The Rescue of Han Solo: An In-Depth Analysis

The rescue of Han Solo by Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando is one of the coolest sequences in all of Star Wars. While it’s a ton of fun to watch, it’s totally bonkers to think about. Warning: It’s going to get nerdy in here…


I grew up watching Star Wars and Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars movie I remember seeing in the theater. Much to my envy, a friend’s mom let him stay home from school to see a matinee showing, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment when I finally saw it. It blew me away! I cried when (spoiler) Darth Vader died. Han Solo’s rescue was such a cool sequence of events that I never stopped to think about it in detail until I was an adult. However, as a child it was obvious to me that Leia’s plan failed, then Luke’s plan failed, and then surprise – Luke had a backup plan! So that was the end of it. Until…


One day I was thinking about Star Wars, as I often do, and wondered, “How was the plan to rescue Han Solo supposed to go?”. Let’s look at what actually appeared onscreen. Below is the chronology of significant events in this portion of the movie. Days two and three could both be the same day but it doesn’t change anything story-wise, however, so I’m calling them two separate days.


Follow the yellow sand road!


Day 1

  • Luke Skywalker sent C-3PO and R2-D2 to Jabba’s palace. While walking there, C-3PO said, “Of course I’m worried. And you should be, too. Lando Calrissian and poor Chewbacca never returned from this awful place.” Remember that later.
  • R2-D2 delivered a holographic message from Luke. What message? Luke wanted to meet with Jabba to bargain for Han’s life. There’s also a gift. What gift? The two hard working droids. Jabba commented out loud that he was happy with the still frozen Han Solo hanging on his wall serving as a conversation piece.
  • Princess Leia arrived in disguise as a bounty hunter with Chewbacca once again pretending to be a prisoner. As a result, I will refer to this as “The Chewbacca Maneuver” for the rest of my life.
  • Leia said she’d come to claim the bounty on Chewbacca and got an approving nod from Boba Fett after using a thermal detonator as a bargaining chip for a higher amount.
  • Jabba sent Chewbacca to a jail cell while the Max Rebo Band jammed. As Chewie walked past a guard, the guard pulled down his mask to reveal that it was Lando! Why did he pull his mask down? Oh yes, so everyone there could see who he was, or maybe just the audience.
  • Later that night, a still in disguise Leia tip toed around sleeping palace guests over to Han and unfroze him. Han had temporary blindness due to being frozen longer than humans are supposed to be frozen. They shared a moment but Jabba got the drop on them sent Han to Chewie’s cell.
  • Chewie told Han that Luke was a Jedi and was going to rescue Han. However, Han was doubtful.


Ok, plan C it is…. Wing it!


Day 2

  • Luke forced (wink wink) his way into Jabba’s main room and tried to mind trick Jabba into handing Han Solo and his friends over. But Jabba didn’t bite.
  • Luke used the force to grab a blaster from a thug but before he could point it at Jabba, Jabba triggered a trap door under Luke and Luke slid down into Jabba’s basement.
  • Jabba’s basement was unpleasant. It’s wasn’t full of boxes containing his childhood toys or remodeled with a pool table and a mini bar. It had a rancor monster that tried to eat him. Subsequently, Luke killed it. So Jabba sentenced Luke, Han and Chewie to death.


Green is the new black.


Day 3

  • Jabba took his floating sail barge to the Great Pit of Carkoon, which was a hole in the sand with a tentacle monster in it called the Sarlacc.
  • Han, Chewie and Luke were on a smaller, open vessel called a skiff and were to be thrown into the pit. Lando was on the same vessel in disguise as a guard.
  • Luke said to Han, “Just stick close to Chewie and Lando. I’ve taken care of everything.”
  • Leia was chained to Jabba wearing little more than a few strips of tin foil. R2-D2 was on the top deck of Jabba’s sail barge.
  • When Luke was just about to be pushed into the pit he did a cool flip and R2-D2 shot Luke’s new lightsaber out of a compartment straight to Luke’s hand.
  • Leia strangled Jabba to death with her own leash. After that R2-D2 cut her chains and they went to the top level.
  • The heroes fought Jabba’s bad guys and won. Even though they had already won, Luke told Leia to point a giant cannon located on the top level down into the main deck.
  • Luke and Leia swung from a convenient and mysterious rope or something to one of the smaller vessels that the rest of the heroes were on. Just before swinging, Luke used his foot to trigger the giant cannon to shoot Jabba’s barge just as they swung, starting a chain reaction and destroying the barge and killing everyone in it.
  • {Speculation} At least one of Jabba’s guests surely had this thought: “Wow, I’m a guest on Jabba’s barge. Drinks are free. I’m moving up in the world. Things are looking good for… Ah! I’m on fire! Now I’m dead.”
  • The heroes got away and continued their fight against the Empire.



