Every Star Wars fan knows that Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. We knew this as a fact even before Solo: A Star Wars Story premiered in theaters, and we saw the Sabacc game where it all went down for ourselves.
But did you ever stop to think about how we know?
Think about it: Sabacc was never mentioned in any of the movies before Solo. It wasn’t shown in a TV series until an episode of Star Wars Rebels in 2015. Yet many generations of fans, from the prequel kids to the OG’s who were old enough to have seen A New Hope in theaters in 1977, knew about Sabacc and how important it was to Han’s backstory.
The truth is the history of Sabacc is longer and richer than you might have guessed. It’s not just a simple card game that George Lucas made up on his day off. Many different creators had a hand in developing it and establishing its rules. And although we only just saw Sabacc in a movie a couple of years ago, the game had been one of the holy grails of Star Wars lore for many decades prior.
We lay it all out for you below, in our guide to the history of this fascinating card game.
1980: A Cut Line Of Dialogue From Empire Strikes Back
Sabacc began its life, as many Star Wars things do, as an idea in George Lucas’s head. It first appeared in a throwaway line in the second draft for the Empire Strikes Back screenplay. As Han and Leia approach Cloud City, Han reveals to Leia that Lando Calrissian won Cloud City in a game of “sabacca.”
No one except the creative team at Lucasfilm knows why this line was cut. More than likely, it was considered useless information, and was removed to make the scene move faster.
But the game would never be called “sabacca” again, not even in the Legends books. In fact, it is the early Legends books that are responsible for bringing Sabacc into the limelight.
1983: Creating Sabacc Lore In Lando Calrissian And The Mindharp Of Sharu
In 1983, L. Neil Smith wrote the first book in the Lando Calrissian trilogy. This series follows the exploits of the dashing character as he schmoozes, cons, and gambles his way across the galaxy in years leading up to Empire Strikes Back.
The first book is called Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. It’s a delightful space jaunt with many odd twists and turns, and some fantasy elements that seem almost out of place with what we’re familiar with in Star Wars today. Ancient civilizations, pyramids, mind-controlling harps, crystals that grow on trees – it’s all pretty wild. But honestly, “pretty wild” is right up Lando’s alley.
Amid all these adventures, Sabacc remains a key element, almost as if it is a character in its own right. It’s even the first word in the book! Sabacc turns out to be the impetus that kicks off Lando’s big adventure. He plays against an alien who bets – and loses – his droid, which happens to be located on a planet in the system where all the crazy things we mentioned take place. Eager to collect his reward and resell it for credits, Lando speeds off to the planet in the Millennium Falcon.
Throughout the book, Lando is constantly either playing or referencing Sabacc. He thinks life is just one big game of Sabacc. He even uses the negative face cards in the deck as tarot cards and predicts the future. In fact, it’s speculated that L. Neil Smith took direct inspiration from real life tarot cards to create some of the face cards in the Sabacc deck.
The book laid the basic foundations for Sabacc both as a real-life game and as the Star Wars version of poker, as popular in that universe as the latter is in ours.
1989: Establishing The Rules In Crisis On Cloud City Roleplaying Game
It wasn’t until 1989 that a full-fledged Sabacc game became available for fans to purchase and play. That’s when an 84-card deck and a set of rules were released as part of the Crisis on Cloud City supplement for the Star Wars roleplaying game.
1998: Introducing The Legend Of How Han Solo Won The Millennium Falcon
In 1998, Bantam Spectra released the final book in the Han Solo Trilogy, which follows the adventures of a young Han Solo prior to the events of A New Hope. The third book, called Rebel Dawn and written by Ann C. Crispin, establishes what would become the cornerstone of Han’s journey as a smuggler and a hero.
By the end of the book, Han has played against the smooth gambler himself, Lando Calrissian, and won the Millennium Falcon from him. This event sets up the rivalry that we see glimpses of in Empire Strikes Back.
Since this book is technically considered a Legends story, Lucasfilm could have chosen to nix this storyline entirely. Instead, they brought it into canon in 2018 in a big way, albeit with a few alterations to the circumstances surrounding the two principal players.
But we’ll get to that in a little bit. First, we must make a stop in 2014 where the game of Sabacc is itself officially canonized.
2014: Making It Canon In A New Dawn
In a bombshell move in 2012, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and all its properties – including Star Wars – to Disney.
Then in another bombshell move in 2014, Lucasfilm announced an initiative to cover all pre-existing supplementary Star Wars material, including books, movies, and video games, under the umbrella of Legends. The Legends banner allowed them to push forward with new narratives without worrying about staying faithful to previously written content.
