One of the things I liked about the original Star Wars (now Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) is that we come into a story in the middle, yet it captivated audiences. That’s one of the reasons I wasn’t fond of the prequel trilogy. I never believed the backstory was necessary or helpful. I did appreciate Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the way it brought something new into the mix. The newest addition to the Star Wars canon is Solo: A Star Wars Story. The question that needs to be asked is will Han Solo’s backstory improve our understanding of the overarching story, or just feed our hunger for all things Star Wars?
In terms of the Star Wars timeline, this film fits between The Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. We meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a street urchin on a corrupt, crime-ridden planet. He is in love with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), and the two are planning an escape from the crime boss who controls their lives. But when they are separated, their lives take different trajectories. The story goes on to show us the various things that lead Han into the life of smuggling. Along the way he meets and makes friends with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), comes under the sway of the leader of a band of crooks, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), is reunited with Qi’ra who is now the top lieutenant for an upscale crime boss, first crosses paths with Lando Carissian (Donald Glover), who also appears later in the canon, and gains possession of The Millennial Falconer. The story is a mix of heist film, origin story, and space opera.
The Han Solo we see in this film is brash, reckless, self-assured, and charismatic, much like when Harrison Ford plays him. Ehrenreich manages to get much of Ford’s inflection right enough that we can believe this is the same person. But who is Han really? He wants to be an outlaw (and self-identifies as such), but Qi’ra tells him what we all know about him from following the Star Wars saga: that he’s the good guy. Let’s face it, we all already know who Han is. This film won’t give us new insight. And, like my appreciation for A New Hope for its abruptness, I prefer meeting Han for the first time in that Tatooine bar. In A New Hope we learn to like Han. Solo, if one were to watch the canon in the story’s chronological order, would undermine that process.
Now that I’ve said what I don’t like about the film, let’s look at some of the issues it raises that are worth noting.
While much of the Star Wars saga deals with the direct battle of good and evil (and the attempt for the evil to seduce the good), Solo is more about pragmatism as a survival tool. Nearly everyone in this story is just trying to make things work. Each character makes choices that will affect others. Do they take those effects into consideration, or only what is best for themselves? The result of this is that the issue of trust becomes paramount as Han relates with each character. Is he too trusting? Are any trustworthy? Is Han?
The bit in the film that actually does feed into the overall saga narrative deals with questions of freedom and oppression. From the beginning of the story, Han is seeking to find his freedom. For him that is defined as getting his own ship and flying around the galaxy. But as Qi’ra tells him late in the story, “Everyone serves somebody.” We all answer to someone, and that is its own form of control and oppression. On each new world and each new circumstance, we see different kinds of oppression. At this point in the story, the rebellion has not yet begun, although one of the minor characters is seeking to kick start that revolution and fight for freedom. (Maybe that will be the next Star Wars Story.) The most entertaining voice for freedom in the film is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Calrissian’s droid/co-pilot/companion. She is a vocal advocate in the story of equal rights for droids. And when she gets a chance begins an emancipation of droids and other slaves. While this actually may seem like a minor plot point in Solo, that theme is constantly in the background.
That takes us back to the pragmatism of the characters. As Star Wars plays out, of course, we see that the fight for freedom is never a matter of pragmatism, but of sacrifice and a commitment to justice. There are hints of that in Solo, but for the most part this is one of the most insubstantial and shallowest of the Star Wars canon.
Photos courtesy of Wald Disney Studios