Flyin’ Solo; The Original and Intergalactic Byronic Heroes

Painting by Ford Maddox Brown, courtesy of La Tribune de l'Art.

Painting by Ford Maddox Brown, courtesy of La Tribune de l’Art.

Byron’s hero is no small known creation in the world of literature, particularly in his work “Manfred”. This protagonist defines the Byronic hero as more or less the hero you hate to love, with characteristics such as cynicism, arrogance, lack of attention towards authority, intelligence, dark humor, and neglectfulness of life. Manfred, with his almost supernatural intelligence that brings about his depressing and cynical outlook on life, his arrogant neglect of the superiority of the spirits he has called, and his lack of concern for his own life perfectly sets the stage for this hero. Ever since the explosion of fame for this new sense of heroics among the romantics, the Byronic hero has continued to influence countless other works in shaping their characters, particularly Star Wars, and has brought about an entirely new, and very popular, genre. While not necessarily the protagonist, Han Solo’s rag tag, who gives a damn mentality makes him an iconic Byronic hero and shows heavy influence from Manfred.
The cynical nature of Manfred is evident through his ill treatment of the spirits that he summoned who are obviously superior to him. He calls the spirits his slaves out of his own arrogance even though he has called them out of his own pain, showing his “what’s in it for me” mentality. Similarly, Han Solo’s reluctance to assist Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan in “Star Wars: A New Hope” until more incentive is thrown his way show that he shares these same qualities. His knowledge that Obi-Wan is a respected Jedi master, like Manfred’s knowledge of the supernatural superiority of the spirits, does not inhibit him from seeking personal gain.
Han Solo’s cynical nature can also be seen in the way he treats his supporting characters. His “my way or the highway” attitude makes him the arrogant character that you dislike yet respect at the same time for his resilience and success due to his extensive knowledge and experience as a smuggler. This aspect of his character is drawn from Manfred in that Manfred, because of his useful and extensive knowledge also sees his way as the best way, and does not even consider taking the advice of others.
Han also fits the description of a Byronic hero in that he does not really have much value for his own life. His occupation is the illegal practice of smuggling, punishable by death in the empire. His willingness to help two outlaws attempting to take over the tyrannical and incredibly powerful universal government give him the carefree heroics of Manfred and gives the reader a sense of awed annoyance that they also feel with Byron’s protagonist. His ability to call up the spirits, have the self respect to disrespect them, and then be neglectful enough to attempt to throw himself off of a mountain only to be saved for further adventures were a heavy influence, if not directly, at least subconsciously through a chain of previous influences, on the hero of Han Solo.
It must not be forgotten though that both of these characters, though seemingly the opposite of the diluted “good guy” do show amounts of virtue and honorable emotion particularly through the women in their lives. While the circumstances are of course rather different, the women in both texts bring out what is so deeply hidden. In Manfred, he is particularly distressed by the loss of his beloved Astarte. Although there is very strong, almost undeniable evidence that his relationship with her is an incestuous one (also shown in the brief relationship between Luke and his Sister Lea before they are aware that they share the same father), this relationship still brings about admirable emotions in him. Like Han, Manfred seems to take on the perspective that he knows best, he is his own master and that nothing can shake him, not even the spirits. When Astarte shows up however, we begin to see more raw emotions from him, and he begs her to let him touch her and is sent into convulsions as she leaves.
Although slightly different than Manfred’s interaction with Astarte, Lea brings out the more stereotypical heroic side of Han Solo. Han assumes, as aforementioned, a very similar attitude to Manfred in that he has a strong belief in only looking out for himself, his heart is very hardened. As the story progresses however, so does his relationship with Lea. At first, he is only interested in her because rescuing her would bring him fame and fortune, and then, brick by brick, she slowly begins to deconstruct his wall, and true emotions begin to shine through. Also, much like Manfred, his love affair is his downfall, and his is frozen in carbonate when he is caught assisting her. After this, Han still keeps all of his former characteristics maintaining his Byronic heroism, but the influence of love in his life, similar to that of Manfred’s, revealed a more romantic type of hero.
For many, many years people have fallen in love with the cynical, neglectful, spontaneous, and careless yet heroic nature of the Byronic hero. So much so, that the hero you hate to love almost becomes the more common portrayal of a hero in recent works like “Wolverine”, “Indiana Jones”, and through Han Solo in the famous “Star wars Trilogy”. His careless outlook on life, his selfish motives, and his emotional breakthrough through a female character make him an obvious portrayal of a Byronic hero influenced by Manfred.