Solo is a solid side-story

By Aristophanes

Editor’s Note: This article contains full spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Read at your own risk.

Lower your expectations for Solo: A Star Wars Story, and you might not be disappointed.

The prequel film, released last Friday, follows the adventures of a young Han Solo, the smuggler with a heart of gold from the original Star Wars trilogy and, most recently, 2015’s The Force Awakens.

Here, we see young Solo, played by a plucky Alden Ehrenreich, escape the slums of the ship-building planet Corellia to join, quit then rally against the evil galactic Empire.

The plot hits the expected beats for a blockbuster origin story. We see how Han first met his lovable Wookie sidekick, Chewbacca. We discover the impetus behind Lando Calrissian’s ongoing frienemy-ship with Han, and how Lando’s prized ship, the Millennium Falcon, came into Han’s possession. And we’re also explained, for the first time on screen, how it’s possible for a ship to make the Kessel Run in “less than 12 parsecs,” a measure of distance, not time.

Never mind that none of this needed explaining in the first place. It all adds up to a fairly ho-hum adventure — serviceable fare advanced by the delightful interplay between several key characters.

You see, Han is a rascal, and a downright cocky one at that. All he wants in the world is to be a smuggler, in order to earn his way back to Corellia and rescue the girl of his dreams, Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke.

But the central romance of Solo has no happy ending. It can’t, really, because we know Han is fated to be with Leia Organa, his lover and eventual wife from the original films. Though Han desires to travel the galaxy aside Qi’ra, she longs for something else entirely: the social and monetary power necessary to escape her lifelong servitude.

When Han and that path to power diverge, Qi’ra chooses career over love.

In the end, Qi’ra, free at last, leaves Han to his own devices. If she is to be a crime lord, the “good guy,” which she, and the movie, tells us Han really is, would only get in her way.

On the flip side, the dependable Chewbacca stays by Han’s side, even when his own goals, to save his indentured race from the clutches of the evil Empire, are finally within reach. In Solo, we learn how these two become inseparable lifelong partners. Well, we learn why Han clings to Chewy, at least.

Chewy isn’t the only sidekick worth his place on the Falcon; a new droid, the sassy L3-37, Lando’s co-pilot, injects a needed levity to the film’s dark themes.

Ever the revolutionary, L3 is a free-thinking droid who understands the moral depravity of her kind’s eternal subjugation. And she’s right. Droids in the Star Wars universe have always been second-class citizens, ever since C-3PO was told off by a grumpy Mos Eisley barkeep.

But this film isn’t one to let uncomfortable philosophizing get in the way of all the fun. L3 is deeply free-spirited and hilarious to boot.

During a particular Bechdel-Test-failing conversation with Qi’ra, L3 discusses her romantic predicament with Lando. The Falcon‘s captain, L3 says, is in love with the droid, but she doesn’t reciprocate those feelings — probably. When Qi’ra asks how “it” works exactly, L3’s rejoinder is a simple, “oh, it works.”

The primary villain of the film, Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany, is a frightening crime lord with enough character to suffice. He’s soon overshadowed by the appearance, via hologram, of a bigger baddie: Darth Maul, last seen in a theatrically released film in 1999’s The Phantom Menace.

Yes, Maul is alive. Though seemingly killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of The Phantom Menace, the Sith lord, though sliced in half, managed to fashion himself a new lower body and continue his dark deeds.

Had you seen The Clones Wars and Star Wars: Rebels animated television series, you would have known of Maul’s survival. But for fans only familiar with the main-series films, Maul’s appearance might come as a bit of a shock.

Plot-wise, Maul is superfluous. Apparently the leader of Golden Dawn, a crime syndicate, he does nothing in Solo but scowl menacingly and light his saber. His inclusion, which does nothing to further the current film, is most likely designed to set up further stories down the line.

Might we see Maul reappear in director Rian Johnson’s planned trilogy, or perhaps in Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ upcoming side-series? I hope so. Otherwise, I’d have to malign his Solo cameo as a cheap attempt at fan service.

But wait, decry an unnecessary plot point as mere fan service? Solo‘s entire existence is fan service, and I liked it well enough. Perhaps we just shouldn’t go into a Star Wars flick expecting a masterpiece of cinematic art, cut and culled to tell a lean story with no extraneous fluff.

And, you know what, that’s OK. Solo is exactly what it needs to be: a fun romp. ■

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