This short story explores Han Solo's decision to engage in the Battle of Yavin and assist in destroying the first Death Star.
Han's New Hope
Han Solo piloted the Millennium Falcon from the designated landing area beside the Massassi temple and into the skies of Yavin IV. He had avoided eye contact with Chewie since his last exchange with Luke. Han didn’t particularly care if the wookie agreed with his decision or not, they had what they came for and were leaving.
He stole one last glance back at the Rebel base and saw various crew members scrambling to prepare the fighters for their assault. A few of the Y-wings had already launched and were slumbering away from the base. Han had always thought the ship looked better suited for an underwater excursion than space travel, but somehow the fighter was still in operation.
The base drifted out of sight and Han refocused on the horizon. The Falcon was climbing nicely and approached the edge of the atmosphere. He tried to initiate a conversation with Chewie. “You think it’s odd they just let us leave? We know the location of the Rebel base.”
The wookie shrugged but said nothing. Han responded aloud to his own question, “Of course, I guess the Empire is about to visit the location, not much of a secret anymore. Kind of surprised more of them aren’t evacuating.”
Chewie still said nothing. Han had spent enough time with Chewie to know that his companion was put off by his decision. While running off on a mission with slim odds did appeal to Han’s penchant for adventure, he had bigger issues at hand. He owed Jabba the Hutt a considerable sum of money. Money that Han had miraculously recently acquired. Once he cleared his debts, maybe then he could consider exploits like this. After all, he’d be a free man.
The Falcon exited the atmosphere and shot into space. Han continued away from the moon and the planet of Yavin. Given the gravitational pull of the large masses, he’d need to create a significant distance before making the jump to lightspeed.
Han thought back to what his life had become after leaving the Academy. When he first left, he thought he was following his own moral compass and that he would continue to fight against the Empire’s injustices. But, somewhere along the way making ends meet trumped righteousness, and he was trapped in the life of a smuggler. He admitted he was good at it, and that perhaps that was why he existed in this galaxy. But, there was nothing fulfilling about smuggling. The thrill faded quickly and it wasn’t nearly as lucrative as he’d originally imagined. And after taking into account the outlandish maintenance costs of the Falcon, Han had more or less been living from job to job.
Until he jettisoned Jabba’s shipment. Then he was quickly behind.
Han tapped the dashboard as he waited for the Falcon to separate from Yavin. He looked at the communication unit and turned to Chewie. “You want to listen in?” The wookie nodded an affirmative, it was the first cordial interaction they’d had yet.
Han dialed in the Rebel frequency that he’d used to land on Yavin IV. He didn’t imagine the group had multiple frequencies given how young and unorganized the Rebellion was. Suddenly, the comm came to life.
“This is Red 5 I’m going in,” they heard Luke announce. The next transmission was somewhat garbled, but they clearly heard Luke respond with, “I got a little cooked but I’m okay.”
Han smiled as he heard Luke’s voice. That kid was something. A couple days ago Luke was whining in a cantina about Han’s fare, and now he was going up against the greatest military weapon Han had ever seen.
They continued to listen to the transmissions, trying to piece the battle together in their heads. It sounded like the snub fighters might actually have a tactical advantage against the Death Star’s turbolasers towers. By Han’s count, they had lost only one ship so far.
However, a new voice came over the comm, one that sounded like it may be from the Yavin base. “Squad leaders, we’ve picked up a new group of signals, enemy fighters coming your way.”
Han grimaced as he knew that the TIE fighters would have far greater success than the turbolasers towers. He considered turning off the communication system and even started to reach for it, but Chewie swatted his hand away. The wookie was heavily invested.
Han and Chewie heard the tide begin to turn as the Imperial fighters started hitting their marks. “Watch it you’ve got one on your tail.”
“I’m hit!” another Rebel pilot yelled as he perished.
Han jumped slightly in his seat as he heard Luke’s voice again, initially fearing the worst, “I’m hit but not bad, R2 see what you can do with it. Hang on back there.”
