At long last, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is here and we can decide for ourselves whether or not the rumors of difficulties on set are true. The production seemed troubled, with directors leaving and reports that the lead actor was untalented. People said Disney seemed to be preparing for a flop. All in all, the talk going into SOLO was that this was going to be the first big STAR WARS bomb.

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Well, I’m here to put all your worries to rest. SOLO isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but it is good. It serves its purpose: it’s 2 hours and 15 minutes of a good time. It plays into the original trilogy without resting too heavily on nostalgia. But most importantly, SOLO reminds us that STAR WARS is supposed to be fun.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY!

The Story Behind SOLO

When Disney originally announced it as the anthology follow-up to ROGUE ONE, reactions were mixed. Some people were excited to see their favorite smuggler with a heart of gold. Others thought Han Solo had already had enough screen time, and that Disney should focus on someone else.

I was tentatively excited. ROGUE ONE proved to me that Disney could make an anthology film that was really good. And while I agreed that there were many characters who could use more screen time than Han, I didn’t think it would be bad to see more of him.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

But the set became a breeding ground for bad rumors. First, the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller left the production. On top of that, the talk was — under their direction — the filming was moving too slowly. They also apparently took the film in a direction the powers that be didn’t want. Disney brought in Ron Howard to replace them. Next came talk that the star, Alden Ehrenreich, was untalented.

There were rumors that Ehrenreich needed excessive coaching on set. Given that Ehrenreich is fairly young and unknown, it was easy to believe that he was on track to flub one of the most popular characters ever.

The Effects of Trouble

When watching SOLO, though, you don’t feel the weight of all this negativity. Howard does an excellent job making a cohesive feeling movie, given that he came in mid-production. Obviously, Ron Howard is a well-known filmmaker who is famous for a reason. He brings that talent and experience to bear on SOLO and makes a film that you enjoy watching.

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As far as Ehrenreich, the rumors there were mostly just empty air. Yes, Ehrenreich is young and new, but he’s not untalented. His acting coach was actually an on-set resource for all the cast. And Ehrenreich requested additional help so that he could make sure he was doing justice to Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal. And while Ehrenreich does not fully capture Ford’s flair, who could? His Han is still charismatic, awkward, and lovable.

If you go into SOLO expecting a flop, I’m sure you could find things to pick at. But if you go in with even the slightest of open minds, like I did, I think you’ll be pleased.

The Story In SOLO

So what is SOLO actually about? SOLO tells the story of how Han Solo became, well, Han Solo. When we meet Han in A NEW HOPE, he’s a cocky smuggler with utter confidence in his abilities, a rough exterior, and a secret heart of gold. How did he get here? Well, that’s what SOLO wants to tell you.

Han grew up on Corellia, a shipbuilding planet with a seedy underbelly. He was raised as a gutter rat, there to steal, swindle, and otherwise make deals for the shady Lady Proxima. When a deal goes south, Han tries to run with his love, Qi’ra, another of Proxima’s workers. They almost make it — but Proxima’s troops nab Qi’ra at the gate. Han swears to return for her, but first needs to find a way off Corellia before he’s arrested.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

He finds his exit strategy in an Imperial recruitment booth. He signs up to join the navy, where he is given the name “Solo” as he has no people. In the navy, Han is demoted for not following orders. On a backwater planet, Han meets Tobias Beckett, who is trying to steal from the Empire. Beckett’s crew is reluctant to take on a cocky, idiotic kid in a trooper uniform, but when Han shows up with a Wookie, they agree they can use the muscle.

The rest of the movie is them trying to make a big score so they can pay off their debts and acquire various freedoms. It’s a rollicking heist movie, full of references to “the big one” and life after their payoff. Of course, there are also obstacles in the way, and things never go the way they’re supposed to. But Han, using his skill, his arrogance, and his heart, saves the day.

Diverting from Legends

You may not know this, but I’m a huge fan of the Expanded Universe novels. (I try to keep it on the down low). The EU features a trilogy of novels — the Han Solo books — that tell Han’s backstory. It’s… not quite the same.

In the EU, Han is raised by a cutthroat criminal. A wookie, Dewlanna, takes care of him. When Han robs the criminal, Dewlanna sacrifices herself to save him, because she wants him to be free. Han then skips around the galaxy for a while. He finds work at a religious colony, where he falls in love with Bria Tharen, a brainwashed cultist.

