
Old canon had Han as basically a decent guy who was dealt a bad hand by life, and ended up a criminal. In the books, especially, you see that he never had much choice. He tried, but it just didn’t work, and there was always the temptation of faster, easier money on the wrong side of the law. He’d think, just one lucrative job, and I can start over. And it just never worked out.
All Han really ever wanted was a place to belong and someone to believe in him.
It made total sense that he’d be drawn to Luke and Leia,
two idealistic, decent people who saw the best in him and gave him a
chance. And that he’d join their cause, despite various difficulties, because no matter how hard he tried to deny it, deep down, Han was a loyal guy (which is also why betrayal always hit him so hard).
New canon changed that. In new canon, he’s a criminal on some fundamental level. He just can’t quit. Even when he fell in love with Leia and found a place in the Rebellion/New Republic, he just couldn’t stop. He kept leaving. He’s that guy who keeps making one too many bets. He just can’t resist the temptation that a life of crime offers because that’s who he is. Even if he resurfaces occasionally to do the right thing, he’ll go right back to it, like an addict. He’s a criminal, he was born that way and he died that way, end of story.
And I can’t help noticing that this illustrates a difference in how we look at criminals in general. Not to say that the way we see criminals has changed since the OT, it’s just that the OT and books took one view, and new canon seems to take the other. One narrative has criminals as just normal people trying to build a life for themselves and running into roadblock after roadblock. The other says that it’s just who they are, and there’s nothing to be done.
If you actually look, you’ll usually find a story like the old canon one. There’s a reason why people born into disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to end up in prison, and it’s not because they’re a different breed. But that kind of story evokes sympathy, and it’s uncomfortable, and it makes you question whether maybe, maybe, you’re part of a system that encourages kids to turn to crime. It’s a lot easier and more comfortable to say, no, it’s their choice, and if they make the wrong choices that must be because they’re just worse people, and there’s no point in trying to help them.
Obviously if you take the former attitude too far, it turns into excusing criminals’ actions or
arguing away all of their agency, which is missing the point as well. It’s always a mix of factors. It’s just interesting that Star Wars basically shifted from one to the other narrative with Han, especially on the heels of all kinds of issues in the US with law enforcement and disadvantaged people’s problems with it and so on.
Maybe the original intent for Han’s character was always to have him be this hardened criminal-by-nature type - but in that case, the movies didn’t show it, and the books ran the wrong way with it. It’ll be interesting to see what approach the new movie takes.
But this is a big reason why I’m sticking with old canon. It made more sense. It was more sympathetic. It gave us a more compelling and sympathetic character, and it gave him a much more complete character arc, and it was a much more hopeful, positive story.