(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Ron Howard‘s exciting but hollow prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story.)
Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe, and Lucasfilm decided to tell us how he became the smuggler that we all know and love. The only problem is the last time we saw this kind of story, it involved a whiny kid blossoming into an emo adult who turned to the dark side and left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of Star Wars fans. Do we really need to know where Han Solo came from?
After seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story, the answer is honestly no, but that’s no reason to disregard the movie entirely. Solo offers up some of the most exciting action sequences in the history of the Star Wars saga. It also features outstanding performances from each and every cast member. And it sets the stage for a new story arc that will fill in the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Unfortunately, it does all this while not giving us much of a reason to care about the title character of the movie, other than knowing who he becomes. It feels like the movie merely exists to set up more movies while reminding us of what we loved about the original trilogy. And that comes with an excessive amount of winks and nods to the original trilogy.
Let’s dive into the finer details with our Solo: A Star Wars Story spoiler review.
A Clunky Introduction to Han Solo
We meet Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) when he’s a plucky scrumrat on his home planet Corellia, an industrial planet being used by the Empire to build their ships. It comes as no surprise that he’s already on the run, having clearly just stolen something from someone who isn’t too happy about it. After a daring escape, the kind that shows us this kid is a hell of a driver, we learn what Han Solo has been up to during his younger years.
There’s a dark-dwelling, snake-like creature known as Lady Proxima who lives in the shady seclusion of the seedy criminal underworld. She orders around a group of orphans to steal things for her to sell, offering shelter and safety in return. What that really means is that they better bring her what she asks for, or they’re not going to like the consequences. It’s not unlike the underbelly of the criminal world we see in Oliver Twist or Slumdog Millionaire, but there are just more aliens and lasers.
Here we me Qi’ra, who is clearly the Bonnie to Han Solo’s Clyde. The two have both been in this desperate situation for far too long and they’re finally ready to make a getaway. They’re going to use a small vial of a rare, expensive fuel called coaxium (which Han just stole) to bribe their way off the planet and never look back. The only problem is that while he stole this vial, he lost the rest of the package he was supposed to give to Lady Proxima.
Of course, since this is Han Solo we’re talking about, he’s got plenty of sarcasm and tricks to make it out of this situation, even if they don’t quite work out how he planned. Han uses a rock he’s painted to look like a thermal detonator to scare off those who would threaten him for not delivering what he was supposed to. But Lady Proxima knows it’s all a ruse. Luck ends up going Solo’s way though as he tosses the rock through a window, allowing sunlight to come in, which we quickly learn harms some of these creatures.
This doesn’t really tell us anything we need to know in order to understand the character of Han Solo. After another speeder chase, letting us know again that Han Solo is a skilled driver (duh!), the only important part of all this set-up comes when Han and Qi’ra finally try to make their getaway. They have the vial of coaxium that they’re going to use to bribe an Imperial border guard controlling the entry and exit into Corellia. But just as the two are about to leaving this planet forever, Qi’ra is grabbed by Lady Proxima’s goons, and Han is left with no other option but to make a run for it on his own.
This is meant to serve as the inciting incident that begins Han Solo’s character arc. Because after this, he chooses to enlist in the Imperial Academy with an eye on becoming the best pilot in the galaxy, all so he can come back to Corellia and save Qi’ra. It’s here we get perhaps the dumbest part of Han Solo’s origin story, and that’s his name. It turns out Han’s real last name isn’t Solo. We never find out what it is, because when the Imperial recruiter asks for it, he merely says he has no people. And the recruiter pauses for a moment to give him the name Solo. It’s a wholly unnecessary mystery that does nothing to strengthen his character’s history unless his real name has a contrived tie to a character from the prequels, which would be positively stupid.
Han’s Not Throwing Away His Shot
We flash forward three years after Han chooses to enlist in the Imperial Academy, and things don’t seem to be going as easy as Han thought they would. He’s all geared up in Imperial soldier garb. He’s not a Stormtrooper, but a different kind of infantry soldier tasked with, well, it’s not really clear, and that’s why Han couldn’t care less about it. He and his fellow Imperial troops are trudging through the muddy surface of Mimban as “hostiles” try to stop Imperial occupation of the planet. Han’s smart enough to see that the Empire is the real enemy here, but also smart enough to know not to be vocal enough about it get himself killed.
During the muddy battle, Han latches on to the highest ranking officer on the field, a captain who looks like he has a clear goal in mind. As we’ll learn, this man isn’t really a captain at all, but the smuggler known as Tobias Beckett, who has stolen an Imperial officer’s wardrobe after blasting him to hell. With him are his partner Val (Thandie Newton) and a four-armed Ardennian pilot named Rio. Solo sees this as his chance to get out of this mud hole so he can stop wasting his time with the Empire, especially since his shot at being a pilot has already gone out the window.
Unfortunately, Tobias Beckett isn’t looking to recruit a new member of his team, so he sells out Han as a deserter. But it’s all good, because we’re about to meet Han’s new best friend. You might not recognize him at first since he’s caked in mud and chained up like some kind of monster, but Han is thrown into an underground cell with the Wookiee called Chewbacca. The two are instantly at odds, seemingly because whatever prisoners down there get eaten by the big walking carpet. But since Han’s a fast talker (including speaking the gargling sounds of the Wookiee in a silly but amusing exchange), he sees an opportunity for them both to get out.
This meeting of Han and Chewbacca is great because it ditches the once canon idea of Chewbacca serving some kind of life debt to Han, leaving him almost like an indentured servant. Instead, the two both need each other to survive, and feel compelled to help each other out when the going gets tough. Now that Han has a Wookiee in tow with him, that makes him a little more appealing to Tobias and his crew since they’re getting ready to pull off a big heist with the AT-Hauler they’ve just stolen from the Empire.
Honestly, this series of events is where Solo should have started. We didn’t need the Oliver Twist meets Slumdog Millionaire set-up to get to this point. Anything about Han’s past in that moment could have easily been covered the night before this crew pulls of the forthcoming heist. There’s a whole campfire sequence reminiscent of dozens of westerns where we learn a little bit about each of these criminals, and this is where we could have learned about the girl that Han was forced to leave behind on Corellia. It seems as if the only reason the earlier scenes exists is to establish Qi’ra as part of Han’s life, but her significance could have easily been established with all the sequences that follow.