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Bria and Han escape, and he plans to join the Imperial Navy. However, Bria leaves him, ostensibly for his own good, and Han vows to never trust anyone again. In the navy, Han is an excellent pilot and officer but is disgraced when he saves a Wookie, Chewbacca, from enslavement and torture. Chewbacca dedicates his life to protecting Han. They go on to become skilled smugglers.

Han wins the Millenium Falcon in a game of sabaac from Lando Calrissian. They go on many adventures and have a decent — if shady — life. When Bria comes back, though, things turn south. Bria wants to attack the colony where they met because the cult is mistreating their “devotees.” Han reluctantly agrees — there will be a large payout. In the end, though, Bria betrays him and brings the loot to her new bosses — the Rebel Alliance.

The books end with Han taking a risky job for Jabba the Hutt. The job goes south and Han is desperate to get another job to pay his debts. That’s when he meets a young farm kid and an old fossil in a bar in Mos Eisley… and the rest is history.

What Changes?

There are some similar beats throughout both stories. A criminal raises Han, who commits crimes from an early age. However, Han in SOLO has a paramour on Corellia that he loves. Qi’ra is not quite the same as Bria, though both hurt Han in the end. The big difference is that Bria betrays Han for the Rebellion, whereas — SPOILERS — Qi’ra betrays Han for her master, Darth Maul.

In the novels, Han wants to join the Imperial Navy. In SOLO, it’s a last-minute, reluctant exit strategy. The “Solo” naming thing is also a little odd. Han’s family is somewhat prestigious in the books; his cousin Thracken Sal-Solo becomes a bigshot on Corellia, and there is even a time when Han is thought to be descended from former kings.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

The introduction of Chewbacca is also a little off. In the books, Han saves Chewie’s life and Chewie dedicates himself to an unwelcoming Han. In the movie, when troopers catch Han deserting, they throw him into a cage with Chewie to fight to the death. He speaks some really bad Shyriwook and communicates a plan of escape. Here, they work together because they have no other choice. But SOLO doesn’t give Chewie’s lifelong devotion as much oomph.

The same basic story emerges, though. Han is a good person who wants to fly more than anything. He saves a Wookie, who befriends him. He loves a woman who betrays him for a bigger power. And he ends up on his way to Tatooine to work for a big gangster.

What Works

Besides the discrepancies with the books, however, there’s not a lot SOLO gets wrong. And I knew going in that they would most likely discard the EU canon material. Disney has thrown out almost everything from the EU, so far. While I may not agree with this decision, I at least could prepare for the likelihood that they would change Han’s story.

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A viewer who isn’t familiar with the EU story probably won’t find much amiss in SOLO. It tells a good story that cohesively explains who Han Solo is. It gives him a past without undermining who he is in the original movies.

But more than that, SOLO really hits a lot of high points.

Lando

We all knew going in that Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian was going to be one of the high points. We just didn’t know how his story would play out. Well, let me assure you, it plays out well. And it’s incredibly consistent with what we know about Lando. Lando in SOLO is a retired smuggler with a reputation as one of the best in the business.

When Han and Qi’ra embark on a dangerous and extremely risky mission, they need Lando’s ship. Han attempts to win it at sabaac, but Lando cheats. Then, Qi’ra steps in. Ever the same, Lando cannot resist a beautiful woman — or a chance at a large paycheck. He agrees to help them on their mission.

SOLO
Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

The Lando we see is equal parts charming and skeevy. He can schmooze with the best of them and has an entire closet full of capes on the Millenium Falcon. Lando is incredibly self-serving. He haggles for a better payout, stays on the ship for most of the action, and eventually abandons Han when the going gets tough.

But we also see a better side of Lando. Lando’s co-pilot is a droid, L3-37. L3 is sassy and has no respect for “authority.” But Lando genuinely cares about her. When L3 is shot, he runs through heavy fire to rescue her. When she dies, he is genuinely upset.

In the end, Han challenges Lando to a rematch when he realizes Lando cheated in their original game. He wins the Falcon. The dynamic between them is perfect for what we know — friendly but untrusting, an uneasy friendship. This sets up nicely how they interact in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Vive la Revolucion

L3 is one of the best parts of the movie. We have seen many different types of droids in these films, but in recent years they’re getting more aggressive in personality. R2D2 and C3PO definitely have personalities. But in comparison with K2SO and L3, they’re fairly passive. They see no issue in serving humans.

