Each Dark Symptom has its Light Side
Let me be the first to say it: Han Solo has ADHD. One of the most beloved, if not the most loved, Star Wars character makes promises he can’t keep, makes shady deals, talks a good talk but fails to deliver, seems incapable of sustained intimacy (Princess Leia “I love you!” Han Solo: “I know.”), and his own son Kylo Ren tells Rey that his father "would have disappointed you.”
Both the pitfalls and promise of ADHD shed some light on the paradox of loving this space cowboy so much who seems to be defined by a checklist of unlovable traits. In my book The Gift of Adult ADD, I write about the light side of the dark symptoms which include creativity, imagination, relational attunement, emotional sensitivity, exuberance, being nature/street smart and self-directed.
Speaking of checklists, The Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition includes a checklist for diagnosing ADHD that requires five symptoms for adults to make the diagnosis. There are two clusters for diagnosing ADHD: Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive. A person can be diagnosed as predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive or have a combined presentation which requires five symptoms in each cluster.
The checklist reads like a personality profile of Han Solo:
“Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities." In The Force Awakens the plot moves forward on the fact that Han and Chewie have lost the Millennium Falcon to a man named Ducain. The Millennium Falcon is used to allow Rey and Finn to escape Jakku. It is true that Han lost the Falcon in a bet, but he has also lost track of where it went and has been searching for it for years. Losing things through gambling is consistent with a diagnosis of ADHD as it shows the life of brinksmanship. While not a DSM diagnostic symptom, people with ADHD use procrastination and risk-taking to create situations where the stakes are high to create an adrenaline rush which ultimately helps focus. The Millennium Falcon is not known for being a tightly run ship but disorganized and messy and in The Force Awakens, Han takes direction from Rey in one instance who acts as if she knows where to find things more than he does.
“Often does not follow through on instructions.” In The Force Awakens, Han and Chewie are boxed in by two different gangs—the Guavian Death Gang and the Kanjiklub Gang. The leaders of each of have hunted him down for failure to repay debts. This scene parallels the famous scene in which Han Solo shoots Greedo over an unpaid debt to Jabba the Hutt. Han says “I don’t have it with me. Tell Jabba I’ve got his money.” Here Han shows he meets criteria for “poor time management; fails to meet deadlines; difficulty organizing tasks and activities.”
The scenes with Greedo and the gangs demonstrate how Han “is often forgetful in daily activities.” He earnestly tells the gang leaders that he has never let them down to which one gang leader replies he has failed to deliver “twice.” Han turns to Chewie with a doubtful look, to which Chewie nods that the gang leader is correct.
Not only is Han displaying his forgetfulness, this scene shows that he “often fails to give close attention to details.” Even Chewie pays more attention to which debts are repaid and which are not. Note that the fact that he is surrounded by leaders from two different gangs, one of whom tells Han that there is nowhere in the galaxy he can escape his reputation suggests that he easily meets the criteria for “often” failing to follow direction, follow through, and keep promises.
With just these five symptoms, Han Solo has met criteria for ADHD—inattentive presentation, but his clear reputation as a rogue outlaw suggests he will easily meet the requirements for Hyperactivity and Impulsivity (“Han shot first!”). The most obvious symptom is “often on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor.” Applying this to a pirate figure who travels the galaxy at light speed is so easy it’s laughable. The rest of the symptoms needed to diagnose Han with the Hyperactive/Impulsive label are all found in the scene with the gangs as he tries to talk and shoot his way out of certain death and also in the famous scene with Greedo.
Han almost diagnoses himself when he tells Chewie he will be able to get out this situation in the way he always does—“I will talk myself out of it”—which maps precisely onto “Often talks excessively.” Not only does Han talk himself out of trouble; he is known for shooting himself out of trouble. He is the epitome of the signature approach of ADHD: “Fire! Ready! Aim!” This scene and the one with Greedo show his devil-may-care attitude as he meets the criterion for “blurting out answers” and “difficulty waiting his turn” and arguably “shooting first.” On the receiving end of his tendency to shoot first and think later are included a space slug, a garbage compactor door and a storm trooper among many others. This demonstrates the DSM symptom of “difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order; messy, disorganized work.”
The fifth symptom of impulsivity is dramatized in possibly the most tragic scene of Star Wars. His final encounter with his son Kylo Ren illustrates "Often interrupt or intrudes on others.”
Having shown in detail that Han Solo meets requirements for ADHD—Combined presentation, he is clearly an emblem of the heart and soul of this diagnostic syndrome. This tragic scene crystallizes the paradox of how a person with so much deficit-disorder can be so lovable.
Han’s effort to save his son is impulsive, foolhardy, defying reason. He was clearly not paying attention to the details that Kylo Ren was allied with General Hux in using the Starkiller Base to destroy five or more populated planets of The Republic for supporting the Resistance with money and weapons. How could for one moment Han have thought there was hope of saving a genocidal murderer?
What makes Han Solo lovable may be reflected in the light side of ADHD I write about in The Gift of Adult ADHD (2008). Han’s character throughout the Star Wars series shows him to be a stimulation seeking innovator, a person who creates his own reality rather than following directions. I have often used the phrase “Fire! Ready! Aim!” to describe this gift of ADHD. In many scenarios being willing to take action where others would not—recklessness—leads to victories others could not achieve. The renegades we diagnose in the consulting room for not following directions are the heroes we celebrate in cinema for opposing the dark side.