So, after C-3PO and R2-D2 initially gained access to Jabba and delivered the message, what was plan A? Here are some potential plans A:


Plan A #1

  • C-3PO and R2-D2 deliver Luke’s message.
  • Luke gives Jabba a day to mull it over.
  • Luke arrives in person and Jabba bargains with Luke and they make a financial agreement.
  • If Jabba refuses, Luke uses Jedi mind trick.
  • Luke leaves with Han and maybe the droids.
  • Lando quits or escapes. Maybe he gets the droids out instead.


Problems with this being the plan:

Princess Leia arrives in the middle of this version of Plan A. But Luke’s plan hasn’t been given a chance to succeed or fail before Leia arrives.


Plan A #2

  • C-3PO and R2-D2 deliver Luke’s message.
  • Princess Leia brings Chewie in for bounty.
  • Leia unfreezes Han Solo.
  • Lando or Leia releases Chewie.
  • Leia, Han, Lando and Chewie leave together with the droids.


Problems with this being the plan:

Jabba could have executed Chewie on the spot.

Sneaking around Jabba’s palace with a blind man, two droids and a Wookiee without anyone seeing them seems next to impossible.

C-3PO and R2-D2’s presence is completely unnecessary. For instance, Leia could have shown up first and rescued Han without the need to also rescue two droids. After that Luke could have sent the droids if Leia’s plan failed and Luke could have offered to bargain for all of their lives.


Plan A #3

  • Luke sends the droids to Jabba.
  • Leia arrives with Chewie.
  • Leia unfreezes Han Solo hoping to escape but expecting to be captured.  Thawing Han is the important part.
  • Leia knows that Jabba will want her to be his slave/dancing girl and she will be in the main room and have access to Jabba.
  • Luke will arrive if Leia is captured and use the mind trick on him and they all leave peacefully.
  • If the mind trick fails, Luke will steal a blaster from a thug and force Jabba to release everyone or die.
  • If, somehow, this fails and Luke is also captured, Jabba is known to execute prisoners using the Sarlacc.
  • Assuming Jabba goes with the Sarlacc option, everyone knows where to be: Lando on the skiff with the prisoners; R2-D2 on the top deck ready with the lightsaber.
  • Being the one to threaten Jabba’s life, Luke knows that Jabba will want him to die first.  Luke will do his flip and get his lightsaber before they throw Han or Chewie into the Sarlacc.
  • After the fighting begins, Leia is to kill Jabba by any means necessary. R2-D2 is to assist in getting Leia and C-3PO to the top deck.
  • Luke is to make his way to the top deck to get Leia to one of the skiffs and fire the cannon into the barge at exactly the right time to prevent anyone from coming after them, ever.


Problems with this being the plan

If you haven’t guessed, this is what appeared onscreen.

The problem is assumptions. Miles and miles of assumptions. Here are the assumptions they made:

  • That Jabba wouldn’t just execute everyone in their cells or in the main room.
  • Jabba would make Leia his slave/dancing girl and not throw her in a cell or kill her.
  • That Jabba would execute them at all. He could have let them sit in a cell forever.
  • The executions would happen together. 
  • Jabba would use the Sarlacc for the execution.
  • Jabba would bring R2-D2 and C-3PO along on the sail barge for the execution. He could have left them at the palace.
  • R2-D2 would be able to get somewhere that he could eject the lightsaber.
  • They would throw Luke in the Sarlacc first. If they threw anyone else in first, Luke getting his lightsaber in time to save him might have been problematic.


