I recently found my paperback collection of Northwest Smith. It had gone missing half-way through reading it [it got buried in various Kickstarter supplies earlier this year], but I’m happy to be able to get around to finishing the last couple stories in it.
I know we’ve seen a common refrain that Northwest Smith is ‘the inspiration’ for Han Solo, but I don’t know you guys…
Reading Lost Paradise, I get this mental image in my head:
“The Millennium Falcon is the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs…”
>the entirety of the Easy Rider graveyard sequence plays
“…and we’re NEVER doing that again, right Chewie?”
Like almost all of CL Moore’s writing, Northwest Smith is DEEP in the neo-gothic tradition of early weird and turn of the century orientalism. Space becomes the new backdrop for the alienness of the harems, mosques, and bazaars of the middle east. With the Orient being rapidly brought into global affairs to the point of becoming nearly prosaic, space allowed for a more timeless and universal setting than, say, Tangier. It allowed for a haunted Arabian Nights setting an a world of modernity and rapidly advancing technology.
Smith is a raygun slinger, sure, but he has more in common with Lovecraft’s protagonists than he does Leigh Brackett’s space merc adventurers from just a few years later. He may be more of a chad than Randolf Carter or HP’s other poindexter POVs, but ultimately, Smith is there to experience and be subjected to the weird.
One of the key elements of horror is denial of agency, and Northwest Smith has that in spades. He has “adventures” but they usually end up with him being presented with mind-breaking horrors and cruelties he is incapable of doing anything about.
But about Han Solo…
There are similarities, and before I’d read much Northwest Smith, I took them at face value, but I really don’t think they go beyond the surface. They pretty much begin and end with “freelance space smuggler who has a fast spaceship and an alien partner.” You might end up with a Han Solo if Lucas had heard of Northwest Smith but not read any of the stories. Or even if he was wholly unfamiliar with Smith but was aware of the idea of the rugged freelance space smuggler [which is hardly unique, even if Smith was an early example].
I think what may actually be more likely is that Star Wars created a boom in readership that led to a rediscovery of CL Moore in paperbacks by younger readers in the late 70s and early 80s [my paperback copy is from 82 and is the same as the one posted above]; those readers found Northwest Smith and then identified him with Solo.
Now, was Lucas aware of Smith? Maybe! Shambleau was one of Moore’s most frequently reprinted stories and had been present in collections and Best Ofs for years leading up to Star Wars, and that particular story has Northwest Smith’s most Han Solo-like setup and characterization [though it’s fairly incidental to the story itself].
Even if he did take those characterizations and apply them to Han, that’s really about as far as the similarities go. Mostly because Moore was writing in a gothic framework despite the “dashing spaceman with fast ship” characterization.
So, while we can call him an ‘ur example’ or whatever, Northwest Smith no more resembles Han Solo than Jirel of Joiry resembles Red Sonya. And comparing Smith to Solo actually really undersells Smith and what Moore was doing with him.
[As an addendum, one of our bros, MegaBusterShepard has pointed out that Han Solo actually has a lot more in common with E.C. Tubb’s Earl Dumarest character from the Dumarest of Terra books. I can’t confirm as I haven’t read them, but I am aware of them by reputation, and what I do know about them and given their timeframe, that sounds more plausible.]