The two continued to listen as Gold squadron began its attack run through the trench, but the effort failed quickly as the enemy TIE fighters pursued the Y-wings with ease and dismantled them. One by one, Han and Chewie listened to the Rebel fighters fall at the hands of the Imperial pilots.
“I told you it was suicide,” Han mumbled. “Those old slugs were never going to get the job done.” Chewie was not amused.
The next series of communications contained orders from the X-wing squadron leader. With the Y-wings destroyed, Red Squadron would have to make the trench run. It sounded like Red Leader himself was leading the charge down the trench, but he was being pursued by those Imperial fighters.
“Just hold them off for a few seconds…” Red leader said in a calculating manner.
Han listened intently, the Rebels were about to get a rare opportunity. He placed a hand over his earpiece to press it deeper into his ear. He didn’t want to miss anything.
“It’s away!” Red Leader shouted. Han found himself raised out of his seat, standing in front of the controls. He hadn’t even remembered getting up. He pumped his fist in unison with Chewie. Han felt an emotion he hadn’t experienced since leaving the Imperial academy when he was naïve enough to think he would be able to oppose the Empire.
However, the next transmission sliced right through that sentiment.
“Negative, it didn’t go in,” a deflated Red Leader followed up.
“Chewie, turn the ship around,” Han said without hesitation.
The order was redundant as Chewie had already begun altering the Falcon’s course back to the Death Star. Fortunately, given their previous heading, the planet Yavin and its moons were not directly in between the Falcon and the spacestation.
Another transmission revealed the loss of Red Leader, and then it was Luke gaining control of the temporarily rudderless squadron. “Biggs, Wedge, let’s close it up. We’re going in we’re going in full throttle, that outta keep those fighters off our back,”
Han again marveled at the kid. He imagined Luke didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the situation of which he was now in the center.
Han and Chewie briefly discussed how long it will take them to reach the Death Star using the sublight engines. They estimated 20 minutes. “That’s no good, this will be over in 10.”
Han felt himself become desperate. It was a complete reversal, initially wanting to get as far away from the Death Star and the Rebels as he could, and now clawing to get into the action. He started making rough calculations for a hyperspace jump. His trainers at the Imperial Academy would have expelled him on the spot had they seen work this shoddy, but the moment allowed for nothing more precise.
“You know something else, R2 figured that the Death Star’s sensors are mostly long range. They’ll see us coming from a lightyear away, but not if we show up right on top of them…” he let the sentence linger and allowed Chewie to fill in the rest.
After deciding his calculations were as good as they were going to get given the time constraint, Han fingered in the coordinates and glanced at Chewie, who hesitated before nodding in agreement.
Just a short while ago, Han was lecturing Luke on the intricacies of hyperspace travel and how it “ain’t like dusting crops”. Han smiled to himself.
Funny how things change.
The Falcon rocketed toward the Death Star as the hyperdrive came to life. The stars in the cockpit view turned into lines at first, then swirled around the cockpit.
Han was intently counting, suddenly wishing he had a more scientific approach. His calculations had considered only distance, speed, and time. He hadn’t even factored in acceleration as the ship transitioned to lightspeed, not to mention the gravitational pulls of Yavin and the Death Star. Well, that should be about another second, Han guessed.
The count in his head had reached eight seconds and he reached for the controls. When he got to 11 seconds he cut in the sublight engines and reduced power to the hyperdrive.
As the ship exited hyperspace, the entire view of the cockpit was filled with the gray mass of the Death Star. And it was approaching at a speed Han had never seen before as the Falcon still had considerable momentum from the hyperspace jump.
Han instinctively grabbed for the controls and yanked them into his chest. The Falcon felt like it reacted much slower than usual, but he felt a small change in attitude as the thrusters began to reposition the ship. As the Death Star came closer Chewie grabbed his controls and pulled as well.
Han felt his body tighten as he began to instinctively brace for impact. He could see the individual gun turrets on the surface in great detail, too great for his comfort. He started to turn his face away from the viewscreen so that his final image wouldn’t be of this Imperial monstrosity.