Now, we’re seeing droids in rebellion.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

One of the best scenes in the movie comes when L3 is helping Qi’ra take over a mining colony. She removes a restraining bolt and tells a droid to get out of her way. We have already seen L3 as a rebellious droid; she protested at a droid fighting ring. Now, she tells the droid he has been liberated, and to free his brothers. This starts a whole droid revolution at the mining colony that ends up bringing pure chaos.

Sadly, L3 dies in the revolution she started. The droids she liberated release the prisoners, who riot against their captors. The ensuing battle is fierce, and L3 gets shot. Lando rushes out to save her but is shot himself. Han and Chewie help them get onto the Falcon, but it’s too late for L3. Luckily, her brain lives on when it is connected to the ship, which makes the Falcon an even more poignant part of Han’s past.

Rebel

L3’s droid revolution is not the only resistance in the film. STAR WARS has always been about rebellion, at its core. It is the story of rebelling against tyranny, no matter what form it takes. Watching L3 inspire fellow droids and argue for equal rights brings home that everyone deserves freedom.

The rival gang that tries to steal Han and Beckett’s payload, led by Enfys Nest, really drives this message home. The other characters view Enfys Nest as marauders, scum out to steal an easy payday. But the movie reveals the truth: they are not pirates, they are rebels. They have been working against Beckett because he works, indirectly, for the Empire. They want to see freedom in the galaxy and fight for it.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

What makes this even more poignant is that Enfys Nest appears to be related to Beckett. It’s not explicit, but the movie hints that she is the daughter of Beckett and Beckett’s love, who died early in the movie. Enfys’ attempts to save the galaxy are a way of paying tribute to her dead mother, who also knew the value of freedom. When Beckett betrays her, it’s even more heartbreaking.

In the end, though, Han is a good person at heart and helps Enfys Nest. He comes up with a really clever plan to save the day, even though it loses him money, Beckett’s trust, and eventually Qi’ra. He jokes about the money he lost but knows the value of helping people push back against tyranny. It’s a sign of the Han we will eventually know, who gave everything for a Princess and her rebellion.

A Love Story

The best part of SOLO is without a doubt its overarching love story. But… I don’t mean Han and Qi’ra. We knew going in that that wasn’t going to last. Han is free and single by A NEW HOPE. We could assume that Qi’ra was going to die or betray him, which is what ends up happening. We might not have foreseen all of it — who would’ve guessed at Darth Maul — but it was inevitable.

No, the real love story in SOLO is the story of a man and his ship. SOLO shows us how Han found the Millenium Falcon and how their connection came to be. We always knew she was originally Lando’s; EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is clear on that. Fans of the books know Han won the Falcon in a card game, but we see how that happened.

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Courtesy of Disney’s STAR WARS.

But what really stands out in SOLO is how much Han loves flying, and how much he loves the Falcon. This is a man who was born in a gutter but was meant to see the stars. Han is a natural pilot, very skilled but more importantly very passionate. He wants to fly — not just as a means of escape, which it was originally, but because it’s what he is meant to do.

To see Han fall in love on screen is really touching. Who cares about Qi’ra when we witness the moment Han first sees the Falcon? In the final card game, Lando remarks that Han must have it bad for the ship; Han remarks that it’s mutual. That, to me, was what made SOLO so great. It was, at its heart, the story of a man, his ship, and their adventures to see the stars.

The Verdict

If you walk into SOLO expecting some deeper commentary or a philosophical treatise on the nature of humanity, it might fall short. It might not — there’s a lot to mine here. Han changes from an optimistic if sardonic human to one who learns not to trust anyone but himself. He learns that people are predictable and untrustworthy. There’s a lot about betrayal in this movie, so it doesn’t wholly leave out thinking.

But if you walk into SOLO looking for a good time, it won’t disappoint. There are so many moments in the movie that touches your heart: the first time Han sees the Falcon; Lando cradling L3’s broken body; the reveal of Infant’s Nest. There are moments that make you laugh: Lando purposefully mispronouncing Han’s name; the room of capes; almost all the scenes with L3.

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SOLO may not be ground-breaking. It’s a heist movie, at its core. It’s another STAR WARS film. But it’s a good one. It’s enjoyable at a basic level. I spent 2 hours and 15 minutes in a theater with a smile on my face. STAR WARS should be fun. SOLO gets that right.

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