Man, I hope you don’t remember me in the next movie…


Aside from there not being an obvious “original” plan, there are other problems with the bigger picture surrounding Han’s rescue, like the problem of Lando. The problem with Lando is that he was undercover as a thug/guard in Jabba’s palace and that Boba Fett spent a lot of time there. Lando and Boba Fett knew each other.  For example, they spent time together on Cloud City. Boba Fett likely anticipated where Han was taking the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back because he knew Han Solo and Lando Calrissian were friends. And, it’s likely that he learned that Lando helped our heroes after betraying them and was now part of their group. I certainly doubt that Fett wouldn’t have recognized Lando at some point. In short, it was super risky sending Lando in as the mole.


Padme?! Oh, it’s just you. What do you want?


That brings us to the problem of Boba Fett. In The Empire Strikes Back, only Boba Fett caught up with Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon and interacted with Darth Vader.  Vader made it clear that his real goal was to capture a man named Luke Skywalker alive. In Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett was in the room when R2-D2 played Luke’s message. So Boba Fett knew that the man Darth Vader wanted alive was coming to Jabba’s palace. Certainly, the first thing Fett should have done was get on the red phone with Darth “Moneybags” Vader and say something like, “Yo! Vitamin V! Your boy is coming to Jabba’s crib. Bring a million space bucks for my tip. Laterz!“, for example. Instead, Boba Fett was literally going to stand around while Jabba threw a huge payday down a hole in the sand.


I’ve read other articles on this subject and they suggested that Luke, Leia and Lando executed their own plans independently of each other. They suggest that they conceived the plans in isolation of each other and it’s just coincidence that they all took place at the same time. There are a few things that disprove this. First, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back Luke told Lando that he would meet him on Tatooine. Second, Lando and Chewie left together at the end of Empire and Leia heard them agree to meet on Tatooine. Third, Chewie told Han that Luke was going to rescue him. Meaning that Chewie and Luke were on the same page. Finally, Chewie was already working with Leia so that ties all of them together in this caper.


In addition to all that, there are some lingering questions I wonder about:

  • How did Luke get into Jabba’s palace initially? It’s a safe bet that Jabba told the welcome droid not to let him in. Did he talk his way in? Use the force? Hot-wire the door?
  • Why did C-3PO say that Chewbacca hadn’t returned from Jabba’s palace before Chewbacca ever went there. And why would Luke or anyone else tell C-3PO that Chewie didn’t return from there? Also, why was seeing Chewie a surprise for C-3PO? On the walk in he mentioned that Chewie was already there.
  • Did the heroes know that Jabba only executed people by way of the Sarlacc? The plan seemed totally dependent upon it. On the way to the Sarlacc, Luke told Han that he had taken care of everything and Han replied with, “Oh, great”. Meaning that Han wasn’t aware of the plan. So, if Han didn’t know the plan then they made it before they all arrived at Jabba’s and not in their cells. Did Luke have a vision of Han Solo’s rescue and this convoluted series of events was the only way to get everyone out?


So there you have it. The rescue of Han Solo is a wild ride that definitely has some unorthodox planning elements. For example, making everyone a prisoner in some way or another. However, not one bit of it bothers me at all. I can watch it over and over and enjoy it every time. Maybe I was just the right age to appreciate it just the right way. I didn’t ask any questions and loved how exciting it was. Doing a deep dive into it for this article was just for fun and none of the “flaws” have changed my opinion of this great part of Star Wars. If I left anything out, please feel free to bring them up in the comments section. May the Force be with you!


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Charles Fraser is originally from Lynn, MA but currently resides in Modesto, CA with his wife and children.  He works in IT by day and writes articles for MNN and SWNN by night.  While not reading Curious George books and watching Frozen II, again, with his children, he plays the drums, experiments with guitar and bass, sneaks a video game or two and enjoys movies and TV.  He also enjoys audiobooks.

Charles Fraser

Charles Fraser is originally from Lynn, MA but currently resides in Modesto, CA with his wife and children.  He works in IT by day and writes articles for MNN and SWNN by night.  While not reading Curious George books and watching Frozen II, again, with his children, he plays the drums, experiments with guitar and bass, sneaks a video game or two and enjoys movies and TV.  He also enjoys audiobooks.