During the Star Wars Episode IX panel at Star Wars Celebration, host Stephen Colbert posed a question to Poe Dameron actor Oscar Isaac that initially made my blood boil: “Who’s a better pilot, Poe Dameron or Han Solo?”
While Mr. Isaac slyly dodged the question with a pretty solid Uber joke, I was immediately irate. Nobody is a better pilot than Han Solo. He made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. He turned a known hunk of junk into the most recognizable ship in the galaxy, like Tom Brady making awful wide receivers into Super Bowl champions. He blasted Darth Vader out of the sky and ensured the destruction of the first Death Star. Of course he’s the better pilot.
As the minutes passed and I listened to Mr. Isaac’s rugged yet soothing voice speak about his role in the Star Wars universe, however, I began to ponder the Solo vs. Poe argument more thoroughly. Maybe my reaction was a little too knee-jerk? After all, Poe Dameron is a complete badass in his own right, and boasts some of the most riveting and explosive moments of ace piloting throughout his screen time.
Before you start angrily driving your fingers into your keyboard to call me out in the comments for being an SJW who is brainwashed by Disney or say I’m not a “real” Star Wars fan, just think about it for a bit. Poe is arguably the Resistance’s greatest fighter and his ability in the cockpit is downright astounding.
I remember being completely awestruck by the brilliance of Dameron’s maneuverability in an X-Wing the first time I saw The Force Awakens. I understand that the advancement in CGI and film technology allowed for JJ Abrams to be more creative with the cinematic presentation of Star Wars‘ action sequences than the original trilogy, but that doesn’t lessen the skill Dameron possesses to pull off the crisp maneuvers in Episodes VII and VIII.
Perhaps the best example of his expertise is during the Battle of Takodana, where he brilliantly blasts 10 TIE Fighters out of the sky while simultaneously raining death from above on Stormtroopers on the ground in around 20 seconds. It’s arguably the most memorable flight sequence in the entirety of the sequel trilogy and really cements Poe Dameron as a stud pilot very quickly. As much as I adore Han Solo (and believe me, I really do), he’s never pulled of such slick flying as Dameron does in that sequence.
Then again, Han Solo never really got into an all-out dogfight as captain of the Millennium Falcon — that was never his forte. So to try and compare the two pilots based on dogfighting ability isn’t exactly fair, is it? Sure, Dameron is nearly untouchable in an X-Wing, but could he sneak away undetected under the nose of not one but two Star Destroyers? Unlikely. He just hasn’t shown the intangible, tactical creativity that has made Solo a legend.
Also, Dameron has yet to reach the notoriety or fame that Han Solo earned during his life as the galaxy’s best smuggler. People in military circles may know Dameron’s name, but “Han Solo” is whispered with admiration and revere in every bar and shipyard in the galaxy. That’s what happens when you’re the pilot behind a 12 parsec Kessel Run, you play a critical role in the destruction of both Death Stars, and almost win the Dragon Void Run. Solo may not have the flashy maneuvers of Dameron, but he’s got that creative spark that allows him to pilot (literally) himself out of any situation.
Outside of the cockpit, I think it’s obvious Han Solo is a better combatant. He’s quick on the draw, has an incredible right hook, is surprisingly agile (as he showed in his fight with Dryden Voss), and is an expert shot. Dameron is no slouch, but don’t forget he was apprehended almost immediately by First Order ground forces in the opening of The Force Awakens.
Han Solo didn’t get captured until the very end of his second movie, and before that he had successfully jailbroke a Rebel leader out of the largest Imperial station in the galaxy. Once freed from capture, what did Han do? Oh, just lead a covert ground mission to once again destroy the Imperials’ super weapon. So, yeah, Han Solo is the better soldier and leader over Poe Dameron, every day, ten times out of ten.
But that doesn’t make Han the better pilot, does it? A better all-around soldier? Undoubtedly, but that doesn’t mean he’d fly circles around Poe. One thing Isaac mentioned in his response to Colbert’s initial question seemingly gives Poe the edge: “Poe can fly anything.” Which is certainly true — in the few short years Poe has been around we’ve seen him pilot everything from X-Wings to TIE Fighters and even janky sand speeders (thanks to Charles Soule’s excellent comic series Poe Dameron) with unbridled expertise. Though, he tends to destroy these ships far more often than Han does.
It’s not like Han only knows how to fly the Falcon, either — he was trained as an Imperial pilot, after all, and is just as good behind the controls of a TIE or Lambda Class shuttle as he is behind his infamous Corellian freighter. He may not have the flair that Dameron does when piloting these vessels, but he also tends to leave these ships in one piece.
All in all, it’s objectively a toss up between the two. I know the knee jerk reaction is to scream “HAN SOLO WHY WOULD IT BE ANYONE ELSE,” but Poe Dameron is just too good with an X-Wing to be overlooked. Really the best way to look at this debate is like this: Who do I want charging beside me as 27 TIE Fighters come barreling down at me? Poe Dameron. Who do I want plucking me off of a hostile planet just as the Imperial Fleet shows up to deliver the finishing blow? Han Solo. But who do I want drafting the battle plan and leading me against Imperials? Han Solo, every time.
They may be neck in neck in terms of pure piloting ability, but Han Solo is more of a legend than Poe will ever be.