How Han Beats Lando in Solo's Sabacc Games
Assuming most fans won't pay as close attention to the hands dealt in the game, allow us to break down the two showdowns between Han and Lando, the truth about their wins, and how Solo's reversal reaches all the way forward to The Empire Strikes Back. It's tempting to think that sleight of hand is at work when Han wins the first pot, and another later with a -2 hand, but he and Lando are actually perfectly matched players.
The final hand is where things get extra confusing, since Han refers to his hand as "Straight Staves" and Lando to his as a "Full Sabacc" - neither of which mean anything in the established rules of the game. But whatever their nicknames, the mix of positive (green) and negative (red) cards reveal the result. Han's values appear to cancel out to zero, meaning he should win.
Until Lando plays two pairs which also cancel eachother out to zero, with a Sylop thrown in to give him the win (his five-card zero beats Han's four-card zero). And having won the hand playing one of the two Sylops in the deck, Lando also wins the game. That's what clues Han in to Lando having cheated, since both Sylops had already been played... just not the one hidden in Lando's sleeve stowed away for just such a face-off.
As luck would have it, that exact game is played out at the end of the movie. Lando with a four-card zero sum, and Han with the same - until he plays the same Sylop he snatched from Lando's sleeve.
The Empire Strikes Back Scene Forever Changed
It's an important distinction to make, since Han and Lando effectively played eachother to two different tie games, leaving only sleight of hand to determine the winner. Only when Han boasts in the last scene that he has won the game "fair and square does Lando know he means cheating a cheater in the same way he was tricked.
That exchange helps make sense of the pair's meeting in The Empire Strikes Back, when Lando asks Han what he's done "with my ship." Han's smile is almost instantly replaced by a downright threatening tone and pointed finger, alluding to a truth known only to them when stating that the ship belongs to him after winning it "fair and square."
At which point Lando instantly takes Han's meaning, freezes a moment, before shifting his attention to Chewbacca as his charming exterior returns. But making sure to give a knowing glance back to Han.
In the original version of their story, in which Han really did beat Lando for the Falcon, the posturing in this exchange is... odd, to say the least. After all, it should be Han bragging, or at least showing some renewed pride at having beaten Lando in a fair game of sabacc. Instead, the scene has presented as if Han 'got away' with the Falcon, presumably threatening Lando so he doesn't think of taking back what's rightfully his?
But after seeing how things played out in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han's reminder takes on new life. By repeating the term "fair and square," Han is referring to the fact that he won it by cheating - the exact same way Lando had found to cheat. Which actually is a threat, and Han exercising leverage. If word got out that Lando Calrissian, professional "sportsman," gambler, and card player had cheated to amass his fortune - the mining station of Cloud City included - there would be no shortage of former opponents to come and collect.
As a result, this entire Empire reunion is flipped. Han is the one establishing what he has over Lando's head, with their meaningful glances communicating everything. It may turn the Falcon from a prize to a bribe, but it's based on acknowledging that Han really was the better Sabaac player that day on Vandor.
Something Han won't ever let his pal Lando forget.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018