Han Solo was born on the planet Corellia during the waning years of the Galactic Republic. He was orphaned at a young age, and turned to a life of crime as a thief in order to survive the perils of the galaxy. Solo, at some point, acquired a starship and became an exceptional pilot. Solo began working outside of the Galactic Empire's laws, beginning a career in smuggling. Solo eventually met the Wookiee Chewbacca, whom he saved from imprisonment. Chewbacca, grateful for Solo's intervention, proclaimed a life debt to the smuggler. Chewbacca thereby became Solo's first mate aboard his ship and the smuggling duo became lifelong friends. Solo and Chewbacca, at some point, met the self-proclaimed galactic entrepreneur and gambler Lando Calrissian, against whom Solo played a game of "Corellian Spike" Sabacc using a pair of gold dice. During which, Solo gambled for and won Calrissian's YT-1300 light freighter, the Millennium Falcon. The Falcon instantly became Solo's most prized possession and he tied the pair of golden dice he used in the momentous game together and hung them in the Falcon's cockpit. With their new-found ship and confidence, Solo and Chewbacca began engaging in much more dangerous and risky smuggling operations. Around the same time, Chewbacca likewise hung a pair of chance cube dice above the freighter's piloting console.

During his early years as a smuggler, Solo devised a plot to get revenge against a crime lord who operated a gambling den on the planet Stenness, and had continuously double-crossed spice smugglers. In order for the escapade to look as legitimate as possible, Solo and his fellow scoundrels arranged a fraudulent marriageceremony where Solo and the woman Sana Starros were illegitimately married. The robbery occurred, too, and Solo was given his share. However, Solo also took Starros's share and fled, leaving Starros in a dire situation. As a result, Starros came to believe that the only thing Solo was good for was lying, likening him to a "scoundrel."

Solo and Chewbacca also crash-landed on an unnamed planet in the Monsua Nebula that was entirely covered in electrical super-storms and cyclones. But beneath the storms, a beautiful oasis laid. Solo and his copilot located a cave that they turned into a secret hiding place, storing Corellian wine and other things within. He and Chewbacca used the den several times over the years.

Eventually, the pair came into the employment of the Outer Rim crime lord Jabba the Hutt, who was based on the desert planet Tatooine and was the leader of the powerful Hutt Clan. Solo and Chewbacca smuggled for Jabba for many years and Solo became Jabba's top smuggler. The smuggling duo also spent much time in Chalmun's Cantina looking for work. However, they were forced to dump a shipment of valuable spice, an addictive drug, when the Falcon was boarded by an Imperial crew who would have surely arrested Solo and Chewbacca if they had been caught with the illicit drug. Solo and Chewbacca returned to Jabba, who placed a large bounty of 50,000 credits on the pair; it was only intended to be removed if Solo paid restitution for the Hutt's loss. Solo, some time later, in order to repay the Hutt, smuggled for the Pyke Syndicate, who controlled a near-monopoly over the spice trade, from the planet Kesselwhere the syndicate's controlled the spice mines of Kessel. Solo and Chewbacca were hired to transport spice from Kessel to the syndicate's customers; known as the foolhardy Kessel Runs. Using the Falcon, Solo broke a long-held record for the Kessel Run, he completed the challenge in less than twelve parsecs.