The entire Star Wars series is fueled by the recklessness of “The Rebels” and “The Resistance,” a small band of renegades trying to take down the Empire or, in The Force Awakens, the First Order. Where they succeeded this foolhardy recklessness shows itself as a heroic gift. Where it fails is in the scene where Han rushes to his son on a catwalk.Han shows us his pure impulse or in other words, all heart, no brains, no logic, no system, no path to success.
This high tragedy is an ultimate emblem of a deficit of attention of planning, of preparing or aiming. Han is “distracted” by his fantasy of reuniting his son with his mother of turning him to good. All details, every fact tells us this is a delusion. Among the gifts of ADHD I write about are creativity and imagination, the ability to imagine and therefore create a different reality than currently exists. All successful psychotherapy depends on this capacity to re-write history to create a future different from what the past suggests is possible. Here, Han is failed by his ability to use his gift of gab, creative expression and his ability to imagine different outcomes. What before got him out of trouble, what led to his heroism, leads to his murder by his own son.
Another gift of ADHD involves relational sensitivity and emotional sensitivity. Here Han is again failed by what in other situations would be gift. He is attuned—not to the reality based facts of confronting a genocidal murderer—but rather that he is meeting his son. A person with ADHD can be so lovable because they don’t hold grudges, they see the possibilities. They can be so distracted by the emotional undercurrents of a situation they are not listening to a person’s words, they are not defining a person by his past.
Relational Sensitivity motivated Han to fulfill Leia’s wish for him to bring their son back. If Han were focused on the facts of his son, he would have shot the man whose genocidal record was worse than Hitler’s. But Han was focused on his imagination that hoped he could save his son and make Leia happy. Even after being fatally light-sabered by his son, he tenderly caresses Kylo’s cheek, seeing only his son, not his own murderer, before he plunges to his death.
Every dark symptom of ADHD has its light side. What interferes with attention and planning and following directions, are the same traits that fueled the Resistance – certainly they were self-directed visionaries imagining they could challenge an Empire or the First Order with its Starkiller Base. So too were they impulsiveand hyperactive. (From the DSM: “often leaves seat, restless, difficult to keep up with, can’t wait in line, may use other people’s things without asking permission, may intrude or take over what others are doing.") The reason we can love people like Han who are defined by their deficits and disorders, who are distracted from the details, forgetful of the facts and fail to follow through on reality-based plans is because they are so sensitively attuned to the emotional and relational bonds that sometimes they bet on us when we don’t deserve it.
The paradox of Han Solo, the play of the dark and the light side, are demonstrated in the two different job descriptions he holds in sequence. He is an outlaw smuggler when he first appears on the scene, and evolves into a rebel commander. When we meet him in The Force Awakens he is a smuggler again. These two expressions of the difficulty following directions play out in the American psyche. Dr. Larry Diller, author of Running on Ritalin (1998) commented on my theory of Han and ADHD that:
“The very fact that Han Solo is such an appealing character especially to Americans, highlights Americans' ambivalence about conformity and rule following. This ambivalence leads to inconsistencies in discipline and parenting which exacerbate children's ADHD temperament and behavior. On one hand parents don't want their kids to stick out in any way that places them under the median for whatever performance measures are being used—to ostensibly protect their immediate feelings and self-image as well as their long term future. Yet on the other hand they want them to be "independent" thinkers, think outside the box, be disrupters.”
Han Solo may be the poster child for ADHD who shows us how we both cultivate the capacity to not follow directions and punish it too. Not following directions allows us to challenge evil empires, but where cultural ambitions lean toward attaining the perfect college application, the capacity to break rules looks more like a symptom than a solution.
Dr. Lara Honos-Webb is the author of The Gift of ADHD, The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, The Gift of Adult ADD, The ADHD Workbook for Teens and Listening to Depression. Learn more about her work at
Endorsement for The Gift of Adult ADD
This book by Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, helped me, as much as the intuitiveness of the person who diagnosed me. It was one of the first things I read and it was by happenstance…or perhaps it was a “God” things as I am not one who really believes much in coincidences. It resonated in ways that made me feel smart and creative when I had recently…. and for the first time ….come out of a job situation where I was fired where I can now say, I was not to blame but set up for failure at every turn by another ego, arrogance, and cult like leadership style. I realized that my career, which defined me in every way, (more than it should have), was not what made me special or unique. The book unpacked for me various gaps I had in understanding my “sensitivity” and shed a new light on what benefits come from being extremely intuitive versus all the negatives you hear repeatedly throughout your life. ....
But this book was beyond beneficial and the best place I ever could have started to learn about how I am uniquely wired. And to view that uniqueness with not only its challenges, but with all the special privileges it provides as well. It is truly more of a blessing than a challenge and has been most of my life. ..... Thank you so much for providing a viewpoint that allowed me to not shut down, be hurt, feel “found out”, ....Read the book. And read it again. And then internalize it. And then Thank God. Then look at your life and DO something to get from point A to point B and for God sake, ask for help for once in your life. Because help exists.-- posted by LuvYourselfMore