Just before the Falcon rammed into the surface the ship’s thrusters roared to life as the hyperdrive no longer dominated the ship’s power supply. The Falcon leveled out a matter of meters above the Death Star and used its momentum to shoot across the surface.
Han was determined to show Chewie that he was without fear. “Okay, find that trench,” he said with feigned confidence.
Han couldn’t help noticing that the gun turrets weren’t moving to target the Falcon as she flew by. They were mostly turned in the direction the Falcon was heading, perhaps from having fired on the X-wings previously.
Chewie quickly located the trench and brought the ship to fly parallel over it. The Falcon was too large to dip into it, so Chewie kept her just above.
“Chewie, I’m going to feed everything into the engines: weapons, shields, life support, everything. We’ve got to catch up to them.” Han stood as he started manipulating buttons on a bulkhead above him to his left. “When I give you the signal, transfer just enough power to the under-turret so that the laser blasts will rock the Tie fighters. We don’t have to destroy them, just hit them hard enough that they run into the wall, or better yet, each other.”
Just before leaving the cockpit, Han turned back and said with a lopsided grin, “Chewie, you sure you got this?”
Chewie snarled at him without taking his eyes off the trench in front of them. Han smiled to himself. While he’d never admit it, Chewie could maneuver the Falcon in ways that Han couldn’t even fathom.
Han took off running down the corridor and slid down the ladder into the turret.
The turret was dark as the power had been shut off to the small chamber. Han looped the communications receiver onto his ear and resumed listening to the frequency. He could just barely make out a couple of shapes far ahead of them in the trench. The ships were moving at an incredible speed.
But the Falcon’s faster.
“Get clear Wedge, there’s nothing more you can do,” Han heard Luke over the comm. He saw one of the X-wings rise out of the trench and turn back to Yavin. Han was sure that if he were in Luke’s shoes he wouldn’t have dismissed Wedge. His death could have bought more time.
He saw the three Imperial fighters move with eerie coordination as they targeted the next X-wing. Han couldn’t be sure if it was Luke’s. He wanted to transmit and let them know Han and Chewie would be there shortly, but he couldn’t risk the chance that the Imperials were monitoring the frequency.
Green lasers extended out from one of the three Imperial ships and decimated the targeted X-Wing. Han couldn’t be sure if it was Luke’s fighter. The Imperial fighters flew through the explosion, seeking their final target. Dread began to overcome Han. He started thinking about his fate if this effort failed, but he quickly forced the thoughts from his mind.
“Nothing, I’m alright,” Luke responded to the controller on Yavin IV.
Han felt a wave of relief. But it wasn’t only because his friend was still alive. There was something more significant about it. Han somehow knew that Luke was the only pilot that was going to make this shot. However, Han also started to believe that there was something more important about Luke than the outcome of this moment. As if the possibility of ending the Empire’s tyranny hinged on Luke Skywalker.
The fighters were almost in range and Han gripped the turret controls with sweaty hands.
Just a few more seconds.
The lead Imperial fighter fired on Luke’s X-Wing, hitting its mark, but did not destroy the fighter. Han tried to control his emotions to stay focused. That doesn’t mean he didn’t release some profanity in the process.
“I’ve lost Artoo!” Luke announced over the comm. His voice was just frantic enough to move Han to action a couple seconds early.
The turret’s controls lit up as Chewie transferred power to the gunwell. Han impatiently waited for the weapon to charge, his hand tapping rapidly against the handle. He wiped a few beads of sweat off of his brow to eliminate the distraction for his impending shot.
The Imperial fighters accelerated once again, closing in on Luke’s X-wing for the final time. Han tracked the fighters even though the turret was not yet operational. The lead Tie fighter began to fire.
The turret weapon systems shined green and Han immediately gripped the controls firmly and squeezed the triggers. The gunwell glowed red as the turret came to life and its lasers lanced out toward the Imperial fighters.
Han screamed over the comm with raw emotion. For the first time in years, he felt alive.