Judging by the scenes that bookend Han Solo: Imperial Cadet #1, everyone’s favorite Corellian might be able to offer up an rationalization for every scrap of trouble he finds himself in — “I can explain” — but more often than not, the person in authority doesn’t buy it. You can see how that might be a bit of a problem for Han Solo.
Whereas Solo: A Star Wars Story jumped past Han’s time at the Imperial Academy on Carida and only briefly touched of his time in the Empire, Marvel’s Imperial Cadet miniseries is here to revel in it. There are years of unexplored stories in Han’s past and while Robbie Thompson, the designated Solo Scribe, has said he doesn’t intend to cover every last nook and cranny, we’re certainly well on our way to taking a real fun flight through Han’s life at the Carida Academy, where he doesn’t seem to be any less trouble-prone than he was back on Corellia.
While we’re introduced to some intriguing new characters like fellow cadets Hanina Nico, and siblings Lyttan and Tamu Dree, Imperial Cadet #1 centers upon Han. Thompson has written the film’s events on Corellia twice for two different books (Imperial Cadet #1 and Solo #1), but still finds a way to bring new insights into those lost years in Han’s past.
Han’s early days in the Empire are far from easy and were likely a bit of a culture shock for the scrumrat, as he’s put through the wringer and back. This makes it all the more impressive that he’s able to hang on to his cocky, devil-may-care attitude throughout. With Qi’ra left behind and his lucky dice with her, he’s left with just two things: his name and his end goal of getting back to her, and he’s not about to let go of either. Repeatedly, he insists on being called Han or Solo instead of his identification number 124-329, even when it gets him a punch in the face. Perhaps it’s not the smartest move, but you can’t doubt his conviction and sense of purpose. He just tends to live in the here and now instead of thinking a few steps ahead. That’s how he ended up in the Carida Academy in the first place.
While we’ve seen what Imperial Academies are like before in stories like Lost Stars, Thrawn, and Star Wars Rebels, we haven’t gotten an in-the-trenches view like Imperial Cadet offers us. (The Royal Imperial Academy of Coruscant this most definitely is not.) There’s an equally cutthroat vibe between different groups of cadets but Carida appears to be where the rank and file with plenty to prove go, while Coruscant gets the best and the brightest. Seeing Carida on the page shows us the Empire’s version of basic training is no treat for the cadets. Unfortunately for Han, it’s an experience he’ll have to endure if he ever wants to make it into the flight-training program or even have a chance at being treated like a human being again.
The mental games are almost as bad as the physical trials at the Carida Academy. Each cadet is stripped of his or her name, given an operating number, and must do well enough in training to earn the “right” to their name back. Any time Han tries to insist on being referred to like an actual person, he’s punished. (His flippant attitude doesn’t help much.) Even the clones (considered by some to be property and not people) of the Republic were mostly allowed to at least have nicknames to distinguish themselves as their own persons. The Empire is far more focused on the whole, with the individuals being deemed “insignificant” in comparison. “You came here as nothing,” Training Officer Triosa Broog tells the new cadets. “You leave here as a trained weapon of the Imperial Navy.”
While boot camp is a standard part of enlisting in a military, the Empire’s version feels more…extreme. The Dree brothers say they joined because they were starving to death on Boiyuh. Han joined as a way to evade the reach of Lady Proxima’s gang (and find a way back to rescue Qi’ra). For people like them who likely make up the bulk of the lower, more expendable ranks, the Empire provides an escape from whatever bad situation they were in. It’s not hard to see why the offer to get out would be appealing. After all, the Empire’s Commission for the Preservation of the New Order had an excellent propaganda division that made becoming a stormtrooper or a TIE pilot seem like it was the right thing to do — and even a little glamorous. “Explore new worlds! Learn valuable skills!” the advertisements promised, stretching and coaching the truth in the best way possible.
Imperial Cadet #1 proves there are plenty of stories left to tell about Han Solo’s life as it dives into relatively uncharted territory. While we may already know the outcome of his time there, it’s less about the destination and far more about the journey and the friends and enemies he’s bound to make along the way. We’re all just along for the ride.
Bria LaVorgna is a writer who doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t love Star Wars. She also really loves Alderaan, Doctor Aphra, and Inferno Squad. You can follow her on Twitter @chaosbria.