Any other supplementary materials released from then on would be curated by an official Story Group, who would ensure they synchronized with what was now considered the official canon universe.
So where did this leave Sabacc? Well, technically, Sabacc had not been mentioned in any of the movies or the animated Clone Wars television series. Technically, it was no longer canon.
Fortunately, that limbo status changed with the release of A New Dawn, a Star Wars novel written by John Jackson Miller. The book mentions Sabacc in passing, which was enough of a nod to make it part of new Star Wars storytelling.
2015: Showing It On Screen For The First Time In Star Wars Rebels
Surprisingly, Solo: A Star Wars Story was not the first time we saw Sabacc played on screen by Star Wars characters.
The first moment took place in an episode of Star Wars Rebels that aired in 2015. Once again, Lando is on the scene, and he’s playing a Sabacc game against one of the main characters in the show, Zeb Orrelios. Zeb foolishly bets his rebel friends’ droid, Chopper, and Lando, being the great player he is, soundly beats him, thereby winning ownership of the grumpy astromech.
It takes some finagling, but Chopper is eventually returned to his original owners. In the process, though, we learn that in both Legends and canon, Lando is not someone you want to tangle with in Sabacc.
Unless, of course, you’re Han Solo.
2018: Bringing A Legendary Moment To Life In Solo: A Star Wars Story
In 2018, fans of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon finally got what they always wanted. They got to see the legendary Sabacc match where he won the prized ship from Lando Calrissian.
Of course, it didn’t pan out exactly as expected. The two characters play two Sabacc matches, not just one. In the first one, which takes place somewhere in the middle of the movie, Han is winning, but Lando has a card up his sleeve. Literally: he has a secret compartment tucked into his sleeve that he presses down on to release a special card into his hand. This card lets him beat Han’s hand and win the pot.
At the end of the movie, Han tracks Lando down and finds him in his usual element playing Sabacc. He greets Lando by first acting like he’s going to hit him, then pulling him in for a playful hug. Then he buys his way into the Sabacc game by staking a tiny vial of coaxium, also known as hyperspace fuel. Lando, confident that he will beat this young upstart once again, boldly bets his beloved Millennium Falcon.
By the end of the game, Han is winning once again. Lando tries to pull out his trump card, but then he realizes that he’s been played. Han realized that Lando cheated the first time, and he used their hug earlier as an opportunity to purloin the winning card. Han triumphantly uses it in his own hand and wins the game.
Finally, in 2015, Sabacc came full circle from Legends to canon to fulfill its grand purpose of making Han Solo the sole owner of the Millennium Falcon.
2018: Sabacc Rebranded As The Han Solo Card Game For Kids
With the release of Solo, Disney partnered with Hasbro to manufacture their own version of Sabacc. This variation would be much simpler than the original deck.
However, there was a problem. In 2016, a company called Ren Ventures trademarked the name Sabacc for the game developer subsidiary, Sabacc Creative Industries. What followed was an intense legal battle where Lucasfilm tried to gain control of the trademark, since it was technically the name of a game in one of their movie franchises.
But the battle was still going on when Solo was released in 2018. This meant that the kids’ version of the game could not be called Sabacc. Instead, it was branded as the Han Solo Card Game. It includes a deck of 62 cards, a pair of dice, and cardboard bounty tokens which the players were supposed to try to win.
2019: Making The Game Feel Authentic With Galaxy’s Edge Sabacc
In August 2018, Lucasfilm was finally allowed to trademark Sabacc. This gave them the freedom in 2019 to sell a Sabacc deck in the Galaxy’s Edge theme park at Disneyland and Disney World.
Galaxy’s Edge Sabacc features a simple 62-card deck and a pair of dice. There were no tokens, nor was there any form of fake gambling tender released with it, presumably because Disney doesn’t want to encourage children to gamble.
2021: Making And Selling Traditional Sabacc Decks At Hyperspace Props
In 2021, you don’t have to settle for a simplified version of Sabacc if you don’t want to. Instead of buying the Han Solo Card Game or Galaxy’s Edge Sabacc, you can get your very own traditional 76-card deck here at Hyperspace Props.
We believe the best way to play Sabacc is in a way that feels like you’re in the Star Wars universe. That’s why our deck has 76 cards, with all the original suits and face cards mentioned in The Mindharp of Sharu. We also sell metal and 3D printed dice featuring Star Wars symbols, as well as replicas of the credits used in the films and TV shows.
From its humble origins as a cut line of dialogue in Empire Strikes Back, to a fully-fledged game with rules and stakes, Sabacc has come a long way. It’s not just an obscure bit of Star Wars trivia anymore; now, it’s life.